Origami: trailer

Origami is a short film about two persons who have never met, between whom a bond grows as they begin exchanging a series of origami figures.

With each passing day, they both have something to look forward to: a dying man seems to get a lease of life, and a healthy young one realises life is not as mundane as he thought it was.

The trailer for the film is now out.

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“Civilisation” — Nature diaries, part 4

Nature diaries is an ongoing collection of five short films, often not spanning more than three minutes in length, which explore select ideas in a raw and organic, yet subtle, manner. These are shot entirely handheld and in natural light, with no setup whatsoever.

This means I need to be prepared when something is happening, not after the fact; and this often leads to some funny situations: since I enjoy photographing everything, people start to think I do this because I am excited by it, and they are right. But they fail to realise why I am excited by it: it is not that I have never seen that thing before (I probably have) but because every time I look at it, I see it as a new work of art.

I photograph roads. Sometimes I spend several minutes rooted to one spot trying to capture the graininess of a road or the wave white lines running along it in an artistic manner. This is construed as my awe with roads because I have not seen such roads before.

On the one hand this is outrageous and, if anything, shows the other person’s complete lack of knowledge of globalisation; but, to me, this proves to be very entertaining. This was what I experienced when I set out to film for the fourth part of the Nature diaries collection, titled “Civilisation”.

And that was understandable. Why would anybody pick up their camera and film a random street? The obvious conclusion drawn was something like, “he hasn’t seen such streets where he comes from”. (Guess what, even if I come from Tristan de Cunha, I still have internet access these days.) But what most failed to see was the composition(ally?), photographically, geometrically rich few seconds or simply a fascinating synchronisation in things.

But that is not all I hoped to capture here. Smaller things come into the picture: juxtaposing cycles with motor vehicles, chronicling the darker, graffiti-ridden side of an otherwise beautiful city, organisation, people in the very middle of their everyday lives, always looking for something interesting to do or say, the hustle, the calm, the shady, the sunny, the dreamy, the extraordinary and the same old white picket fences everybody still craves.

Here is the final result:

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(P.S. When I started off with the nature diaries, I only had ideas for four parts which means I am open to any topic you can pick for the fifth and final installment. Do take a look at the entire collection as of now to get a better idea as to the kind of topics we explore through Nature diaries.)

Film review: “Lake Tahoe”

One of Fernando Eimbcke’s earlier feature films, Lake Tahoe, almost disappeared from mainstream cinema alongside some better known films that came out that same year on the international stage (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace, Indiana Jones: the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

That is something very unfortunate, because Lake Tahoe, at the very least, is a stark contrast to all these big budget commercial works in that it is truly a work of art.

Despite what many might argue is an excruciatingly slow, somewhat motionless film, I believe that that is exactly where Lake Tahoe’s strength lies. Right from the very first, lengthy, action-free still that opens the film, Mr Eimbcke’s intention is pretty loud and clear.

Screenshot courtesy of Slant magazine

As I can recall off-hand while I pen this review, the entire film is shot more like a series of carefully thought, beautifully composed photographs with a single moving subject right up to the point where the camera starts rolling in a dolly alongside Diego Cataño’s disturbed teen on his way to a mechanic’s.

The film literally begins with a bang. Juan has hit his car onto a light pole. And for every passing moment then on, we give ourselves to Mr Eimbcke’s patient story-telling. One mechanic shop to another; one person to another.

EVERY FRAME ACTS LIKE A PLAYGROUND LETTING [EIMBCKE'S] ACTORS BECOME PAWNS IN THE DIRECTOR’S INVESTIGATION OF LIFE.

Back home, our protagonist, Juan’s, mother is depressed, having locked herself in the bathroom. Joaquin, Juan’s younger brother, in his tent, is perhaps most oblivious to their father’s passing if his scrapbook right at the end is no indication.

Every incident in this story of life itself is designed to teach Juan something about his on-going attempt to face his father’s death. At first he refuses, tries to get away, but that is not an option, and he learns that very gently, almost as if only Mr Eimbcke’s wide shots could.

The film starts by feeling more like a series of photographs interspersed with long black screens during which the viewer is left to visualise the film the way they want to, supported only by a continuing audio. Every frame acts like a playground letting his actors become pawns in the director’s investigation of life. This is truly something that has to be seen.

But the film, just like life, is also made up of small things: Hector Herrera’s talented portrayal of Don Heber letting go of his dog, Sica; or, in better times, Heber and Sica sharing a bowl of cereal in synchronisation; Lucia’s missing the concert; David’s Bruce Lee obsession; and the fridge, which, seemingly like everything else in Juan’s life, is broken.

Screenshot courtesy of Bryan Schutmaat

Lake Tahoe is not a film to be missed. Between Baz Luhrman’s heavily CGI-dependent The Great Gatsby which decided to take its own path away from the book, and Martin Scorsese’s brilliant The Wolf of Wallstreet, Lake Tahoe definitely leans towards Wolf…’s organic tone making it a match to these much newer films for any connoisseur. As for Gatsby itself, now that we mention it, nobody who has actually read the book can be satisfied with the film that looked like Mr Luhrman’s own creation.

The only thing nagging me was the film’s title. Lake Tahoe — or water itself, for that matter — has little to do with this film, so where does the title fit in except for that obscure reference to a Lake Tahoe bumper sticker Juan’s aunt had sent them and that his father hated. I suppose some things are truly rhetoric devices even in films.

To formally sum it all up: Tahoe is a moving, captivating film that only demands you give a lot more of your time to it than you would expect. It deserves a good 4/5 because, at times, it left me wanting an ever so slightly inconspicuous camera presence in the hall.

Sometimes, you realise a camera is there, other times, you are pulled into a vortex of uncanny, yet appealing, film making, like when Mr Eimbcke makes you watch Juan sitting still in a car and turns off his camera when the traffic lights turn green, or when he does that again every time somebody closes the car door.

This is one of those films you end up loving or hating with a passion. I, for one, loved it.

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Transcendence vs Interstellar: will Pfister top Nolan in 2014?

I am fascinated by directors, which is not surprising since I am a hobbyist filmmaker myself. But the second most fascinating people on set, for me, are cinematographers. I simply love the work they do, and sometimes, I feel they should be at the helm, not the directors, but we all know that is never going to happen.

When I learnt of Chris Nolan’s Interstellar earlier this year, I already could not wait to see it. But now, Nolan’s work seems less exciting to me than the upcoming film, Transcendence.

Pfister shooting for Nolan’s ‘Inception’. Nolan himself is visible at the back.
Courtesy, Collider.

The Pfister-Nolan journey

If one pair has turned out to be as interesting to me as Spielberg and Williams, it is that of Nolan and Pfister. Director-cinematographer pairs are not hard to come by. These men usually find their creative ideas in synchronisation and end up working together nearly every time.

For those of you who do not know, Wally Pfister is Nolan’s go-to cinematographer — i.e. the guy who decides what you see on the theater screen. As a photographer, then, it is no wonder why cinematographers inspire me greatly, and Pfister is definitely one of them.

Take a look at his work on Memento, Inception or The Dark Knight trilogy: all films directed by Nolan and shot by Pfister. In simple terms: Nolan tells Batman how to crash in through the door and Pfister decides where the lights and cameras go and how the audience will see their favourite superhero crashing through the door.

Cover for ‘Interstellar’.
Courtesy, Wikimedia commons.

A project apart

So what happens when Nolan’s DOP decides to direct his own film? You hire another guy with a hard-to-pronounce name like Kaminski, Lubezki, Fiore or Hoyte. (All real names; there are more but these are all I can recall now.)

Of course Nolan picked Hoyte van Hoytema, cinematographer of TTSS and The fighter, to replace Pfister; but will their teaming up go just as smoothly? or, more importantly, will the audience receive Nolan’s new film looking so differently having got used to Pfister’s dark and moody shots?

Nolan is a director who can no doubt keep the production together and get his men to translate vision onto the screen, but when Pfister is out making the same genre of movie right around the same time, the British director has other things to fear.

Transcendence

Not surprisingly, both Pfister and Nolan have kept the stories of their new films very secretive. But we do know they are mostly sci-fi (Pfister) and physics (Nolan). It has been Pfister who released his film’s trailer first, however, so take a look at more TDKR-esque photography.

With a cast like Paul Bettany and Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman, Pfister has bagged himself a strong set of talent, so it is hard to see this one fall down.

Interstellar

But Nolan’s film is not weak in its cast either: he has with him Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, and, in a supposedly fleeting role, Matt Damon.

As a viewer, I can say 2014 is going to be yet another nerdy year in film with some of my favourites coming out: The Hobit: there and back again; RoboCop; Pompeii; TMNT; X-Men: days of future past (which is hopefully as good as the comic arc); and… Godzilla.

That is apart from Captain America and other superhero films and, of course, Interstellar and Transcendence.

But the last two would be the biggest fight of all. When Pfister and Nolan became so famous for their work together, can each of them stand just as tall without the other? And then the inevitable question: who will be better?

 Cover image: Flickr/VFS  VHBsign

Listen: “Seven Nation Army” by White Stripes (the Glitch Mob remix)

I am indescribably excited to watch G.I. Joe Retaliation this year (I have a bucketful of G.I. Joe action figures == yes, I am a nerd.)

So, while I wait, I thought I’d share this absolutely marvelous song by White Stripes, remixed by the Glitch Mob. It is used as the title music for the movie, and by Jove, it cannot get better than this!

 LISTEN: 

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A Scandal in Belgravia: my views

 

I AM ARGUABLY the biggest fan of Sherlock Holmes East of the Equator. As a purist, Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes hardly appealed to me: as a fun, entertaining film, definitely, but it could have been anybody in Holmes’ shoes; it was like Holmes was a namesake, a platform on which to launch Ritchie’s own characters which were not all that true to the original save similar characters and mashed up story-lines.

What was startling however, was that BBC’s modern adaptation of Holmes in their terribly successful series, Sherlock, was something I immediately liked; it was like getting to know the real Holmes all over again with a 21st century backdrop, yet staying true to the original. It was a rare case for me, but I soon became as big a fan of Sherlock as I was of Doyle’s timeless character. I might even go so far as to say I think Doyle would have liked Moffat’s new Sherlock just as much.

Although it is pretty late (for the second season, as I could only recently get my hands on the episodes) I think what I do have to say is valid. And here is what I intend to cover in this article:

[item]Sherlock’s violin and Watson’s blog[/item] [item]Irene as a dominatrix?[/item] [item]How on Earth did Sherlock infiltrate a middle-eastern terrorist cell?[/item] [item]Was the title misleading?[/item]
A scandal in belgravia
Poster for “A Scandal in Belgravia” with Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) in the most controversial shot of the episode.

Cumberbatch on the violin

I hate to discourage somebody, so I want to make it clear that I am not discouraging anybody here. Benedict Cumberbatch is a perfectionist: he got Holmes just right, the intensity of his acting is brilliant and his fiddling is commendable although he does falter at certain times.

In the original Holmes books Watson hints that his friend is a terrible player of the violin, and that he grazes the bow on the strings occasionally; that is why it is alright, in my opinion, for Cumberbatch to falter. But we have already been down that road in the first season when he was toying with his instrument soon after the bomb blast (The Great Game.)

In this season, he actually plays it beautifully. (Well she plays it beautifully because the woman who played the violin offscreen (and taught the actor his bow movement) is the one we hear really.) But, while they may have heard it on-set as slightly jarring but not turning-off, to fellows who actually play the violin, like myself, his bow movement immediately looks suspicious. But Sherlock is so great, I am willing to let it go!

And for those who are interested, other songs that Holmes plays (since this episode seems to have a lot of violin) are God save the QueenAuld Lang Syne, and We wish you a merry christmas — all pretty well known, and easy, tunes.

Alongside this is Watson’s blog — perhaps the most symbolic of them all in the 21st century version. Doyle’s Watson chronicled Holme’s select adventures in a book (which really appeared in the Strand) so now Watson blogs his adventures and even has a counter suggesting over 1,800 readers came to his blog in six hours. Brilliant, but I’m not all that comfortable with it.

For starters, blogs gain you global attention if you do it right. My own blog, for instance, sees readers from around the world; needless to say, Watson’s does too. And that means Holmes is gaining a worldwide fan base which is unlike the original Holmes who preferred to work behind the scenes — for the fun of it — and leave the crime scene before it is closed up and announced to the papers, dropping all the credit on one of the Inspectors’ laps (and that was usually Lestrade or Gregson.) So how will Holmes’ cope with it? Will his newly popularised deduction skills (which are really abductive reasoning skills) harm his career by making him a familiar face and putting his enemies on the cover?

The Woman

The episode’s last dialogue is simply (Holmes:) “The Woman… THE Woman.”

It is sufficient to confirm that Irene Adler has cast an impression on Holmes like no other: this is just as in the books. Adler is the only woman Holmes ever favoured — perhaps even liked — although he hated any woman being manhandled. But the bigger catch is in a great little wordplay on the part of Moffat. Doyle’s Adler is known as ‘the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes’ because he is unable to deduce anything from her in the story chronicling her first appearance, A Scandal in Bohemia. In this story too, Adler herself states that Holmes should remember her as the ‘woman who beat [him]‘ but the catch is that Moffat’s Adler actually beat Sherlock with her crop. Neat. And acceptable.

But what some did not find all that acceptable was the fact that in the original story, where Irene is a respectable woman– although a subtle con artist with connections to Sherlock’s evil mirror-image, Prof James Moriarty — she is a dominatrix in this version, who ‘knows what a man loves and gives it to them.’ Apparently this caused a little ruckus in strong female-centric circles which the BBC did not bother to comment on, stating they only got congratulations from their viewers and not anything else.

Eos Chater -- violinist
Eos Chater, who was hired to teach Cumberbatch how to play the violin in Sherlock

Added to this what caused a bigger controversy was BBC’s airing of the episode before ‘adult (watershed) hours’ (whatever those are) because it showed a brief shot of a nude Lara Pulver as Irene Adler (see poster above) which was apparently uncalled for before the nine-and-a-half million viewers on New Year’s day. Perhaps not everybody understands the famous French cry of L’art pour l’art.

So in order to say things against the BBC for showing that shot, the Daily Mail carried an article with several picture-screenshots from the film. Ironic? Makes one wonder.

The CIA and Sherlock’s visit to a middle-eastern terrorist cell

Two interesting introductions to the Sherlock series, apart from Adler and Moriarty himself (whose phone starts ringing a Bee Gees’ tune in the middle of a climax!) are the intervention of the CIA and Sherlock’s hinted at visit to a middle-eastern terrorist cell to save his woman, Irene.

Adding to my earlier point of Sherlock’s M.O. being work-beihind-the-scenes, the CIA getting to know so much about Sherlock as is shown in the episode really crosses the line. So Sherlock goes from being a British psychopath of a half-human admirable cold character to just another random talented detective.

Perhas this is Moffat’s biggest, and only, mistake so far; but this is one I just cannot live with — especially if those CIA fellows keep coming repeatedly in further episodes too.

How scandalous is it in Belgravia after all?

Personally, this episode although borrowing its name from a landmark Holmes’ story (A Scandal in Bohemia) seems a little off the actual story line. For Sherlock, this story is important, no doubt, but this is a lot more about getting to know characters; and understanding the new set up of Baker Street and London in general; and exploring Holmes’ (both Sherlock and Mycroft’s) strange human sides — which we soon find, for good, that they do not have. And it is a lot less of major, shocking deductions that Holmes is known for and the scandal itself is not touched upon so intensely.

Again, I can live with it because it really sets a great stage for The Hounds of Baskerville based upon Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Now that we have done A Study in ScarletFive Orange PipsA Scandal in BohemiaThe Hound of the Baskervilles and The Final Problem, I cannot help but excitedly wonder what Moffat, Gatsis and the others have lined up for us next year!

Telltale Pre-production Day 2: Screenplay Finalisation and Music Composition

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Update: Now you can listen to a quick preview of one of the Telltale background scores!

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This is part two of the reports on my second short film, ‘Telltale,’ inspired by Poe’s ‘The Telltale Heart.’ Follow the link at the end to read the next/previous reports.

TODAY WE ENTER the final day of pre-production. With Raghul returning to shoot and the Telltale filming beginning tomorrow, I have taken it upon myself to have one last look at the script, and finalise that and the music composition (lietmotif only) for the film. Besides that, you can read more about test shots and sample editing below.

The screenplay

The screenplay I wrote for Telltale is actually one of my older older works — to some extent a spec script — that I merely tightened and shortened specifically for this project. The story is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart, a ghostly, horror-tale of how a murderer bends under the strain of his guilt and confesses to his crime before the police. For various reasons I have not adapted this work but written a story based on the same lines and hence given credit (which Poe rightly deserves) in the manner you have seen.

The script is highly symbolic, not pictorially, but more in terms of what the viewer hears, what the viewer sees and what the viewer assumes. This is where I was hesitant to tread on shaky grounds. While viewers of my last film caught onto the story with ease and caught on rightly (although I did get inputs of some who had not quite got the point) this time Telltale goes ahead to expect more on the viewers part.

I would hate to reveal the plot points right away, but I can state freely that the film relies heavily on good direction, camera movement, editing and — believe it or not– music. There were times when I thought I was putting too much strain on myself considering there is no assistant director, no specific cameraman, no separate editor or music composer; this was what happened with my previous film too, but since that panned our beautifully, I figured I would give this a go. Personally, I love music composition, so that is not a problem, and, although it would certainly help to have a hand on-board as crew, that is a little far of right now.

[pullquote_l]What came to me as a revelation was the use of rhythm in developing an overall structure in music. I just thought it was very interesting… How do you write a 30-second piece? Everything is extremely compressed.

– Phillip Glass

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And this all adds up to clarify my original point: the screenplay this time has so many subtleties that I am sure not one viewer will get every single one of them. But that is where the fun lies, in everybody getting parts and in viewers getting together to add up their bits and pieces to paint a larger picture. Well, so much for the screenplay!

Voice, dialogue and editing

Annoy Me was a silent film that fared just as I had expected. But it is quite obvious not everybody has the class (yes, class,) or taste for silent films because they are so used to being spoon-fed that they hate to use their lovely little brains for an instant. I, for one, am against such straight-from-the-reel-into-my-head filmmaking; that is the rock bottom of filmmaking. In this regard I made certain that my screenplay got just the right amount of dialogue which viewers can hear while none of it gives away the plot straightforwardly. The point was to get the balance between telling and showing just right, and after several revisions I believe I have got it quite well.

The dialogues for Telltale will be voiced over the entire film, not as narrative but as —

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the protagonist reading his confession from a different timeline!
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Anyway, there is no lip-syncing, and no trouble of on-location recording which, on the one hand, means the shooting becomes a tad easier, but on the other, means that the editing becomes a lot difficult what with multiple layers of sound (up to five) that need to be handled this time. (In contrast, Annoy Me had only two layers.)

I have also decided to try out a little colour-correction magic and fast paced editing in a couple of areas (mostly because it is a necessity, not just a vague fancy of mine.) If all goes well, the editing should stand out on its own, if not the direction and acting will surely keep the film together.

A few test shots I took turned out to be excellent, leaving very little work to be done on my side of the camera which means I can concentrate entirely on my actor. The digital editing also turned out fairly quicker this time as when compared to my last project (although I have not yet cut shots or combined them.) Either way, I have made sure that there is very little to mess up that cannot be undone at some point of time in the future!

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Theme music and background score

THIS IS ARGUABLY the most awaited part for most of my readers on this website. As for others too, it may just prove to be very interesting!

The reason I say this is because of the emails I received over the weekend, after I had written my report of the first day of pre-production. I had not publicly written such reports for my last film so it was, understandably, a welcome piece of writing for most of you; especially to the ones who were interested in knowing what went on behind the scenes of my first film. While the emails consisted of things from screenplay queries to thoughts about the location, it was evident that almost all letters enquired of the music. If you will recall, I had released the theme score last time and it had received many positive thoughts.

For Telltale, however, I have decided not to release the music (it is meant to be a surprise) but, after giving some consideration to the matter, I have decided to release the notes of the leitmotif (see picture above!) If you cannot comprehend it, ask a friend who can and I am sure they will be more than happy to help you make sense of these weird markings.

Another interesting feature this time (except for the conjunction music which I will write only after the editing) is that there are two four-minute pieces of music (separate exclusive background score,) which means, on reel (and that is just a metaphor,) the music is actually longer than the visual. Needless to say, some of the music will be cut out and only that which is necessary to bring out the emotion will go on as part of the film (with repetitions, even more music will get cut out than you might imagine at first!) So I will certainly promise to release the entire soundtrack after the film is released.

So the big question is, what to expect from the music? In short it is semi-minimalist and semi heavy-bass so I would perhaps say, think Phillip Glass meets Hans Zimmer. But rest assured, the music is going to suit the film and its atmosphere just as well as the teaser poster (although it is till full MIDI.) I am also contemplating releasing a part of the background music (not the theme music, mind you!) here just to give you a taste of it. Let us see what time has in store…

On behalf of Raghul Selvam, I feel I must thank you for staying with us through pre-production and wish us luck as we head for the actual, powered-up filming come weather-friendly tomorrow!

Read the report of pre-production Day 1 (Location Scouting)