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Recreating Revolution: Mohamed Diab on Shooting Clash Entirely Inside a Van, and Getting a Letter From Tom Hanks

Recreating Revolution: Mohamed Diab on Shooting Clash Entirely Inside a Van, and Getting a Letter From Tom Hanks


MM: You wrote one of the highest-grossing Egyptian films of all time, The Island, an action blockbuster. Would you say that experience helped you write this new film, or was that the reason that people paid more attention when Clash came out, because they knew who you were based on your previous work?

MD: I studied in Hollywood, and I have Hollywood tastes, so I want to make films that people can watch. To me, when I was making the film The Island, which at the time was the biggest grossing Egyptian film of all time, I only wanted to make a good film. It was a gangster film that was based on a true story, and I just wanted to make an entertaining, dramatically sound film, and that’s what I did. At the same time, every film that I make has Hollywood tastes to it. I don’t think about making money or not, I just want to make an entertaining, good film. The same formula that I used with The Island is the one I used with Clash. It’s the same one I used with Cairo 678, the film about sexual harassment. The topics seem so dark, yet the films are entertaining and funny. The formula is the same in every film.

A scene from Clash

MM: If the Egyptian Revolution had not happened, would you be making different films now?

MD: For sure, but the best thing as an artist and a human being was the Egyptian Revolution. What has happened after, with all the struggles, it has been a very hard five years. Seeing people turning into zombies, seeing the best of people and the worst of them, I’m much more mature now. Even writing the film, and siding with every character was such a challenge, to identify with people that I actually completely disagree with. I think it made me grow a lot.

MM: Tell me about developing the characters in Clash. How much did your real experiences in the revolution influence their creation?

MD: Most of them are based on real characters that my brother and I met during our experiences during the revolution and some of them are actually based on well-known real characters. The journalist, the photographer, the fat Muslim Brotherhood man who is going to go to Syria, all of those people are based on real known characters, and the rest are people that I met. At some point, we needed some character to represent a side or something, and when you start thinking like that, it’s so scary that you might make a film that is going to feel like, “This character is representing a side or a point of view,” and like they are stereotypes. It’s very important to start with a skeleton and then cover it with layers.

MM: What was your approach to cinematography and lighting in such a compact space? There is beautiful imagery in the film that seems to come from the limited sources of light and the way you make use of what’s in each frame. 

MD: In a film like this, you had to plan every single thing ahead. It was such a hard job to shoot the whole film because we stuck to the real measurements of the van. We never opened the side or anything. Everything that you see in the film is the real car, and we never opened any sides, so this is shot as a real experience exactly. It was very hard to light the car from only the real sources of light in the car. In order not to make the film redundant and visually interesting, we had a visual map. We separated the day into color stages, and every one of them looked different: the normal stage, the very hot stage, the water stage, etc. Then at night, there is a place with a certain color, and then there is the laser time and then the dark time, which is lit with only one light. We tried to make it as interesting as possible, and at the same time, dramatically it has to mean something. We needed to work on that, my great cinematographer and me.

A scene from Clash

MM: Can you tell me more about the rehearsal process with your actors, and having them all interact with each other at the same time? I’m sure it’s very difficult to have so many actors at once trying to perform this very intense screenplay.

MD: We built a replica of the car, and I assigned every actor a role, and we started playing. The first month or two, we didn’t work from the script. I just gave them exercises. “What if ISIS is going to take over the car right now? What’s going to happen? What if there’s a flood?” For an hour, we’d act something, and then we’d stop and discuss it, and every one of them learned a lot about these characters, because we had 10 Islamists, and they can’t all be the same, so every one of them needed to be completely different, and know the nuances and small differences between him and other characters. Then we started working with the script, scene by scene, and discussing every single scene, and realizing there are tons of things we didn’t know about our characters. Finally, me and Khaled, my brother, wrote the final draft of the film, which was completely better than any other draft because we used everything that we had from all the characters and all the actors we played with.

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1 Comment

  1. Basma Osama says:

    I would like to read in this article something like a greeting from the director to us “neutral viewers” who saw the movie as a message singing for the humanity ..we were beside its producers from the first while of publishing in cinemas and we were supporting an idea more than support just a movie

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