Behind the Scenes - Part III (The School for the Deaf)

How is everybody doing? Believe it or not, I wrote another blog this weekend but it was one of those on the impulse kind of things and I refrained myself from publishing it. There’s an ongoing debate in my head about the subject I touched in that blog so until I reach a conclusion of wheather I should make it public or not I’m going to stick to this wonderful project we’ve been working on. There is so much to say about these two last days, but I’ll make a summary and take each event in turn.

So this is about Saturday. I’m not sure I explained exactly what we’re doing. To make a long story short, we’re filming a video of about 4 minutes about the sight and hearing impaired children and young people, their every day lives and the problems they have to face. Of course 4 minutes is not even close to being enough, but at least we try to glimpse at their every day “normality.” On the other hand, we are also shooting a 20 minutes long documentary about Light into Europe, the services they provide, but most of all the people behind the scenes, the ones that really make the difference. What motivates them, what they do and how their work within this NGO has influenced their lives.

So we’ve filmed half of the trailer with the sight impaired incredibly talented young people Petra, Stefan and Razvan, now it’s the really young people’s turn to take over, namely two very special kinder garden level kids from the School for the Deaf no. 1 in Bucharest.

I have chosen Alexandra and Gabi because I observed them during out Peles Castle trip and they were absolutely adorable and outgoing and simply full of energy. Gabi has no hearing at all while Alexandra can only hear some if she is wearing her hearing device and only if we address her rather loudly.

Alexandra, Gabi (first actor :) and Mrs. Lili sharing a moment before the day started
We met in front of the school at 10:30AM. There are the kids, the moms, Mrs. Lili who’s my organizational support and backup ‘cause she knows everyone, Silviu, my one and only photographer, Cristi and Denisa of course with their tones of equipment. And, for things to go smoother we have a special guest, Mrs. Sandica who is also deaf but knows the sign language very well so she will be our translator for the day. Mrs. Sandica was born healthy, but she became ill following meningitis when she was just a baby. And I will make a note here because it’s been on my mind since I first met her – if usually you have healthy parents bearing the responsibility and the hardship of raising kids with such problems, in her case, she’s the one with the problem and it is her son, an 8 year old beautiful boy, who has taken it on his shoulders to learn the sign language at such an early age. But most of all, he’s grown this sense of maturity I could see in his eyes, where he acknowledges the problem his mom has and that turned him into a little protective shield towards her, always aware of her whereabouts, always remembering to turn around to speak to her so she can read his lips. For an 8 year old, that is an extra worry most kids do not have. He’s a little soldier for me and I hope I'll be around to see him grow into the wonderful young man I can spot in him right now.
Briefing the participants on what's to come
Mrs. Sandica and her lovely son
Going back to the subject, I brought two bags full of goodies and a few kg of apples (we needed the apples and the bags for the shooting as well). Then again, I’m thinking I need to keep kiddies focused for a long day of work and what better way to do that than to give them treats hehe.
More treats for the leading actors coming right up!
I explain the plan for the day after which we move on to find the perfect location to shoot the first scenes. We find a passage between two houses and I couldn’t have asked for a better place than that. Gabi is restless. He wants to touch all the equipment, see everything, try anything out. Yet when we want to start shooting he inexplicably shies away and does not want to get in front of the camera to film. I fail, Cristi fails, even his mom fails to make him do it. So we’re in a major crisis right now as our leading actor does not want to act. Luckly for us, Alexandra’s mom knows the school holds a dorm for the children who do not live in Bucharest and who are hosted there. She runs inside and manages to find a little boy, all dressed up waiting for his mom to come pick him up. His mom is running late though so he’s just spending time in the dorm waiting for her. His name is also Gabi (what do you know!). Unlike our other actor, he’s in 3rd grade which makes things just a bit easier than with our restless actor before.
I had to explain why only Alexandra got to eat an apple while shooting and not him as well. As soon as we were done shooting he got one too.
We start shooting and Mrs. Sandica translates everything as we go. I was not prepared for this to be so hard. I knew it would be hard but my brain, that can hear and can see and can get the information right away has not been fully prepared for this step by step tangled situation. It’s hard doing anything because you have to first have their eyes on you so then you can start explain sign language. They are too young to read lips and even the signs have to be shown clearly so they can understand each letter correctly. They have to walk along this fence and every now and then I forget and shout for them to stop when we’re done shooting but they can’t hear me and keep going. Eventually we spend half of the time running after them to stop them and get them back.
Mrs. Sandica was an essential component that day
Alex had had enough and needed mommy time for a moment. I was doing my best at encouraging her to continue and be patient with us just a little longer.
And back and forth and back and forth
Alexandra is getting tired but the treats I brought buy us more of her patience and understanding. Plus is so much cooler outside then I had predicted so we are all freezing. Her mother though, proves to be incredibly helpful as she knows how to sooth her best. What a lovable pair they are! Denisa was amazing in putting together a group of her friends to act as the evil teenager bunch to scare off my leading actors. They show up and one look at them and I wonder how will these smiling slender and warm character teenagers make it into looking mean and ignorant.
The "evil" gang. In this picture they look like they're actually on the prowl. I guess they practiced a lot on Saturday how to be mean to little kids hehe
Everyone checking out what we just filmed. I love this picture!
Mother and daughter 
I explain their part, we prep Gabi and Alex and here we go again. The scene implies that the teenagers catch up with Gabi and Alex as they are walking to school and decide to scare them off for fun. But because the children cannot hear them shouting behind them, they decide to try a new strategy and they almost push them into the fence as they pass them by.

Problems in shooting this scene: well, they can’t hear therefore, the kids are always alert and always look back to make sure they are not missing on anything. So trying to make them look forward and not look back at the gang running behind them was TERRIBLY hard. We had to eventually take Alex’s hearing device out so she can’t hear anything, but still, her instinct was stronger. I messed up a few good shots (Cristi hates me!) because my hand came in front of the camera in my desperate attempt to always signal Alex to look at me. When we eventually succeeded in filming the entire thing (after a 100 back and forth) I couldn’t have been happier. But the kids were worn out.

We said our farewell to the best evil gang ever – great job guys, seriously! - and moved on to the next location: in front of the school. Here, we benefitted again from the help of a great (more or less willing volunteer, poor fellow!). Dan, one of my colleagues in the Duke of Edinburgh program and also one of the oldest volunteers in Light into Europe, was really kind to ask one of his work colleagues, Iyad, to serve as our driver for this part. He waited for us for quite a while to finish shooting the first scene, but still listened patiently to my explanations about his role in the video. Like everyone else involved in the shooting, he too had to drive back and forth a few times. We used branches and twigs to mark the locations on the street were the kids should stop so he can drive past them without risking anything. I had Mrs. Lili and the moms keep an eye out for traffic (not much, considering the little streets we were on, but it’s always better to be on the safe side!) Mrs. Sandica became an actress now playing the role of the passer by who saves the kids from the reckless driver almost running them over because he was on the phone while driving. And of course, honking your horn at the poor kids wouldn’t help either because they can’t hear it.
Moving on to the next location... with the treats of course.
Iyad surely doesn't know how to look mean either. What is it with all these nice people ruining my thing! hehe
I have to say, that despite Mrs. Sandica and Iyad’s beautiful and well synchronized performances, Cristi and I are not very happy with the material we have. The video is made only of music, images and a few lines. The message has to come through from the actors and the situation they’re in. And I got it, but not as powerful as I wanted to be. So, unfortunately, I might have to come up with a new scenario for this one and re-shoot it, sometime very soon. Yeah, life sucks and then you gotta modify half of the script as you go. I love this job.

But the kids were gorgeous and they did their best and I do not hold them responsible for anything. Had we had more time and had the weather been a bit warmer we would have made it. Still, this is a good reminder of why this is so hard for them, every day, to focus, to communicate, to endure so much more and better than the normal kids. Their attention has to be ten times stronger and branched all around them so they don’t overlook any detail that might harm them.
 
Bribing my leading actors got me a snack or two as well hehe

I had to give up the bag of puffs so they shoot another scene!
I am so proud of them and so humbled to see them try again and again. Really well behaved, understanding and candid. I have to thank Silviu for doing a great job in keeping them busy when I had to work with Cristi and the rest of the team, by letting them take pictures and use his equipment to have fun. I say again, I am blessed to have fun professionals with gentle souls.

We finished at about 3:00PM, which is rather early comparing with the other shooting days, but I was broken, exhausted and wanted to drag home and stretch my old bones after a long hot shower. But alas, I’m left with Denisa, Cristi and Silviu. The day cannot possibly be done when you’re left with them!!! No, they have to go mental on me and start a photo session using the leaves on the sidewalk. Man oh man…
This is one out of a series of many more. I could make a short movie just out of this episode haha
When we were done being kids, we realized we had to shoot a scene were an apple rolls on the ground next to a fence. I rolled that damn apple until it didn’t look like an apple anymore! “Mela, it went too fast. Too slow. Out of the frame. Stand closer, go back, come back, gentler, no, faster, just drop it! Almost…” Hell, Cristi!!!! I’m not a bowling fan man! Eventually the damn thing rolls at the right speed, stops before the camera in the right angle. Yes yes yes!!! Damn you! I had just swung back and rubbed my white pants against the fence and now I have a black smudge on my butt. Sexy! Well, I’m just traveling half way through town with my painted butt, but who cares.
Roll apple roll! In the right damn direction please!!!
We part ways with Cristi and Denisa while Silviu and I share the sub to Piata Iancului and continue to act idiotically for the rest of the trip. Yeah, it’s how we do things when we’re tired, frozen and hungry.

So that’s in general lines, Saturday! I’ll detail Sunday in another blog soon.
And because it’s Monday, I can only wish you all a great / less painful / less cold / less all the worst things possible week.
It’s probably going to rain though hehe.

MUAH
Mela out.
Literally.



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