Last week the new "We Are the World" video, dedicated to Haiti, aired during the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, and I'm really proud to have been a part of the experience. A key component of the project is a group of Haitian students from the Cine Institute, a film school in Jacmel, a city on the southern coast of Haiti. Jacmel, like so much of Haiti, was devastated, and the Institute was not spared. Luckily, none of the students were seriously injured, and they started filming immediately, turning their cameras toward the aftermath, documenting the wreckage and the relief effort. David Belle, the Cine Institute's director, rushed to Jacmel to check on his students, and on the way, he was contacted by his friend and colleague Paul Haggis, who asked him to coordinate his students into traveling to Los Angeles to experience the video up close. Ten students arrived at the recording session a few days later, with cameras in hand to record the 'making of' the video, but were surprised to learn that they would also became part of the chorus, and part of the video.
The chorus of "We Are The World," of course, is instantly recognizable to anyone over 30, and now too by all Haitians, as it has been translated into the Creole "Nou Se Mond La." This latter version was the subject of the Haitian portion of the filming, co-directed by David Belle and Doug Liman, with additional cinematograpy by Hermes Marco. I traveled back to Haiti to work as Doug's camera assistant, along with 550 lbs of camera equipment, generously donated by OffHollywood, who also helped with post and color correction. I was able to navigate through various airports with the constant help of camera guru and friend J. Eric Camp. Eric and I worked on Doug's latest film Fair Game, on which we ferried the equipment through Egypt, Jordan, and Malaysia, so we could only laugh (a nervous laugh) when we were greeted at the Santo Domingo airport by a single engine plane and the rightfully concerned eyes of pilot George Sampas. George was great, instructing us how to load all the gear toward the front of the plane, with cameras and batteries on our laps, holding on for dear life. The flight was smooth as could be -- thanks George.
The filming in Port-au-Prince was an extremely welcome change to the news coverage I was filming the previous two weeks. First off, the Cine Institute students were fantastic -- a very bright and funloving group. We couldn't have gotten even half of the footage we needed without their help -- they were excellent.
Various groups of local Haitians sang the "Nou Se Mond La" chorus, and the cameras rolled: orphans in a large orphanage in the mountains one hour outside Port-au-Prince; a church choir in front of the remains of the Cathedral; Haitian pop stars, hanging out of a tap-tap , singing while driving through the destroyed center of town; and a throng of children and local musicians in Cite Soleil, Haiti's poorest slum.
The entire volunteer crew had to leave earlier than we wished, as the editing of the video was moving forward at full speed to meet the urgent deadline for the Winter Olympics. When I returned the camera gear at 2am Monday morning, I was asked to shoot behind the scenes footage at The Post Factory, which I've been doing all week, and where I sit as I write this. I have probably the easiest job here, since I only have to record the hard work of others: a nonstop assault by a fleet of sound and video editors, all volunteers, pushing themselves 14 hours a day to sort through the mass of footage from the LA recording shoot, and the additional footage from Haiti, from which Paul, Doug, and the indefatigable Jo Francis, Supervising Editor, worked with the other editors, finding the shots they feel will work best.
Paul Haggis, defiantly amiable and good-natured in the face of this highly stressful process, had the heavy task of being the director/producer/conductor/traffic cop of this giant operation. Walking briskly through the Post Factory halls, from edit room to edit room, Paul made continuous rounds -- in between meetings and phone calls with producers, musicians, promoters, donors, etc -- continuing to check the progress of different segments, adjusting, improving, re-working, checking his watch against the ever nearing 2am deadline, which then got pushed to 2:30 ... then 3am... I think I left at 5am, I can't remember.
The whole crew here really produced something special in such little time, and I'll finish up this post now so I can set up a camera near the TV, where Paul, the editors, producers and film students wait to watch the premiere of the 3 minute version of the video.