I had the extreme privilege to attend the master class with my favorite director Mani Ratnam during Bangalore International Film Festival 2016 in February. As much have been written about it then by the press I had not spent time in penning down my thoughts. Yesterday was his birthday and I thought this is a right time to share some of the key takeaways from his session. Instead of giving an account of how the whole conversation went I would like to highlight the 3 key takeaways for aspiring filmmakers as shared by the ace director himself. Here is this week’s Friday Fundas
The masterclass to some extent has been a fanfare more than a discussion for the popularity he has. Amidst of all that there had been few gems and very practical advice that would be useful for filmmakers.
Assistant Direction vs directing Short Film
Gone are the days where you had to serve as an assistant director to learn about film-making then go on to become a director. He said you learn a lot more in making short films than being an assistant director. The reason is in making of short films you are exposed to the whole project as compared to being an assistant director where you get a partial view into a large project.
2. Character evolves through collaboration between the actor and director
When you write a script you develop a character. This evolves and adds new dimensions as the actor gets into the shoes of the character. The end result of a character is the healthy collaboration between actor and the director to let it evolve and become real. Good actors are key to bring the characters to life.
3. Don’t procrastinate writing a screenplay
Everyone wants to make a movie but they often delay creating the screenplay. As much as this is delayed so will the movie. Keep a daily target for completing the script and follow it religiously.
Hope you found this useful. Leave your comments if you had further thoughts on this.
When I was a kid someone gave me a film roll (negative). My friend and I took this to a room. As my friend lit torchlight I rolled the film in front of it. We placed a lens in front of the film and projected it onto a white dhoti hung on the wall. It was fascinating to see actual images on the white dhoti. They moved in discrete steps, as the roll was moving. My friend said the lines on the side contained sound but we did not know how to reproduce it. Still it was a fascinating experience. From then on we started collecting such films and tried projecting them. Some of these films were narrower and few of them were wider. We did not realize the wider ones were 70mm and the narrower ones were 35 mm film.
In this week’s Friday fundas I would talk about what the numbers actually mean.
You might guess that 70mm denotes a length of something. The unit denotes the “film gauge” which is the width of the film stock. The width of the film is actually 65 mm but is printed on 70 mm film. The additional 5 mm hold 4 magnetic strips that are used to hold 6 tracks of sound. In the later years 70 mm film used digital sound encoding.
70 mm film is a wide high-resolution format of movies. The aspect ratio of these movies were 2.20 : 1. Due to its wider length it produced a greater visual grandeur compared to its 35 mm predecessor. However the many of the theaters that time did not have 70 mm screen. Hence many of the 70 mm movies were released on 35 mm prints so that it can be widely distributed. Hence you see wide screen edition and a normal edition of a movie. 35 mm films had a aspect ration of 1.3 : 1.
When you look at a film negative you see holes punched on its ends. These holes are called perforations. In terms of perforations 35 mm film were 4 perforations tall and 70 mm film were 5 perforations tall. A horizontal variant of the 70 mm film was introduced and is widely used in IMAX screens. In this format a single frame covers 15 perforations.
The recent movie Jurassic World was shot on a 65 mm film the makers chose to do it to match the visual aesthetics of the previous trilogy. The film camera captures more dynamic range of light than that of a digital camera. Also they released it with an aspect ratio of 2:1, which suits the IMAX screen. Hence the movie would be more appealing on a IMAX screen than a normal screen.
In this week’s Friday Fundas I will be taking about a cinematography concept termed as Master Shot.
A Master shot is a visual of the entire scene in which the action is taking place. For example in the Harry Potter series the shot involving the entire dining hall is an example of a Master shot. This forms the foundation for the next set of shots that comes. Many a times this also functions as the establishing shot as well.
A master shot is usually a long shot that can cover the entire scene including all the characters, props and background. Another good example of a master shot is the scene from the movie Little Miss Sunshine where the entire family is sitting around a table for dining.
This covers the entire scene and forms the foundation shot for the following scenes.
In the early 20th century the master shot was predominantly used in movies. As movies and movie makers evolved from stage play, the shots in the early movies had more master shots which resembled the setup of a stage. In the later part of the 20th century this changed and film makers started to use more radical angles and subjectivity when framing the shots. This started bringing in a different level of connect for the audience to the characters on screen.
Even in today’s films master shot forms a very important part of the filming process. These shots are frame of reference for the audience to set the context and environment a particular shot is taking place. Carefully placed master shots in the movies enhances the movie experience for the audience.
Next time you watch a movie try differentiating between the master shots and other shots in the movies. Think if the master shots were not present how it would have been.
The movie screen space is a confined one compared to our real life vision. It gives the ability to take a limited view of the scenery and present it to the audience. What the audience view is what has been captured through the camera. The camera position, viewing angle and the position of the characters on screen all of these play a vital role in making the visual effective. Many a times you see a homemade video and wonder that there is something that is not right. If you watch it close then it might be how and where the camera was placed. In order to make effective visuals there is basic grammar called the Rule of Thirds. Again as it goes with many other rules many of them have broken this rule as well, but not before understanding its purpose.
This week’s Friday fundas I would be talking about rule of thirds which deals with framing a visual. Often when you see people taking vacation photography they keep the object of focus in the center of the screen. Even the Horizon lies in the dead center of the screen. Next time you click a photograph try and adjust your camera to keep the object on the one third of your frame and see what effect it brings. This is what rule of thirds is all about. This applies to movies as well.
To understand the rule of third you would need to divide your frame into 3 equal halves both horizontally and vertically. The object of focus is placed along the one-third line. For example if you have a character speaking you place the character on the vertical one third line and the eyes or forehead of the character along the horizontal one third line on top. This eliminates the empty space over the head and to the side of the character and enhances the visual along with the surrounding.
The shot shown above is from the movie The Prestige. See how the character Christian Bale is placed on the one third of the line with a sharp focus.
Sometimes you would need to break this rule or rather I would say adjust this rule to have the character in the center of the screen to focus attention. Still keeping the top of the character to the one third of the screen is important to eliminate the empty space. Although this looks simple it is very important to remember to use this rule when capturing a shot. As an experiment you can take the photographs you have shot and see how you have positioned the object of focus. Next time you take a photo try applying rule of thirds.
A gruesome villain who has been torturing people all throughout changes his mind and seeks apology just before the curtain falls. Well this might be a scene that you might have seen in many movies. Few of them would have been convincing and few other leave you wondering what changed his mind. Well the various phases a character traverses through in a movie is called a Character Arc. In this week’s Friday Fundas we will understand Character Arc.
In the movie “As good as it gets” the character played by Jack Nicholson is that of a man with obsessive compulsion disorder. As the movie traverses his character undergoes modification and reaches a point where he would have to overcome his fear to get the love of his life. In the early scenes of the movie you see him walking on the platform without placing foot on the joining lines of the tile and in the climax scene you see him walking normally with his girlfriend. The Character Arc of the character traverses from a man deeply troubled with OCD symptoms to a changed man who overcomes his inhibitions. There are various points in the narrative which consists of incidents or turning points that impacts the nature of the character. How well these incidents are placed and convincing would also convince the audience about the transformation to the character and also makes them glued to the character.
Usually in a three act structure the character is established in the first act. The second act is divided into two parts. In the first part the villain or the situation that the hero is averse of chases to such an extent that the hero reaches a breaking point and starts changing. Now in the second part the hero chases the villain or the adverse situation. The plot deepens, gets complicated and reaches a point which seems to be a point of no return. At this juncture at the beginning of the last act the hero makes decision which transforms the character into a new self.
Let us look at this with the help of an example. In the Tamil movie Shivaji the lead character played by Rajinikanth is a computer architect who returns to India for good. He wants to bring in positive change to the society by offering low cost education. However he is pushed down to the streets by the villain. In the mid-point which is the breaking point he tosses a coin to decide if he would have to fight against the situation or not. This is the first transformation of the character. In the second half he fights against the villain and reaches a point where his life is threatened. In the last act he comes in a new avatar and takes over the villain to establish truce.
A Character Arc can be either positive or negative. In the case of Shivaji the arc was positive as it resulted in the character emerging victorious at the end. In the case of Tamil movie Nanda the character dies at the end there by going through a negative arc.
Whichever way the character arc goes the transformation of the character should be in line with the events for it to be convincing. If not audience would be disconnected from the character.
Now if you can think of some of the characters you remember well in the movies you have watched you would notice that their character arc has been very well done.