Saturday, August 1, 2015

Day Ten: When Even A Sandstorm Stopped For Us!

Or so it seemed... I mean, about that sandstorm piece in the title above. But let's start from the beginning of the day, shall we?

[The Destination Film Shoot]

17 April, 2015

It was technically the last proper day of shoot. Tomorrow afternoon, our cameraman would take off and we would follow the day after, in the morning. So there was really little time to get a lot of things done such as:

1) Two major scenes that still needed an external location each.
2) One night scene at the hotel - we already had the permission for this, which was 2am tonight. The scene is to be shot in the front drop-off point of the hotel, and it had to be at a time when there is very little traffic. And the hotel gave us two hours - from 2am - 4am to get this done.
3) One final scene in the car with the actor at night, which as been planned before or after the hotel shoot tonight.
4) A few daytime montage scenes - which have been planned for tomorrow as those are the least critical.

Nett, we had a plan of action for (2) - (4) above and none for (1). And without (1), we didn't really have a movie.

As usual, the team met for breakfast. And as usual, we discussed out options.

Me: So?
Editor: So...
Me: So.....our locations for the two remaining scenes are a) Oasis, b) Dates farm. Do we really need licence for both the places?
Editor: The oasis is a public place and so definitely needs one.
Me: What about the dates farm?
Editor: That's a privately owned place but when I checked, they said we can't shoot there without the permit.
Me: Then?
Editor: Well, we could technically shoot there without the permit.
Me: Really?!
Editor: Yeah, we can go in and try shooting in some corner. It is so large, maybe we won't get caught.
Me: Urm... and if we did get caught?
Editor: Nothing, if we get caught... then that would be a problem.

So I clearly told him that I had no intention of even visiting an Abu Dhabi jail, let alone spend any time in it.

And then, just as I was munching on some of the lovely idlis and chutney that were available at Novotel's buffet breakfast, I had what one might call a really good brainwave.

You see, one of the "locations" I had shortlisted during my site recee in my last trip were these "eco-donut" boat rides. These self-maneuvered  boats start off at the Le Meridien hotel and take you through the mangroves around the city. I really liked it and had included it as part of the montages.

Ever since we had got to Abu Dhabi, whenever we start discussing out locations for the day, my editor would ask me whether I wanted to just get done with the montage shoot inside the eco-donut boat. But I had  always pushed back because they were expensive and the montage shoot wasn't the most critical of all that we had to do, so prioritizing that somehow didn't seem right. Thus, it could postponed endlessly.

So now my brainwave was this - instead of shooting a montage, why don't we shoot the originally planned "oasis" scene inside the donut boat?! The "dates farm" scene wasn't really an option here because the actors are supposed to walk for the entire length of that scene and there is very little walking you could potentially do inside this boat, but for the "oasis" scene, where they were only to sit and chat with each other against a nice backdrop, this might just work!  The boat would be considered private and as long as its manager lets us shoot, we should be good to go without a licence.

My editor was so excited that he actually didn't complete his breakfast. Asking the actors and the cameraman, he and I rushed to the Le Meridien and straight to the eco-donut boat area. The manager of the service wasn't around, but one of the staff helpfully connected us to him on the phone and he said, sure! We can pay for an hour, use it for an hour and a half at max, and just pass him the licence whenever it comes by. Yessssss!!!!

We quickly went back to our hotel, picked up the team and the equipment, rushed back, got into the boat, floated away, shot on the way, rammed into some mangroves here and there, completed shoot faster that we thought we would, so spent the rest of the time back (the boat took really long to get back to the pier!) laughing and chatting and taking pictures and silently thanking all Gods!

After the shoot, we quickly grabbed a bite and thought about our next move. We only had one main external location shoot remaining. But that one is a difficult one because I want them to be walking throughout and that means it could attract a lot of attention anywhere when people see two people walking with a cameraman and a steadycam accompanying them.

Me: Well, they could walk along the oasis.
Editor: Do you want to take the risk?

He and I were thinking the same thing. The oasis is by the expressway, but not easily visible from the road. It is at a lower ground than the road, and maybe... just maybe... we might get away with it? But I still had my apprehensions.

Me: But it is a long way off. What if we go all the way there and there are people around? Then we won't be able to shoot and we don't even have a spare day!
Editor: I don't know. Do you want to take the risk?

He simply repeated himself with a shrug.

It was a risk. A big one.

But maybe it was that we got lucky with the donut boat, but we were feeling confident.

So, we took the risk. And hoped that Gods would be with us.

The Gods were with us. And how!

We set of to the oasis, about 175 kilometres away from Abu Dhabi. And just about 20 kilometres into the journey, a sand storm began to form. It started out slow, but then slowly and steadily it started to gain intensity. About 100 kms in, it was looking pretty bad. We got pretty nervous because obviously a sandstorm means no shoot.

Me: What are we going to do?
Editor: I don't know. We have come this far. No point going back.

I agreed with him. We didn't have any more alternative brainwaves, so just getting there and figuring it out was the only option.

And then... just when we were only about 20 kilometres away from the location, just when I was beginning to think that there would be no hope for shoot, the sandstorm magically cleared. It just completely cleared! The sky was back to its bright blue being and it was as if the Gods did listen to all those prayers.

As soon as we got to the location, we quickly got ready for the shoot. We walked into the desert towards the oasis. It was a terribly hot, dry day and I thought I might have another attack of dehydration. We struggled with the long walk to the oasis over the hot sand.  The actors struggled to keep up with the blinding sun and dry weather that parched their lips. The cameraman struggled to wield the steadycam over the sandy desert and the hot sun, especially since it was long, walking scene. The car we had come in got entrenched in the sand and the editor was struggling to get it out.  And on top of all that, there was a guy riding a desert buggy or a quad bike in the background and he turned out to be the police.

The long walk to the oasis

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Day Nine: Shooting That Dreaded Scene!

[The Destination Film Shoot]

16 April, 2015

There was one scene in the film that I had absolutely dreaded shooting.

It's a critical one that comes towards the end of the film and I dreaded it because... well, I had no clue how to shoot it. It was unlike anything else I had directed before and even though I had already done some sort of a shot breakdown and a storyboard for the scene, they were too generic / vague to actually help with the shoot, and I was very aware of that.

I had been postponing its shoot as much as I could, saying that the actress, who is the only one in this scene, needs to be really warmed up before we shoot it. That was a valid reason, but the bigger reason was that I had to be better prepared.

It had now come to a point where it couldn't be postponed any further, so we decided to shoot it this night. Gulp.

There were a couple of things that actually worked in favour of the shoot of this particular scene. Firstly, it was to be shot within the actress's room in the hotel itself and hence didn't require any sort of shooting licence. Yay! Secondly, it was to be shot indoors so there was no issue of dealing with the rather hot and dry weather outside. Double Yay!

But we still needed a solid shot breakdown and storyboard. So, soon after breakfast, I sent the cast, the editor and the cameraman to shoot what I called the "inside car - montage scenes", which basically means just capturing the two protagonists going in the car around the city. That didn't require me to be present, so I spent the time to lock the shot breakdown and the storyboard instead.

I walked down to a cafe in the hotel, ordered myself a cup of latte, plugged in my earphones to listen to the "inspiration track" that I had chosen for this particular scene and I started to think. After a while, maybe a couple of hours, I had in front of me, what seemed like a pretty solid shot breakdown. I think I owe much to that piece of music, the inspiration track, for what finally came out of my head. I had listened to it as I wrote this scene during the scripting stage - to be precise, on a flight back from Cambodia to Singapore last October, so working again with that music seemed to help this time too. In fact, I almost feel like I choreographed the entire scene to that music.

Anyway, soon the cast was back after the "inside car - montage" shoot and we quickly got into a rehearsal session. I got the team up to date on the shot breakdown and spent some time with the actress working on the scene. There was a small dance sequence also involved and I choreographed that for her... she is a dancer herself, and quickly picked up the pieces, while I enjoyed whatever little dancing I did after what seemed like ages!

We felt ready to shoot and all we had to do was wait for nightfall. It was a night scene, so obviously we couldn't have the sun streaming through the curtains of the room.

Finally, post dinner, it was time to shoot! Phew!

We ran through the shot breakdowns and the storyboarding one more time, I played my "inspiration music" file a number of times so everyone got into the required mood, we did a few mock shots (I got to act out a bit as well for reference, which I always enjoy!), and then.... well, then we shot!
Rehearsing the dance sequence one last time before shoot

Editor cum DOP listening attentively to director's instructions! 

There were a couple of shots that required only the cameraman and the actress to be in the room because he was using the steadycam for shoot and the rest of us couldn't afford to be caught in the background. During these times, I plonked myself on the aisle outside her room and prayed that the scene would turn out the way it is supposed to.
Setting in the hotel aisle and praying for the shoot to go well!

It was a long and tiring shoot that wound up at 3 am or so. By then the team, especially our dear cameraman, was all bleary eyed. But we kept at it until we felt satisfied with the footage we had canned.

When we finally did wind up, it was with wide smiles all around! It was a tough shoot, I still was not 100% certain whether the scene would have the impact that it should (I was hoping any mistakes could be fixed during editing), but at least the dreaded scene was now fully completed! We heaved a sigh of relief and in spite of the ridiculously late time of night, we goofed around taking a few pictures.

A very happy actress, post shoot!

We still have have two more major scenes to be shot, both to be shot outdoors and hence requiring a shooting licence. However, by now we know for certain that we will no longer be getting a licence. Tomorrow, a Friday, the weekend starts in this part of the world, so no more hope of the licence coming through in time. Oh well.

But that's a problem for tomorrow.

As for tonight, I was a very happy person. The Dreaded Scene is no longer dreaded.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Day Eight: It Was A Very Happy Vishu!

It was Vishu, the Kerala New Year.

I woke up early to prepare for our 7am shoot on the dhow boat. As soon as I opened my eyes, I was greeted with a message on my phone - "Come see the Vishukani!". The actor, the cameraman and the editor had gone the previous night to buy all that's needed to put together a simple Vishukani. 

Given that we were in Abu Dhabi, where there are more Malayalis than anyone else, the Vishu spirit hung in the air. In fact, when we had gone to pick up food from the supermarket a couple of days ago, I even found "adapradaman" for sale! 

Through yesterday, the team, especially the actor was all excited about Vishu and had been wanting to prepare a kani. I, on the other hand, was too lazy and could only think of sleep, whenever the time allowed. So I said, "Sure, go ahead", and then completely forgot everything about it. 

But now, here's a message telling me that the Vishukani is all  set! So, as soon as I got ready, I was on my way to the actor's room to take a look at the Vishukani. 

I rang the bell but nobody opened the door for a while. Just when I was about to come to the conclusion that the dude had fallen back asleep after looking at the kani, the actor opened the door. I realized that he was late to open because he was making sure there was "kani kaanum neram... " being played off the laptop, when I entered and saw the kani! How lovely! 

So here I was. Thousands of miles away in Abu Dhabi. In the middle of a shoot for a feature film. Looking at a simple, yet beautifully arranged Vishukani. With that lovely song ringing in my ears.  

Everything felt just about perfect. It felt like nothing could possibly go wrong.

The beautiful Vishukani, courtesy the actor!

And nothing did too. Or at least, nothing major did too. 

We first went to a couple of places to pack food that the actors would pretend to eat on the "restaurant" on the dhow. Given that it was Vishu, most of the Kerala places were making only the sadya or traditional feast, so we had to go around a bit before we actually found a place that would sell the kind of food we wanted for the shoot. Then we hurried to the location. We were given only a couple of hours, so we had to be quick. 

The shoot proceeded smoothly. In hindsight, one interesting thing about all our shoots have been that we would start the shoot without the perfect frames nor the perfect acting. I mean, they won't be bad, but they won't be perfect, top notch either. Towards the end of it all, when we have about 15 minutes to spare, the DOP and cameraman will have some inspiration for a different frame, and sometimes I will have an inspiration for some new instruction on the performance. Ultimately, what was shot in the last 15 minutes would be the best of the lot. In fact, now that the edit is done, I can say that in most cases we have pretty much gone with the last rushed take! Food for thought, it is. 

Anyway, the shoot was wrapped up right on time, this time too after that one last rushed take with a completely different frame, and then we thought of next steps. The editor said he will go and see whether the licence has come in or if it would come in any time soon, and also he would go to the Gold Souk to see whether we can get permission to shoot there without the licence. It was one of the spots in my list of locations for which the licence had been requested for. 

As the editor, in his capacity as the producer cum production manager, went to try his luck with such seemingly impossible tasks, the cameraman went to the production studio to back up the footages (this was a daily routine), the cast chilled in their rooms and I went down to the cafe to work on the storyboarding for our "night scene". This scene, planned to be shot the next day, is unlike anything I had directed before. I am not sure how to explain it... maybe I will leave it by saying that when you watch the film, you will get it. But point being, it was a complex scene and while I had done some amount of detailed screenplay writing, I hadn't been able to lock the shot breakdowns nor the storyboard. So I took some time to do just that and at the end of it, felt like I had totally cracked it! 

After a few hours, the editor came back and announced three things: 
No, we don't have the licence yet. 
No, we don't know when it will come. 
No, we can't shoot at the Gold Souk without the licence. 

Umm, ok then. 

But it was Vishu, and we Malayalis don't get upset over such simple matters. So to celebrate, I treated the team to a full blown Vishu Sadya in one of the restaurants. 

The rest of the day continued to be a relaxed day. By the time we had finished lunch, it was already evening and we didn't have any more evening scenes to be shot. So we decided to put off everything till tomorrow. We will start with some remaining car scenes and wrap those up in the morning, and then shoot the "night scene"... well, at night. 

Including the Gold Souk, we had three scenes remaining that would absolutely need the licence before we can shoot. Tomorrow, being Thursday, would be the last day that the licence could possibly come in after which it is the weekend. And we are to fly out on Saturday. So it either comes in tomorrow, or.....well, let's just hope there is no "or". 

Even if we can live without the Gold Souk scene, we absolutely needed to figure out a plan for the remaining two. 

As of today, we had no plan. We only had prayers. And a lot of hope. It was the new year, after all! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Day Seven: One Unexpected Location and One Brainwave!

The Destination Film Shoot]

14 April, 2015

It was great to wake up to a day when we knew exactly what we had to do.

As soon as breakfast was done, we set off to shoot the "car scenes"!

But first we needed to know where to shoot these scenes. Shooting in the middle of the city could mean a lot of traffic lights and frequent stopping of the car, which doesn't look great on screen. We wanted moving frames at the windows. On the other hand, shooting on the expressway also didn't make sense because there was nothing much to be seen out of the windows in that case. So where do we shoot?

The licencor suggested that we go somewhere close to the Ferrari World, which turned out to be quite far away but the drive was worth it. The location was good - the surroundings were nice and there was little to no traffic for most parts, so driving while the scenes are in progress wasn't much of an issue.

However, the logistics of shooting inside a moving car, wasn't something we were completely prepared for. We didn't have any of the necessary grips. So the camera had to be kept on the dashboard and the licencor was instructed to drive slowly throughout, so that the camera doesn't get displaced during a take.  Also, given that I had no way of monitoring the takes as they were in progress, all I could do was give the cast the instructions on what all to be shot, how they needed to perform and then hope for the best until a few takes are done, then stop the car, get the camera and play through the takes quickly to review them. It wasn't easy.

Anyway, the shoot was smooth but it took a really long time to get it completed. As we made our way back, it was close to 3pm. We had not had lunch, and should have been tired by now, but for some reason, maybe because of the successful shoot of the car scenes, all of us unanimously agreed that we should probably try and can one more scene if possible. Yay! Go team!

But can which scene, and where?

We looked at the licencor expectantly for some solution. After all, he would or should know of places to shoot without a licence!

And he did too! He said, "I know an excellent place!".

And believe it or not, it was a truly excellent, mind blowing place! It was a gorgeous little park, with a canopy of trees that shed beautiful white flowers that scattered on the grassy carpet below, and with a little lagoon as the backdrop. It looked nothing like what you would expect that part of the world to look like, and I fell in love with it!

And the best part? We were the only people there, probably because it was a weekday afternoon. The licencor said he would be completely responsible if we "get caught" because after all, the licence is in work in progress and he has documented evidence for that. I gulped but then decided to take his word for it.

So we shot. And it was a really smooth shoot! The actors were in good form (maybe we should go without lunch after all) and we ended on a high.
Happy after the shoot at the park! 

As soon as the shoot was wrapped up, we rushed to get some food. It was already 6 pm and we had stayed hungry since 9am or so. But totally worth it, I say.

Over the early dinner, the editor and I discussed what next. Today was a good day with good progress, but we still had many scenes left. And even the licencor was no longer looking hopeful about the licence coming in time, and he had other work, so he couldn't accompany us to every location where we could possibly get caught either.

Then I had a brainwave.

One of the locations on my list was a fish market. In Abu Dhabi, you can buy fresh fish and get it grilled right there at the fish market. I wanted to capture that as a lunch scene in the film. But shooting at the market needed the licence, which didn't seem to be coming through any time soon.

So here was my brainwave - I asked the editor whether instead of the fish market, if we could just go to one of the fishing boats or maybe even the bigger dhow boats moored in that area. I just wanted to shoot the scene in something other than a regular restaurant, and one of these could just work.

He said it is worth a shot.

So after that early dinner, we dropped the rest of the team back in the hotel and he and I went to the area around the fish market. We parked the car and looked around and chose one of the many dhow boats moored there, based on what we thought the backdrop could look like from out of its windows. The editor asked me to stay behind in the car as he went to make the first contact with the person in charge. I watched him as he walked up to the boat, talked to a guy there, walked around the boat as if to do a recee, all the while praying that this works.

He soon got back with a huge smile and said, "This is going to work. You come and take a look."

So I followed him and sure enough, the dhow turned out to be just perfect. Why, it even had a nice little restaurant setting inside it! The staff agreed that we could shoot there for a very nominal fee, but with two conditions. 1) We have to start shoot at 7am and end at 9am, 2) We have to bring our own food for the shoot, as they don't make anything there until evening.

Of course, all conditions were acceptable to us!

I got back to the hotel super excited! Each day I update our production schedule and today's looked pretty good. It looked something like this:

Scene 6 (Car): DONE 
Scene 10 (Car): DONE 
Scene 12: DONE 

And I also knew that tomorrow morning I would be able to say Scene 5 Fish Market: DONE.

So looking forward to that!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Day Six: Taking a Break, Albeit Unintentionally!

[The Destination Film Shoot]

13 April, 2015

I went down for breakfast with a lot of thoughts swimming in my head.

1) On one hand, I wanted to give the cast and crew a break. Yesterday was supposed to be a rest day but then that also turned out to be an intense day of shoot. The last thing I wanted was a fatigued team (or a fatigued self, for that matter).

2) On the other hand, 4 out of the 10 days of shoot had already passed and we were hardly close to the half way mark in terms of content canned. So we can't possibly be sitting around twiddling our thumbs.

3) We still didn't have the licence. So it wasn't like we could shoot much either.

4) So the real question was how could we make this day both relaxing and productive?

That's when the editor arrived for breakfast with the good news. Apparently our licencor would be getting his driving licence today so we can shoot the scenes in the car (remember, the licencor was supposed to act as the chauffeur).

Me: Oh great! So let's meet at the lobby right after breakfast and leave for the shoot!
Editor: No, no... not so fast. He will be getting the licence today. He doesn't have it yet. But they have asked him to go collect it, so it should be ready by afternoon.

Oh, OK. I had missed that subtle use of future tense in there.

Alright then. At least the good news was that we knew what we would do in the afternoon. So now the only question was what we should do in the morning.

We had a few filler shots which could be shot within the hotel aisle and the lift lobby. So we gave the actress a break and proceeded to can these filler shots, which involved only the actor. Given that we didn't have anything much else to do other than wait for the licencor and his driving licence, the shoot which under normal circumstances shouldn't have taken more than 30 minutes, took about two hours.

And then we started to wait for the licencor and his driving licence...

And continued to wait...

And wait...

And then, in the middle of all that waiting, was informed that the licencor is now on his way to collect his licence, which seemed to be not in Abu Dhabi city as earlier assumed, but in Al Ain. It would have been awesome had Al Ain not been a mere 175 kms away. By the time he would get back it would be evening and we would lose light.

So we stopped waiting.

Instead I took a stroll to the nearest mall with the cast, and there I bought a few gifts for my little one. As it would be with moms who make films, I was already ridden with guilt for having left her with her dad and our helper for so long.

Anyway, post the visit to the mall, I was faced with a free evening. So I paid a visit to one of my dear friends from school who was living in Abu Dhabi. I had a lovely evening at her place - meeting her family, enjoying the awesome chicken curry she cooked for me, and playing with her two little wonderful kids!

I don't exactly have a picture from today, but thought would be a good idea to share a picture of my wonderful team - cameraman, actor, editor/DOP, me, actress! 

By bed time, this was how I fared on the thoughts that were swimming in my head during breakfast.

1) Everyone got plenty of rest, which is good.

2) 5 out of 10 days had passed and we were still not close to half way mark when it comes to the content canned., which is not so good.

3) We still didn't have the licence for the shoot on public locations but the licencor at least had his driving licence now, which is good.

Because it meant that, for a change, I had a good idea what we would be doing the next day, which is more than what I could have said for the past few days.

That in itself, is great progress. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Day Five: That Absolutely Futile Process Called Planning!

[The Destination Film Shoot]

12 April, 2015

It was a Sunday and I thought I had it all figured out.

I had decided that the only agenda for today would be to go to the Heritage Village and do a rehearsal.

Why, you may ask. For the following reasons:

1) The licence had still not come, so it's not like we could actually shoot even if wanted to. But rehearsals without cameras should be OK.

2) We had a scene where the two characters walk along a row of shops and converse throughout. The only place in Abu Dhabi which had a suitable row of shops (I was looking for small stalls that sell trinkets) was the Heritage Village. Given that there is a lot of movement in the scene and a lot of dialogues, the cast would need to familiarize themselves with the location before shoot, and hence the rehearsal.

3) We had a tough shoot in the desert two days ago and we didn't get much of a rest after that. So today, I wanted the cast and crew to take a breather.

4) The weather forecast had predicted about 38 degrees for the day. Not exactly conducive for a shoot, but a quick rehearsal should be OK.

5) On the other hand, weather forecast for tomorrow is only 32 degrees. So it would be great to rehearse today and shoot tomorrow and we were optimistic that the licence would be ready by then. In fact I was so optimistic, I believed that  the licence would be available within today, so we can shoot at 8am tomorrow as soon as the shops open, in order to avoid as much heat and crowd as possible.

In other words, I had it all planned. Everything from  rehearsal to the temperature had been accounted for. Nothing could go wrong.  

At about 11 am, we set off for Heritage Village. As the cast, the cameraman and I started walking around the place figuring out blocking and potential framing, the editor said he will go and let the authorities know about the rehearsal, so that we don't get into any trouble. He came back in about 15 minutes.

Editor: We need to shoot today.
Me: What?
Editor: We need to shoot today here.
Me: What... why?
Editor: They have some festival here from tomorrow and no shoot will be allowed for another 10 days.
Me: Oh wow... but what about the licence?
Editor: They said we can shoot today and hand over the licence later.
Me: What time do we shoot?
Editor: Well, as soon as we can get back with your equipment.
Me: That would be about 2pm.
Editor: Yup.
Me: 40 degrees.
Editor: Excuse me?
Me: Sigh... nothing. Let's go.

So we rushed back to the hotel. The cast got ready, we grabbed the equipment and rushed back again to the location (I believe we forgot lunch in the process).

We set up and had a shoot that turned out to be quite tough for a variety of reasons. There were plenty of tourists around who would either cut across the frame or look into the camera or stare at the actors or in short, do things that we would rather they didn't. We also had issues with repeat takes because the people in the background would keep changing in every take, in very conspicuous ways. On top of that we had long single shots taken on a steady cam, which meant the cast had to remember really lengthy lines at a stretch and the cameraman had to meander his way through the crowd, the trees and poles supporting the thatched roofs of the shops occasionally bumping here and there. And to add to the woe, we also had to manage some of the shopkeepers who thought we were in their way (which was fair enough on their part, but still!).

The highlight was that when we were just about to melt in the heat, one of the staff brought us bottles of water. God bless him!

A shot from the Heritage Village, courtesy our cameraman

We shot and reshot and reshot and reshot until everyone was exhausted but still we were running the risk of not being able to complete the shoot in time. The shops were to close at 5pm, before the evening prayers but by 4:45pm we still had one entire sequence left. So we rushed to do that and I was extremely unhappy by how that scene turned out in the one camera that was set up to capture it. I was watching the take, cramped up in a tiny shop where the camera was set up, and completely freaking out because I knew what we shot wasn't going to sufficient for a convincing edit. In spite of what I felt, I had call it a wrap for the day, with maybe 30 seconds to spare, before the shop shut down.

I came out feeling rather dejected because after all that effort, we didn't have this particular sequence which was essentially supposed to connect two parts of the scene. I had no idea how we could possibly edit the scene without that sequence.

That's when the editor gave me the happiest news - he had used our spare camera to shoot the sequence as a over-the-shoulder take from beyond the shop. Because I was inside the shop during the take, I wasn't aware of this! I was HUGELY relieved! I watched the footage and realized that yes, we do have our scene! To celebrate the successful shoot and also to have the forgotten lunch, we went and treated ourselves to a good meal and my favourite masala tea from the House of Tea.

So yes! Every bit of planning flew out of the window, but once again, we managed to can a scene!

We were supposed to rehearse today. We didn't do any rehearsal.
We were supposed to shoot tomorrow. We shot today.
We were supposed to shoot in 32 degrees. We shot in 38 degrees.
We were supposed to have a master two-shot from inside the shop. We had an unplanned OTS shot.
We were supposed to have the licence before we shoot. We shot without it anyway.

In short, I planned. Then the universe made some other plan.

At the end of the day, the latter worked just fine.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Day Four: First the End, Now the Beginning!

[The Destination Film Shoot] 

11 April, 2015

Given that we had reached back at the hotel only early in the morning post the desert shoot, today, the day started rather late. All of us just about managed to wake up in time to grab the last bits of breakfast at the hotel.

And then we discussed the plan for the day. 

The licence still hadn't come so we couldn't shoot in any public locations yet. The licencor still didn't have his driving licence so we couldn't shoot any of the driving scenes either. 

So then, what could we shoot? 

One of the required locations was a posh cafe in a posh hotel and we had originally planned it at an outdoor cafe at a leading 5 star hotel in Abu Dhabi. Even though it was a private property, they had asked for the licence before we could shoot. Which obviously wasn't available. 

So the editor suggested that given that we ourselves are staying at Novotel, which in itself is rather posh with many posh eating outlets, why not ask for permission for shoot in one of those places? Sure, it would be a last minute request, everything would depend on the kindness of the manager on duty and they might still say a licence is required, but at least we could push our luck as guests of the hotel. 

Me: But that's the very first scene of the film. 
Editor: Yup.  
Me: It's a very critical scene. The performance has to be top notch. 
Editor: Yup. 
Me: So..... you are telling me that on the very first day of shoot, we shoot the climax and the very next day we shoot the next most important scene which is the intro scene? 
Editor: Yup. 
Me: So there is really no concept of building up the performance as we go along? 
Editor: Yup. 

When he "Yup"ed the fourth time, I said "Ok fine, go and push our luck."

As he walked away to do just that, I walked around the hotel noting down potential places where we could shoot, in anticipation of a positive response from the management. 

Soon he came back, saying we were indeed in luck! They have granted the permission but with the following criteria: 
a) We need to submit the licence once it comes. 
b) By tomorrow, we need to submit several other documents like details of cast and crew etc., letter from the licencing agency etc. 
c) The shoot has to be from 2 - 4 pm today. 
d) The venue will not be a cafe but their steak house. 

Oh well. 

It was already about 1pm, so things happened in a flash. The cast got into their costumes, we picked up our equipment and rushed to our newly found location. There I, once again, quickly revised the storyboard to fit the seating layout, we ran around turning the steak place into a cafe - which basically meant taking away the cutlery and wine glasses and replacing with sugar sachet holders and replacing the massive steak and wine menu with a simpler cafe menu. We also roped in a couple of the staff to do supporting roles - taking orders, bringing drinks, even memorizing lines etc.

After all that was done, we probably had about 60 minutes for the actual shoot. Theoretically, it should have been a smooth shoot given that both cameras were working today, but then it ended up being pretty rough. Half way through the shoot we realized that we had handpicked the table that was closest to the window so the sun streamed in various angles as the scene progressed. The scene started off with the actors in complete shade and now the actress was glowing in the sunlight that lit her up through the window, and the table was reflecting some sunlight on to the actor's face. 

Oh dear lord. 

So we moved the tables around a bit and shot again. 

Anyway, long story short, we wrapped up around 4:30, half an hour late but the manager and staff were very kind about it and didn't throw us out before we were done. They were to open the place in another hour, so we quickly cleared everything, turned the cafe look back to the steakhouse look and got out of there.
Shooting at Novotel

We had canned yet another scene, licence-less! 

We were so thrilled with the progress, we wondered what else we could do for the rest of the day! I suggested we do a little bit of a montage sequence somewhere. We could just have the cast and cameraman walk around some place, with just a handheld camera and that way it wouldn't need a licence as we are not disrupting any traffic or crowd flow. 

Without thinking twice, the editor took us to the magnificent Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi. 

The editor and I waited in the car, while the cast and the cameraman walked about to shoot just bits and pieces here and there. In the film, the two characters were meant to be walking around as tourists and given it's a montage, there were no dialogues to be shot. So they walked around just as tourists would and the cameraman captured a few shots of them doing so. They were back in about 15 minutes and by that time the sun was about to set, so we wrapped up the shoot for the day. 

Back in the hotel, I started to view the footage from yesterday's sunset scene. Given that we had shot the entire sequence in a huge rush, I wasn't too sure whether we had sufficiently good quality footage to cut a convincing edit. Many parts of the scene had just a single take, and that's a huge risk. In case we didn't have good enough footage, the plan was to go to a nearer desert and shoot just that bit again, but I really hoped that we wouldn't have to do that! We simply didn't have the luxury of time for reshoots! 

So I viewed all the footage multiple times and mentally pictured an edit and wrote it down. I indicated when to cut each clip so as to avoid mistakes, keep continuity, trim dialogues etc. Finally, I figured out that with a specific flow of edit, we might just have the entire scene somewhat in the way it is meant to be. In other words, we have our climax. 

Thus, yet another day came to an end and now we had both the beginning and most of the end of the film. 

Only the middle remained.