Bollywood 35mm Delhi Magic!

After 22 straight shooting days in Delhi the film has finally wrapped… Phew! Actually, Phew is a massive understatement! We shot so many hours per day I lost track.  Mine and the rest of the production’s teams life’s were simply put on hold and all that existed in our minds was the film and more to the point completing the film!

We had to shoot so many scenes per day including location moves I would be lying if I said it wasn’t insane!  Sometimes insanity can be magical other times ‘it is what it says on the tin’ and certainly always better in heighseight.

I have been back home in the luxury of my own bed for three days now and in the middle of the night my girlfriend kicked me (hard) as I woke both of us up shouting over and over ‘chalo let’s shoot the light is fading’, even as I woke up in my daze I was still saying it….  ‘Charlo’ became my favourite phrase (I love a phrase) literally meaning ‘let’s go’.  With time waiting for no man especially our friend the Sun – moving on is important!

Filming in India was a unique and amazing experience and I certainly learned a lot, well more than just a couple of phrases.   It’s a beautifully photogenic place, everywhere I looked could become an interesting shot – right or wrong for the film.

Muazzam Beg the Writer and Director an ex-Delhi inhabitant (in his student days) literally sweated  passion about the film which resonated throughout the entire production team and what was the sole that kept us all going!  Another driving factor was being blessed with such a talented and well prepared cast!

I know Shriya will thank me for putting this pic up!

We barely had to retake for blunders…  Or performance issues.  The fact Muazzam held a 3 month work shop was surely responsible for their amazing prep!

I was also blessed with the best crew possible!  Every single member of the Camera, Grip and Lighting department were true professionals!   I am proud to say some of the very best I have ever worked with and without boasting too much, I have been fortunate enough to have worked in all continents of the world with a mixed bunch of very talented guys of over 20 nationalities, but still my crew on this film were certainly up there in every respect from technical competence to natural skill, problem solving, humour and attitude!

For me shooting on 35mm everyday was a dream come true and working with inspirational, professional people just topped that!  I can not thank the Production Company RajTaru Studios enough for the experience!  Rajeev and Tarun and Shane all believed in me and that means a lot!

I hope all the hard work (cliche – but blood, sweat and tears) put in by every department will show on the screen. Well saying that it never does… the images in films always look effortless and by that I mean look like they nturally occurred.

The audience never knows the pain the production went through and only see what you give them – but I guess that is the magic of cinema and a very good thing!  Keep it magical just like Walt said all those years ago – he knew!

In my last post I  mentioned how amazing the focus puller was aka ‘a focus freak show’.

Shanatoo seemed to be able to find exact focus at any focal length at any stop (including wide open T1.3) with such ease and grace and without the use of a monitor (digital guys…) it was truly unbelievable!  A very natural talent! Actor, the camera attendant wasn’t far behind him either… When Shanatoo got a not so rare case of ‘Delhi Belly’ (which struck down 70% of the crew including myself I lost 6KGs) Actor stepped up to the mark and seemed to be able to pull focus incredibly well even when I was roaming around hand held (which I love to do).  When I thanked him for such a good job his response was ‘us Indians just have good judgement’ and I certainly can not argue with that!  Maybe that’s why they won the cricket…

Another hero was Iswar (I know I have spelt everyone’s names wrong – sorry guys).  In the Indian film Industry you don’t have such a person as a Gaffer (now calm down electricians) you have a what’s called a 1st Assistant or Assistant DOP.  This person acts as your Gaffer and deals directly with the Best Boy and rest of the Lighting Department known as Lightmen.  It’s a slightly different system, but one that seems to work.  Having Iswar as my 1st Assistant did make things very easy and I have to say he was a Legend! As the shoot progressed I became more and more comfortable giving him the next set up, the emotion of the scene, roughly my lighting plan and he would go and expand on it and prep it, so the unit could quickly leap frog ahead to the next scene.  Once we moved on I would look at Iswar’s work make any minor adjustments necessary and then shoot – it was a great relationship and of course not at all dissimilar to a DP and Gaffers.  The only difference is the person in Iswar’s position is not planning to work as a Gaffer as a profession (as the role doesn’t exist), but the aim is over time to become a DOP.  It’s an amazing learning role for a young person to be in and I know India are breading superb DP’s because of this system.  Some DP’s have 7 Assistants then the focus puller, loader, camera attendants, playback and so on…

The Assistant DOP is going to progress fast especially when they are physically lighting for DOP’s, taking their comments on board, adjusting and learning lots of different styles as after all Cinematography is largely about lighting!  Master that – especially beauty lighting (in India) and you are well on your way!

The film was shot on Arri 435 35mm.  Only pilot sound was recorded as in India they still like to dub all the dialogue.  To me and probably you that might not  make that much sense, but as I soon released as soon as you get the camera out in India it attracts mass crowds.  They  like to gather and watch for hours, never getting bored or seem to have anything else important to do or go…  It was noisy enough with the crowds just chatting, but when big stars are present I can only imagine the screams and cheers, so recording sync sound in these locations would certainly be problematic.

India loves the Panther Dolly and so do I!  I have loved it for about 3 years when I first discovered it in Dubai.  My good friend and super Key Grip Bob Tuma showed it to me. It can come with a Super Jib Arm attachment which is a ride on crane (as pictured).  It allows you to get 13ft in the air, which enables you to get some really cool shots and still remain in control of the camera.  Some people laugh at the Panther, because it’s not a Chapman – like India where the Panther is incredibly popular I laugh at them!   To me the Panther is my preferred camera movement system and with an awesome Key Grip like Sunhill and his team who I was lucky enough to have on the film, it’s a great tool, a beauty for simple small movements or big swings with an 10mm lens.

HG Riding High on the Panther

I can not expect many productions to continue shooting on 35mm for too long in the future, even though it is beautiful and a fantastically simple way to work!  New digital technology is emerging on what seems a daily basis and people like to be at the forefront.  A friend Andrew Clemson (see his DIT interview) just came back from NAB literally salivating like one of those rabid Delhi dogs…  I appreciate kit, but for me kit and resolution, quality of monitors or being able to beam high res video signals only play a small part.   Film making is about the story, the emotion of the character, what the scene means to the story, how is it building within the film and how to interpret the Director’s vision and writings into something that is physical and that approach is how Muazzam and I bonded.

Shooting on 35mm (Kodak stock) I never had to look at a monitor or refer to any technology (expect of course my light meter)  and that was a liberating and new experience.  Storytelling is film-making and film-making is storytelling however you do it!  You just gotta ‘DO IT’!


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