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Mansoor Ahmed - Ready for Your Close-Up?
05.29.12
 
Associate Director of the Astrophysics Project Division, Mansoor “Moonie” Ahmed, was born and raised in Peshawar, Pakistan in the northwest frontier area on the border with Afghanistan. “There was a movie house across the street from us and that’s how I got hooked on movies. At the age of six, I wanted to grow up to be an usher so I could see all the films for free,” remembers Ahmed.

Ahmed picked up his first video camera when his kids were born and began making movies of his friends and family, including local performing arts organizations. He had no formal training in cinematography. “That’s how I honed my filmmaking skills and learned editing techniques. I just watched a lot of films and read a lot of books on video making and directing,” he explains.

Mansoor Ahmed in his editing suite.
Mansoor "Moonie" Ahmed in his editing suite. Credit: M. Ahmed
From 1990 to about 1999, he was the Technical Director of the television show “Pakistan Vision,” which was produced by a friend. “I set up the studio in Burtonsville, Md., and then shot and edited the show.” Around 2003, this same friend was lamenting the passing of the heyday of the Pakistani movie industry in the 1960s and 70s and decided to produce a local, low-budget film to encourage Pakistani filmmakers to do the same. “I jumped on the idea. It was a chance for me to make a real film,” says Ahmed.

Poster for Mansoor Ahmed's movie› Larger image
The poster for Ahmed's movie entitled, "Bhool." Credit: M. Ahmed
The result was a film called “Bhool,” which in Urdu, the language of Pakistan, means “An Error in Judgment.” Loosely based on an old Pakistani film, this version was modernized and focuses on women’s entitlement. “Everyone has an Achilles’ heel, a character flaw. This story is about a series of mistakes and misunderstandings stemming from everyone’s Achilles’ heel,” explains Ahmed. His cousin, an award-winning playwright living in Pakistan, wrote the screenplay. The actors were from the local performing arts groups Ahmed had been filming. “The leading lady had never acted before and she did the best job,” says Ahmed. “All of my family, including my wife and kids, and sisters-in-law, are extras in ‘Bhool.’ We all relied on friends and family to shoot.”

The film took five years to complete. “We were amateurs. We all had regular jobs, so we’d work on this film evenings and weekends. We were all volunteers,” says Ahmed. Their sole investor spent about $50,000 on cameras, lights, sound equipment, and a computer editing system. “Plus, he fed us.”

“Every scene had its own challenges and interests. Also, I had to change the actors’ mindset from being on the stage and using big movements to being on film and using more subtle movements,” explains Ahmed. He found editing to be the most interesting part of filmmaking. “The editing process allows you to create several options for how to move the story forward. The intellectual challenge is figuring out which one will work best with the audience. A technical challenge is creating a smooth looking scene using pieces taken from multiple takes of the same scene shot from different angles and perspectives. There are various reasons a scene may not be shot in one take. It could be the actor
forgot the lines, a plane flew overhead at the wrong time or the cameraman did not have the right focus. So out of maybe 32 takes, you must create one scene that flows.”

He also had to keep the actors motivated since it takes about 1 ½ hours to set up cameras, lighting, and angles for a mere five minute shot. “I had to schedule the actors so that they did not wait so long that they got bored but were there long enough to get absorbed,” says Ahmed. It took Ahmed one year to edit or “find the jewels” in the 100 hours of film that became the two hour movie. He compared directing to cooking. “Sometimes all the ingredients come together into something greater than you ever expected,” explains Ahmed.

The film is available as a fundraiser for any charitable organization. Ahmed also made a short documentary in 2009 for ASHA for Women, a charitable organization for victims of domestic abuse and violence. As for the future, Ahmed “would like to make another film, perhaps one about the Pakistani Air Force Academy I attended as a boy. After I wanted to grow up to be an usher, I then wanted to grow up to be a pilot. This school groomed me for what I am today in terms of discipline and personality.”

Ahmed takes great personal satisfaction from undertaking “Bhool.” “I was able to keep everyone motivated while dealing with technical and personal challenges. It is a good feeling to have a product I feel proud about. My family is also very proud.” More information about “Bhool” is available at: http://www.bhoolmovie.com.

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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.