What have you learnt to forget?

Last year, during the heat of the summer semester, Ms. Alissar Nasrallah warmed the hears of my students with her keynote speech “What We Have Learned to Forget – The Human Behind the Business.” Alissar manages Prest, her family’s corporate gifting business. I first met Alissar when we were both extras on Star Trek Beyond; we struck up a friendship and I was fortunate enough that she was willing to share her insights and ideas with my class.

Acknowledging the connection between business and ethics, Alissar reflected on the importance of philosophical and humanitarian values and their role in business. The following is an essay version of her presentation — provided by Alissar.

We have segregated our life into two main categories: Business and Personal, forgetting that life has much more than that. We typically apply a “live in the moment” only between these categories with “don’t bring your home problems to your work” and vice versa. We got into the details of the norms and values “don’t be too friendly at work” “be too friendly at work to lobby well” “know where to stop” “your personality at work is different than your personality with your friends.”

The segregation got deeper, forgetting that this person is a singular one and that his life is much richer than being sized down to two sectors. Once we understand the big picture that makes us – what I call the big ‘I’ – we will know that this segregation is not needed and that our personality can be constant in all areas. We will know that the nuance is having clarity of how to act and when to act no matter where we are and whom we are dealing with. Enrich the big ‘I’ with humane values to find stability, clarity and to pave your way up in all your actions, words and thoughts.

An inevitable part of enriching the big ‘I’ is how we deal with the other ‘Is’. Because of the ferociousness of survival, we apply twisted strategies that, I believe, most are not filtered humanely – from networking (that comes from the basic human nature of relationships), plotting to defeat colleagues, human objectification and object humanization, etc.

Why not try to change the twisted strategies for once and see how the world evolves; we might like it better. Strategies are needed yes, and smartness is needed. Inhumanity is not. Depict negative connotations is everything you read, you see, you watch, you listen to and you think of. What we feed our mind will be unavoidably translated into our actions.

If you don’t believe in goodness to drive your actions and responsibilities towards others, you have to believe in the simple logic that says: if I encounter pain on you, you will most probably reply with pain. Put this on the whole population scale, having in mind the complex human psychic.

The world will be an unpleasant place to live in – an unsustainable place. We often use the term sustainability when we talk about the natural environment, and not the human environment. For us to live together sustainably, we need (not only want) to live well together which means we need to be good to each other. In the lines of this idea, I came up with a simple untwisted strategy that I called “Positively-Conditioned Objectives”.

Everything we do at any time has an objective, even if we are unaware of it. A coffee with friends has an objective of connecting, venting out, updating. Being aware of the objective allows us to eliminate anything unnecessary along the way. The objective is for us and the positive-conditioning is our responsibility towards others. “I want to be the best cook” is my objective – it is for me. “Supporting others along the way” is my positive conditioning – it is my responsibility towards others.

I am not only talking about big objectives. I am also talking about walking-in-the-park’s objective and having-coffee-with-friends’ objective. The biggest objective of all times is to live happily. And the biggest positive conditioning is to be loving. You can push this strategy down to your tiniest actions, thoughts and words. It is a compass to always know yourself, be aware of what you’re doing, thinking, saying and feeling all the while being responsible towards others for a sustainable, more pleasant collective life.

You can also watch a video of Ms. Alissar’s presentation below.

“My family, my future; it means too much to me. I can’t risk it, it’s not worth the risk; I’m done.” — Eric Lopez in Game’s Over

I previously blogged about my adventures as an extra on Star Trek Beyond in 2015, but in July 2017 I beamed up to a starring role as Eric Lopez in “Game’s Over,” a short film by students at SAE Institute Dubai. We shot the film during the evening on July 18 and 19 in Dubai and it premiered at a student showcase at SAE on August 20.

I was invited to participate in this film noir project by Natalie Aji, the film’s producer, Melissa Urresti, the director, via my profile on Mixfame (an online platform connecting talented individuals with production houses, casting directors and producers for projects in UAE and the Middle East).

A description of the film follows:

“Three men are involved in the Los Angeles underground scene. When Eric wants to quit in order to save his family, John and Matthew must figure out a way to make him stay in order to sustain their social status and not expose the crimes they have committed.”

After participating in a student film and two promotional videos at the American University in the Emirates (where I have taught management and marketing courses since 2015) in addition to my past appearances on game shows from 2000 to 2008 I was thrilled to be a part of this project. Acting in this film was challenging, yet rewarding; it pushed me to expand my abilities creatively and professionally.

I also appreciated the opportunity to expand my acting experience with such a dramatic role in a project that helped students complete a project for their degree program. I was thoroughly impressed with their dedication and determination. Although it is slightly less than 8 minutes in length, we spent at least 10 hours shooting on location; I am sure at least that many hours were spent editing the final film.

You can watch “Game’s Over” below or view it directly on YouTube.

Bravo to the crew and my fellow cast members for a job well done!

Dammit Jim, I’m an instructor, not an extra!

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Last month I blogged about my experience as an extra on Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai. At the time I did not think I had made the cut into the movie. However, the other day at a Dmitry Masleev piano concert I ran into Koenraad Gys, a friend who was also an extra; he said saw me while watching a DVD of the movie.

I planned to get and watch the DVD, but tonight, just as I logged into YouTube for my MGT 100, Principles of Management class at American University in the Emirates (AUE), I saw a suggested clip titled “Star Trek Beyond: Starbase Yorktown Introduction Sequence.”

I watched it and, sure enough, at 1:31 to 1:32, spotted myself in my dark blue costume on the left hand side of the frame! You can somewhat see my extra two arms near my thighs, but you can very clearly see my face.

I took three screen shots from the YouTube clip and enhanced them as best as I could, circling myself in red. You can see my friend Alissar Nasrallah  to my right wearing a yellow jacket and my other friend Shah Qhan in the middle of the shot facing the other way with his hand on another extra’s back; I met both on the set.

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Live long and… extra!

On October 15, 2015 I boldly went… onto the set of Star Trek Beyond.

I first learned about the opportunity in August 2015 from the Facebook page of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. After auditioning, I was invited to act as an extra on the final day of filming at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. The production had been previously filming around Dubai in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) (where some set shots were captured).

First I had to get fitted for a costume.  The outfit they had planned included an alien head, but the headpiece was too tight. So we tried Costume #866: a blue heavy sweater top (with a turtleneck that I was supposed to button up, covering my whole head), a black jacket/overall combination of sorts with overall-like straps (that I held onto as I walked), black leather gloves with what appeared to be two fingers and a thumb, dark blue ski pants, and black motorcycle boots. Oh, and it had four arms!

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I arrived on set at 11 am Thursday, October 15 and left at 5 am the next morning (18 hours total with 17 of them being active on the set). By 9 am that morning I was at American University in the Emirates (AUE) teaching MKT 200, Principles of Marketing!

After I arrived and got into my costume I walked in front of a green screen and was photographed in 360 degrees for digital capture. It’s possible, that given both of these activities, I appear in the film although my head was covered by what I called the “turtleneck” of the costume. Fortunately, I was able to leave my head uncovered during the on-set filming — which is why I was able to see myself on screen!

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Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of myself in my costume (beyond my 1.5 second appearance on-screen, explained below) because we were prevented from having our phones. But, you can catch a glimpse of the set in the Instagram video below from Zachary Quinto who plays Mr. Spock; I was to the right of the person recording it:

View this post on Instagram

this. maybe for the last time. maybe not.

A post shared by Zachary Quinto (@zacharyquinto) on

Despite the futuristic world in which Star Trek is set, I felt “Amish  adjacent.” Being accustomed to regularly checking my phone, I felt awkward, but eventually the digital detox was a welcome change. We had nothing else to do but talk with each other! This actually wasn’t my first time on a set though; I’ve been on three game shows.

However, this was my first time on a major motion picture set: everything was impressively overwhelming. There was an army of friendly assistants wiping sweat from our faces, squirting shaving cream down our necks to cool us off, and giving us water. It was simultaneously invigorating and exhausting; I was energized yet tired at the same time by the activity and excitement that surrounded me. Some random memories of my “extra experience” include:

  • Costume designers fixed costumes with thread, tape, and glue.
  • Countless people with clipboards stood at the ready.
  • Extras moved about the set like a sea of bustling humanity.
  • Grips with duct tape swinging from their belts scurried about.
  • Production assistants wrestled with film equipment.

The set where I worked appears in the first 10 minutes of the film as the USS Enterprise arrives at the Yorktown Starbase. When I first saw the movie in the theater (and when I first wrote this post, which I have since updated) I didn’t see myself. I assumed I had been lost to the cutting room floor.

However, at a Dmitry Masleev piano concert I ran into Koenraad Gys who was also an extra. He said he clearly saw me about 10 minutes in while watching a DVD of the movie! Ironically, almost exactly a year earlier (a month after filming) I bumped into Koenraad in Dubai. He was with his brother-in-law Nabeel, and another friend Dean Weltner — all of whom were extras.

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I planned to watch the DVD, but that turned out to be unnecessary. On Monday, November 7, just as I logged into YouTube for my MGT 100, Principles of Management class at American University in the Emirates (AUE), I saw a suggested clip titled “Star Trek Beyond: Starbase Yorktown Introduction Sequence.”

I watched the video with my students, who were delighted and excited. It was special sharing that moment with them, especially since I first received a text confirming my casting while I was teaching another class! And, sure enough at 1:31 to 1:32 — 1 second of movie magic — spotted myself in my dark blue costume on the left hand side of the frame! You can somewhat see my extra two arms near my thighs, but you can very clearly see my face.

I took three screen shots from the YouTube clip and enhanced them, circling myself in red. You can also two of the friends I made on set: Alissar Nasrallah  to my right wearing a yellow jacket and Shah Qhan in the middle of the shot facing the other way with his hand on another extra’s back.

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When I first began my actual on-set activity I was paired with another man named Amir in the same four-armed costume. His 8 to 10-year-old son was an extra dressed as a Vulcan child and his wife was there in an ornate dress with a large white hat. For most of that experience he and I walked together, but he left with his son around midnight or 1 am. The fact that I am walking alone here tells me that this was shot between 1 and 4 am; it might have been one of the last scenes filmed in the entire movie.

It was a long day (and night), but it was an exceptionally unique experience that I would definitely do again. I made many new friends and got to be a part of something memorable and meaningful. My mind is filled with a multitude of memories I will forever remember:

  • A Walk to Remember: I quite literally I walked for 12 hours straight (more or less). For most of the takes I walked with a similarly costumed character — either side by side or single file. As the My feet ached for a week and I wore sneakers to work!
  • Green Screen: I walked in front of a green screen alongside two other extras with my face covered by an extended knit turtleneck part of my costume (this made it nearly impossible to see). The crew also took a series of digital capture photographs of me and did a 360 degree 3-dimensional body capture.
  • Meet and Greet: I shook hands with Simon Pegg after his scenes in the film concluded. I had just seen another film of his, Man Up, and shared with him how much I enjoyed it. At one point during a break I also used the bathroom at the same time as Zachary Quinto (but I didn’t shake his hand).
  • Social Experiment: One of the most interesting aspects to the experience was that people grouped themselves together with others in similar costumes; even people in different Star Fleet uniforms and different ranks segmented themselves together.
  • Well Armed: The costume I wore was alien-esque (I had four arms), but I did not have an alien head.  I was able to wear my costume with my face showing during my work on set and got to walk in front of, behind, and alongside several of the main characters including Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock.

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After the movie was released I appeared for the third time on Ben Olmos’ “The Satisfactionist Podcast” with Shah Qhan — a friend I made on set. Shah and I discussed our experiences as extras; there is a great amount of detail in the recording if you’re curious to learn more. We also shared our thoughts about other entertainment topics. However, I edited those segments out and only kept the Star Trek Beyond commentary. If you’d like to listen to the full podcast you can do so here.

Live long and prosper.

20160801_015246I made another appearance on The Satisfactionist Podcast, this time as part of a virtual panel discussion on a “Buzz Session” with the podcast’s host Ben Olmos and my friend Shah Qhan whom I met as an extra while on the set of Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai.

According to the official description:

“This week we introduce Satisfactionist Buzz Sessions, a gathering of pundits joined around a topic of interest. Our first Buzz Session features Matthew A. Gilbert and Shah Qhan as we focus on some of the movies released for the summer of 2016. In this episode we talk Tarzan, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Matt and Shah talk about their experience as extras in Star Trek Beyond.”

Our segment begins at 33:58 into the episode; listen to it on:

Google Play

iTunes

SoundCloud

Stitcher Radio