Postmortem of two Short Films

This seems to be a very relevant time to discuss why both my short films didn’t work the way I’d fancy them to be…

People are either talking about demonetisation, black money, capitalism and the fascism of the government or random self obsessions. I am compulsively subscribed to the second group. Films are my manifestation of overestimating my self-obsession. Not being humble at all. Drunk and allured by this lunatic desperation, I ended up making two short films, The Cemetery (19:55 minutes) and B-Minor (14:45 minutes). Both of them failed miserably due to an array of reasons apart from the fact that they still look very original and leave a remote possibility for an audience to say that he or she has seen something like this!

Cinema and Cakes

The postmortem was becoming an inevitable phenomenon to say, “Hey, this time I will bake something worthy!”

They make good cakes without eggs now. They have a green dot on the pack to say its vegetarian. I wonder when, but the question ‘why’ haunts me more when I reassess my  work! A cake with eggs and the other egg less – both remained unsold while hot. A few slices were appreciated – you know you will always have friends to encourage your ‘let’s climb the Everest’ fantasies!

However, the short films in India are not climbing the mountains anymore. I have realised this after transcending from the unnecessary pressure of delivering my best in those two attempts. I was hasty, yes at times but I always kept my feet on the ground. In terms of the length or size, I was baking muffins, you see…

Postmortem

post-mortem/ pəʊs(t)ˈmɔːtəm/

noun: postmortem

  1. an examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death.

synonyms: autopsy, post-mortem examination, PM, dissection, necropsy

“the hospital will want to carry out a post-mortem”

an analysis or discussion of an event held soon after it has occurred, especially in order to determine why it was a failure.

synonyms: analysis, evaluation, assessment, appraisal, examination, review, investigation, breakdown, critique, study; rareanatomization

“the very last thing she needed was a post-mortem of her failed relationship”

Postmortem of The Cemetery

finalI wanted to shoot inside the South Park Street Cemetery from my very first visit to the place. I wanted to tell a story that was feminist; but in the most subtle way possible. The superlative expectations coupled with the superlative challenges such as my own amateurish approach towards production had a huge blow. I wish I was more prepared to handle the mood swings of a professional actor and I wish I could share some responsibilities. The cake was egg less in terns extra fats and budget.

As a kid in my decent school days, I saw a human brain in some science exhibition. I wanted to be a Brain surgeon for almost a couple of years, before realising that neurons (the unit cells of a brain) are in millions and the legend of the man who knew what is in your Mind is rather fiction!

That’s when I felt this unfathomable urge to make films for the very first time!

While making The Cemetery, I reconsidered my whim and thought may be the brain surgery would have been an easier hobby.

Yes hobby! In India, film making is a hobby of the elitists. There are misleading articles going viral that digital mediums have bridged the gap! The truth is the notion of making a film gives a high to most of them!

The generous reviewer at the Worcestershire Film Festival, Luke Cooper said,” This film is not to be missed.” Well, he wrote some other good words as well, but the fact remains that the film ended up being a complicated allegory of “High Hopes”!

The film was made from a fund that was lent to me and my team as a short-term loan by another generous man from my city. I never thought I will make money out of it, I’m sure neither did he! The budget of the film was less than a gear-less two-wheeler in India.

However, I made sure we had an air-conditioned car for the lead lady – it was a part of my story! Not the air conditioner but a power window would helped a scene look very cinematic. Besides, I had an enormous trust on my location. The colonial cemetery, a heritage site under the archaeological survey of India, is a visual treat.

Reminiscing about her past life, when Carole would walk around the damp lanes amidst the indigenous architecture of the British tombs, I could see an image wrapped in modern nostalgia and a story that would transcend continental boundaries. I planned a schedule and on the very first day, my film took a nosedive. Disgusted with mosquitoes, lack of man power and layman discussions between me and my cinematographer, Carole dumped the film. All verbal and digital persuasion went in vain. We had 35% of the shots or may be fewer. But somehow we managed to shoot the scene where Carole would collapse in tears; the only brighter side of my first day at shooting!

The crew (4) had no idea whether we will shoot the next day.

The Cemetery was supposed to be a film about Carole, a young woman in her late twenties who comes to the cemetery to dispose off the ashes of her recently deceased husband. She knew about the affairs of her husband and how this cemetery used to be a refuge for two guilt-ridden souls. A piece of life witnessed by an old man who perhaps is a story seeker taking an unmindful stroll around the cemetery. We were supposed to see Carole remembering her past and disowning the ashes of her husband. A slow yet permanent transformation of a young morbid soul to a fun-loving adventurous girl, that she has always wanted to be!

We had to change the perspective of the story to keep our journey alive. With no Carole on the last two days, we shot with one meticulous, veteran actor trying to tell the same story seen from his eyes and voiced by his narration.

The film later got selected in four international short film festivals. NDTV screened the film in one of their primetime shows. There were local screenings in Kolkata and there were industry friends who would watch it and tell me how beautiful the film would have been, if… They gave a lot of suggestions! I gracefully accepted all of them!

Well, making a film, rather an independent film with a borrowed fund is not the only challenge. I paid my producer back, and gave whatever I could to all of them who supported the project. The challenges continued… Post production, certification, sending to film festivals and most importantly branding.

There was nothing substantial but I was happy the film was made! However, today if I say I have no regrets, I will be lying.

You can watch The Cemetery on Youtube! I might add a few lines later to this post! You can share your thoughts as well. The final autopsy is still pending.

Postmortem of B-Minor

poster-bmThere is something amazing about making films – you nearly tend to depend on accidents for good things to happen! My second short film B-Minor is no exception!

Almost after sixteen months, my spirits was young again to plunge into another endevour. This time a drama with a tinge of thriller – a short film that happens to be a part of my feature film script 3-Acts. A curiosity about filming space within the scope of dialogues evoked the urge to make this one! I landed up again in a situation with no funds but this time, the support system was not that feeble.

Young and promising actors, fairly professional setup, a professional with the camera and a story with a lot of promises backed my second short film. B-Minor was made! That’s it!

This time it was me who was more disillusioned than anyone else. It was high expectations that followed a very meticulous plan! I would not say this film was amateurish but it was definitely not serving my purpose. I was candid as a story teller, supportive as a challenged technician and passionate as a director whenever I was working on the film. Whether it was the script, the background score, the workshops, the shooting, the post production or during the final digital intermediate (DI). Everything was almost perfect except the climax! I screwed it big time! That is how I react when I see the film now, although the end product has its own beauty according to many viewers. Or may be they were kind enough to say so…

The prime challenge was as trivial as it might sound. We were shooting at the producer’s friend’s place. He obliged with his patience but we could not convince him how intricate the climax scene was and it needed a few re-takes! We had just enough money to rent equipment for a day but here, time was money and we lost it there. Don’t underestimate the predicament although it sounds amusing to have cited such examples as a document defending a second time disappointment. Folks, who are not constrained by the medium can take a lesson from this.

Probably, the cake deserved more eggs than I thought…

While a battling artist can somehow get along with the bare minimum of a canvas or a guitar, a film requires a huge investment of time, cash and something more. “Manufacture it and they will come” is not enough; it’s maybe the easiest part said about a film.

“All we need is cash” isn’t the reply. It requires a proper plan. To acquire the financing for your thoughts (a convincing script), you’ll have to know who is your intended interest group, your positioning, rivalry, openings, dangers, means of distribution, budgeting and so on. Arrange it, construct it, showcase it, disperse it and advance it and they may very well come. Marketing can once in a while be more significantly creative than the film itself.

Everybody has an “extraordinary” script. I’m simply struck by how really incredible authors, artists or great film makers are once in a while happy with their work. Some decline to take a gander at their books, songs or movies after the release since all they see are its deformities, the defects and here I am doing the same. I am sold with the notion that the feeling of this humility and self-reflection will enhance my work in the future. At least, I will try not crib about my limited resources and exploit the little I have to tell a rather simple yet gripping story.

My stories are about failed attempts. There will be a man who would not get what he wants, there will be a thief who would fail to steal the heart of his lover, there will be a woman who would fail to convince her husband that she loves his sister more than him and there will be stories of those unsung normal human beings who fights despite a bruised knee and mind singing the anthem of heroic chronicles with careless disposition.

No, they don’t want films to be made on them; neither have they had the appetite for cakes baked in glass ovens. I want to re-visit the innocence of those road-side jar cakes and fail making films on these people who starves for that cinematic solution. That will at least add some glory to those failed attempts. Isn’t it?

It took me sometime to pen down my thoughts that are apparently in favour of my efforts but I pursue them to be the critical anecdotes of my work…

The postmortem or inquisition is not yet complete; however, in the process, I recouped enough courage for my third…

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The poignant evolution of short film making in India

Short films or ‘shorts’ can be quite disruptive in terms of what is qualified as a movie in the recent times. All of you who form the casual yet informed independent film audience and are somewhat aware of a few successful titles may have a different opinion. However, the definitions with which short films are surfacing the social media pages in the recent times actually devalue one of the world’s premier artistic mediums. Albeit there is no law that can dictate a film’s length and the fact that the idea of feature films emerged just to meet a commercial need is hardly acknowledged. So, do you think, I am complaining?

 

Unfortunately, short films are treated like demos and EPs in the world of music. Just as the cost of recording a 10 or 12 songs for an album may be too high for an up-and-coming band to pay for them, the cost of creating a feature-length film can be far too much for an up-and-coming director and crew. Therefore, self-obsessed artists (some self-motivated as well) resolve to shorter forms of story-telling to prove a point to the studios, producers or individual donors (a link of perennial importance for the indie scene). But, how far can they take the financially crippled indie film scene?

 

I see no hypocrisy in it, but I beg to differ in my approach. Storytelling is at a premium when it comes to shorts. So, why tell a story the way they are told in feature-length films? With a formula that keeps ringing and making us cautious of what is not comfortable for a story – shorts will soon lose fall prey to further commercialization. The hypocrisy lies in the fact that, shorts are not encouraged as an independent form of art where stories can be presented without caring about the comfort zone of the regular cine-goers. Although the recent excitement among the so-called enthusiasts might give you different idea, it is imperative to understand the ground reality…

short-films-featured-image

You might imagine that with the advent of digital film making, the entry barriers to film-making have collapsed. Anyone can shoot full-spec HD video on a phone, upload it to a waiting website, and build an instant audience through social media. Consequently, you might have also thought all this would inevitably have brought the short film roaring back, to tower over the entertainment landscape. But it hasn’t. Will you blame the medium or the scope that the medium is still seeking?

 

The counter arguments can be examples like Sujoy Ghosh’s “Ahalya” or Anurag Kashyap’s “A day after everyday” along with a few others. It’s not true that shorts are not around, but the concern is the liberty of expression of those short film makers who would like to take an alternate corridor. Audience can embrace or reject a film only after the film gets a fair chance or visibility. The way, it is done out here in our country is quite a regressive one to say the least. Film enthusiasts rely on a comforting explanation to help their grey matter respond to the metaphorical implications portrayed in the film. How selfishly comfortable! And thus the quality of work is yet to evolve even after so much of noise on the development of film making.

 

Well, to assume that this blog vents out frustration might be an easier option, however, let me just underline the purpose or agenda behind putting these words together in the form of a blog. I am well-aware of the limited resources and perceptive ability of our audience.

 

In the age of digital transparency where every average individual is aware of YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes and many other video streaming sites, watching a short film should not be a problem. To claim that can make you sound stupid! However, why don’t more people watch short films? Short films were instrumental in launching the careers of directors like Ken Russel and Ridley Scott. Then why? If you ask a regular multiplex audience why they don’t watch short films, you tend to get similar replies: they are not worth watching!

Empty-red-cinema-seats

So, the answer lies within you – the audience. The audience who would criticize a sub-standard film over technical and aesthetic grounds and at the same time rejects a short film for being uncomfortably unusual. Where is the space of experimenting? Where is the urge to create a demand for stories that have the guts to walk down the not-so-comfortable paths?

 

To close this very personal concern about the evolution of short films, let us put this entire genus for students to learn and ambitious film makers to experiment. The rest of us can carry on ignoring the existence of short films and its immense potential as a medium of audio-visual expression.

 

I’m sure there will be many of you who would like to state a different opinion, why don’t we keep the argument alive?