Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My views: 100th year of Indian cinema

A century of Indian cinema. We have had greats aplenty. We have had Oscars, we have had Grammy s. Let me not drool over them again now.

As a filmmaker for the past 19 years, I do have my versions and reflections. Over the past 9 years, 40+ movies have passed through my studio. Small ones though. Coz I don't offer the luxuries of other large studios so that I can cater to the lesser segment - low budget digital cinema.

But my reflections does create a contrary opinion in my bird brain. Cinema has evolved to be a show business, not an art form. It has evolved into the best tool for converting black money to colored paper. Not just in Tamilnadu, but all over the country.

One particular incident that transformed my thoughts needs to be mentioned here. It was about 5 years back. I wanted to see a so called 'hit' movie with my family. I tried for online reservations. House full. My kids were dejected. I decided to go personally to the theater and meet the manager, who may be able to help me with 4 tickets. I went to the multiplex, introduced myself as a filmmaker and asked to see the manager. In 10 minutes flat, I had met the manager, introduced myself and also procured 4 tickets for my family. And there I was - in a plush new theater for the first time. I was shocked though, when the movie actually started screening. In a theater with a capacity of about 200 seats, less than 40 were occupied. Why? It was meant to have been a house full show.

A week later, my inquiries bore fruit. The biggies were simply using the empty shows to convert their black money to regular cash. For those of you who did not understand - here it is: The theater gives a statement that the show was house full. They receive their full rent and are happy. The ill gotten cash is transferred to the theater, who in turn gives the producers a valid cheque. Wow! That's legal money!! So, for a regional film, it may be several lakhs converted every show, and in the case of a Hindi movie which has a nationwide coverage, it could be several crores every show.

That gave me a new meaning to the entire business of cinema. Who are the people who generate the maximum black money? Politicians, real estate businessmen, NRIs and the like. And that's where the cinema industry lies. Carefully caressed, amply nourished and well cared for.

The meaning of cinema then dawned on me. But I have already wasted a quarter century of my life in learning the nuances of cinema and ensuring that quality is not compromised at all. The meaning of 'Cinema' now had a new meaning. I have two options now before me. Having directed my own movie now on the compulsion of a friend, I either join the bandwagon or get thrown out on the streets. Life has been unkind to this mountain goat for quite some time. And water will tend to find its own level.

The 100th year of cinema is a celebration in its true right. But it causes heart burns when I see hugely superior filmmakers sidelined, either for political reasons or for the above mentioned reasons. But one thing that I really need to complement the organizers is that they have actually broken the cartel that existed a couple of years ago, in the distribution and theater segment. So much done, so much good. Wish every filmmaker the best of all luck. While thousands stay on the sidelines, talented or not, as the common man in an R.K. Laxman cartoon.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

100 years of Indian cinema - Jayalalitha blasts Karunanidhi

In a stinging criticism, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa today hit out at arch rival M Karunanidhi and his family for their alleged 'stranglehold' over the Tamil film industry during the DMK regime and for 'not allowing' others to grow.

Inaugurating celebrations of 100 years of Indian cinema at Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor stadium here, jointly organised by the state government and South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, which got off to a glittering start, Jayalalithaa, without naming DMK or its chief Karunanidhi,said everybody knew the plight of the industry before she assumed power.

"On top of it all, after I took over, the film industry is functioning independently for the past two years," she said after listing out the many pro-reel world measures.

These included several concessions like encouraging small producers by increasing subsidy,sanctioning Rs 50 lakh for the Chennai international film festival, more beneficiaries in the welfare board for film industry workers,besides bringing video piracy under the stringent Goonda Act to check the menace.

Stating that Tamil Nadu and its film industry had the magnanimity in providing livelihood to all those who came from outside the state, she said "the plight of such an illustrious Tamil film industry two years ago can be understood without me saying that."

It may be recalled the DMK regime faced strong criticism and charges of supporting growth of production houses run by Karunanidhi's family members and undue 'interference and domination' over Kollywood.

"In this world, there are some who feel it would be okay if only they lived. There are also people who feel that they should live and let others live as well," Jayalalithaa said.

Narrating the anecdote of how a bad man missed his chance at redemption and survival by his trait of preventing others from growing, she said those who tried to boss over the Tamil film world found themselves in a fate similar to that man.

"Self-centric people who feel it would be sufficient if they lived always would want to eliminate not only those who are stumbling blocks for their growth, but also those who are considered as competition," she said without naming anyone.

Showering encomiums on her mentor and AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran, she said the name of MGR came to one's mind when [the topic] of dominance of films over politics cropped up.

"I am proud, when I reflect that I too had worked in the film industry," she said underlining that the cinema industry was indispensable for its role and contribution to society.

Earlier, she traced the origin and growth of Indian cinema and recounted the stellar contribution of a huge list of stalwarts in various segments of the dream industry, starting with Dadasaheb Phalke, who produced 'Raja Harishchandra in 1913.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How to become an Editor

Film editors are responsible for cutting and assembling the video and audio footage for film and television productions into a comprehensive, seamless whole. Becoming a film editor involves a long path of study, hours of internship, apprentice and volunteer work, the right connections, and above all, possessing a keen eye for style, pace, and timing. Most film editors spend years in different jobs until they finally get a break, so besides talent, skill, and hard work, you’ll need perseverance in order to find a position as a film editor. The following steps will teach you how to become a film editor.

A Typical edit suit

1. Study how movies are edited. Watch produced movies and analyze the timing and pacing of scenes; i.e. how long each scene lasts, how much action or tension there is during a scene, and how each scene fades seamlessly into the next, sometimes with visual or sound cues.

2. Edit as many short films as possible, and submit to film festivals.

3. Get a degree or certificate in film editing. Your coursework will include basic editing and commercial editing, film history, and storytelling and screenwriting. In addition, you will learn how to use photo and film editing software programs like Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, the Hollywood standard for film editing.

4. Volunteer your services as a film editor on student productions or any local productions you find. The more tangible experience you have, the better your chances of getting your foot in the door in the world of film editing.

5. Get a job in a film studio. You’re very unlikely to get a job in editing right away, so take any job that comes along, whether it’s as a tour guide on a studio lot, a personal assistant to somebody on a film crew, a secretary at the office, or a runner for a production.

6. Be polite to everybody you meet and promote yourself. Hand out business cards with links to your website and reel. Make it known that you’re looking as a job as a film editor. Building your network of connections this way can lead to unexpected chances, like becoming a film editor on a short that later wins an award at a festival. If you meet people who work in the editing room, ask if you may occasionally join them to observe and learn.

7. Build a significant body of work and have it listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Even shorts and low budget movies can get a listing on the site, so long as the productions were released. Potential employers will refer to it before hiring you.

8. Send out your resume, along with a reel of your best work, to studio executives, directors, and other film editors. This may help you land a job as an assistant editor on a production.


- Be patient. It can take years to break into the movie business. Remain actively involved in film editing by working on student films and low budget productions while maintaining your day job and still looking for your big break.

- Students can obtain film editing software at a special student price upon proof of enrollment in a film editing program.


If in Chennai, South India, my creative shop Sushma Multimedia, accepts apprentices and volunteers. We involve in several types of creative works, including film editing, and the complete post production pipeline. There are several such shops worldwide, but you will have to search for them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Uyire Yen Kadhale - Full Song - Unnil Tholaindhein

Just another day in the studio, when a friend walks in with a story. "Let's do a movie, and you direct it". Having worked for 10 features by then in the capacity of a proxy director, I did fall for it. And so did I make my movie in Tamil - the first to have my name under the title.

Now, all ready for release, and with the trailers getting fairly well accepted, I decided to release a song in the movie online. Surprised indeed. 16k hits in 4 days flat was not what I had dreamed of. Here it is for all of you.

The song - Uyire Yen Kadhale. Composed by a newbie BR Rajin.

Just a request .... please share the video with your friends, on your social networks and all. And last but not the least, a comment is always welcome.

Who is a Screenwriter?

To take either a pre-written story, or even a native story idea, and translate it into an effective screenplay is the primary role of a Screenwriter in the Film industry. Having said that, there is much more to this process than meets the eye. It is not as straightforward as writing a normal story, for the simple reason that the communication is audio-visual, and not literary. There are some very important aspects that need to be carefully observed. Some of these aspects may be generic to good story-writing such as character development, believable characters, story and engaging plot points, regardless of the story-telling medium.

But besides these elements, there are aspects specific to Film medium that need to be kept in mind. Things such as minimal dialogues, visually communicating a certain emotion, a sound sense of the visual medium itself, are vital elements in the screenwriter’s repertoire. And therefore, a Screenwriter’s role in the overall Film-making process is absolutely vital. Because it is in the screenplay that the Film is first born. And once the screenplay is ready, it is the single most important document that forms the basis on which everyone else (the Director, Actors etc.) builds the Film. This extremely sensitive and complex function can only be executed by someone who is creative, has a complete understanding of the Film-making process and whose sense of aesthetic is firmly placed in the visual medium. It is a discipline that can be self-taught. But it could take years before one learns the skill set effectively and gets a real opportunity to write a screenplay that is Produced and made into a Film. In essence, how to plant a story from the germ of an idea, or a piece of news, to capture the audience in a total way is a skill that can be learnt from mentors, and practice sessions.

The best solution to all aspiring Film writers is to train themselves thoroughly in the best manner possible. India too has a world-class Film school where creative young minds, who have a burning desire to make it in Films, can learn & receive a superb education.

And as I write this, I am happy to say that a truly international film school is being planned in Chennai, India. Activities have already begun. Not only will there be an opportunity to learn all the nuances of effective Film-writing from leading industry writers, but also a chance of subsequently working in the industry and making Films on the stories you write. Keep watching this blog for more information.

Making your First Film better

Whether you’re a student or hobbyist, there are some common mistakes made in a filmmaker’s first film. Many attempt to do too much with an extremely low-budget, short film. Worse yet, students will often make their first film too long.

The same concepts that apply to feature screenplay writing apply to first film projects.  The exception is with experimental film, where no rules apply except the creativity of the creator. Most beginners are assigned to tell a story by their instructor or are attempting a short story-telling film. Lets focus on the short story-telling film project.

Short films use the same structure and story telling techniques as longer films. The difference is that turning points and elements such as rising and falling action are quicker. Turning points are when the direction of the story makes a sudden turn. If one exercises the concepts of the popular instructor and writer, Syd Field, then turning points for a five minute film would be at approximately two minutes and four minutes. Most script analysts consider a feature length film’s entire exposition to take up only about two to four inches of a script page spread throughout the script (approximately 25 seconds). Therefore, for a five minute film, there would only be about five seconds worth of exposition. This is a critical factor in student films and is a common mistake. Student films are often filled with exposition such as characters making long speeches about what previously has happened to them. For that reason, students are wise to consider making their first film with no dialogue. Then they might not encounter the problems associated with exposition. Use of exposition is one of the more difficult problems of making films.

Students should first strive to express their story in one short sentence. This is also true for veteran screenplay writers preparing their pitch. Most often that sentence takes hours or days to write. It is an important step, as executives won’t listen to you after hearing that sentence if they don’t like it.

Next, write a paragraph describing your story. One of the greatest problems is that students often don’t have a clear protagonist or antagonist. These are the same problems that experienced screenplay writers have. Writing is always a continual challenge.

Let’s look at shooting. The single most common problem with cinematography on student projects is camera movement. Of course exposure and composition are critical, but badly motivated camera movement is common in student films. Save complex camera moves for later when you’re much more experienced and know when to use them properly. Any camera movement must be unobtrusive and motivated by the action. I’m not suggesting that all shots should be static. Instead, limit your movement and make sure it doesn’t call attention to itself unless it is intentional. No single element (camera, music, acting) should stand out on its own. Conveying your story in a seamless and unobtrusive manner so the audience becomes one with the story is crucial to your filmmaking success.

This is just a brief look at common problems in student films. There are often many other mistakes. Sound out of sync with the speaker and distorted sound often destroy a student film. I’d really like to emphasis again the importance of storytelling. If the student has a clear handle on his story, then the student takes the rest of the process very seriously and does a good first film.

It’s also important to choose the most experienced crew possible. Don’t simply work with friends. Find another student who has worked as cameraman on several other student films so you have someone with experience. Filmmaking is expensive. Be very selective when picking your crew and actors. Always try to surround yourself with crewmembers who are more experienced than yourself. Hopefully they will help save you on this first film project. If you are shooting on film, then spend a lot of time with your lab manager getting advice and help. Sometimes labs have special student rates.

The more time you spend in preparation prior to shooting, the more successful your project will be. Producing is planning and preparation. Get your script critiqued by your instructor or an experienced filmmaker. Put your cameraman together with the film lab manager and discuss what film stock you would be best using. Create storyboards so you and your cameraman have carefully visualized the shooting in advance. Visit your locations with your cameraman and other pertinent crewmembers in advance. Be aware of any power problems that your gaffer might experience. Note whether or not there are any loud ambient sounds at the locations. If your using individuals homes or offices, make sure your arrangements for using them are in writing and the agreement is very clear. Also, make sure you have releases from all the talent or extras that appear on camera. Take extra release forms with you on the shooting day just in case you have to use someone unexpectedly as an extra or cast member. Create breakdown sheets for each scene that includes all the requirements such a personal, props, crew, cast and location needs. Complete a shooting schedule and some alternative schedules in case of rainy days or sick crew or cast. If possible, create a production board for your scheduling.

Most of all expect the unexpected and try to anticipate problems. Spending several days with your actors rehearsing and blocking their movement is invaluable. If you can bring some key crewmembers to rehearsal such as your cameraman and editor, then it may be possible to discover some unforeseen problems. It’s far better to discover them in a rehearsal hall than on location.

These same suggestions apply to feature length professional motion pictures and not just to the beginner. For instance, on shooting days you might want to contact your actors or crewmembers in the early morning to insure they are awake and on the way to the location. Student filmmakers will likely have a voluntary crew. You need to provide superb leadership when you have a free crew. I’ve known students who decided to behave very autocratically to their crew only to have them resign from their free job leaving the beginning filmmaker in tears. Your job is to motivate the crewmembers in a friendly manner and exercise much patience.

These are only a few suggestions for successful first short films. If your film is successful and you enter it into student film competitions and win some awards, then you are very fortunate. Most student films don’t qualify for any competitions. Remember, short films are your first calling card for your potential film career. Future employers at production companies often pay more attention to these films than anything else on your resume. It is truly worth the effort to do an excellent short film if you’re pursuing a career as a filmmaker.