On Friday, Strand Releasing opens The Taqwacores in New York City; a Los Angeles release is planned for November 12. Based on a novel by Michael Muhammad Knight that was once distributed free in Xerox-copy form, The Taqwacores depicts a Muslim punk scene and the young Pakistani-American student who becomes part of that world. Although the movie depicted a fictional Muslim punk scene, it’s gone on to inspire the formation of real Muslim punk bands in the U.S.
Directed by Eyad Zahra under the banner of his company, Rumanni Filmworks, shot by J.P. Perry, and starring Bobby Naderi, Noureen Dewulf and Dominic Rains, The Taqwacores was an official selection of both the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival.
The ultra-low-budget feature was funded by its executive producer, Dr. David Perse (who is neither a punk nor a Muslim). Director Zahra moved back to his home town of Cleveland, Ohio to shoot it, and serendipitously discovered “Tower 2012,” an underground performance space and residence for punk Cleveland artists where the film was shot. Zahra also notes that the film got a $5,000 grant from the Sundance Institute Feature Film Lab to help with finishing. Sundance also provided editing mentorship from indie film editors Michael Taylor and Suzy Elmiger. I spoke with cinematographer J.P. Perry about the production.
StudioDaily: What are your credits?
J.P. Perry: I went to film school at Florida State university where I met the director, Eyad Zahra. Moving to Los Angeles I worked as a camera assistant and shot commercials, documentaries. This is my first feature.
How did you get drawn into the Taqwacores?
I have been Eyad’s go-to camera man. He and I worked professionally a couple of times out in Los Angeles. There was a show called Salam MTV, which showcases Arab-American artists and is on Showtime in the Middle East. He tried to get a few features off the ground and then called and asked me if I wanted to do this.
What look did Eyad want?
He put together a look book with images from various punk shows and garage bands. We tried to emulate the look he’d get from an old scratched-up negative with lots of contrast. The interesting thing is we shot it on the RED camera which is a clean, sharp image. In post, we had to dirty it up and add grain and make the image contrasty and desaturated.
Why did you use the RED? This would seem like an ideal show for Super 16mm or a lower-budget digital camera.
We originally budgeted shooting Super 16mm. We thought it was a perfect choice, but then we realized that half the budget would have gone to the film, processing telecine, and so on. It didn’t make financial choice to shoot film. I own a Panasonic P2, but I wouldn’t want to shoot a feature on it because it doesn’t have the depth of field. It’s too electronic a feeling of the image. It’s appropriate for documentaries but not for this kind of feature film. We got the RED from Indie Rentals in LA and had 18 shoot days over three weeks.
What kind of camera work did you do?
It was mostly handheld, and the RED is a heavy, cumbersome camera for handheld. I definitely hurt my shoulder a bit, but I was happy with how the camera performed. I’ve used it a lot as a camera assistant but it was my first time using it as a DP. I would use it again.
Lenses and lighting?
We used the Zeiss Ultra Primes and they worked out really nicely. We didn’t have a zoom , just one prime set.
We had a pretty good lighting package because we were able to get a good deal from Midwestern Lighting. We had a full HMI kit and full tungsten kit. All the scenes that take place indoors where it’s daylight outside, we tried to keep it [looking] like they don’t have a lot of lights in the house. We lit it like all the light is coming through the windows. In night scenes, we lit it with a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. We tried to keep it motivated by what you’d expect in a punk house. You don’t want it to look perfectly lit.
Did you also post in Cleveland?
Our post house was Eyahd’s friend Joshua Rosenfield, who is an editor. He visited the set and we worked closely with him. He has a little studio in his home where the whole picture was cut on Final Cut Pro. Once picture was locked, I did the color session also, with Color in FCP. Eyad would come in and give me notes. When we put it off to tape, we went someplace to have that done, but all the post work was done in-house. Even dailies were played off the laptop at Eyad’s home on an HDTV set.
What was most challenging?
Of course, doing a movie on such a low budget. But technology is going to the point where you can build a color system with Color and a nice monitor and you can have that in your apartment. Post houses don’t like to hear that, but the entry point has been lowered so you can learn these crafts. It makes you a better cinematographer. You know what you can get away with on set and think ahead to post-production.
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