While filming a reenactment of 19th century gunfire, horses and panic in southern Spain, Media Process Group director Bob Hercules and DP Keith Walker decided to double the possibility of something going wrong.
“We split the cameras and ran back and forth directing both crews simultaneously,” he recalls. “It was close to guerilla shooting.”
It was also the second-to-last day of a three-week shoot for a feature documentary about the origins of the Baha’i faith.
Tentatively titled, The Gate, the film involved nearly five months of preparation, 250 extras, 50 crewmembers and several camels in addition to the horses. According to Hercules, it is the “brainchild” of executive producer Steve Sarowitz, who co-wrote the script with Ed Price and the director.
Baha’i is a monotheistic faith that spread during the 1840s in Iran. Its oldest house of worship is located in Wilmette, IL, about five minutes away from Hercules’ home.
“My wife and I took a tour,” he says. “I agree with the concept. (Executive producer) Steve Sarowitz is a Baha’i member and he’s very passionate about it.”
The major tenets of Baha’i include the unity of religion, the unity of people and the rejection of racism and nationalism. The faith is based on the 19th century religion called Bábi, whose founder is known as the Báb.
The Báb was executed in Tabriz in 1850. His followers endured violent persecution that continued for more than a century.
On the day that Hercules decided to divide his production force, he was recreating an attack on believers as they fled a town in 19th century Persia.
“They holed up in this abandoned building and were able to stave off the troops for several months,” he explains. “We showed the beginning of that, with horses and gunfire.”
Weeks of preparation had gone into making the Spanish location resemble Fort Tabarsi, a former shrine in Iran where.the historic clash took place.
Since the shot took place in Andalusia, a region of Spain that was part of the Islamic empire for 800 years beginning in the eight century, the architecture was pretty much authentic.
All evidence of modernity, like wires and pipes, were hidden behind trees and various elements of traditional Persian bazaars arranged by Spanish-based art director Ricardo Molina.
Late in the afternoon, the director decided that a change of plan was required to make it just right.
“I could see we were going run out of daylight,” remembers Hercules. “That’s when I made the decision to split it up.”
It was not the first time he filmed from two different points of view. When recreating the execution of the Báb at the thousand-year-old Alcazaba Fort in the nearby town of Almeria, he placed one camera operator inside the structure and the other outside, “shooting the soldiers shooting into the fort.”
These were just a few of several “rapid fire decisions” that he made throughout production. In both cases, they worked fine.
“In the end, it was a blast,” he says. “The crew was phenomenal and everybody had a good sense of humor.”
Although the overseas live action scenes are complete, Hercules will continue to face the specter of unpredictability while he shoots testimonials and completes post-production.
“Once we start interviewing subjects for the film, we don’t know what they’re going to say,” he explains. “That will change the script significantly.”
Hercules has not only found success with this technique, but he also seems to enjoy it. The 2016 documentary that he codirected with Rita Coburn Whack, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, boasts a 95% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer.”
“I suppose it would drive some people nuts,” he muses. “But for me, that’s the fun of it. If you are a control freak, this is not the occupation to go into.”
Tentatively titled “The Gate,” the film is due to be completed next spring. For more information, contact visit Media Process Group website or call Hercules directly at (312) 850-1300.