ScreenSavour:Diary of a failed filmmaker

Tags: Films

Passion is not enough to get a film off the ground. The formula for success needs equal doses of vision, focus and competence

<b>ScreenSavour</b>:Diary of a failed filmmaker
Swapnil’s failure to get into FTII, the premiere film school in Pune, did not deter him from pursuing his dreams. As it happens with most aspiring filmmakers, the need to sustain oneself financially necessitated that he take up a job; but he thought he was far too creative for a regular nine to five routine. That he had a working girlfriend who had full faith in him helped matters; plus he was an occasional journalist, freelancing for various newspapers and magazines in the small town where he hailed from.

Meanwhile, he drank up a storm with friends who all looked up to him to make the next masterpiece from the state. He regaled them with anecdotes from world cinema and gossip from the Mumbai industry where his friends who had got into FTII had been working since passing out. It has been almost 10 years now, good god, and he had still not made a film!

If you can’t work out a feature film, which is always a big deal, especially in his state that churned out not more than 10 to 15 films a year — most of them made by smug and pompous veterans — you sublimate your creative energies into documentary films. Not because you love the medium, but that’s a possibility one can explore because of its feasibility in terms of technology and budget. Having an elder brother who was a builder and enamoured of glamour — which documentary films did not have any scope for — made it easier for Swapnil, who always spoke in an earnest manner that readily convinced people.

Narrowing down on the Mundopota tribal community that made a living out of burying their heads under earth with their bodies standing upright, with legs up in the air — for hours on end, without any chance of breathing — he thought he had got his subject. But when he went to research this subject in the interiors of his state, the tribals refused to come forward and he learnt that the practice was no longer in vogue. That did not deter our friend, though. He decided to make a short fiction film instead on the subject.

Despite his claims to be a journalist, he found it irritating to write a script. ‘A film should evolve,’ he intellectualised, ‘and not depend on a structured screenplay.’ He summoned his technician-friends from Mumbai who were at that time in between assignments; they gladly flew down to help their friend for free, and preparations were initiated. Two amateur actors were chosen to play the roles of father and son; camera and light equipments were hired; and the unit started on its long and arduous journey to the hinterland in two rickety vans.

Faced with the reality of shooting for the first time in villages where people flocked to watch the spectacle, making a mess of the entire procedure, Swapnil quickly realised that he was not up to it. But it was too late to own up to his failure, so he promptly entrusted the responsibility to his cameraman-friend who took up the cudgels and began ‘directing’ the film without a clue as to what he was doing, because they still did not have a script. “As long as you can reach your vision to your unit, it does not matter if you are not calling the shots,” Swapnil reasoned.

So what was the director’s role? “To make the unit comfortable, so that it can achieve its creative vision,” explained Swapnil who took on the role of the production manager, arranging for lunch and the next day’s locations. Henceforth, he was no longer seen anywhere near the camera. Sipping tea at a shack one day while his unit shot at a distant village, he mused, “You know, a film is never made, it happens!”

The shoot which was scheduled for three days, went on for ten days till his brother refused to put in any more money. The final cut came down to 15 minutes as opposed to 45 minutes as planned, but Swapnil was happy that the film ultimately “happened.” no matter how preposterous.

Moral of the story: There is a difference between desire and competence, and the sooner a dilettante realises that, the better.

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)


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