It's fair to say that the first Ghost Rider film, which landed in 2007 amid a sea of (generally far better) superhero titles, didn't go down quite so well. For all of Eva Mendes's pouting and Nicolas Cage's impressions of Nicolas Cage on a big motorbike, the film was largely panned by critics and fans of the original Marvel comic book for its lumbering storyline and cheesy dialogue.
But while the second outing, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, might not be getting too many cinema fanatics hot under the collar, there is at least one person in the UAE who will definitely be going to see it when it is released here today.
The Emirati filmmaker Khalid Al Mahmood, better known as the director of the award-winning short Sabeel, last year spent two weeks on the set of the film, working alongside Cage, plus Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Christopher Lambert and the rest of the cast and extensive crew.
The experience was arranged through the Mawaheb internship programme of Image Nation Abu Dhabi – a company owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National newspaper – and who came aboard as co-producers of the film in 2010. “It’s basically a programme for people who want to get some experience in the film industry,” says Al Mahmood, who claims he had the option to work on set or on the administration side in an office. He went for the former option.
In mid-January, Khalid flew to Turkey to be with the production, which had previously been shooting in Romania. "The first 10 days we were in Urgup in Cappadocia, and the other half was in Denizli," he says, adding that his new colleagues weren't instantly sure of his nationality. "The Turkish crew thought I was Romanian and the Romanian crew thought I was Turkish. They all thought I could translate for them."
On set, Al Mahmood says his responsibilities mainly involved being a third assistant director, or runner. "We basically just took care of the main crew, helping them out when they needed it and getting them ready. The first week was quiet because it was mainly the stunt team. But the second was much more fun, as almost all the actors were coming in and you had to deal with them more."
While he didn't speak directly to Cage, Al Mahmood said he got on well with the other cast members. "Idris Elba's very nice, a really cool guy. Most of them were really nice people. Most of the time we were staying in the same hotel, so you'd meet the cast and crew. It was a very tight group."
Ghost Rider is a world away from the productions Al Mahmood usually works on within the UAE. Sabeel, which won the Best Short Film at the New York Film Eurasian Festival and has been screened at festivals around the world, tells the story of two young Emirati boys growing and selling vegetables to care for their sick grandmother.
Al Mahmood also worked as a second unit assistant director on Sea Shadow, Image Nation's first local feature that premiered at last year's Abu Dhabi International Film Festival.
"I'm used to working with a small crew, 20 or 30 people," he says. "When we worked on Sea Shadow, there were 70 people, but this still was small compared to Ghost Rider. Going from one city to another, we had a whole plane for the crew and cast."
And it was working within a group this size that was the most important experience for the filmmaker. "In terms of learning, it's more like seeing how things are done on a bigger scale."
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