Saturday, June 30, 2012

The importance of editing

Understanding editing is very important. In this post and future posts, I will try to point out to certain articles and editing techniques that I think is important for every director to know. Below is first 20 minutes of a great Documentary on Editing. Remember seeing it in WWI and great to see it again.

Dir-editor is a team that is responsible for shaping the film and telling the story most effectively.
See what Sally (Tarentino's editor) says in part 2 - it's an invisible art because the aim is to keep the viewer emotionally invested. If a dir knows editing well, she can plan her shots well and time them well. I think the process of seeing my own footage on the editing table has greatly helped me improve my directorial skills.

See my previous post:  on criteria for evaluating a cut as suggested by Walter Murch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Story-telling - best techniques are transparent

Continuing the mood of my previous blog posts, I just wanted to write this blog as these thoughts totally pre-occupied me on my drive from Mumbai to Nashik.

The subject of discussion here is film-making craft and story-telling - and how the craft should help the story-telling and not distract from it.

I saw a short film made by young enthusiasts and I felt though the short film was made with not so developed filmmaking techniques  (bad hand held camera, simplistic shots)  it was made with such purity of heart that I felt I really enjoyed it and it stayed with me.

Why did I feel that it was made with purity of heart ? Why didn't I feel any purity so in say the recent well-crafted films I saw. How can a badly crafted film show more purity than a well-crafted film by professionals ?

Somewhere when we look for refinement in story-telling techniques, we start seeing these techniques outside the context of story itself and it's likely that we stop paying attention to the central thought of the film and  gradually start betraying the film's story. For example - "wah kya camera gol gol ghoom raha hai. Wah wah".Maybe instead of thinking about the camera, the audience was supposed to feel sad for the woman's death. So these small distractions add up. Precision is important to create a transcendance with your films.

I rem a lecture in my film-making course on causal chain given by shyamal  - esp coz he gave the same lecture twice and I was bored to death. But in the process the thing that was drilled down my head was that a given scene follows another scene and leads to another scene. A very simple but profound teaching. That is there is a causal chain, and every scene is defined by what precedes it and what follows it. So I remember when I was shooting my short fiction "Reflections", there was a scene were a classmate of mine had a small role of being a barber and he is very hilarious inherently. So during the shoot, beyond the part that was written, he would do something hilarious to enhance the performance and everybody in the crew were lapping it up. And we thought we got a good take. But I asked him to give one more take where he just walks to the lead and says just what is necessary. And he was so disappointed and everyone in the crew said why we need another take esp coz we were shooting 16 mm and on a strict budget of cans. But at that point I was remembering the lecture,  and I knew the scene before and the scene after this one and a distraction of thought from emotions of the protagonist (esp for a 7 min film) to the side actor would have really affected the film. And on the final edit I felt I took a good call (now I must re-iterate that filmmaking being subjective, people might disagree with my call as well but for a dir it is very imp that he has least number of regrets on the edit table).

I think the best films I have seen so far have impressed me with their story  first (or the profoundness of central thought and the catharsis it caused in me by emotionally involving me) and much later do I notice the acting, editing, direction and music.

 Appreciation for the parts should come only after appreciation for the whole.

But the stage of filmmaking I am in - or some of my friends or colleagues are is sort of an adolescent stage where our enthusiasm can lead us to get attracted by techniques at the cost of story.  However, with time and experience, we could also settle and aspire to be filmmakers like Koreda where every nuance, every use of technique is originating from the story and enhancing the story. Only a trained director on second viewing can point of the techniques that he slyly used, the techniques so effective that they became transparent.

Addendum: Actually the environment in which a film is made is also very important. The forces coming together to make the film - the producer, the music director, the cinematographer, the editor etc also play an important role in it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We live in exciting times !!!!

Cloud computing/ Grid computing which was my MTech thesis topic is now an everyday reality. Now you can leverage that to do anything you want - you just need to pay a rent like electricity rent and all the cost of maintaining 1000s of servers, dealing with complexity and nightmares of their security/availability is taken care by these cloud computing vendors. You can just concentrate on your code.
Heroku (based in US) and E2ENetworks (based in India) are good cloud computing beds for deploying your apps that you want to scale as number of users or connections to your server increase.

In my prev blog post I was talking about my secret s/w venture. And now that I have done enough coding and made enough progress I thought I could share it.

But the main reason for this post is to encourage - students and software engineers to harness the power of cloud computing and push them to give way to your dream start ups. It's much easier. This project was something I did alone in 6-7 months and it will take additional 2-3 months but I did it only on weekends or weeknights that too intermittently -only last 1 month I gave weekdays too. Also I had to learn the whole web stack (and languages like php, jquery, ajax, css, sql which are actually pretty simple). For people who need not learn all that - it is simpler and easier. Also I am a control freak and write everything from scratch and obsesses about having simplest design and not use drupal etc so I had to write and test code and it took me longer (amt of debugging time is always more than amount of coding time). It will take less for you.

Anyways really-  I wish next Zuckerberg or the killer software app is from India and I hope some young s/w engg or any guy who has a dream of making a killer site can make it. In the comments later I will also post all the websites that will help you learn and create things faster.

What does it take to make your film emotionally felt ?

Recently I saw two movies from two top directors. I call them top director because I see their film as text-books, something to learn from and and get inspired from. I know they will present their stories in ways I haven't seen. They will have mise-en-scenes that are unseen, not just in India but in the world. Atleast that's what I expect.

And well when I saw the film, I was mighty impressed by the world they created. It's always good to get a refresher on how to construct a scene. Their techniques and the density of the film world they created was something that I cannot imagine acheiving in my first 3 films atleast. The "karigari" was of the highest quality.
But after seeing their films and thinking about them, I got a little tensed. Tensed cause inspite of being such brilliantly crafted, I don't know why, I couldn't feel much. I couldn't take that journey with the characters, in their highs and lows. It felt like I was the spectator and a film was unfolding in front of me. It never felt for me that I was myself going through it. Their movie-making craft was not helping their story-telling.

A good contrary example (but rather random) that come to my mind from a scene in Indian cinema is that of Johnny Gaddar when Johny is sitting in front of Dharmendra and Dharmedra has found out that he is the one who killed their team-mate and Johnny shoots at him. He is doing a wrong thing but  I was with that guy. Even my instincts were - kill him. I was one with the character.

In the past too, in one of my films I have failed to make it emotionally felt. Did I not spend enough time in making people register what my character was feeling.Was the problem in the edit, my handling of actors or was the problem in the writing itself where the thoughts in my head didn't reach my paper ?
And how to avoid being in a dissatisfying situation like this ? A story not well-told is dissatisfying for everyone.
I thought this could only be attained by taking care of feeling/emotions in every phase of film-making. Think of "feelings" like a delicate rose petal that I have to take care and transfer it - from my soul, to my mind to my script, to my shots and finally in my edit (& music) and to my viewer's mind and soul.
So these are my recommendations - moreso to myself than to anyone else to help a film convey the emotions I set out to convey.

1) Feel it - If I don't feel to or I never felt it - it will not be born. So feel the threat of being caught, feel the joys of living a life - feel it on my mind, not just in my shots or plots, but feel it in my being.

2) Write about it in script. Make room for it, give instances, experiences to the character so that they can convey their personality traits, give them specificity, give them weirdness, give them nuances, give them scope of presenting spontaneous reactions. Cross check that you have indeed downloaded your thoughts into you script. 

2b) Make those nuances visible in your shot breakdown. Make room for them. Plan shots so that we orient viewers to receive it. (An example from King's speech last shot where the coach is in his room thinking about the King and the King standing, waving people, thinking about the coach - the shot breakdown was very subtly and nicely done and they made room to convey this thought on the script)

3) During shoot- Convey it to your actors. They should be sure and very clear of the story in the point in time of the film. Incase they are not then they will not convey what you envisioned or thought of. It should reflect in their face, their body language, in the vibe or energy they exude. Give actors pauses where he is thinking and stay with him. So much of acting is done in pauses.

4) In the edit, between a good shot and a great feeling, give importance to feelings. Because even a million dollar shot will be of no use if it cannot generate a feeling. So stress on feelings and emotions.

These are my thoughts. However, if someone has pointers on text, case study or subject matter that can help me increase the emotional footprint of my film then please let me know. In the coming months, I will take up some scenes/movies and see what made them tick emotionally. Any recos ?

Update:  After discussing with a colleague, just want to clarify that beingn emotionally felt is not a mandate for any film and people can make any film and enjoy it the way they want.  And that is not the area towards which I want to steer any discussion . It's just a blog on what I feel,  and what I want to achieve with my films.