Bollywood 35mm Experience!

Hello, it’s been an incredible few weeks!  I am half way through shooting my first Bollywood feature film. Yep you heard right Bollywood!  I have been working with one of the most inspiring Directors I have had ever had the pleasure Muazzam Beg.

Muazzam is from a writing background and has written several hit Bollywood films, this is his Directing debut, but don’t let that put you off!

His passion and deadication is ‘Gaand Faaru’ which has become the crews favourite quote after a good take. It literally means Mind Blowing, well that’s what I thought… I later found out after shouting it down the street probably too many times a more direct translation is Kick Ass!

Anyone, who knows me or DOP blog knows I am a proud Digital Cinematographer and predominately found behind a RED or possibly HDSRL camera.  Having this opportunity to build upon the commercials I have shot on 35mm and shoot a full feature on 35mm has been an AMAZING experience, especially when film sadly seems to be phasing out… Well even when my hero Roger Deakins BSC ASC, shot his last project on the Arri Alexa and doesn’t know if he will ever go back to film it certainly does…  Although, I only have a brief history with film this makes me feel a little sad…  After all every time I and most people shoot digitally we strive to replicate the unique look of film!  Don’t worry I’m not suddenly going to become one of these over the top righteous Pro film fellas that won’t even look at anything else – I know my roots and what’s been good to me!  After this I will most certainly be back to RED!  Actually, as promised I have added a recent commercial I did for a telecoms company shot on RED with Tilt Shift lenses at the bottom of this post!

Of Course I have a hat on 'Im the DP'

I’ll be honest initially I was a little nervous shooting for such a pre-longed period on film, especially because I knew we wouldn’t get dailies due to shooting in Mauritius and there’s no lab… Growing up on digital I am used to having instant access to rushes and in the last couple of years having a DIT on set.  The DIT almost acts like a digital lab and I am now so used to grading on set and getting a very good idea how I can expect the final images to look
almost immediately.

The whole ethos of shooting celluloid (such a cool word) is so different. On this film we are limited to the amount of film we can expose (of course due to budget constraints).  The Director is very sensitive to this, so we only take shots that we are almost certain will make it into the final edit. Thank goodness the actors are so well prepared. Mauseem did about three months workshops with them and more often than not they do not want to rehearse on camera… A basic block is given so both I, the focus puller and key grip can set positions and rough marks then they go for it – believe it or not more often than not retaking unless Mauseem specifically wants a different performance or a technical issue.  Our curent shooting ratio is incredibly low.  This is refreshing as in recent times, I know I have been guilty of overshooting and offering many options (which can be a good thing) and over the years I am sure we have all worked with criminal directors who want to shoot absolutely everything just so they can direct it in the edit – a much less efficient and time productive way to work, not to mention exhausting for all…

Having a Ball!

Shooting on film also ensure’s you are on top of your game and makes you indulge your full concentration on each and every shot, when the films rolling you do not want to mess up…  Every ft of film stock costs a fortune!  There’s no such thing as ‘let’s shoot a rehearsal’ when your not even properly lit.  It’s more shoot once everyone is ready and just make sure it counts!  I like this pressure!

Chris Russo from Kodak who I met at Sundance was incredibly supportive when I told her about my upcoming feature.
Chris invited me to Kodak LA to check out some film prints in their viewing theatre (ok for the Brits viewing Cinema) so I could get a clearer idea about what film stocks to choose.

I had to put gloves on it got so steamy in there...

In Mumbai I shot tests on a variety of film stocks and decided to go with Kodak Vision 2 50D for bright exteriors, Vision 3 200T for less bright exteriors and day interiors and Vision 3 500T for day and night interiors (both corrected with an 85 filter).  All three film stocks are working incredibly well together and the 500T (5219) is so fast and almost grain free.  It’s a pleasure to use!

Having an optical viewfinder and no high res monitor was a different experience at first, but once I got behind the camera and realised what you see is essentially what you get I was quickly comfortable!  I have read so many times DP’s from American Cinematographer Mag talking about how things are quicker on film, now for the first time I understand why.

You have to trust your eye and instinct.  A great piece of advice was given to me before I started this project by a wise friend and legend Focus Puller Toyota: ‘Use your Experience in your Experiments to get your Expectations’ – I love this!

Good Cinematography is all about, lighting, compositions, placement of the talent and a feel for what works!  It doesn’t matter if your shooting on a 7D or a Arri 435 those principals remain the same.

Yep, I am using a non-sync sound camera Arri 435 favoured by commercials.  In India it’s common place to ADR all the audio that’s why we can use the work horse even if it does go ‘bbbrrrrrrrbbbrrrrrrrrr’ – I love that sound now!

I have got to give some big ups to the crew – Depack my Gaffer aka The Professor has been a legend, as have the Lighting and Camera crew, specially Shantanu my focus puller.  He is literally a gift from the gods. His ability to find focus on any one of the Zeiss Master primes or Optimo zoom is incredible.  Even at T1.3 he never has a problem.  He is one of these people with a natural ability.  Although a little like a racing car driver, he’s quite serious and very ‘focused’  – sorry focused I know… but it’s true!

The Indian system differs from both the European and US.  The focus puller literally only pulls focus, doesn’t change lens or anything else – maybe that’s why they are soooo good!   You have a x3 man team that accompany the camera.  A Loader, an Attendant and Playback.  The attendant and loader change the lenses, and generally look after the camera.  All three are trained to do all the jobs and with my experience rotate every couple of days to keep thing fresh.  Another difference is a member of the AD department does the clapper board, which to me seems very odd.  It’s a relatively simple job and surely someone next to the camera, who know’s about the camera/ settings should do it..?  But over the shoot we educated our guy so he’s getting the board in the right place for the right lens – more or less…

Off to Delhi for the final three weeks.  Should be interesting!

Now as promised here is a Commercial I did for a telecoms company in the Middle East.  It was shot on RED and I exclusively used Arri Tilt and Shift lenses – some would say brave others stupid.  Make up your own mind!


If your interested in Cinematography then my books might be exactly what you need to move forwards!

How To Become A Cameraman full of loads of my personal TOP TIPS!