Our knowledge about language is key to understanding ourselves and to attempt to reach out others.
When you want to tell a story to someone, you need to know that you are not wasting their time and eroding your reputation. It becomes essential that you tell a powerful story in a short time that people actually feel good about. If you waste their time and just be selfish telling your story without caring whether it makes an impression on anyone then you are cheating with them and cheating with yourself. Why would you do such a thing?
Hence before you think of doing anything in 10 lines, think of how you can do the same thing in 5 lines, then think of of how you can do it in 2.5 and start from there. But be ready to chop off the 10 lines, down to 2.5. That is the rule you must follow at all times.
Before you want to tell a story to people, you want need to win their confidence first. That is always the first step. When people start watching a movie or reading a book, they want to be assured in the first few minutes or pages that what they are watching is worth their time. A work of art cannot stay in vacuum, it cannot not appeal to people. It has a right to choose its audience, but once it has done so, it should stick to the principals and not waver in promise.
When you have managed to get good start, your next job is to keep up expectation going. Like every good story, it should have a good start and it will create an interest. Whether or not I like it, depends on whether you use your start to take your story to a whole new level. Do you start delivering the promises you made during your start? Are you trying too hard. Because that can be detrimental to your story. It is always about fine balance, without which you will loose your audience and people.
Enough talk about the story. Now lets talk about why choose film as the medium to tell your story. A popular reason is that film is the easiest of crafts to deliver a story or message. Mass media and commercial filmmaking has set up an industry to give you the tools to tell your story. You spend a sizable chunk of your life building your position and relevance in the industry. You reach a point where you can now start telling your story and not worry much about the nuts and bolts. Does that make you a filmmaker or a storyteller with a set of tools and a team?
Popular cinema belies the true meaning of craftsmanship for an artist. Art is born out of a marriage of craftsmanship and story. It is hard to explain to non-artists that a good story isn’t good anymore if it is not well told. Great filmmakers know this. Their craft is born out of their hunger to tell that good story. When they find a good story, they know they can employ their craftsmanship to make that story well told which is what separates a good movie from a poor movie.
Is there any end to the constant struggle of life? No. This struggle IS life. And it is not such a bad thing, if you look at it. How else will we grow and learn if we don’t find ourselves ignorant at some point? Our misery forces us to change our circumstances. If we don’t act on our miseries, we are simply not human enough to feel the struggle of life. We are mute. Robots, living a programmed life. But we aren’t.
We are sum of light and dark. The entire universe, our home is light and dark. Good and evil. They both exist together. All our actions are good and evil at the same time. It is impossible to have purity of evil or good.
Thought energies are all around us. Why is that point so hard to believe that like everything physical, our minds are capable of absorbing thoughts from its environments. A good thought has an impact on us and so does a bad thought. Similarly our good thoughts have an impact on people and so do our bad thoughts. You may have noted that when you are under the influence of bad thoughts, your body language is provocative and others feel it. They tend to build armors around themselves and defend by counter attacking you. We can experience this almost daily in our marriages. The moment we loose it, our partner reacts similarly. And the moment we regain ourselves, our partners reciprocate.
Life is a struggle. Nothing is permanent. What exists today will not be there tomorrow. Change happens constantly. So what must we do? We must not attach to things because attachment weakens us when we loose it. We must always maintain a detachment. Detachment doesn’t mean creating distance between us and others. It means the opposite actually – bringing them so close to your heart that you will never loose them, no matter what. If they are physically present or not.
Mind bursting with thoughts about nature and time. People like us must know how to find inspiration through ordinary occurrences of life, or we will live a very unhappy life. The only happiness we can find is within us and if we become empty from within, no amount of external joy can fill the void. What I await is the moment when I compose my own symphony of images writing my story with light and shadows.
Had an epiphany when I learned about a Buddhist monk prostate traveling 3000 miles far beyond northern Tibetan region into Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. He had achieved the rarest of the rare qualities to be found in a human being, a sense of peace and calmness over his visage, his humility. People of ordinary sensitivities might confuse it with introvertedness but there is such pure serenity, such calmness in his eyes, that you could see his soul speaking through to you directly. Have you ever met any person whose soul you could see in their eyes? They say eyes are window to our souls, but for many this corridor of vision is mothballed after years of ignoring our soul’s cries to peace and truth. There are thick wads of cobwebs clouding our vision itself. Our ears are corrupt, one said, that we cannot hear well anymore, since our mind chatter renders us incapable of imbibing an alternative version of reality.
Does my own journey compare a farthing to the monk’s? Why do we whine about little things absent in our lives? People undertake such tasks of crossing 3000 miles prostate walking for three and a half years. A walk that long, cannot be accomplished by body alone. You need your soul, your spirits to power you through this journey. Our body is merely a function for our soul. Those transcendental beings, those ripples of energy living through us, permeating through our skin, traversing in our blood and escaping our dying bodies upon our death, to find shelter in another body. Can they live by themselves? That they must because they are charting space to find a physical meaning to manifest their self. These answers are clear and glowing in my mind, like a sunbeam on the surface of water.
Have I started on a journey of my own? Do I lament about this or that? When you have stepped out your door to the road ahead, don’t look back anymore. Just look at the road that lies ahead of you. There are moments in your journey, when you find yourself charting that lane alone, quite alone in the whole world full of people, desires, money, material and such other things that we call “necessary” to our life. How obscene this idea!
Touched by the story “Letter From Zedelghem”, specially the one line where Mark Frobisher says before his death: “now I am a spent firework but at least I’ve been a firework.” Don’t know why this story touched me more than others. Perhaps it was the story of a lost artist who finds his true art at a point in life, when he no longer had the desire to live anymore. So after composing the work of a lifetime in merely a few days, he puts an abrupt yet deliberate end to his young life by shooting himself through the mouth. It was the most peaceful death ever written on paper. The story comprised of so many heartbreaks that one might categorize it a tragedy on that account alone. There is almost nothing about that story that makes your cry for its own sake. But when you put it all together, it gives you a wrenching pain. Ah life, such sordid affair!
When you are making a choice not out of your conviction or volition, but by external influences you are not exercising the freedom enshrined in you by nature. When external forces become too strong, they cause everybody to make the same kind of choice. This is the age of cinema, everybody wants to be a filmmaker. It is more so with commercial cinema, which has such a strong influence on human psyche that now everyone is forced to think like a commercial filmmaker. They harbor the same dreams, they have the same passions, desires and emotions. They all want to be filmmakers. They all want to be different, but truly from within themselves they are all the same. Why? Because the path they are choosing is the same. There are no two different ways of being a commercial filmmaker. “There is no winner in the race to the bottom,” as someone said it better than myself. That is why I love the fact that I could come out of Indian commercial film industry just in time. I don’t know how to read individual waves, but a storm in rising is plain to see. I could see from a distance that there is far too many forces in action in the same direction. When the traffic goes in same direction, there is bound to come a point of congestion, more so when you are reaching closer to your destination. And what happens when you actually reach your destination? You know you can be a filmmaker. But what of that? You have learned a few industry tricks, which makes you a skilled practitioner, but does it take you anywhere else besides that? You enjoy making a few films, but could you have known a better order of human existence? That of making films out of your own choice and volition? That of knowing your inner self more deeply. That of creating a timeless piece of work and that of actually changing this world? Now, don’t get me saying that popular cinema cannot change the world for better. It has power and strong influence. But the journey to top renders men so corrupt and fictitious that no good action can come out of it. Even though popular cinema can influence masses, it can’t actually change them for good, like Gandhi did, like Buddha did. “Why?” you might ask, “am I comparing cinema to religion or politics? It is none. It is art.” My answer will be, “Sir, cinema is art and within every art there is an assurance to remind humans of their existential beauty.” That we call life is incomplete without good art. That is why it was so essential in ancient days that they treated drama and performing arts with such religiosity, with all manners of practice and perfection. There is none of that in modern cinema, in popular cinema, driven by commercial means, for commercial success. It is merely another venture that will be soon forgotten by our short lived memories. It is not timeless and hence it is not human, since it doesn’t imply evolution.
Ideas take birth silently, slipping under the skin and growing like cancer. This film started much before I had known I was making it. When I first saw Dennis playing in the tunnel, he didn’t strike me particularly special. But there was something that told me to come back to that tunnel. I began frequenting that place more often. I didn’t know it precisely but I could feel that I was being drawn to his music. It began to live inside me. Often I would come back home and listen to the number he played.
Then one day, I stopped by. We began chatting about his music and he gave his brief history – his name, religion, place of origin etc. Then I would say hi to him whenever I passed him. During one of these conversations, the idea of a film emerged. It came from him automatically. We both looked at each other for a moment after he said those words.
I began shooting next week. My starting point was his house, which I only visited once. I didn’t want to cause too much inconvenience and the idea of taking my camera into his closet sounded perverse. So I hesitated to shoot at his place. But the filmmaker inside me told me not to miss this opportunity so I took a few shots anyway (I didn’t use any of that in my film). I took those shots just to assure myself that I had started making that film.
I shot the rehearsal session with Dennis and Charles. It was a fun shoot. They sponsored a drink for me and I got to listen to some really nice music while shooting the film. The shoot gets really interesting if you have a 50mm lens that can open as far as f/1.8. I got some really good shots and began to get a hang of the project.
I went to see Dennis on a couple more occasions – one was during the rehearsals with Charles and one other friend who played bass and the other was the date of performance after the Christmas eve at Charles’ place. They had invited friends and family for the musical night. My approach to that shoot was very fluid. I had decided to record the entire session on my zoom h4n which I put on the stereo mode using built-in mics. I began shooting their performance and realised in the first few minutes that I couldn’t shoot on tripod at all. I had to go handheld all the way and simply trust my instinct to get the shots I wanted. I plan my shots in advance so that I could give myself some direction on the occasion. My plan usually goes for a toss somewhere in the first 10 percent of my shoot. However, this has not been a deterrent for the planning exercise in my project. Planning your shoot gives you a clarity and assurance in your approach. For indie shoots this is a priceless asset.
After 3 days of shooting Dennis performing and rehearsing, the project had reached a matured state that I could plan to shoot him perform in public. I had originally planned for a 2 day shoot based on the footage I get. I went on location early in the morning and set up my camera to shoot his entry. I had not planned to shoot that entry at 50 fps but I ended up doing it all the same (and what a happy surprise that was during post production !!). My method was simple, shoot various lengths but more specifically, shoot enough slow motion footage. I knew it was going to go well with his voice. The old school raspy rock n roll. Slow motion gives a nice vintage feel to it. I even thought about doing the film in black and white (which was not a good idea).
I shot enough but I didn’t know whether it was enough at the time. I didn’t know where to stop. Most of my shots were not planned at all and I didn’t know how they would look. I thought I should set my camera down and come back another day. So I put my camera near his collection box and waited for someone to put money there. A hand appeared in the frame shortly and I racked focus to Dennis, he looked at the collection box, then he looked at me and thanked the passer by. There was an indefinite vulnerability in that moment. It was subtle and precise. It was perfect.
Next week, we went to the Toa Payoh garden to shoot his interview. It was a beautiful day. It has just rained. The light was just about perfect for an afternoon shoot. Any outdoor shoot takes a heavy toll on you and this was no different. I had started at 2 pm in the afternoon and went as far as 8 pm in the evening. I wanted to make sure this was my last of shoot in the project. I knew I had enough material to tell my story. Dennis’s music has already started building a narrative in my head and if I had my way I could have finished the shoot in the next week.
But that was not to be.
I had to wait almost 6 months before starting the post production. I had moved to another job in between. When I resumed the edit, I had almost forgotten everything about the project, all the ideas I had, all the music I had planned and all the conversations I had with my creative producer. In a way it was good that I started the project from the scratch. It benefitted my story that I had very little awareness of the project. I didn’t recognise most of my own shots. I had to go through the footage several times for them to make sense to me now. I listened to the tracks I recorded and realised I had several options to start the film, so I let the material tell me a story. I had no story in my mind. After I had seen the footage a couple of times, a story began to emerge in my head but I hadn’t seen any of his interviews yet and that was the crucial part because what I had to say was to be supported by Dennis’ thoughts too. So I began to sift through his interviews. It was a tiring, cumbersome process, one that took an excruciating amount of time to finish. By the end of seeing all his interview, I had found the exact arc of my story. Then I began editing.
The first cut came out really good. I was truly confident that it would clear the acid test of satisfying my creative producer. As it turned out, she wasn’t so impressed. She pointed out some serious flaws and I wondered how many times it happened that I had simply overlooked those flaws !! So I began polishing the edit but nothing seemed to satisfy her at all. She suggested some more shoot to improve the beginning. It was not able to catapult the audience into the story. I went out in the night to shoot some footage of the tunnel and city lights. I had always planned to use a moving escalator shot in my films. This was going to be my chance.
I put the new footage into the timeline and voila the edit simply rocked. I showed it to my creative producer and she got really excited about the film now. She suggested some minor changes to the end after which the edit looked really tight. I made few very few color grading changes. Most of my changes were to give a nice s-curve to all my footage to punch the contrast a little. The end was still a bottleneck though. We wanted a slightly different treatment to the end shot. We wanted to keep it undisclosed until the very end, which I achieved after further polishing the edit. It goes to show that no matter how clear you are about the edit, you still have to go through umpteen rounds of edit to make it shine with perfection.
Some technical details:
Camera: Canon 7D
Lenses: Canon 18-135mm, Canon 50mm f/1.8
Sound recorder: Zoom h4n
Post Production: Adobe Premiere Pro 5.0, Adobe After Effects 5.0