American Cinematographer - September 2010 - 92
Above: McFarland (far right) captures a fire while filming in the streets of Kabul. Right: The crew lines up a dolly shot in an alleyway.
have it at high noon, and that really helped the overall look. We just didn’t have time to fly in overheads or try and control the light. At most, I could fly in a bounce card or a little negative fill, but that was about it. My longtime gaffer, Ian McGlocklin, and I always tried to start from the most natural place in terms of light motivation. At night, the available light in Kabul is a mixed bag. With no streetlamps, the people rely mainly on fluorescent fixtures that are often neon colors — blue, green, yellow and pink. Many of our setups were often enhanced by placing a 4' fluorescent tube on a wall of an alley, or by including a gas lantern in the frame. By attaching fluorescent tubes to the walls with zip ties and
92 September 2010
including these sources in the frame, it was easy to create a realistic look without having a bunch of units hitting every building in the background — a luxury we certainly did not have. The production was staying at a kind of guesthouse, an extended-stay hotel that was used mostly by the United Nations. The day I arrived, the Nov. 7 runoff elections had just been announced, and we were told, in no uncertain terms, that things were going to start blowing up. On the third day of production, Oct. 28, we were loading up the gear to drive to our location. It was only three blocks away, but it was too dodgy to walk anywhere. Suddenly, as the Call to Prayer echoed through the early morning,
there were lots of shots ringing out and explosions. One of our guards said, ‘Let’s go!’ and we hopped into the car and took off. Our location for the day was an attic doubling as a madrassa (Islamic religious school) where the Taliban comes to pick recruits. We were lighting through a window on the second story while bullets were flying by on the streets below. I couldn’t really tell how close they were, but they were followed by rocking explosions. Then my cell phone rang, and we found out the Afghan army was running through our guesthouse and shooting from the roof. We had to stop for a minute and decide what to do. Do we leave the country? Do we keep working? I called a friend in the State Department to try to get information about what was happening, and then a really big explosion hit, and it was all over. It turned out that the Taliban had attacked a U.N. guesthouse directly across the street from ours. After a 2½-hour standoff, a detonation by a suicide bomber had killed all the attackers and five U.N. workers. That ended the ordeal. When we found out that all of our team was safe and the battle was over, we decided to go back to work. I turned my mind back to my job, which was a great distraction from the fear and anxiety. We kept going, and every day there were more scary incidents — we’d hear explosions and find out that an RPG had gone off in a hotel three blocks away, or that the Taliban had just stormed into a place two miles from us. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing as nerve-wracking as being up on a rooftop with a 10:1 zoom and 6x6 matte box, praying you don’t get mistaken for a gunner! But this was a movie about a free Afghanistan, freedom of speech and women’s rights. It was an important story that I felt compelled to help tell, and I felt it was worth the personal risk. I’m really proud of the way Black Tulip looks. We set out with a look in mind and did our best to achieve it against impossible odds. I’m glad I decided to do the project. No one on the production got hurt. I might feel very different if that weren’t the case. Ed. Note: Black Tulip will hit the festival circuit this fall. ●