Sunday, October 7, 2012

Notes of a rookie filmmaker- Part I

From the sets of Based on a True Story

Here is my first film ever.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Based on a True Story.

I've worked on the movie for about 10 days, spread across 40. Its been an amazing learning experience, great amount of fun and something substantial I've managed to accomplish. Actually, its for the first time in my life that I've worked as hard as I have on this film, putting in copious amounts of energy to try to make my first film as good as possible. I know it could've been better, way better but then I'm pretty glad that I actually put together something instead of dreaming about it. I thought it'd go viral, had the lip sync been better, but then the reaction has been lukewarm at best. People have been telling me that I dragged it a tad too long, the conversations were boring, and the ending too abrupt. They also have been telling me that the acting has been top notch ( all credit to the actors ), the cinematography good and the subject, pretty interesting. I've been listening, digesting, analyzing, accumulating all those remarks and suggestions. I'll do best for my next film without compromising on my core ideology of how I think that film ought to be. Popularity is one end of the spectrum and I want people to like my film. But more importantly, I want to make a film that I'd like to watch sometime in the future. Period.

I've encountered a lot of situations while making the film which have taught me something about the process of filmmaking and the role of the director.

1. Clarity- The first scene we shot was the one where Ankith and Deekshith are entering the cafe. I took the script out, saw there were no dialogues, told them to walk into the cafe and started looking into the eyepiece.  Only to find that they were waiting for my instructions. They wanted to know how exactly they were to enter, from where, conveying what mood and where to stop. I hadn't thought of it. I had just dreamt of them entering the cafe and wrote it down. My first lesson was this- I could not be vague. I had to be clear of what I wanted, why I wanted it and had to give specific instructions to my actors. My lack of clarity cropped up in  quite a few situations where they were asking why I wanted to do a shot only that way. I had to be ready to explain. I undestood that my actors have to convinced of my actions and comprehend why their characters were behaving the way they were. Because if they don't, they won't have enough conviction to bring out their best.

2. Detail- Every inch of the frame should be filled. And filled with stuff related to the shot. And should take the story forward. Attention to detail is something I've learnt while making the film. No unnecessary object should be seen, nothing that takes away the attention can be allowed and whatever is seen has to sync in with the story. The position of the hand when the last shot was cut, the hair growth between the days of shoot, the shadow of the cameraman, the modulation while re-recording that has to go hand in hand with the expression; nothing is inconsequential. And knowing how to fill the frame without being superfluous nor wanting is something that I have to learn soon.

3. Open to ideas- It is one thing walking in with a bound script and a set of ideas. When I was on the location, with two other people passionate about the film, ideas were bouncing off like crazy. We argued, convinced, fretted about and dissected every shot. Why should it be like this, what are we trying to convey, can there be a better way, will it fit in with the next shot. The energy can be contagious and it was, as we shot all through nights, till daybreak, oblivious to hunger, thirst and sleep, excited with what we were doing. But it was also important to realise that the best idea didn't have to necessarily fit into the film. Sometimes, Ankith proposed a shot that was brilliant, or Deekshith produced a modulation that was emphatic. But I had to convince them that though the isolated action was truly outstanding, it didn't exactly fit into the jigsaw. But there were a lot of ideas that were incorporated making those scenes better than I envisioned them to be.

4. Director just takes the credit for all the ideas bouncing on the set- Every scene has had contributions from all those who were on the set. And they've made the film better, richer, deeper. I just get to take the credit all alone. All criticism to me is justifiable because I'm calling the shots, taking the decision but a lot that is good is actors and friends contributing.

5. Filmmaking is a lot of Hardwork- And all that work is liberating. And its an insane amount of fun. We've laughed like crazy on the sets while shooting, doing take after take, ignoring sleep and thirst just to bring out the best we could have. For the first time in my life, I knew why I was doing something, the result was there for me to see, just beyond my reach, urging, pushing, teaching and inspiring me. I loved every moment I spent on working for this film, spending upto 20 hour days while re-recording and editing, doing the best I could have. For the first time all my life, I understood the meaning of loving my work, so much so that I want to make more films because it fills me with a zest to live.

6. It is important to refine the script. And work over it again. And again- Something I learnt from the audience. Just because I find something interesting, doesn't mean everyone has to. And just because the audience cannot accept it, I cannot cheat myself into making a film that I don't like and respect. And so the middle path. Tell what I want to in a way the audience is willing to listen. Like one of the characters in the film says, "Approach change."

7. You start observing every sound, image, film. Try to dissect and understand it- Since I've started making this film, I've been more and more critical of every film that I've been watching. Understanding why the director chose to make the film the way it turned out to be. Understanding how background score elevates the scene, when a great looking shot does not stand out of the script, and see how the writer ensures that the point is driven forward without the characters seeming too contrived. Ultimately, I've been trying to understand how the filmmaker manages to put together piece after piece, string it with music, maintain consistency with the visuals, collaborating with the cast and the crew, ensure the script does not falter or fall off and use jagged pieces to weave a cohesive picture that so closely resembles life.

8. It is important to make not what you can but what you want- The most important lesson I've learnt. I can make a film, right from my comfort zone. But if the process of filmmaking does not challenge me, inspire me, help me grow, evolve, make me think and feel better, if I'm not investing my heart and soul in every one of its shots, then I'm not truly making what I've dreamt of. This movie has taught me the basics of photography, the act of man management, how to use adobe premiere, and how to strum that basic chord pattern among others. I maybe able to cheat my viewers but I cannot deceive myself and proclaim to the world that I've put in all that I could've. Wtih Based on a True Story, I haven't done that. I've hardly put in my 50%. There's so much more I could've done. But there's nothing I can do to change that now. All I can do is promise myself that I'll make a better film next time around.

Reality is an illusion. Dreams are real. And films are the closest we can come to comprehending reality.

This post has a follow-up.

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