A look into my research

So, to start with, to succeed at my role it was absolutely necessary to look at the work of the cinematographers who are ruling the industry today. I did a lot of watching and a lot of reading into how they portrayed the voice of the story through cinematography. For this blog, I have written down a bit of the research I did that was necessary to the project I am making. In the following paragraphs I look into some of my favourite works that I used to inform my style.

  1. Emmanuel Lubezki – Children of Men and The Tree of Life top my list as my favourite cinematic films. After watching The Tree of Life, I really wanted to try using natural light, because let’s be real – how beautiful was that. Especially when he did through sunlight coming in through the tree canopies. I was reading of the various rules he makes for himseelf to shoot within and found them very interesting and useful for when I was shooting as well. “In all the movies I’ve done, I always worked with a set of rules — they help me to find the tone and the style of the film,” he says. “Art is made of constraints. When you don’t have any, you go crazy, because everything is possible.”     •    Shoot in available natural light
    •    Do not underexpose the negative Keep true blacks
    •    Preserve the latitude in the image
    •    Seek maximum resolution and fine grain
    •    Seek depth with deep focus and stop: “Compose in depth”
    •    Shoot in backlight for continuity and depth
    •    Use negative fill to avoid “light sandwiches” (even sources on both sides)
    •    Shoot in crosslight only after dawn or before dusk; never front light
    •    Avoid lens flares
    •    Avoid white and primary colors in frame
    •    Shoot with short-focal-length, hard lenses
    •    No filters except Polarizer
    •    Shoot with steady handheld or Steadicam “in the eye of the hurricane”
    •    Z-axis moves instead of pans or tilts
    •    No zooming
    •    Do some static tripod shots “in midst of our haste”
    •    Accept the exception to the dogma (“Article E”)
  2. Roger Deakins – I love Roger Deakins’ Skyfall because of his play with the colours blue and red. Having done a lot of research into it though, I realized he was one for creating artificial light and uses a lot of very heavy duty equipment and builds very expensive sets which is a little hard for a film student to do. Just not enough budget. Having said that, he really is the master of setting the mood using different colour tones.
  3. Matthew Libatique – Black Swan is another favourite and very relevant here because of the mood and arc it sets. The play of light and shadow is beautiful and so powerful. The fact that the only colour in a space came from the protagonists bedroom, making it a warm space was beautiful. I took inspiration from this as well.
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The Shoot

So, this week we started our shoot. After weeks of planning and endless meetings, we were finally there. We would actually get to shoot. I was ready, I knew what I wanted and I knew, or at least I thought, this is going to be easy.

Day 1:

I walked from the tram stop to Alex’s on day one and it was pouring. I wasn’t worried because this was expected. Our project manager had already warned us, having done her homework. Having said that, I had done my homework too. On paper, I had put down exactly what I would do with the lighting, having seen the location before. I felt prepared. But, as I mentioned how how different theory is from reality! Sure I had drawn up my lighting structure but it didn’t always work and I had to improvise a lot. Thank god for Harrison, Alex’s friend who had done this a few times and knew what to do. Working together I learnt a world of things.

The biggest problem I had was getting the details with every frame. I would light it up like how I would want the final image to be, instead of trying to get as much light as possible for our editor to work in post. Harrison kept trying to remind me of that as he was to be editor and sometimes I found how difficult it was to be happy with the shot. This really made me look at the whole picture, thinking of post-production during the production stage. I learnt so much on my first day in, that thought I was more theoretically prepared on day 1, I was much more practically prepared on the other days of the shoot.

Another thing that I had a lot of doubt over was the pale to warm – blue to red arc. How would this transition really look ? What about continuity? Was I really going to pull this off? I felt like I had dug myself a whole and Harrison laughed about how difficult I was going to make his life. We did have a blast though, learning is so much fun when you forget theory and start experimenting and have a group of beautiful people to share it with. That, and of course the beautiful lunch and endless stream of coffee Alex provided us. The only problem, Aaron and I getting on each other’s last nerve because neither of us knew where one’s job ended and the other’s started. Stepping on each other’s toe, we were forced to come to the decision of having meetings and discussions within just ourselves before the next shoot.

All in all, a beautiful day, with beautiful shots and great team work.

Day 2:

Lo and behold, another rainy day and another day spent in the confines of Alex’s house. Now, today we were shooting the couple and man, was it fun. Quiet a few things changed for us as compared to day 1. The first and most obvious, the actors. On day 1, we worked with Mitch, a dedicated actor training to be a professional someday. While we had our moments of fun (especially in the bathtub), the shoot was much more serious than day 2. Day 2 was working with Kaitlyn and Ekatrina, who both while having done an amazing job and giving us everything we wanted, were really fun. Fun to a point where I had to remind them to get on with it as we were limited on time. That’s never a fun thing to point out. It was so difficult to ask them to stay still till we got the shot right.

The other thing that changed was that there was one location none of us had seen – we had needed an extra room. Early on in the planning stage we had decided that it would have to be at my house. But, due to the distance and time constraints, we decided to just use our production designer’s house which was just down the street. We got there and we just didn’t have the space we needed. There was no way we could light it to match, the room was way to small and it was crowded with things. The scene required a semi empty place which looked like someone had just moved in and we just didn’t have that. It was three shots, so we definitely didn’t want to change locations and I was on my own here because Aaron was getting another shot at the park. We had decided to split up due to the small weather window we had and the limited time as we were running pretty behind. I made a last minute decision and changed the entire scene, which was then shot in her backyard. Thank god for the fact that we didn’t have to worry about sound, because she lived right next very busy  train tracks.

Day 3:

The last day, the one I was most excited about. The lady was being shot at my house and the universe was finally listening to me! It was a bright sunny day.  We had originally thought that this would be our longest shoot yet, but because of the amazing natural light, we could do most of it without time consuming light set ups. We got beautiful shots and I was really pleased with it.

My favourite part of all the silhouette shots I created. I did this by putting two lights outside my house window, making them look like street lamps. This created a beautiful effect and I immediately fell in love with it.

The only thing that happened on that day that wasn’t to be expected was that Aaron and I were at log heads again. We hadn’t spoken about this shoot in much detail and I had a very particular vision for it, having written the script. I need her against this wall, I said but Aaron wanted to use another wall. We argued about various shots but somehow managed to find middle points every time.

The shoot days were the most fun I have had this semester. This, I feel was my introduction into working in the real world, with real sets, real set ups, and just plain old reality and I loved it! It was the experience of the course, the highlight for me.

Natural Lighting vs Artificial Lighting

When I first started this project, I was taken by the romance of the idea of using natural lighting. “It’s realistic, beautiful and I love the sunlight”, I said. “It’s a bigger challenge and that’s what uni is about”, I exclaimed. “There’s no sunlight, I’m doomed”, I screamed. “The clouds just covered the sun!”, I pulled my hair out. “It’s going to be sunny in an hour again” I waited as everyone gave me THE LOOK.

It’s not as easy as one might think to use natural light. You’re dependent on nature and that’s the last thing you want to depend on. Not when you are on a budget, a time schedule and have a team around you, waiting for you to get it right. “He created two sets in opposite directions, so you could shoot on one for the first half of the day and the other through the second half”, well I wish I could do that! You need a budget to use the natural! How weird is that!!!! Equipment costs a bomb. I recently found out that just the battery for the LED light panel costs about $600 or so. But natural lighting is just a whole new ballgame. Figure that!

I find it hilarious that one uses artificial light to create a natural look. And how weird is it that natural light can look so awfully artificial because one doesn’t actually realize how a natural light lights things up, because in reality, when do you actually think of it. It can be so white, so bright, so yellow! But that could be just my way of looking at things. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have really understood what natural represents and I notice it all the time now.

When it comes down to it, I think there really is no right answer on which is better. It’s a preference as well as logistics of availability. It also boils down to how you use the light to your advantage to create the image.

The other positive of using natural light that appealed to me unconsciously, which is why I call it the romance of it is, we live in a world where natural as a word rules. The minute you say natural, it is appealing, brings curiosity, or at the very least a source of amusement to people today. We have lived amongst the artificial too long. There was a time when preservatives, artificial, what one could create without having access to was very appealing but the time is long gone. Have you all heard your grandmothers look at a fake plant and go dreamily on about how real it looks? I have. But now, we promote the natural, and we win awards on it, we love it, all of us do. But the question comes down to beauty, mood and the message we send out, what’s possible and the choice we make depends on reality.

Cinematography, budgets and locations

Theory and reality, how different they are! During the first presentation, I promised a lot because it was a dream, it was all theory and creativity. But as always I was struck with reality with the cost of creativity. No matter that you get all the equipment from uni, you won’t get everything you want – boiling down to as simple as having the right gels to put on the lights or the particular lense you wanted or the ND filter you love so much. Then there is locations, no budget equals not much choice with locations. And of course, when you don’t pay your crew and actors, you work on days everyone can make it on the set, which means there isn’t a choice, rain or hail, you’re shooting on a day chosen for you.

Who can afford costumes? Work with what you have. Oooh, no one has blue eye shadow – work with what you have. And just like that compromises are made with the vision, the creativity you had spent weeks dreaming of.

In my presentation I spoke of three things – Using natural lighting to create beautiful halo like effects and use the camera to set the right balances and look. I wanted to shoot half the video with a tungsten white balance and the rest, warmer. Then I spoke about the blue to red arc, to flow with the healing theme we had using gels, lighting, white balance and of course grades in editing. Keeping the same idea in mind, I mixed it with the third point I made, about production design, make up and wardrobe.

On a fine sunny day, in rolled Alex to my house, to take me to see the agreed upon locations that I would have to work with. There was my house for one video and the surrounding park, gym and street. Now these locations all had an abundance of natural light and I was pretty excited and confident about them. Then we went to his house and the park near there. The first park we decided was sloped and shadows might irritate us, so we went to another park which was perfect. Now the main problem came to be Alex’s house. No natural light what so ever. As beautiful as his house was, I knew we needed not one but tons of light to make it look like the way I had pictured it.

I asked him to borrow 2 LED panels and 1 dido kit. The dido kit was for safety, but we ended up using it a lot, so thank god for contingency planning. We were also lucky, because for some scenes the three didos and the 2 panels were just not enough, we also used the few lamps Alex has lying around and they were the best! So good rule to have here I learnt, always have more than you think you need and always think of the ways you can use items you have lying around. Lamps go a long way, but you could also bounce light of a mirror or a television screen!

This brings me to the next problem. The days we were shooting at Alex’s place, it stormed and stormed. Storm = Rain and Wind = No natural light = Fuck my life! We managed, we got beautiful shots, I am very happy with what we could do. When the first day started, I was absolutely drowning, but Alex’s friend – Harrison stood by me, teaching me more tricks than I could remember and together we pulled it off!

The wardrobes of all team members were mixed, enough blues and reds turned up and this wasn’t as hard as anticipated earlier. I had asked everyone to message me photos of theie wardrobes and hadn’t gotten any till the day before shoot when people were like OOPS, No reds love! But a beautiful team comes together and makes sure everyone’s vision is seen through and our team was the most wonderful!

My Lesson: Don’t be put down by budgets and locations and stuff, just power on and keep looking for ways around everything. Nothing in the world can really stop you from achieving your vision!

 

Me – A Cinematographer!

At the start of the semester, I was determined to make the film I had been dreaming of for what seems like years now. I was all set, but once semester actually took off, I realized that I just couldn’t do it. The problems I faced were endless, the realities bode me down and the risk of a result that didn’t meet what was in my head, the perfect picture, was just too great. I spent the entire break making films, editing, directing, producing, you name it. For the first time since I started this course I had a very clear picture of myself and my abilities. I knew what I was good at and what I needed to work on. This is NOT fun.

Though my book knowledge and logic base seemed more sound than one would think, I was not yet confident with the technology itself. I knew I was decent with lighting, I could create in theory beautiful frames but I wasn’t ready to shoot my dream. Having heard everyone’s projects, I decided to take a chance and ask Alex Hipwell if I could be a part of his. He said yes, I could be the cinematographer. This hit me with two emotions – Relief and fear. Relief because I hadn’t realized how much weight being a part of a good team can take off a person and fear because that was a role I had hoped to play in the future, but was I ready now. Was I artistic enough? What the bloody hell was cinematography anyway? Lighting? I don’t know my lenses!!! If I decided the frames and the colours and the look, what exactly is the Director to do?

I went home that night and started in on my research, the most basic research that is and the stuff that came up in people’s blog was very helpful but at times hilarious. To be a part, you have to look the part, act the part, dream the part and then you are the part. After that it’s easy – Just Do It! One blog said the stereotype is grow a beard, wear dirty old loose clothes, wear big round glasses and learn to saunter to be a cinematographer. Well, atleast I had the big round glasses down and I could definitely dress fancily creative, wear my stud puffin’ pajamas on set. So I looked the part, the nose ring substituted the beard and I was ready to rock being a cinematographer.

The next step was to act the part, and I needed to do more research for that. I read up about the lenses, studied what I could do with each and started studying the best cinematographers and their work out there. I also found the perfect excuse to sit and watch movies, tv shows and music videos but it was like watching everything with new eyes. That’s not a window, that a light panel!! I would exclaim in the middle of serious scenes till my housemate decided she couldn’t watch stuff with me. Oh well! Then I put my research into practice. That was easy, cause I love being chatty. Lucky for me all my friends here are either photographers or filmmakers, so no one wanted me to shut up. Scintillating conversations, that’s what I had now as we discussed the latest videos and the cinematography of Downton Abbey.

Before I knew it, I was dreaming about it, and thinking of lighting structures and the bokeh effect all the time. It was exciting and the best part was it was all I had to think about, being a part of another project, which was just such a relief and brought out the better in me. I started becoming more confident as the weeks went by. I remember when Alex first asked me if I would like to be DOP and I told him no I would be bad behind the camera, to the third day of shooting when I offered and co-DOPed with him. So, I am a cinematographer, I am a confident one and all it took was a dream to reality journey. Who would have thought two years back when I started the course, that I would leave with a title as awesome as that and where my dreams would take me. Me – A CINEMATOGRAPHER!!!!!

 

 

 

 

Bollywood VS Hollywood

bolly

While in India, talking to filmmakers and stars, I realized that Bollywood as an industry was completely different from Hollywood. Since then, having done more research on it here are somethings I realized.

Every story has been formed by a person, a person definitely belonging to a religion which has in many ways defined his story. One of my greatest findings has been that the stories or plots of Hollywood films are heavily based on redemption as Lisa Dethridge mentions in her book – ‘How to write a screenplay’. But where does the concept of redemption come from? Christianity. But if that theory is true, what would Bollywood films be based on? I believe that Bollywood stories come from the concept of Karma which comes from the Hindu religion. This makes the plots of both industries completely different.

India is a country of poverty, illiteracy and abundance of population, where the earning is limited, the infrastructure on the rise but still poor, and Indian have a hard life. The last thing they want is a serious movie outlining hardships without a way to overcome it. What is welcome instead is the dance, the music, the emotion filled drama the plots have to offer and magnificent international backdrops that most Indians will never see in reality. They need an escape and Bollywood is the industry that provides it. Where most Hollywood films are like short stories, Indian films are like novels that have a lot of characters, a theme that envolves generations and lifetimes, many incidents all coming together to form one heck of a story. That is why we call Bollywood Cinema an escapist cinema.

Shantanu Gupta, a famous Indian screenwriter said, “Hollywood films can sustain interest, or can interest their audience with one track. You can have a bomb in a bus, a girl driving the bus, and a man whose sole mission is to save the bus driver and passengers. That is all! This is the whole film. We can’t do a film like that. I wish we could – it’s so straightforward! It can be only one scene in a Hindi film, like the climax. It cannot be the whole film.”

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The plot of Bollywood films generally revolve around relationships and the emotions of the people involved. There are a lot of Indian films which are said to be rip offs of Hollywood films, but there is always a difference. This difference is what makes them Indian. Culturally, we are a very different community and emotions dictate everything. It is common for large families to live together, and the break up into nuclear families does not come without the emotional blackmail from the older parents! Strong, intense relationships make our backdrop and that is the way we have grown. We like our emotions and we like them in our films, so a Hollywood movie with emotions turned up super high makes a Bollywood movie.

As I mentioned before Karma, from our mythology plays a great role here. If someone dies, he deserves to die. If someone kills, it is because he has a very good reason to kill. Generally an emotional one, not like James Bond!

Our characters have several high and low points throughout the film, distinguishing it from Hollywood’s mid to low to rock bottom to soaring high. Our plots are multi-linear in nature. Our characters do not have ordinary routines, they have sacrifices, consequences, relationships, moral conflicts and what not, making most films an epic story. We are said to follow a four act structure as compared to Hollywood’s three act structure, and due to the length of our films and amount of drama, an intermission divides the film into half. This half point generally has a lot of drama or suspense attached to it, like the end of a great chapter in a great novel, you have to read on! Or in this case, get some popcorn, cause shit is going to hit the fan!

Song and dance according to Vivek Agnihotri, are a tool used to cause interruptions in the plot while enhancing it and providing a more delay in the development of the plot. That is interesting, as the suspense is being drawn out. Another very interesting thing he pointed out was that the audience actually like the length of the films because they paid money to come relax and make a day of film watching. With limited funds, the drawn out film feels like a better reason to have spent the money. We enjoy them long. It is our escape from reality.

Other stark differences include funding. The concept of crowd-sourcing is still unheard of in India. Most films are funded by rich individuals or the underworld (I heard this from a film director in India!!). Bollywood is in every way very different from Hollywood and I find these differences alluring. I would like to be part of both industries during my career trajectory and hope to keep digging up more.

References:

Ganti, T, 2004. Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema. 1st ed. UK: Psychology Press.

The Prayas Challenge

IMG_0579Prayas is an NGO based in India, for children. They work with children who have been in various bad situations, like child labour, sex trafficking, homelessness, etc. saving them from it and giving them an opportunity to grow within a safe community and achieve their dreams. Through various drives, they save these children and bring them back to the various homes around various cities in India and provide them with food, shelter, care, medical needs and skill developing education.

During my trip to New Delhi with RMIT, I got the amazing opportunity to work with Prayas in order to make a video to spread awareness about children who were under their care and had been saved from sex trafficking. I chose this particular topic because as of this year, according to census, Delhi is one of the largest hubs for child prostitution and trafficking. This is because of the high demand of children for domestic labour in Delhi which leaves a lot of them in the clutches of people who sell them into the market. Being an upcoming issue, I wanted to help in every way possible. This video is meant to spread awareness in Melbourne and is hence, tailored to cater the market here and not the very different audience present in India. The idea is to generate help and volunteers from developed countries who are in a much better position to help us overcome this problem we are facing today.

Working on this project, I had to make sure that I was suiting not only the Australian audience with their cultural sensitivities but also the needs and cultural background of my Indian clients. Initially this proved to be a difficult task when I gave it thought, but discussion with the client made the issue much easier to deal with and solve. I have discussed the differences in culture in another article and just lightly touch on my decisions to overcome these for my project here.

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Indians love long videos, the idea of a short documentary, only 2 minutes is quite difficult for them to understand. What’s the point, why not make it longer, more detailed? The point here though was that my audience belongs to a community which strives on short videos today. The shorter the better. No one really has time to watch a forty minute video talking about the hardships faced in another country anymore. Discussing this, we decided on a short length, longer than my suggested 1 minute, but we put a full stop at 3 minutes.

To preserve both cultural sensitivity as well as further exploitation of the victims, we decided against using any faces in the video and hence all shots were captured keeping that in mind at all times. Use of imagery collected from around India, bluish cold colour and sad music hint at the story behind this poetic documentary.

Even the audio collected has been through volunteers, repeating what the children told us as they were very intimidated by the camera and microphones, which we decided against using then. I am now sending my film to the clients and await further feedback. While editing the film though I kept thinking of everything I have learnt from that trip and have been thinking a lot about these differences we have in culture…