This was the first documentary I was involved in. And it was based on the students of Kamla High School in Mumbai.
1. Pre-production: It is important to invest a good amount of time in pre-production. But that does not mean we can spend 90% of the time on deciding what to do. In our case, the school that we worked for was supportive by all means. We could shoot wherever we want, we could go in a class in the middle of a lecture and interact with the students very easily. So we were sure at least there are no hindrances from the organisation. We could focus on the creative aspects. We chose the right organisation.
2. Best time to shoot: In photography it is known as the Golden Hour. Luckily enough for us, to match the timings of our college and the school, we had to shoot either early in the morning or just before sunset anyway. And in the month of February, the climate was just beautiful for a shoot. I’ve taken some of the prettiest shots out of sheer co-incidence just because the time was right.
3. Some people are camera conscious: Some kids are natural in front of a camera. Some are not. And that applies not only to kids but to everyone. As this was a documentary we could get away with the hesitation as it acted as a character trait to the person. Also, the subject was psychology so we actually used this to convey our point more convincingly.
4. You don’t need to get it right in the first take: We were interviewing ourselves. We were making a presentation where we were telling the audience about our experiences and what we learnt during these 40 hours of work we did at the NGO. So we had the liberty to note down the points so that two people don’t repeat the same ones. And we did so. That worked so well while editing the film. But on the other hand, it made everyone very conscious while they were talking. The best way to deal with this was to cut the shot a line before they fumbled and then ask them to start again just before the line they said incorrectly. I added a movement in the middle so that I could get a cutting point. And it did not appear as a mistake while everyone watched it.
5. The above only works when the subject is ready to coordinate: As we interviewed the professors, we were running short on time. We had to do it in one go. So we had to settle for a simple cross fade to cover up.
6. Double tap: We were using Lapel Mics for recording the interviews. It is important to check that there is no necklace or any element for that matter which is constantly banging on the condenser.
7. Shoot a lot of inserts/ cut-aways.
8. Cinemascope (2.35:1 ratio) adds a really professional look to your film.
9. Music can make or break your film
10. The film was awarded as the best project and it marked the end of our first year in BMM. It left me on a high and inspired my next Documentary, Pardes. More about it soon!
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.