#3 My Creation – Some notes on composition

There is a plethora of information available on the Internet but knowledge of something is different. For me, knowledge is the kind of education that you can make use of in actual day to day life. So here I am, compiling some information hoping to convert it into knowledge for myself and maybe for the rest of the world!

Few pointers that make a good composition:

1. Grouping

2. Balance

3. Ratio/ Proportion (one of the best things I learnt today!)

4. Rule of thirds

5. Lines and curves

6. Figure and ground

7. Harmony and contrast

8. Light (soft light and hard light)

9. Colour

On reading all these articles, (if someone is passionate enough to do so) you will understand that there is a lot going through the DoP’s head before he even presses the record button. Does he carry a book with him referring to every tiny detail? Not anyone I know of. This is the homework one often does subconsciously. At first you might have to try hard, push yourself looking at one frame for hours before you decode it. Later on it becomes a part of your daily life.

As we move forward in time, most of our functions as a cinematographer will be submerged under the term automatic. I feel there is nothing wrong in putting your camera on P mode when you doubt your exposure settings. Ultimately, the results matter. However, I feel it is very less likely that a camera will be able to compose a shot as well as we can. You may be using a cell phone or a DSLR or a cinema camera, if you don’t make use of your frame, you will end up with an average looking image.

So if you don’t have a camera and you still want to be a DoP or even a better photographer, try this: cut a 4 inches by 3 inches rectangle in a cardboard and start ‘framing’ the world around you. When you have a limit to your field, you will understand how a simple change in your position can make the frame look better. I feel at every level, a visual artist should carry out this exercise.

 

 

#2 Timeless Classics – The Gold Rush by Charlie Chaplin (1925/1943)

After watching The Kid I could hardly resist watching yet another legendary film of the Tramp. I wanted to keep my journey as linear as possible but I could not find a good print of Woman of Paris (1923) or Shoulder Arms. I had to settle with this one.

Before we begin, here is some trivia about the film:

1. Chaplin himself declared several times that this was the film for which he most wanted to be remembered.

2. It is the fifth highest grossing silent film in cinema history and the highest grossing silent comedy film with $4,250,001 at the box office in 1926, now that’s a gold rush.

3. The film was re-released in 1942 with a newer music score, tighter edit and a narration by the maker himself. I watched the version with the narration. The new music score by Max Terr and the sound recording by James L. Fields were nominated for Academy Awards in 1943.

4.  The “roll dance” the tramp character performs in the film is considered one of the most memorable scenes in film history used again in many other films as a tribute or just because it’s too good.

5. For the special effects in the movie, a remarkably convincing miniature mountain range was created out of timber (a quarter of a million feet, it was reported), chicken wire, burlap, plaster, salt and flour. The spectacle of this Alaskan snowscape improbably glistening under the baking Californian summer sun drew crowds of sightseers.

I’ve begun to decode his formulae with his second film. What Chaplin does is he creates a very minute complication, something like sharing a shoe with Big Jim or surviving the blizzard and one problem leads to another where the innocence of the little tramp wins our heart.

Throughout the film I hated the character of Georgia. Even her pretty face seems ugly when she laughs with cruelty at our hero. I felt her character non gripping and uni dimensional. It was not just our hero in the Kid but also the kid and even his mother that shaped the intriguiing structure of the film. Over here, it was more or less Chaplin and to some extent Big Jim that felt lovable. Maybe the great showman wanted to portray the utter bargain based world, seeking for something in return from you.

I’ve mentioned the special effects above. For further understanding watch the video linked over here. The best part about all these effects, keeping aside there was no digital film making back then is the illusion that they create. We all know that this, what is happening in front of us is fake. We all know that Chaplin did not make the cliff fall off for his film. But the overall experience including the amount of details put into the act, the music and even the impeccable expressions of the actors make us wonder for just a second, how did they do this?

I loved the repetitive Chaplin style parts which make you laugh even though they are quite senseless. They celebrate the beauty of cinema. I wasn’t quite impressed by the story. Having watched quite a few films on the same premise could’ve hampered this statement. (I tend to dislike most of the classics in the first go due to all the hype!) And I was astonished with the awesome visual effects. In short, I can’t wait for another film by this little master.

 

#2 My Creation – For a change (2012)

FOR A CHANGE NEW

It makes me smile when I look back at my early works. It has been more than two years now since I made this. And I can’t stop laughing when I look at the foolish mistakes visible on screen and the major cover ups made on the edit table, minutes before our presentation!

Here are a few technical and a few creative tips to myself in the present from an enthusiast in the past:

1. Troubles with the crew:

There are all sorts of people in the world. Some may prove as an asset to your film and some are just troublemakers. They do not contribute towards anything but ruining your plan and raising your temper. It is essential to determine “your crew” and get rid of the troublemakers at first instance. Things get really tricky when you’re not paying anything else but your gratitude. All that diplomacy seen in TV soaps comes real handy in such conditions. I wish I was more manipulative then!

2. Getting a 50mm prime was the best and the worst decision:

Why it is the best lens? I think DigitalRev can explain better. They’ve explained it from a photographer’s perspective but most of the points are valid for a film maker too. To make a long story short: fast aperture – better lighting; small and lightweight; bokeh; as cheap as my camera bag (then!) Now some things others might not tell you. The flip side of the coin. Since buying a 50mm it’s been a task to move to any other lens. I don’t think I used my kit lens 18 – 135 to its fullest potential for a long time. And frankly speaking a wide angle lens provides a variety of angles to your film. It is necessary to opt for a stylish wide look to show your sets, to establish your settings.

3. Class 10 Transcend:

SanDisk happens to be the market leader in SD Cards but for me, Transcend at a cheaper price has been a reliable companion. I think I purchased a class 4 card out of sheer ignorance but I was lucky to get it replaced. For my camera, Canon 550d, I require a class 10 card with about 45mbps speed. I purchased 2 SanDisk Ultra 16 GB cards later on and I was pretty disappointed. If you are ready to spend, go for Extreme or Extreme Pro only. I’ve heard a lot about Sony but never used any.

4. What happens when you’re pulling off an Orson Welles?

Yes! I acted in this one. No! I wasn’t the lead. It is considered as the director is the best actor on set. I was the worst. I have done my share of performing on stage and even in front of camera before. But when you have the responsibility of Directing, Shooting and handling the Mics as well; things tend to get into the weird zone. I think I was the most awkward character on screen. This multiplies my respect for directors such as Orson Welles, Mel Gibson, Charlie Chaplin and many others who pulled this off with mastery.

5. Music made this film what it is

This film was fundamental for my learning because I learnt how music can enhance the overall cinematic experience and how it can convert an ordinary video into a decent short film.

6. Good casting lends you a sigh of relief

A very senior actor upon watching the film praised my casting abilities. Whatever I had done was unintentional and intuitive. Taking up actors on the go, making my classmates act on the streets et al! Whatever it was, it worked. When I see the film again I know how important such decisions were.

7. I work pretty well under pressure (only on the edit table)

When I have 5 hours to finish the edit I can do a better job than having a week for it. Or maybe it just feels like it. But I have not finished many films in absence of a deadline. This worries me immensely. I hope I can change that with time.

8. Not just the white balance but the tint!

People suggest you to check three things before you press the record button: exposure, focus and white balance. I don’t have a manual white balance option in my camera. I always stick to auto and most of the times get away with it. It was sunny when I was shooting and there is a green cast on my actors because of the sunlight reflecting off the leaves in the foreground. Fixing it is pretty difficult and cautionary measures during the shoot are the only way to survive.

9. Take your time but hide that mic!

I knew the mic was visible. It was just the tip of the lapel mic. I thought it will go unnoticed. I notice it every time I see the film and it is pretty distracting.

10. Keep your friends closer (there is no enemy part to this one)

Keeping in touch with all the people who lend you equipment is like your second job. You can make a film because these people put aside their interests and simply let you use their houses, mics and sometimes even cameras for free. I think I owe all of them whatever I am and whatever I may be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes good editing?

I don’t think any other article would explain it better. Learnt a lot! Just wish to share it with the world!

view from the cutting room floor

Compared to many of the other Oscar categories, “Best Film Editing” is often a tough one to predict.  With “Best Cinematography,” “Best Art Direction,” and “Best Costume Design,” for instance, you can clearly see how each nominee demonstrated a mastery of their craft and set themselves apart from their peers.  With editing, however, aptly called “The Invisible Art” of cinema, what’s been left out is just as important as what ends up in the final cut.  The audience has no realistic way of knowing what compromises in performance the editor had to make in order to elucidate a specific plot point or which amazing shots couldn’t be used simply because they presented an inconsistency in story or character.  Even a seasoned editor, who knows better than anyone else what the editorial process involves, may not be able to recognize a brilliant feat of editing without a glimpse of what was…

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#1 Timeless Classics – Charlie Chaplin “The Kid” (1921)

I’ve taken up the task of watching as many classics as possible this season. I feel it takes some time to get used to the old way of treating films. But once you learn to assimilate them, it opens a whole new ocean of experiences.

I’ve been told that all the films by Sir Charles Spencer are fairly easy to relate to. And indeed they are. The simplicity of the narrative and the lack of dialogue remove the barriers for someone like me. Once I played the film I could not look away from the screen for even a second.

Some quick interesting facts:

1. It was the second highest grossing film of 1921

2. It is considered as one of the greatest films in cinematic history

3. Many of Chaplin’s admirers regard The Kid as his best and most personal film. Yet it seems to have been born out of a state of acute emotional turmoil in his private life.

4. The inspiration of the film’s story is a tragic real life incident in Chaplin’s life – Mildred (his wife then) became pregnant and gave birth to a malformed boy, who died after only three days. Chaplin evidently suffered acute trauma from this loss. Only ten days after his own child was buried, Chaplin was auditioning babies at his studio. He was absorbed and excited by a new plan for a story in which the Little Tramp would become surrogate father to an abandoned child. The film would be called The Waif. (I like the name The Waif better!)

5. In the end Charlie had filmed more than fifty times the length of film that appeared in the finished picture. Such a shooting ratio – it was precisely 53 to 1 – was far higher than for any other film he ever made. Working with kids was difficult for the tramp as well!

6. Jackie Coogan, at 7, became a world celebrity, honoured by princes, presidents and the Pope himself when he embarked on a European tour. He enjoyed a brief film career as a child actor, but, as Hollywood wits declared, senility hit him at 13 years old. As a young adult he found himself penniless: his mother and step-father had mismanaged his childhood earnings, and what little money was left was eaten up in legal battles. The one good outcome was that Jackie’s much publicised problems led to the introduction of a law to give financial protection to child performers: into this day it is known as The Coogan Act.

The premise forced me to look into the story of Krishna in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. For saving Krishna from his uncle Kamsa Krishna’s father Vasudeva had to leave him with Yasoda in Gokul. Yasoda brought him up as her own ward. After everything was settled, it raised a question – who is Krishna’s real mother?

Rather than falling into this debate what I take back from this is, the one-line of the story could be similar. But only the setting in which the story takes place is different. It simply changes the possibilities. The evil Kamsa is replaces by urban evils such as poverty and unemployment. Also, this story is told from Chaplin’s (Yasoda’s) perspective. It makes a whole lot of difference.

This film in particular will hold a special place in my heart because of one strange coincidence. In the afternoon I was reading about the famous story of a Muslim child raised by a Hindu father in Lucknow. And I happen to watch this film on the same night. It was a beautiful accident and I’m sure it will stay with me for a while.

The movie is available on the Internet Archive and you can watch it over here.

Ref: www.charliechaplin.com

#4 Learning from the experts – Nishtha Jain

For those of you who are not familiar with one of the prime candidates for the best documentary film makers of India, Nishtha Jain; she is a former student of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). She has directed critically acclaimed films such as At My Doorstep, Lakshmi and Me, 6 Yards to Democracy etc. Along with Smriti Nevatia, the duo runs an independent documentary film company named Raintree Films.

I had the privilege of meeting Nishtha Jain at a film screening of Gulabi Gang in Mumbai. Here are a few points I noted as she interacted with us!

Nishtha Jain with Sampat Pal (the real leader of Gulabi Gang)

1. Making a documentary is an unpredictable job. You will never get what you wished for but you will certainly be rewarded for your patience. But Nishtha Jain believes in having everything in writing. No matter what, having a blueprint of your day will help you in deciding how to lead your crew.

2. Others might think otherwise, but making a documentary rather than anything else requires time. The crew spent five months with Gulabi Gang to produce this 96 minute marvel.

3. (I strongly contradict the following point) Nishtha does not believe in giving a direction so as to conveniently reach a desired climax. She believes it is essential to be neutral and non judgmental as a documentary film maker while conceiving a documentary.

4. People in the villages were casual with the camera. Being camera conscious is more of an urban-middle-class obsession. For the villagers, it was more threatening that Sampat Pal was about to interfere in the matter. And they focused on the boom pole; stared at it aimlessly. That worked just fine for the sound.

5. Most of the flow was decided on the edit table. It will not be wrong to say that documentaries are written on the edit table. (The film is edited by Arjun Gourisaria. This amazing documentary won its well deserved recognition for Best Non-Feature Film editing at the 61st National Film Awards. Nishtha was an essential part of the actual edit team as well)

6. You need to be a rebel. Being safe all the time will not get you a good sunset shot. Having said that, nobody appreciates a dead filmmaker with a half baked documentary. So, that!

 

The screening of Gulabi Gang was followed by a screening of the film Yellow. Although I enjoy fiction more, because of the ridicule Yellow produced in me, it heightened my experience of Gulabi Gang. Overall, it was a colourful evening.

 

The film Gulabi Gang was completed (shot) in 2010, first screened in Dubai at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2012 and later in India in 2014. It is based on a women activist group in Bundelkhand, UP. It was distributed by Recyclewala Labs. The same guys who brought you Ship of Theseus which is available for a legal free download over here (at least in India).

If interested, do not miss the trailer of Gulabi Gang over here!