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Film Special

With Taieb Jallouli
"Phantom Menace" art director in Tunisia
Sunday, May 16, 1999


Our talk with Taieb Jallouli, who worked as the art director for "The Phantom Menace" during location shooting in Tunisia, has ended. A transcript of the talk is below.

Jallouli attended the benefit screening for Children's Hospital in Washington.

Jallouli, who is Tunisian, worked as art director on other movies that filmed in his native country, including "Madame Butterfly" and Oscar-winning "The English Patient." Hello Taieb. Thanks for being with us today. I'd like to set the scene for our readers. We're on top of the Cinema at "The Phantom Menace" pre-party on Wisconsin Avenue. Face painters and clowns are here for the children who are attending from Children's Hospital. And the "Star Wars" memorabilia is everywhere, including lifesize cardboard cutouts of Jar Jar Binks, Qui-Gon Jin, Darth Vader and others. Of course, "The Phantom Menace" soundtrack is playing.

My first question is simple: What exactly is the job of an art director?

Taieb Jellouli: The job of the art director is to achieve the idea. It's just an idea on paper. And an art director has to make it a reality. What was the toughest part of the shoot in Tunisia? I believe I read that you had to deal with sandstorms?

Taieb Jellouli: Yes. We had a very hard storm that destroyed a big part of the set. It was very dramatic for the crew. But we started immediately rebuilding the set with a lot of enthusiasm and courage. And we kept shooting on schedule. Did you find your job a lot different than the other films you worked on because of all the computer-generated scenes?

Taieb Jellouli: Absolutely. Because we build sets but we imaged that other things are behind. You just see one thing, but you have to image what will be in front and what will come behind. It's a new conception of work.

College Park, Md.: Have any other major movies been shot in Tunisia?

Taieb Jellouli: Yes, "The English Patient" for instance. And I worked on that. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was shot in Tunisia. And the first "Star Wars" was shot in Tunisia in 1977. It represents the planet Tatooine in the movie.

University Park, Md.: I have read that "Menace" was shot very quickly on location. How did that impact your job?

Taieb Jellouli: It was shot quickly, but it was shot with two big crews. So we actually shot it twice as fast as a shoot that would have one, small crew.

Chattanooga, Tenn.: Does Mr. Jellouli think that adults will enjoy this movie as much as children will?

Taieb Jellouli: I think for me, I will enjoy it like a child. Yes. There's so much magic, you can't but enjoy it.

Demopolis, Ala.: Was this your most challenging project?

Taieb Jellouli: The most challenging was rebuilding the set as soon as possible after it was destroyed by the sandstorm. We were at the hotel during the storm and out of danger. As soon as it was possible, we rushed back to the set. I was with producer Rick McCallum and he was devastated. We couldn't even think for the first few minutes. Then Rick called the rest of the troop, and we started to work.

College Park, Md.: How close is the final movie to the vision of the director and yourself?

Taieb Jellouli: I haven't seen the final movie yet. How involved were you in the pod race between Anakin and Sebulba?

Taieb Jellouli: We prepared the scene where the race started as well as the race course itself. We put the pods on the starting line before the race began.

Springfield, Va.: Why did George Lucas decide to make "The Phantom Menace, Episode I" when the triolgy was made back in the '70s? Shouldn't the trilogy have been made last instead of first?

Taieb Jellouli: I don't actually know. But when you have a story, you begin telling it. And at some point you remember things and have to go back to tell the history and background from the beginning.

Vienna, Va.: How much water per day needed to be transported to the site?

Taieb Jellouli: I don't know the exact quantity. But I know that each person needed about 10 liters of fresh water per day. And we had about 500 people on the set. It was delivered by refrigerated trucks.

College Park, MD: Will you be working on the next movie?

Taieb Jellouli: I am very proud to work on "Episode I." And I hope I will be able to work on the next if they come to shoot in Tunisia (on Tatooine).

Cairo, Egypt: What advantages does Tunisia offer to film producers?

Taieb Jellouli: First of all we offer the good light of Tunisia. Second we offer the proximity from Europe. We are two hours from Paris, one hour from Rome. It's really in the middle of the Mediterranean. Third is the cost. They save money when they shoot in Tunisia. Fourth, we have a good staff of technicians who can do the work that is required. And it's politically stable. It's very hospitable. People are always smiling.

Beltsville, Md.: Is it true they fried an egg on R2D2's head during the shooting of the movie? Also did they shoot other types of shots like of an oasis?

Taieb Jellouli: Yes. You could just put an egg in the sand under the sun and a few hours later it will be cooked.

Thanks for your questions. I enjoyed myself, but now I have to get my seat. I can't wait to see the movie!


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post

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