Laughs for Islam
Armed with humor and a desire to engage in dialogue about Islam, a troupe of four Muslim comedians performed in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Billed as ‘The Muslims are Coming!’ comedy tour, they also set up a “Name that Religion” game in Birmingham, Ala. and an “Ask a Muslim” booth in Lawrenceville, Ga. What they found was often surprising.
Ben de la Cruz and Alexandra Garcia recently finished an odyssey of a video everyone here at the office was eagerly anticipating. Laughs for Islam is a funny, sincere look at some aspects of being an American Muslim. I emailed Ben and Alexandra some questions, and you can read the transcript below. I also highly recommend checking out the additional content on our website.
Where did the idea for this project come from?
We were assigned to the Post series about how Americans view the American Muslim community ten years after 9-11. The editors specifically wanted to find out whether American Muslims were viewed with suspicion and why. We both started calling contacts. One of our first calls was to Dean Obeidallah who Ben had met and produced a video story about in 2003. He told us about a plan to perform in the South with other comedians and set up Ask a Muslim booths as a way to engage in dialogue with everyday Americans about Islam. This dialogue seemed like a perfect way to uncover the issues on the minds of ordinary Americans. It was an an idea we had already started to explore with our first contribution to the series, “Under Suspicion: Voices about Muslims in America.”
How long were you on the road, and how long did editing take?
We traveled with the comedians from Columbus, Ga. to Lawrenceville, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Murfreesboro, Tenn. All together, we filmed for six days. Editing was done in fits and starts over several months, in between other projects and daily news coverage.
What are some of the challenges working on a video of this scope?
Managing two terabytes of footage was one of the biggest challenges. We used two 5D Mark II cameras to film four full comedy shows as well as all of our interviews. Before we went on our trip, we bought extra hard drives in case of hard drive failure, which is not uncommon. When we returned to edit, we had to purchase more drives when two of our drives failed.
On the road we also contended with the logistics of filming while the comedians were shooting their own documentary. And for a few days, NBC and CNN joined the party. Trying to capture natural action with a gaggle of cameras around was a delicate dance. Luckily we developed a good working relationship with the film and news crews.
Is it difficult to work in tandem on a project like this?
We think it is far better to work in tandem on a project that requires filming live performances onstage or in street actions like “Name That Religion” and “Ask a Muslim.” We had the option of editing between tight and wide shots in the interviews, and between the comedians and the people on the street.
Because filming a tour is in many ways a road movie, it was important to film the journey from place to place. One person can’t safely do this alone. While Alex drove (which she loves doing), Ben shot video out the window. Compared to the size of the film crew and the other network TV news crews, we were a small operation.
Through many collaborations over the years, we’ve come to trust each other’s work. We feel comfortable handing the edit back and forth, knowing that the changes that would come back to us would make the piece better.
View the full project on washingtonpost.com
—AJ Chavar/The Washington Post