Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 328: Day 3 of Shoot - Temples, Muddy Paths, Cycles and Strangers Turned Actors!

Once again we woke up before dawn for the last and final day of shoot for Aravindum Aarumughamum. Honestly, I was already rather tired after the two hectic days of shoot and realized that I have maybe half the stamina as before. The before-dawn rising, the long day of standing in sun and the rain, the disturbed sleep at night thanks to the little one who kept waking up - all of it was taking a toll. But tired as I might be, I was still excited about the shoot because we were to be shooting in a few brand new locations today.

However the day started with a bit of a hiccup. We needed a cycle for the shoot and one of the team members were supposed to get my cycle from my house and bring it to the location in his car. As luck would have it, my cycle didn't fit in his car and he didnt have any of the clasps required to fix it to his car's trunk or roof. However, he said that he will find a way to get his brother's cycle down to the location somehow, because his place isn't too far away.

Fully assured by him, we made our way to the first stop, a temple. I asked for permission to shoot there which they kindly agreed to and we went around tip toeing and taking a few quick takes so as not disturb anyone else there. It was a great start to the day, starting with a shoot in the temple!

Post the temple, we went to the super pretty Punggol road, a bylane of which gave us our very important requirement for the day's location - a muddy, motorable path - not something that you see in Singapore often.

And we had some very interesting experience there.

Firstly, we were surrounded by dogs barking at us (at a safe enough distance thankfully). They came from the few sheds or warehouses that were in the area and were soon taken under control by their masters.

Then the friend who had gone to get the cycle told us that the new cycle also didn't fit in his car, so now he is gonna simply cycle all the way down (we are talking several kilometres). Meanwhile another friend who has been assisting in the production and also been helping out with the transport with his car,  had to leave for his workplace.  Which meant that we were about to be stranded on a muddy motorable path, in a remote location in Singapore, without even bus shelter to take cover from rain or sun, and more importantly nowhere for the cast to make their costume changes (which, until now, they were doing in the car) and with the only other team member with a car now cycling his way down.

So I did the only thing that could be done at that point in time. I called our dear cyclist to drop the cycle and come in his car instead. The poor chap was apparently half way down already and had to go back to get his car.

Soon we carried on with our shoot. Just as we were in the middle of it, I noticed an uncle pass by on a cycle. Then it struck me that maybe, just maybe, we could get a cycle from one of the warehouses for our shoot! I quickly got one of my crew to go check, and lo behold! He returned with a cycle, victorious!

It was a great relief!

Then we had to cross the next bridge - which was to find a suitable guy to ride the cycle in the scene. It was a cameo role which was supposed to be performed by the guy who had gone back to work. While we were wondering what to do about that since none of spectators we have for our shoot, consisting mainly of old Chinese uncles, were suitable.

And again, as luck would have it... two guys passed by us on a motorbike and stopped ahead on the path for a while. They were both Indians and I realized that one of them could easily play the cameo we wanted. Once again, I sent my crew member and this time too he returned back victoriously with my cameo actor!

What an awesome stroke of luck!

By late afternoon we had canned almost all the shots we needed, save the last few and moved to what was supposed to be the last and final location for the day - a marshy land also near Punggol. The guy with the car left to buy a few props and we continued with the shoot. Just as we were wrapping up the scene, it began to pour once again. And this time we were drenched. We used one umbrella to protect the camera and tried to keep all the four human beings dry in turn with the other spare one.

After a while the car came and took us away from there to another location also near Punggol, where we finally wrapped the whole shoot. After a few major "wrap up" speeches and such, we drove back from the location and treated ourselves to some great Indian food at Dawat Tandoor.

The evening was spent in uploading all the video, sorting them out, reviewing a few, looking at the behind the scenes stills, and generally feeling good about wrapping up the shoot. There is still a lot... and I mean a LOT of work - editing, sound design, background score, dubbing (the live sound was not up to the mark thanks to the heavy traffic), so on and so forth. But at least one - the key part - is over and am thankful for that!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 327: Day 2 of Shoot - Cameras, Rains, Transition Lens and Roads!

We set off from home again, early in the morning. Today was the big day of the steadycam shoot but as luck would have it, it wasn't really working the way we would have liked it to. The cinematographer had spent the whole of yesterday night trying to get it to work but it didn't.

We were picked up by our friends (also part of the cast and crew) as usual and we narrated the sad tale of the steadycam woes to them. It was then that one of them said he has a steadycam of his own and that we could pick it up on the way. That was such a relief!

Happily, we got to the location, with two steadycams in tow. Once we got there, the rest of us set up for the day's shoot while one chap tried to put together the new steadycam.

Shoot progressed pretty smoothly and eventlessly up until after noon when we stopped for a lunch break. A few us, including me, drove to the nearest McDonalds while the rest rested/waited/worked further on getting the steadycam right, back in the location (which, by the way, is still the same beautiful road and bus stops from yesterday).

Just as we reached McDonalds, it began to pour cats and dogs. We immediately called up the guys at the location to warn them of the impending rain, only to be told that the location is already completely drenched but they were all happy and safe under the bus shelters.

We armed ourselves with a ton of burgers and litres of iced Milo and got back to the location. The rain continued to beat down. Given that no shoot was possible anyway, two guys, including the cinematographer, decided to drop by the place that rented out the steadycam and figure out what's wrong with it. Looks like neither of the steadycams were really working the way they should. But I was thankful that with the thought of a spare steadycam at my disposal, at least I could complete the morning shoot in peace!

So as the two boys proceed with the steadycam task at hand, the rest of us waited in the location, waiting for the rain to stop and for the guys to get back. But it was a fun hour of waiting, when we discussed everything under the sun from movies to traditional artforms to world problems.

Soon the rain stopped, the guys returned, and we started to shoot again, now with the steadycam that seemed to work a bit better. We moved to a new location - the road right next to where we were basic -  a gorgeous, empty, long, straight stretch with a row of trees lining it on either side.

We had a wonderful time shooting there. Sure, the steadycam was tricky, clearly we were not masters of it and the sun also played tricks - hiding and appearing every now and then from behind the clouds, making a mess of our lighting.

We also had a really unique problem. When we did the final rehearsal two days ago and had a few photos taken, I noticed from the pictures that the leading guy's glasses (also, his prop for the movie) were extremely reflective, unlike the ones that I wear. So during the shoot, he had been wearing my glasses throughout to avoid this issue (at the risk of blinding him, of course). So far it had worked fine but in this new location, where he was supposed to be out of the shelter of the bus stop and walking in the sun, we realized that we had a really HUGE problem on our hands! My glasses had transition lens which turned dark with the sunlight. So every 30 seconds, we had to cut the scene, get the glasses covered, wait for it to get back to its normal clear state and reshoot. What a mess.

But still all of us were on a high. This was the final scene to be shot for the day and we were happy that we had progressed so far. After several takes, we finally wrapped up the shoot.

And then went to total madness mode. We decided to take over the road, stood in its very middle, with a few cars whizzing past us, taking pictures, dancing and giggling like teenagers. What fun!

We ended the day with a team dinner at a nearby food court, once again hurling ourselves into deep conversations on movies and what contributions we can make to the field. On the way back, we also dropped in at a temple to do the site recee for tomorrow's shoot. Being in that peaceful atmosphere was a good winding down to the day.

Another day of shoot, thus came to an end. Tiring but super productive and fun!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 326: Day 1 of Aravindum Aarumughamum Shoot!

So yes, finally the day was here. My much awaited shoot after a 2-year hiatus!

I was up at dawn, ready and fresh, had a quick breakfast that my kind helper prepared really early for me and the cinematographer, prayed, checked one last time on all the million bags of equipment, props and costumes that we were carrying, and finally made our way to the shooting location together with the lead lady and her husband (who also helped with the cinematography and production), who came over the pick us in their car.

I was pretty much a nervous wreck all through this because it had been raining cats and dogs throughout the night - together with a thunderstorm no less, and there was no signs of the weather clearing up. It was dark, gloomy and drizzling, even as we set out. The weather forecast also predicted consistent rain in every single part of the Singapore throughout the day. Awesome.

But as luck would have it and I thank God for that, by the time we reached the location (after losing our way and having to take a few detours) and set our equipment up, a couple of hours had passed and the rains cleared up. It was still dark with no sign of the sun but it was good enough to shoot. In fact, the location looked pristine in beautiful with its rain kissed look. I loved it!

Soon we were all set and the shoot began. And I found out that I will have a nightmare working the sound design for this film. When I had gone to the location on my site recee, there were hardly any vehicles and it was pretty quiet and nice. I was happy at the thought that I will be able to work with live sound, something that I always look forward to as it avoids the headache of dubbing and sound design to a large extend. But on this auspicious day of our shoot, there were vehicles left, right and centre - and mostly trucks at that. They made it a point to pass by making as much as noise as any vehicle could probably do.

It was disappointing to say the least, but given that we weren't left with much choice, we proceeded with the shoot anyway. Soon we felt like celebrities, because every passer by (there were a few) and every traveller in every bus that passed by (there were several) were staring at us wondering what was going on.

With three cameras on three tripods set up simultaneously with three crew memebers manning them donning caps, umbrellas and shades, clothes being changed on the side of the road (by the male cast, of course), cast and crew standing  in the middle of the road and running off just in time to save their lives from the rushing vehicles, we would have made quite a sight.

In the afternoon, it started to drizzle again, but it was just nice because we had begun to wilt in the sun which was now shining with all its might and we needed a lunch break anyway. Lunch mainly consisted of McDonalds burgers that were ordered to be delivered to the location as well as all the snacks that the cinematographer had brought over from India.

Post lunch we restarted the shoot and kept at it up until 5pm. By then we had canned three whole scenes and were well on track on our schedule. We packed up and got home to start the next set of work - recharging the batteries of the camera, copying all the files, doing a quick review, and packing everything for day 2.

By the end of it, I was thoroughly exhausted but I was extremely happy and thankful - for the weather that cooperated, for the great team I get to work with and for making so much progress on the shoot within one day.

Tomorrow we get back to the location for a more challenging day of shoot - the one that involves the steadycam!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Days 323 - 325: "Foreign" Cinematographer, Late Night Rainy Rehearsals and Steadycam!

20 - 22 November, 2013

A few significant events took place.

First, the cinematographer for Aravindum Aarumughamum, who happens to also be the editor for both Mausams and Inganeyum Oru Katha and will also be editor here, arrived from India - Complete with his equipments, a lot of sweets and a lot of gifts for the little one! This was the first time I have gotten someone to come down from another country for a shoot. I have done it before for Mausams - when I got both him as well as my music director to come down during the post production stage. But this time around, I felt that I need a little more help with the shoot given that my team has dwindled considerably since IOK with a few members settling out of Singapore for good. And also because this was my first "post pregnancy" shoot, I wanted it to be as painless as possible. And nothing beats having an expert cinematographer on the ground. Plus it is really cool to say that I flew down a "foreign" cinematographer!

So yes, he landed and we set off to work as soon as I got back from work. Which brings me to the second significant event - the last and final rehearsal for AA!

It was a beautiful rehearsal for a number of reasons - we rehearsed outside on the streets, as opposed to the claustrophobic confines of my home. The actors immediately began to open up a lot more than they ever had before - partially because of the outdoor environment, partially because of the fact that it was closer to the real location we would be shooting in and partially because the cinematographer was always following them recording or clicking pictures, which I believe made them feel more in character. We rehearsed all the way from 9pm to past midnight and half way through it began to rain. It didn't affect the rehearsal because we were under the shelter of a covered bus stop. On the other hand, it got the weather to be real cool and pleasant. We rehearsed and we went through the list of props and costumes one last time. It was a great experience - standing there in the bus stop, with the rain brought in by the winds, in the darkness of the night, directing my cast, going through the production details and seeing my film come one step closer to reality.

The third significant event was the arrival of the steadycam. I had never used one for any films before but this script demanded one. So after work on Friday, both of us picked up a steadycam from a really awesome camera equipment rental shop at Clarke Quay. The rest of the evening was spent on rehearsing with it - the cinematographer trying to figure out the balance and other technical details and me and the little one walking up and down the street outside our home for him to practice shooting with it. I can say that we got quite a few heads turned in the neighbourhood with the sight of a guy holding a weird looking apparatus with a camera, shooting a lady and baby walking up and down the street. But more than anything, I was excited that we were learning and incorporating one new technical aspect of film making with this project!

Finally we are all set. Tomorrow, we begin the shoot! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Days 317 - 322: Storyboards to Babies!

14 - 19 November, 2013

Alright. A LOT is happening. I have probably written this already but we are shooting Aravindum Aarumughamum this weekend. And to me, it is a BIG deal. HUGE deal. HUMONGOUS deal. OK, you get the point. Over the last six days a lot of prep has happened. We had multiple rehearsals, I completed my usual hand drawn storyboard, I completed the moving stills-board (i.e. a video that puts together all photographs of the different frames we want to shoot, so that we get to see what the movie will actually look is just a more fancy version of the traditional static storyboard but one am very proud of having achieved), we have been through all the pre-production details including costumes, props and equipment, I put out an open call for help with production for the days and have got some response, I went through the shot breakdown multiple number of times, I tweaked and re-tweaked the dialogues during the short, the last few days were extremely happening.

That's on the movie front.

Separately, I went for a few yoga classes where my postures - which had fallen to be down right pathetic post the vacation - have now improved significantly.

Also, I am pretty much working double shifts now in office (thanks to the workload and also because my reportee is not around) but am happy because some progress, albeit very little, is happening on that front.

I also visited a good friend and her newborn - a darling little girl of just 9 days old! It was so wonderful to hold her in my arms (I completely hogged her and didn't want to let her go). I couldn't believe that my own little one was that little just a year ago! It was surreal. The little one who had also tagged along, was less impressed with the baby but was totally taken by my friend's dog. Both of them hit it off very well and she couldn't have enough of the "bow wow". I was extremely pleased that she likes animals and wasn't scared of them.

I also had my "celebrity" moment when a random stranger recognized me in the subway as the "girl in the Malayalam short film" that he liked so much. How flattering!

Nett, am super duper busy but am pretty happy. Most likely the next post will be after my shoot! Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Days 303 - 316: 14 Interesting Days!

31 October - 13 November

Today is November 13th. Which means I have not written any post for 2 whole weeks! What a bummer.

But in my defense, it has been a rather tough two weeks. As soon as we got back from Kashmir, I caught the flu and the husband caught the stomach flu. Just when we recovered, the little one caught the stomach flu. And just when she recovered, I caught the stomach flu! Yeah, it was messy. And I was completely spent after about 12 days of this sickness extravaganza.

But then beautiful things still do happen. Let me list out 14 good things over the past 14 days, just as a means of compensation.

1) Diwali - I was pretty sick during Diwali, so we weren't planning to do anything special at our place. But thanks to some encouragement and help from our helper, we ended up celebrating Diwali in style! All of us got dressed up, lit the lamps placed around the house, did some puja, ate sweets, took pictures and felt pretty good. Especially now that we have the little one, I really want to celebrate every festival, and am glad that we had our own small, beautiful celebration! We also attended Diwali parties at my brother in law's and a friends's places - complete with cards and other games, great food, lights and sparklers. Nett, it became a pretty good Diwali!

2) Winnings - Diwali became even more awesome because, for a change, I actually won a few rounds of Bingo (also called Tambola/Housie) and Teen Patti (a card game). My winnings are of the range of $6 - $15 only but as we all know,  it is about the experience of winning than the amount. I usually have terrible luck when it comes to these games and it felt great to be on the other side!

3) Hubby's office - The hubby, who is working in a startup that he has co-founded, had recently expanded his office. I had not been to the new office and just got an opportunity to take a look when we went there to perform a small Diwali puja. I fell in love with the walls in the brand colours, the bean bags scattered around, the ergonomic chairs and the excellent chococino from their espresso machine! It was all pretty awesome! His partner and family were also present and we had a short but nice time together, while the kids...they have a boy and we had taken our little one along as well.... had a pretty merry time themselves. It was fun!

4) Aravindum Aarumughamum team comes together - We were supposed to shoot the film end of this month but one of the lead actor's dad fell ill and he had to rush back to India. I decided to postpone the shoot but in a heartening turn of events, was asked not to do so, by the team including this particular actor. They encouraged me stick to the plan and committed to make the most of the time that we have, instead of postponing indefinitely. His  dad is better now and  we are sticking to the original schedule. We are no longer as prepared as we should have been by now, had things gone according to plan, but just the fact that the team believes in the project and wants to see it through, makes me super happy!

5) Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - She is my most recent literary discovery. I am always on the lookout for interesting books by Indian authors and came across a collection of her short stories and man, she is awesome! Turned out that she is not an Indian but only married to one, yet her stories set in India give incredible perspective on the way of life there and she has managed to capture so many of the nuances typical of the country! I am definitely going to look out for more of her works, but for now, thoroughly enjoying myself reading her "East into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York & New Delhi"!

6) Little one's final birthday celebration for the year! - Yes, her birthday celebrations are still continuing! We didn't really get to celebrate the event with our friends here in Singapore and hence, now that we are back from Kashmir, we decided to give them a "treat", Indian style. Even though the original plan was to treat them for brunch somewhere outside, our helper insisted that she wants to cook for the event and got me to invite everyone over! It was a rather nice gesture by her and I was pretty touched. She made Pulav rice, Gobi Kheema, Kerala style chicken curry, Aloo 65 and Baked yogurt! Everyone came over, showered the little one with gifts - including a gigantic soft duck that is now occupying half my living room, had lunch, sang "happy birthday" as we cut a really cute cake that I ordered last minute, played games and made it all very merry and happy. Thus, her birthday celebrations for the year came to an end with this last round of small, beautiful gathering! Wishing her many, many, many more!

7) Kitchen & Cooking - Cooking is a rather rare activity for me. But for the little one's birthday celebration, when the helper said that she would like to cook for everyone, I decided that I need to help out as well. So after a long hiatus, I was back in the kitchen and was given the task of making baked yogurt dessert. And I enjoyed that - figuring out the mix, decorating with different types of jams, packing it all up in tiny serving cups for refrigeration and finally serving them all with relish, all under her able supervision, of course. Post baked yogurt, I even grated a ton of cauliflower for the gobi kheema, which made me feel like a pro! Totally awesome!

8) A good cause - I managed to raise some funds for a family back in my hometown. The husband is suffering from kidney failure and requires transplant and the wife is the donor. This puts them in a pretty tough situation with both being out of job, with three kids and hefty bills to pay and debts to clear off. When my mom told me about this, I did my best to spread the word and collect some funds to help them. I guess one is supposed to do these things selflessly but I would be lying if I say that it didn't make me feel good. Because, it did.

9) Kashmir blogs - Even though I was sick, I did manage to write the blogs on the Kashmir travel in detail. Initially I was planning to put a couple of pictures and get done with it, but then decided against it. That gorgeous place deserves every bit of writing about it and am glad I took that trouble. Now all the details could be forever remembered. Also, after reading the blog, quite a number of people said they will be planning trips to Kashmir and that makes me happy, because the locals thrive on tourism and due to the tensions in the region, are in quite a bad situation. So the more tourists, the better for them!

10) Yoga record - Including what I managed over the last couple of days, I have now done 60 days of yoga this year, which is kind of a personal record for me! The previous highest was 59 in 2011. I know 60 doesn't sound like a lot but each yoga class takes 3 hours including commute, so am glad I managed so much.

11) Exercise record - This also brings the total number of days I exercised this year to a grand total of 150 - 50% more than my target and 20% more than my highest annual number ever! I will do another check at the end of Dec, but I already feel pretty good about this.

12) Lost a kilo - am not sure whether it is the effect of the exercise or just the sickness, but looks like I have dropped a kilo. Even though am no longer too hung about the extra weight am retaining post pregnancy, it felt good when the scale showed an unexpected drop. Let's see how long this will be maintained!

13) Little one's tricks - The little one is becoming quite an entertaining person to watch every day. She goes into these melodramatic acting sequences - it is like watching a Tamil movie from the 70s. She screams, stretches, quivers, pops her eyes, rolls over, sticks her tongue out and end it all with her toothless grin. She has also now figured out how to use the iPhone and iPad - switching the main button, swiping it on, glancing through the pictures, playing games and so on. I never thought that it would be this fascinating to watch kids on their discovery journey. She also imitates every single thing - if I "shush" her, she does the same to me. If I talk on the phone, she pretends to talk on the phone. If I pretend to go into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, she will go into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. What fun! Plus her first words are out - "amma", "ta ta", "nah".

14) Transcendental Meditation - And last but not the least I have discovered transcendental meditation. This simple but rather fulfilling method has really got me hooked! Hoping that it would turn into a regular practice now.

And with that - I conclude on the last 14 days. I was sick through most of it, but it definitely wasn't bad at all. Thank God for that!