The Script Issue

So, being in week 11, we were now midways to getting the edit ready and it wasn’t easy. Our main problem at this time was confining ourselves within the script and telling a story without words, dialogues and that was very hard to achieve. This problem we realized rose because of the mistakes we made in the pre-planning stage, while writing the scripts.

The first issue was that instead of teamwork on writing the three scripts, we divided the work equally and three of us took a script each to write. This led to having three different scripts by three different people who think in completely different ways. We had three individual scripts which did not match at all in regards to the story linearity, pace and depth. One had flashbacks, one was very deep set over a long time but told through repeated activity and one paced over a few days but told simply through a variety of activities.

 

Also, the way the scripts were written called for different type of direction and Aaron and I had a hard time trying to match the way each played out in terms of direction.

During the editing process, we had to rearrange the script several times to make the pace match better, and though a really good job was done of this, it wasn’t perfect in any way. The cinematography had been thought of according to the original scripts and now the arc of cold to warm and blue to red was all over the place. This did not take away from the story but to a person who knows what to be looking for, and in accordance to the time, effort and thought that had been put in during and before the shoot, this was a big disappointment.

The last problem was that though we had heard the songs many times before, the script did not match the lyrics, they were on a completely different tangent. They went with the music but the music itself should have been incorporated in the script and the result would have been even better.

 

But, a good team makes everything work and the editing process has been fascinating. The story has come through and the films look brilliant. Just teetering on the edge of perfection, but not quiet there yet!

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Presenting Work-in-Progress

When I first presented my project, it was very different from what we have achieved so far. The project had to be altered quiet a bit, due to circumstances as well as the growth it saw in the weeks ahead. It wasn’t only the project that grew, but I grew so much with it on a personal as well as professional level.

Initially we had decided to shoot four different stories to cover 15 minutes worth of videos and that changed to a more realistic three stories. This decision was made solely because of the difficulty of being able to structure all four in the amount of time that the music lasted – i.e., 15 minutes. We were able to achieve more defined storylines instead of a rushed view. The project now makes more sense.

Initially I had talked about using natural light to make my videos, but this wasn’t possible for all three stories and only one was shot in natural light as I have discussed in another blog before. This was due to the lack of resources to be able to extend our shooting days to only those that were beautiful and sunny as well as the lack of choice of locations as not all locations gave us optimum access to natural light.

I had also spoken about the blue to red arc that the storylines will see, and where this has been achieved for the most part, continuity for all three storylines has been an issue as they aren’t similarly paced and it was difficult to shoot in accordance to this arc as the shot list wasn’t planned keeping the arc in mind and making last minute changes had a huge impact on the outcome as well as led to a great deal of confusion. Also in a lot of instances, the script had to be rearranged in post-production.

The vision had at the start not been discussed thouroughly between the director and I and this led to a lot of changes during the shoot and the planning I had put in as well as the directors plans.

I grew majorly in confidence as I was able to achieve an outcome I am quiet happy with and this led to personal growth as well because where I had a shaky voice and a ‘I’m not sure’ persona while presenting the idea, I was confident and proud of the work I was able to showcase in the work in progress, which meant I presented much better.

Mainly, we were able to achieve most of what we promised and more and we worked with various limitations but pulled through with a project we can be proud to call ours.

Cinematographer vs Director

SERIOUSLY WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CINEMATOGRAPHER AND THE DIRECTOR?

From my research online as well as from reading the book ‘From Reel to Deal’, I have tried to really differ between the roles of a cinematographer and director. Throughout the project, it felt like Aaron (director) and I kept stepping on each other’s toes and he kept saying that certain decisions were his but these decisions came under the look and framing of the scenes and I felt like that was my job. The problem was that I did not know how to explain it to him and for once, I wasn’t sure myself of what fell under his jury and what fell under mine.

So, after reading all that text, blogs and finding forums where people had similar problems, I have made the following distinctions that I plan to take onto my next project as guidelines of clarity between the two roles.

  1. The cinematographer is the head of the camera and lighting crew. The director is the visionary, who brings the script to screen. This means that the vision is always the directors and he in pre-production explains this to the cinematographer, who then plans accordingly and makes it possible.
  2. On set, the director focuses on the actors and whats happening on the set. He does not dabble into what the camera man is doing or how the set is lit. That is the cinematographer’s job. The cinematographer makes the shot composition according to his previously discussed vision of the film with the director.
  3. The cinematographer is the communication between the director and the rest of the camera and lighting crew. On set, the director does not involve himself with them and only communicates with the cinematographer.

In conclusion, a film set is a funny place where everyone knows each other’s jobs. One man may be able to do everything but a successful film is a collaboration, a team effort. If one man actually had to do everything, it would be a disaster, wouldn’t it? The secret to success here lies in specialization and trust. And that is the relationship between the director and cinematographer. The cinematographer has to trust in the director’s vision and the director has to trust the cinematographer’s work.

Cinematography – mood vs beauty

One of the most important questions one needs to ask themselves as a cinematographer is, am I creating beautiful images or am I setting a tone to enhance the narrative? For a music video, where beauty is well respected and expected, this is a tough question to answer. It really boils down to the message we want to send across. At some point, for this particular project, the beauty and mood setting had to join hands and work with a balance.

Our story arc was pretty well defined, as to the message we wanted to send and to start my process, I pulled out theme words to define it and inform my planning and styling. Healing, intimacy, emotions were some of the words that stood out at first. Digging deeper, I found more words – Inner self, depression, sadness, happiness, ecstasy, dependency and relationships. On the basis of these words I decided I would use the healing arc to go from pale to warm and the colours to go from blue to red. Inadvertently, I had made my decision to go with setting a mood and tone to enhance our story instead of looking for beauty shots.

This affected everything – the wardrobe, the props, the make-up, the lighting and the colour balance we used. But you see, the cinematographer is a powerful powerful person and I still had a few tricks up my sleeves. Lenses, depth of field, framing shots and contrasts were still a little unaffected. Now, I’ve always wanted to shoot a music video and get beautiful shots!

This was my chance. With few to none mid shots, I made the decision of going wide and close up for most shots. Show the whole picture with small protagonists to show the loneliness and depression they were suffering and close ups to go hand in hand with intimacy. We also used a lot of tracking shots to create empathy, a feeling of being part of that world and for the audience to create connections with our characters.

Now, these things were thought of, but some things hadn’t come through my head. Like what lenses will we be using? Do we want a large depth of field, do we want blurry backgrounds? These decisions were made on set and due to the lack of planning , they were made with having the beauty aspect in mind. That shot with all that blurriness is absolutely beautiful. OMG, that contrast is perfect. Let’s do it!

Looking back now, I like to tell myself that I was still thinking of things like isolating the protag or using hard lighting in a moment of misery and that’s why I took the shots I did. But, that isn’t true at all, even though it worked out in the end. These things though so well thought through are very subjective from filmmaker to filmmaker and sometimes, not everything is as planned out as one would think.

Being a beautiful music video, our films needed the beauty aspect, but that aspect found its place in the mix on the film sets and not before. For me, this helped find a great balance and I personally think as a cinematographer I need to think of the narrative, the emotions and the audience when I plan and then use that planning and manipulate it to be as beautiful as possible. Who said beauty is only skin deep? A well-planned thing can be more beautiful sometimes.

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.

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.

Umda – A technical breakdown

As a reference for the style of shooting for Sonder Melbourne, I have often referenced Umda – a music video by David Aufdembrinke. This has been one of my favourite films in the last year and has truly inspired me with it’s style. For my personal choice blog, I would like to do a technical breakdown of the film as it is invaluable to the research behind Sonder Melbourne.

Visual Filming – The film from was shot during a six week travel through India. It was shot using a Sony A7, and three old Nikon lenses and a single tripod. There were two main reasons for using this equipment – one that the old manual lenses made it look like a analogue photo camera and David wanted that because people react differently to a camera when they think you’re taking a photograph as compared to knowing when they are being filmed. The second reason was the low cost of the gear, which meant that a lot more risk could be taken with this equipment, which one would not do with a more expensive kit. This would be absolutely necessary in getting the type of shots for such films as one is more open to the ideas of how the camera can be moved to get a shot. For example, David tied the camera to a stick and stuck it outside a moving train to capture a video that way. Use of hyper lapse was very important in this film but due to the speed of the film, a lot more shots were required and to be on the safe side, he got 12,000 photos for hyperlapse. The footage itself was ten hours long, from which he was able to cut a 4 minute video.

Due to the kind of shots and pre-planning of what he would do in post production, stability of the camera and perfect framing was not of great importance. The effect of an old grainy VHS film with exaggerated and bleeding colours leaves an option of high zoom and re-framing option.

Nothing was staged for shots required, it was shot naturally, in a documentary format. Most of the shots were unplanned.

Post Production – Editing Style – The film is made with match cuts, which means that every shots ending has been matched graphically to the next shots beginning. The fast movements between shots has been inspired by Japanese cartoons for children, which is what gave me the younger age group insight. It is amazing how much more a child picks up as compared to an adult. The editing was done completely in Adobe Premier. The idea was to shift through shots before one could comprehend what had happened, hence just leaving a sense behind. He calls this style ADD-Editing. In an interview with Dezeen Magazine, David explained that he was inspired by the disregard of pixel resolutions he witnessed in Indian videos, and so just used every effect in the editing suite, which is why could scale images to 600 percent to match them to lead in and out.

The hyper lapses have been stabilized to look like a fast, fancy video takes. The clips were linked into After effects to create some of the effects.

Colour Grading – The colour grading is the most interesting part of the film for me as a VHS tape was used to colour grade with the use of two different strength magnets to pull the colour and make it bleed. The final effect could not have been guessed before, but was a pure experiment. The video was recorded on two different tapes, one with the magnets and one with cuts. It was testing and then do again to get different affects. I would like to try this myself in my video but have not made a decision on it yet. Though exciting, I do not have the means as yet.

Audio – For me the audio was amazing as it added to the film itself, gave the perfect beats for the perfect visuals. But, that was all it was. Finding out that the film had been made as a music video was very disappointing as the music itself is lost in the beauty of the film and is not but a mere enhancer. A powerful one, but not a standalone. One you’re not really listening to. It was a remix of six songs by varied artists.

So, in conclusion to this research, I do think I would get a completely different outcome as it is all an experiment, but I love the idea of using a camera like Sony A7 and three old lenses just because I loved the reasoning for it. Before this research I had been ideally thinking of using a 70mm lense and was very sad that the uni does not lend them out, but I have my answers now. With colour correction, I plan on using Premier and After effects as well but no VHS, as much as I want to. I will save that for a later project. For the audio, I want to use whispered thoughts, music as an enhancer and sounds from the city, make it three level.