Drama Production Workshop

Tom Cowan, DOP of Samskara, IMAX cinematographer and director of such cult Australian films as Journey Among Women, was at Infinite Souls last weekend. He facilitated a drama production workshop with a group of 12 participants.

The weather was drizzly, blowing hard and the light, blue. "Aashada has started" said Huli Chandru. We have two new young cows on the farm - Gowri and Sarasvati. Zui had also brought the puppies along. So there were 3 dogs and 6 puppies underfoot. The cows got in nobody's way, except when Mushroom danced up a storm around their hooves and they jumped about. "Did they jump over the moon?" asked Kai when I told him this story.

Saturday morning, we all headed to the round rehearsal space. First question to the group from Tom "Think of a character who desires something greatly."

Amjad - Someone desperate for a cigarette and in a place where he can't have one. 
Chandru - A man who desires to put an end to corruption through any means possible
Lekha - A person unfairly in jail who desires freedom
Abhishek - A boy who wants to find his father
Divya - A character who desires magic in her life
Madhuri - An artist who simply can't paint. She desires expression


Tom picks two stories and the group has 90 minutes to flesh the stories out and crystallize a 3 act structure for each. They will shoot The Artist on Day 1 and The Lost Father on Day 2. The films are cast, art directors get moving, Lekha is DOP for Day 1 and so on. They improv. the 3 act structure of The Artist once, with Madhuri and Tanvee acting. Then Tom says "Let's shoot." 

....but...but..I can't act (Tom:You don't need to)...can we rehearse again? (Tom: No)...how should I react? (Tom: You'll find a way)...ca...can we speak? (Tom: No)..then how...??? (Tom: Let's see)

Here is Tom's process for Day 1:-
1. Shoot a single shot of the whole film (it can be done with proper planning)
2. Review and assess the footage
3. Create a story board for a multi-shot based on the above
4. Shoot the multi-shot keeping in mind light/action/costume continuity (just in case you want to use some of the single shot in the edit
5. Edit
6. Music and titles as need be

By 7.30pm, they wrap the shoot and Tanvee and Madhuri start editing. 
Ashvin had brought in a veritable banquet of food the night before, so the wood-fire oven burns on and some of us party till late in the Magadi night. Some are so terrified of the dark (and perceived leopards, bears and ghosts) that they won't, as Lekha says, "step outside their pool of torchlight" to challenge Ashvin, the source of all their fear. 
Who's scared of the Big Bad Wolf, huh? Huh?

Day 2. In contrast to the Day 1 process, the group along with Tom decide to shoot 2 master takes (from opposite angles) and edit from that material. Abhishek, Zui, Ashvin and Lekha will be acting. As it is a road film, Gypsy the Jeep is to star in it. Folks get ready to rip off its roof for "additional light".

Kuki poignantly beseeches "Whoever takes the goddamn roof off had better put the bloody thing back before it rains." He also says "Zui, let me drive the jeep down the mud road, you won't be able to turn her around." "Dada you have no faith in me!!" protests Zui as she whirls around, Ashvin in tow, and drives the jeep away down said mud road. The rest of us, hats on heads, take position, ready to shoot. Chandru regales us with stories of other shoots as we wait. Of how his tiger got away while shooting Huli Banthu Huli, of how we got chased by a tusker on a narrow trail to Doddasampige during the Devarakadu shoot. 

20 minutes later, no signs of Zui and the Jeep. I call Ashvin. "...er..Kirtana..ummm... there's been a ...well, a bit of a thing. Noworrieswe'llbethereinaminute."

10 minutes later. No, Zui, no jeep, no Ashvin. Second phone call "Er...Kirtana, do you have a small mumtee?"

So we head off to find them.
Around the corner, along the bend - the jeep balancing a foot off the ground on two mud embankments. Ashvin trying to rev it out. Zui hiding behind a lantana bush.

Nagraj the Indomitable (along with mumtee and ghatapara) is summoned. Soon his shadow looms on us as he places his foot on the embankment and thrusts his ghatapara into the mud. At that very moment, our  neighbour, Huchappa, and his herd of goats and 4 cows choose to pass by. Taking stock of the situation, Huchappa flings himself beneath the jeep and begins scooping earth out with his hands. Fortunately, Lekha kept shooting through all this so Zui is immortalized in the Making of The Lost Father uttering those words made famous by millions of teenagers "My dad's going to kill me." 

After the drama of the jeep, the rest of the shoot was anti-climactic but nonetheless rendered some quality acting and a timely coughing fit by Divya the DOP. Editing began thereafter. In this case, the choices were largely about point of view. 

By 6pm, the group had 2 short films with music and titles ready to be screened. A small audience viewed them. It was interesting to see what the audience got from the films, how the individual's pursuit of a single thing (the named desire at the start of the workshop) can provide a framework for intersecting stories. And finally - how liberating to be able to tell stories, make feature films without that old fashioned dependence on funds, stars, equipment rental, studios, producers and the million things that perpetuate the myth that the individual is nothing without an army of support. Some participants said they learned more in these two days than in three years of back-benching it in college. Hmmm...

PS - For those who feel for Konarak, folks didn't put the roof back in time, it rained buckets that afternoon and the jeep did in fact get soaked. 

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