Is there room?

I think it's fantastic that Slumdog has generated so much buzz and is a major contender for so many Oscars. It's very exciting for me, as an Indian American, that India and Indian culture is getting so much attention these days, too. A.R. Rahman was on Leno last night, amazing!! Hard to believe, especially when I grew up (in North Carolina) answering questions like, what the HELL is India? Or, ARE you Hawaiian? Or, what TRIBE are you in?? Very strange and different than my experience when I first moved to Berkeley for grad school, and I had some classmates who would always feel the need to out-Indian me (in naming restaurants, cultural practices, etc), since they had gone to India on a spiritual journey to discover deeper inner truths about themselves... But I digress. Anyway, Slumdog is a great film not only because of its stunning visuals, but it's a great human story that touches people on so many levels. That's what I love so much about the movie--it's got no big stars, it was almost shelved and yet, it triumphed. But, I think in many circles, the film has brought up a larger questions about Western filmmakers going to Third World countries to depict poverty and the strife of "the other." It seems that this type of film is what generates Oscar buzz and generally, it's what folks want to see in the Western world. But what about films that are the reverse like mine which show the opposite? Indians in the Western world? These types of films are a much, much tougher sell, I believe, and not many have broken ground, except say, a Bend it Like Beckham. I think there is a diaspora being created here with films like mine, films which show the other side, but it's tough to say how these movies will fit into a larger culture. One this is for sure, though, I'm guessing there's a whole spate of Slumdog wanna-bes in the pipeline. Should be an interesting year, getting this movie out!!


Assembly Edit

I just had the pleasure of seeing the assembly edit of our film. An assembly basically takes all of the footage that's been shot and places it into the timeline in script order. It was an interesting thing to see it all laid out this way, especially without any music and really just mostly master shots. As you might already know, a film gets written three times, and in the edit phase is the final time. Watching this cut, I could tell some things right away--which performances stood out, which visuals worked and what we needed to do to tighten up the overall pacing of the movie. It's a little nerve racking as the writer/director to go through this process, but you learn so much, and you see that the movie can be shaped in so, so many different ways. I think we have some really good material, and I'm sure our editor will shape it in the best possible way... But I learned a lot about the directing process, here are a few things:

1. Pacing (for actor actions) should be quicker. I think first time directors tend to move things slowly, but I realize, things can move a bit faster, especially simple actions.

2. Get as many wide shots of exterior elements as possible. These wide shots are so helpful in editing transitions, especially to establish a sense of place between different elements.

3. Get as many entrances and exits between places as possible. Sounds silly, but these are so, so helpful in the edit room. Even if you don't think you need those elements, you will!!

4. If you don't like the performance in the moment, you're going to hate it even more later. It's critical to keep doing the take until you get what you want. I think especially watching for moments of overacting are crucial. Go back and do it again and again until you get it, else it's not going to work later.

5. Don't be afraid to have an actor play a take several different ways. In the edit, you can steer the emotional arc in many different ways, and you just don't know which one will work best. Obviously, you should know what you want from the actor, but sometimes, it's not bad to get another version!


Translating Visuals to the Screen

I recently had the chance to see the film version of Doubt, which I thought was brilliantly done. I had seen the play on stage and read it on the page, too. The question of which was best was tough for me to answer, because the stage and the screen are two very different mediums, and I believe that each one was very well done in its own right. But translating the ideas to the screen, they had to do a number of things to make it more engaging--bring it into the realm of a visual medium. All of these elements were crucial in realizing the play as a movie:

1. They had to break up some of the long speeches except for the sermons. If they had translated all of the dialogue to the screen as it was written in the play, it would have been really tough to watch of film because nothing would have been happening. Already, there isn't much action in the play in the sense that all of it is conveyed through talking, but was good that they broke it up. I noticed that their key way of breaking it up was to have the character move through several locations--they walk from the cafeteria to the office, etc. while delivering the lines.

2. They had to create a sense of space beyond just the sister's office. In the play, much of the action takes play in sister's office, in the courtyard and in the church. The play is very minimalist in its sense of space, as it should be, because the emphasis is on the words. In the film, they used many places throughout the school, and they definitely defined with world right outside of the window, showing the New York streets. These visuals definitely helped to add another layer of meaning to the movie.

3. They externalized some of the events which were only talked about in the play. In the play, they talk about "Donald" drinking wine, etc, and the talked about the younger nun's teaching style, but in the film, they showed these. Again, film is a visual, action-oriented medium, and in order to really fill out the world of the movie and give us a deeper sense of what happened, they showed us the world which was only talked about in the play.

4. They used ambiance as a way to add dramatic tension into the story. The open window, the rain, the snow, and the magnificence of the church were all cleverly shot to add dramatic tension into the story. They did a great job of using space visually to add small moments of meaning into the film. I also liked their use of green and yellow to represent the different worlds of the nuns versus the priests.

5. They added characters to fill out the world and make it more real. The play is minimalist, four characters, a couple of locations telling this story. But in the film, they added nuns, students and a whole world in the school to make it real. It added layers of meaning, especially because they were able to externalize many of the ideas that were spoken about in the play, into the world of the movie.

It's a great exercise to read the play and then watch the film, to understand how the mediums are so very different and see how someone with serious skills, like John Patrick Shanely, was able to do both so well.


What's Going On?

I don't need to tell you this, but these are troubled times. The economy is falling apart, folks are losing their jobs, and it just seems like things are generally bad. I feel really lucky that we were able to get our film in the can at the end of last year, and get it into post production right away. The indie film market is pretty bleak, as well, and Sundance was pretty mellow this year. But, as an artist and a creator, I am trying really hard to stay focused on the task at hand, which is to complete this movie and get it out, then work on new material. Last year, while I was in the midst of putting together this feature, I was a finalist for the Sundance labs for another screenplay of mine called, RK Dandekar Finds Home. It's another small, indie film, one which I'd really like to make at some point. It still needs to go through some re-writes, but I really like it and think it would be fun to make. I also have a political comedy, which is now on the third draft, and I'm really hoping to have a polished draft pretty soon. All the while, I am anticipating the first cut of Raspberry, which our editor will have at the end of this month. We're starting discussions on music, titles, distribution, publicity and more while we wait. It's hard to totally gauge these things while waiting for the cut, but I've always had a fairly clear vision for the titles, so my husband, the designer, can start on the boards. Who knows how things are going to turn out, I mean, with everything going on, I'm just trying to stay focused on the task at hand!