It's not every day that one gets a chance to be on the frontlines of filmmaking. Indie films and filmmaking seem to be buzzwords these days with so many of these low-budget-yet-large-hearted films coming out of the woodwork in the last few years and winning acclaim. Whether there's an indie movement or a wave happening is for the future to decide. What is indisputable is that filmmakers across the country are picking up their cameras and making their films the way they want, unhindered by monetary considerations.
So when I was offered an opportunity to work alongsideDevashish Makhija(Agli Baar, Taandav, El'ayichi, Absent, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro) on his yet-to-be-named upcoming film, I jumped on it. Here's a chance to see first-hand the mechanics of indie filmmaking in action. Makhija's film has been in pre-production for a couple of months already and is just about a week away from shoot now. I have been embedded with the team for a month now, assisting Makhija while also sharing my observations once every week with you. You can read the earlier postshere. Obviously, there's a limit to what can be shared and I won't be able to talk about the story or the cast. The idea is to give a clear-eyed picture of indie filmmaking, divorced from all the romanticisation that surrounds it.
We are now on the last leg of our shoot. Midway through the gruelling, intense exercise, the team had an opportunity to rest, reflect and prepare for the next schedule. Surprisingly, when I should've been savouring the time off, I found myself extremely bored and longing to get back into action. The high of shooting, the adrenaline rush is extremely addictive I was told and I can now see why.
Reflecting on the events of the last few days I am tempted to draw my own lessons. On what we did right & what we could've maybe done better. Here goes our half-time review...
1. Let the actors rehearse — it will help you
The workshop we did with the actors' is proving to be a savior. Given the tight timelines we are working against, it's a blessing when the actors are prepared and hit the mark from the first take itself. Pooja, our associate director, spends a few minutes with them before every take, going through the lines and rehearsing one last time before we roll and the results are all there for everyone to see. The actors' know their emotional graphs for the scene and they remember their lines and action. We've rarely had to go beyond five takes which has allowed us to turn around scenes fast and cover our scheduled quota of shots for the day. I can't believe that most filmmakers in India don't follow this practice and go in blind. Now that's frightening!
2. Plan what you want to shoot, shoot what you've planned
"The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war" is a dictum that applies as much to filmmaking as it does to warcraft. Makhija's insistence on doing a detailed shot breakdown meant that he's shot only what he needs. Of course, it carries the risk of not having any back-ups. But Makhija has spent enough time thinking through the scenes and from what we've shot, it seems to be working. Because everyone — the DOP and his team, the actors, the sound, art, costume & make-up teams—knows what's being shot, we look like we'll achieve the near impossible task of shooting 90 pages in 18 days.
3. The team makes all the difference
"This is the best team I've seen in years," Makhija keeps repeating every other day. It is indeed a remarkable crew of highly motivated individuals, most of who have gravitated to the project for a chance to work with Makhija. The fact that they aren't in it for the money shows in the effort they put in. These are empowered, creative minds working in tandem to bring alive the filmmaker's vision. So often we tend to exalt the role of one person over others, yet without a good team, nothing is possible. It's a fact that needs constant reminding. This film has underlined the value of a good team for me.
4. Take care of the basics
I can't emphasise this enough. There are jobs that cannot be sacrificed, even if you have no money to spare. And there are a lot of such jobs on a film set. They might look expendable but their value can only be assessed in hindsight, by when it's too late. One such critical job is that of a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician), a role we thought we could do without. Now with issues in our footage (hopefully manageable) we are running helter-skelter trying to figure out how to salvage the situation. While some clips have missing frames, others aren't transcoding to the editable format and no one seems to know where the problem lies.
Is it a camera issue? Or an issue with the cards? Or is it a software problem? Given that there's no one around who has any experience with Helium footage, we are going around in circles. A DIT person on the sets would've helped highlight and maybe resolve this problem when it first occurred. Efforts are now on to get one on board for the remaining shoot.
All in all, it looks like a decent scorecard. We are almost done with the shoot now and what we've captured on camera looks good. That's all that matters in the end!