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.

Advertisements

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.

Cinematographer and Editor

On a film set everyone has their own roles. Each role is unique and important. Having said that, every role is useless if not done in collaboration with other crew members and cast. As a cinematographer, one would think that the main duty will be during the production stage at the shoot itself. But, this is far from the truth. A cinematographer’s work doesn’t end with the shoot or even begin there. A huge part of the work happens in pre-production so all the planning can be done and no time is wasted on set.

But who does the cinematographer collaborate with or sit and plan with. Basically everyone, at each level. The three main people who have to match their visions though are the Director, the cinematographer and the editor. But doesn’t the editor come in towards the end, in post?

The best way to make a successful film to plan from the start. As a cinematographer, you should explain your vision to the editor and he will be the judge who would tell you if it was possible or how the result will look. Because, at the end of the day, the cinematographer collects the footage and relays it to the editor who sews it together and makes a final product of it.

My mistake while shooting the Winter series was to not think of this particular interaction at all. I made all my decisions, spoke to all the other team members about it but never met our editor, Harrison till I actually came around to the shoot on day 1. This led to obvious problems when we actually started discussing things. He told me that I had to shoot with as much light as I could as he won’t be able to manipulate much otherwise in post. He also told me that the arc would be difficult as there was no continuity in my lighting. He’s a good editor and he would work with what I gave him and we worked together on set as well, which though changed a lot of things, stuck very closely with my vision. I can’t wait to see the final result that he is stitching together.

Lesson learnt this week: Collaborate with the post guys in pre-production!

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.

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.”

_ca14c31a-a6f1-11e5-aba6-7a39899cdf3c

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.