My name is Andre Puca (aka Skinny No Nose, aka Blahz-A, aka Buster-Buster-Full-A-Bluster) and I’m the sometimes subject of, sometimes collaborator with, Mr. Ahmed Khawaja (aka Eddie K, aka Omelet, aka Brother Ahmed, and of course, aka KWAK). I’m his biggest fan, but this wasn’t always the case...Allow me to explain. When Ahmed and I started working on what would be a first feature for both of us (Kassandra with a K, now known as KWAK), I figured my fiercely analytical side would come in handy, especially since he first asked for help rewriting the script to the film. Nope.By the time we finished editing what would be the first of a dozen or so versions of KWAK, I realized Ahmed’s artistic compass couldn’t be swayed by things like logic or reason or even common sense.
No—my swarthy Indian comrade invoked concepts like fate and destiny, God, the workings of something like “prophetic vision.” Not knowing when or how to take him seriously, I resisted Ahmed’s notions for how films were put together.
A collaborative project requires planning, I thought. It requires lots of tête–à–têtes, lots of writing, lots of forethought. Nope. Not in Ahmed’s mind, not then at least. And no matter how hard I tried to convince Ahmed that future projects could be improved if we committed more ideas to paper and scripted at least crucial scenes of dialogue, I was never able to get him to budge. I did however notice that he took me a little more seriously when instead of arguing with him, I simply misunderstood everything he said and “joked it off” with a loud, semi-obnoxious laugh. Out of a kind of single-minded desperation came a laugh that I was completely unfamiliar with. This laugh seemed to annoy the hell out of Ahmed while tickling his funny bone at the same time. I personally found it to be pretty repulsive. It sounded a lot like one of my dad’s laughs—like when he cracks a super lame joke at my expense that isn’t very funny or begins a “harmless” insult in Neapolitan but doesn’t quite land it, so resorts to English instead. Very clumsy.
But no matter how clumsily he fumbles his jokes, my dad always treats them like comedy gold. He laughs at em’ like they’re being improvised on the spot by the Marx brothers themselves.
So I was very confused and alarmed when that same kind of laughter was provoked in me. I was only in my late 20s for cryin’ out loud! I figured I’d be well into my 40s or 50s before I inherited up my dad’s “I don’t give a fuck” attitude when it came to joking around. Nope. Either way, the discovery of this laugh was a huge eureka moment for me. I decided I’d use it to budge Ahmed when I otherwise couldn’t get him to budge. I decided I could use it to dislodge him from a particularly rambling and abstract train of thought about this or that character, this or that plot point. And it kind of worked. The only problem is that it made him angry to hear that laugh. And the angrier he got, the harder I laughed. And the harder I laughed, the more he committed to whatever project we were working on.
So, when Ahmed and I agreed to make a second feature film together, entitled Green Card Club, that laugh was single-handedly my most important and intelligent contribution to the project. I was beginning to think it was the only thing I was really contributing to any of our work anymore, especially when I realized that certain expectations of mine would never be fulfilled. See, on the next film, I:
1.) Assumed that a project to be worked on jointly would include collaborative, in-person writing sessions to be conducted on an obviously agreed upon schedule of certain days, hours, etc.
2.) Assumed that, if such in-person writing sessions were difficult or impossible to arrange (say, because the co-authors lived in different cities), some kind of proxy meetings would be set up via Skype or a comparable online platform.
3.) Assumed that whatever eventual writing sessions were arranged, they would in-fact include writing.
4.) Assumed that ideas would be ultimately shared in a progressive fashion, as we both agreed upon plot structure, dialogue, scene arrangements, etc. TOGETHER.
5.) And that whatever ideas, bit of dialogue, scenes, characters, and other intellectual properties made their way into the script, they would be SHARED, their sole ownership belonging to the group, which would eventually be formed and recognized as a legal corporation to be named at a later time (with provisional name suggestions like, “The Peter Pan Club,” “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” “The Frank Capra/Zappa Company Unlimited,” or “The PK Funny Players Corp”).
These were not the kinds of expectations Ahmed had for the project. Apparently, they were too “traditional” for his tastes. That, or the last project we worked on resulted in such bad chemistry that we vowed never to work together again. I can’t remember. But I do remember editing our first feature film whose making compelled both Ahmed and I to sling vicious, unrestrained insults at one another over the most seemingly insignificant creative differences. I thought we’d never work together again. But here we are submitting second and third works to NoBudge, works brought to you by the painstaking labors of two knuckleheads. For that I apologize, but what I don’t apologize for, and the note I’d like to end on, is the daring I believe it takes to first invest in and then execute such projects.
I agreed to help a man who insisted that the only way he would work on a screenplay with me is if I wrote an entire script by myself, to later be merged with a secret script that he was writing, which would be based on a large collection of disorganized, handwritten journals composed over the course of a year. And I was not allowed to look at any of the notes at any stage of my writing. If that is not daring, then I don’t know what is. I ended up writing 90 pages of script for Green Card Club and when Ahmed submitted it to various labs and competitions, I still hadn’t seen the completed version with both his and my material merged. When Ahmed finally sent me his merged version, it was over 200 pages long, half of it was filled with screen caps of images from movies that inspired Ahmed, and only about 30 or 40 pages of it was material I’d written. Green Card Club never got made and Ahmed pitched a feature-length diary movie instead. Whether I was on board or not, Ahmed was making it with me anyway. Back to the laughing-board I/we went. And AP&AK came out of it. The rest is history, videotaped, catalogued, edited and re-edited into many little diary movies, most of which you’ve seen on NoBudge this past month. For that, I can’t thank Ahmed enough. For that alone, I am Ahmed’s biggest fan.
The following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Ahmed a few years ago, right before we started talking about Green Card Club and exchanging general ideas about the project. We were both extremely divided about everything—how it would be shot, what kinds of main characters would be present in the narrative, how the film would be written, etc. In a particularly frustrated mood, I wrote the following to Ahmed as an attempt to reach out. I believe now, as strongly as I believed a year ago, in the words below. I believe they amount to a fair and honest appraisal of my relationship to Ahmed.
from: andre puca firstname.lastname@example.org
to: Ahmed Khawaja <email@example.com>
date: Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 3:04 PM
“A filmmaker takes personal experiences from daily life and arranges them into a narrative. Why draw from something as trivial as personal experience? To tell the truth about something broader than the personal—to say something about the conditions of love, divorce, war, failed relationships, successful ones, etc. The truth we tell is of course subjective, so we look for ways to increase objectivity, to increase accessibility WITHOUT compromising the truth, without having to water it down. We want, after all, to SHARE our truth with others, to find others who share it, to share it together once we have all been exposed to it—together. One reason to collaborate is to filter that personal truth through a different lens, but one that is also attuned to the truth-teller’s vision, perspective, and ideology. This is to me at least, the most important reason to collaborate. I know certain things about the world, about myself, about my habits, my strengths and weaknesses, etc, but I don’t know them for sure. And I have difficulty expressing the things I know about myself and the world without the perspective of certain other “lenses” (you, other friends, Kelli, my folks, etc.) that I rely upon to “clarify” my vision of myself and the world. I take this same ethic into the work I do and hope to continue to do as a collaborative filmmaker. I know something, it is a subjective truth, but one I feel strongly and have even rationally justified to some extent or perhaps entirely. But I tell the thing to you, to Adam, then write it, then share it with a crew before and during the filmmaking process. My idea—that thing I know, that personal truth I am convinced of, but worry is too narrow and limited—becomes refined, it grows tendrils, spreads roots, finds its way BEYOND me. In other words, the collaboration turns that thing I know into that thing WE know and is hopefully expressed that way.”