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producers' dispatches from the front


For the first time ever in a FRONTLINE report, its producers emailed regular dispatches from the field which offer a fascinating inside look at some of the filmmaking and reporting process. During their two-month journey, producer Martin Smith's and co-producer Marcela Gaviria's dispatches described the places they visited, people they met and, sometimes, the frustrations they faced on the road in sometimes unfriendly territory. And, as Smith outlines in the introduction which follows, it all was part and parcel of the unusual process behind the making of "In Search of Al Qaeda."


behind the scenes: Photographs of the FRONTLINE team at work, along with some of their lighter moments.

This was an unusual project. The standard method for most FRONTLINE documentaries is to spend several weeks traveling and pre-interviewing subjects, investigating leads, scouting locations, and doing general prep work for a "shoot" that is to follow. For the first time in my experience, we didn't do it that way.

Instead, at the recommendation of David Fanning, our executive producer, we simply filmed the research trip. We set off not knowing what we would find, to whom we would speak, and in some cases not even knowing where we were going. We just followed leads wherever they took us. All the interviews are first encounters. All the locations, we had never before visited.

This meant that sometimes we ran into dead ends and needed to regroup and puzzle our way out of difficulties. But we filmed the process, which gives the documentary a different feel, more like a film in the making.

In Pakistan, for example, we set off for the lawless tribal areas -- where hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives and foot soldiers have taken refuge -- knowing that no TV reporters with cameras had been inside before. We didn't know if we could get in, but we needed to try. We filmed ourselves being steered away, halted at a roadblock. I was told that if I persisted, I risked becoming the next Daniel Pearl. So we decided to hire a local Pashtun tribesman who works as a freelance journalist, train him as a cameraman, and send him in as our proxy. Again, we filmed our first encounter with this man and the training.

The results have opened my eyes to many new possibilities. Using small cameras and filming as we went, I believe, gave us opportunities to catch things on camera that we couldn't have planned. It makes for a less formal kind of film, one that cuts the audience in on some of the filmmaking and reporting process. I found it rewarding, and I believe it will be for viewers as well.

--Martin Smith

+ Martin Smith

A longtime, award-winning FRONTLINE producer, Martin Smith produced "Hunting bin Laden" -- first broadcast in 1999, then updated and rebroadcast immediately after Sept. 11. His other recent FRONTLINE reports have included "Saudi Time Bomb?," "Looking for Answers," and "Dot Con."

+ Marcela Gaviria

For over a decade Gaviria has field produced documentaries for PBS, BBC, National Geographic, and CBS News. Currently working with Martin Smith on FRONTLINE programs, they co-produced "Medicating Kids" and she field produced two post-9/11 reports: "Looking for Answers" and "Saudi Time Bomb?"

+ Scott Anger

A freelance journalist and independent documentary producer with more than 15 years experience, Scott Anger photographed, field produced and was an additional editor on "In Search of Al Qaeda." He previously teamed up with FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith on "Saudi Time Bomb?" -- a film about the growing tensions between the U.S. and its Arabian ally after Sept. 11. Anger's work has been broadcast on PBS, NPR, BBC, Australian Broadcasting and VOA.]

read the first dispatch >

(Aug. 13-14)

+ Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

(Aug. 22-29)

Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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