Guest Lecture with Mr.Satyajit Bhatkal

Mr.Satyajit BhatkalOn 7th may 2013, DA students had a face to face interaction with popular television show ‘Satyamev Jayate’s Creative Director and Producer Satyajit Bhatkal. He was part of the core production in ‘Lagaan’ (2002), and made a documentary on Lagaan’s Making called ‘Chale Chalo’.

As most students were eager to ask about ‘Satyamev Jayate’, he gave some snippet views on how he approached Aamir Khan and the problems he faced while preparing for shoot. His major challenge was to manage the whole show . Mr. Bhatkal said, one should never see something as a problem. Any crisis, or conflict, on or off the set should always be taken as a challenge.

About Satyamev Jayate, he said ‘I knew Aamir had been searching for some different approach to television because he was the only star who never had its own show on TV. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not want to be part of some entertainment series or quiz show. He wanted to do something informative, something carrying a social message to the audience. As Mr.Bhatkal presented the concept to Aamir, he grabbed the chance. Continue reading

Guest Lecture by Purnendu Shekhar

Purnendu ShekharScreenwriter Purnendu Shekhar gave a lecture to DA students on 10th May, 2013. One of the topmost writers of Indian TV series, He shot to fame with Balika Vadhu. He has also written other notable series such as Astitva- Ek Prem Kahani, Saath Phere etc.

Strongly vocal in favor of women’s role in and outside their homes, Purnendu Shekhar categorized TV as a modern shaping tool for the family. “To be in the TV industry, we have to understand our families, our own lives, and especially the women at our homes. If cinema is a predominantly male medium, it is the TV which represents the female”, he said.

And the essence of TV is in the series. For most of the cases, television serials are known for the roles of the women characters in it.

It always begins with a concept – a plot grounded in family relationships. The script elaborates the plot visually, with event substantiation. “Whichever department you belong to”, Purnendu Shekhar addressed the students, “Direction, Acting, Editing or Cinematography, everyone has to understand the script thoroughly, and analyze it.

“Only then it becomes possible for an artist to create an impact as conceived by the writer.” Continue reading

Guest Lecture by Neil Sadwelkar

Written by DA students Satyajit Hajarnis, Dipankar Modak, Deep Basu and Nabamita Lahiri

Neil Sadwelkar is one of those personalities in contemporary Bollywood who plan the post production of your AV project and oversees its implementation. He is a post-production consultant, editor, ad filmmaker and documentary director rolled in one. At one time, or another, he headed Pixion, and then Prime Focus. Currently, he is more into technical consultancy, in today’s ultra hi-def digital filmmaking scenario. With a Masters Degree in Physics, and years of experience in technical maintenance in Nehru Planetarium, and later in the mainstream industry, he knows  the technical sides of any level of AV production. He backs that up with an aesthetic understanding and practice in filmmaking, doing many things at a time, unlike the specialists in Bollywood.

Neil Sadwelkar came to Digital Academy, on 2nd May, 2012, to take students to a three hours journey to the land of the digital cinema.

This fantastic journey started with a listing of digital cameras in the contemporary market. Modern digital camcorders came to the market in the late ‘80s. But, they became truly popular from the mid ‘90s only. Indian market swayed to the digital, in the new millennium. And in five years, the market literally flooded with cameras from different companies, for different purposes. To make the matter more complex, more than seventy five different recording formats started co-existing. Patent laws and proprietary formats made one specific media stream or file unreadable by another machine. That gave birth to many different workflows for the same goal.

Sony marketed the first prosumer digital video camera, in mid ‘90s. They named it DCR-VX1000. It was the first video camera to stream data through IEEE 1394 interface, commonly known as firewire. The compression given to the stream was the standardized DV; and the popular storage medium was the ubiquitous mini-DV tape, ¼wide.

 Sony DCR-VX1000

  Sony DCR-VX1000

Very Soon updated models, with wider facilities, came up. Canon produced XL-1, Sony marketed DSR-PD150, Panasonic with DVCPRO25, and so on.

After George Lucas developed CineAlta F900, the first HD camera in the world that could record 24 progressive frames per second, in collaboration with both Sony and Panasonic, the prosumer and TV market expected an improvement in their image acquisition too. JVC, Sony and Panasonic responded with GR-HD1, HVR-Z1 and the Panasonic AG-DVX100 cameras respectively.

Neil was at the forefront of this digital revolution, personally using all these models, and handling or designing the project workflow for each.

He talked about those years, and how he learnt to manage workflows for so diverse models such as later Sony AVCHD camcorders to Sony NEX series to Television broadcast cameras, to the growing need for using multipurpose DSLRs such Canon 5D MKIII.DSLR

Neil listed a dozen such cameras he worked with, through the new millennium years. He also talked about the new generation editing suites that came along, such as AVID Media Composer, and Apple FCP.

When someone from the students asked him which camera he prefers, his point was simple. He prefers none. Each has its own use, as per the requirement of the story and the clientele. A seamless, noiseless, very filmlike image sits in the spectator’s mind for a Karan Johar Romance. Red Epic would be perfect for that job, with its own pristine workflow. But, a quasi-docufiction like Stanley ka Dabba may be perfect with a Canon 7D, with its realistic, handheld motion images.

It may in fact look fake if a news documentary is shot with Arri Alexa, even with ProRes 4:2:2. Neil, who edited more than 300 TV commercials, does not judge an image by its gloss. He said, an image would serve its purpose best when it fits the existing mindset of the spectator, or supersedes it, but not attacks it.

In the second phase of his lecture, Neil Sadwelkar took specific examples of very high frame rate cameras such as Phantom or Weiscam, recording from 650 to 4000 FPS for super slow motion. Such cameras are useful not only for commercials or action sequences, but also in sports. Action replay in slo-mo, or judging whether it was an LBW, is perfectly possible now thanks to these cameras.

Extremely tiny cameras like GoPro, SonyPOV or Contour are in the market today for their extreme maneuverability and invisibility. Such lightweight, heavyduty cameras can easily be used under water (in simple water housing), or in the balloon above, connected to the chopper head, or to the helmet of the diver if necessary.

Footage from such diverse sources was never possible before digital revolution. These days, truly, imagination (or, the lack of it) is the only fence that limits an artist’s creativity. Implementation is just a matter of planned execution.

With this, Neil Sadwelkar lands up in the most important part of his talk – How to plan a shoot, and how the image is really acquired inside a digital camera.

Unlike a traditional camera, digital cameras capture images with a sensor. The sensor converts the incoming array of brightness variation to variation in electric voltage. Through electronic switching in the ICs, an electronic map of the same image is created. This image can then be processed inside the camera in various ways.

DA Film School

Noise reduction, Contrast enhancement and assigning the output to a particular space may be done in the camera. Particular Look Up Tables (LUT) can be saved from such settings, and they can be further applied to future images, or image streams.

However, that would give a permanent, or baked, look to the moving image. If the DP, or Director, later wants to change certain properties of the image, s/he would not be able to do so without losing visual information.

It was precisely for this reason the Raw image output made possible by Red One camera became so popular. In Red One, and its upgradations up to the contemporary Red Epic, powered by Dragon Sensor, offers a choice of outputting the raw electronic map of the original image, to the filmmaker. With maximum visual information in hand, the filmmaker can decide how to optimize the image for different viewing platforms – Cinema halls, Blu Ray discs, or satellite TV.

Raw-Compressed-on-Flat-Gamma

Raw Compressed on Flat Gamma     Baked with some LUT/ After Color Correction

In reply to a student’s question, Neil clarified, at this point, that the Raw data captured in the Arri Alexa or Red Epic camera is never output as Raw. Raw, being just an array of voltage fluctuations, is unreadable by the human brain. Hence, to show up as an image, Raw always has to undergo some compression.

Compressions are of two types – lossy and lossless. Some compressions such 3:1 or 5:1 contain so much visual information that practically they can be taken as Raw.

While high budget Hollywood movies are shot on 5:1 or 6:1 compression ratios, Indian blockbusters such as Bhag Mikha Bhag shot with an array of Epics used mostly 8:1 compression ratio. TV shows use 12:1 compression ratios or so.

From here, Neil Sadwelkar began the journey of the captured image to the end product. He showed how compressions are necessary for another reason. They are too big to be recorded to the memory card, in real time. This pushed the industry to invent external capture stream recorder, such as Aja Ki Pro or the Sony Axs-R5.

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In the modern file based, tapeless systems, movie files are ultimately recorded in some specified formats.

While those like R3D RedRaw are machine-specific formats, similar to mainframe computer’s machine language (or, at best assembly language), those with compressions like Apple ProRes 4:2:2 and wrapped in a .mov extension are much more portable just like a compiled program.

And just like a compiled program, they are less efficient too.

However, efficiency, which translates directly to image quality in the filmmaker’s matters less for TV. While most current Indian TV shows have a bandwidth around 20 Mbps, a theatrical projection must be acquired at near 400 Mbps, or more. Precisely that is the bandwidth of Red Epic at 8:1 compression ratio.

This leads to dedicated memory recorder or hard disk in camera, like Redmag or Aluratek hard disk controller. Also new interfaces like Thunderbolt has come to exist, that finalyy replaced the age old Firewire technology.

Many cameras also provide comparatively cheaper HDMI or HD-SDI interface for comparatively uncompressed HD output.

In most of these cameras, sound can be recorded in comparatively uncompressed PCM 48KHz, at 24bit sampling block.

At this point, Neil Sadwelkar opened up the issue of D-Cinema and E-Cinema which he touched before. D-Cinema is the universally accepted standard for professional theatrical projection, while E-Cinema is the HDTV standard. While TV revolves around HD – 1920 x 1080 resolution, and ProRes 4:2:2 compression method; Motion Picture is set at a higher standard which starts from 2K – 2048 vertical lines, and can go upto 5K for all practical purposes.

However, what Neil did not mention here was that human eye is perhaps not made to look at more than 2K projection resolution, on an average. A debate on this, raised by Paul Wheeler, in the first years of the new millennium, is quite well known.

The last phase of Neil’s lecture concerned the quality of the acquired footage and the Digital Intermediate workflow handling that. Neil said, while footage from professional digital film cameras such as Sony SRW-900, or Cine Alta F-35 records on HDCAM SR tape for best output, Red One or Canon C300 records on CF card. Along with the Raw, proxy files of different compression ratio, in ProRes 4:2:2 method are generated automatically, in many of these cameras.

However, the workflow remains very similar and commonsensical, whatever the capture method or compression is.

If the moving image is captured in tape, in HDV or Varicam format, it has to be streamed to the editing machine through a firewire or thunderbolt interface. Normally, the footage undergoes a generation loss as it gets dumped and compressed into a machine readable format.

There are many different formats for different machines, or editing programs, such as Avid’s OMF or MXF.

For file based image acquisition, sometimes the footage has to be compressed so that the machine can handle it. Such compressions are very similar to proxies generated in some of the digital film cameras.

After editing, an EDL, or XML (For FCP X) is generated to open the project in a Color Correction suite, after conforming the XML date with original quality footage.

At this stage, CGI works are composited on live motion plates too, before the final Color Correction.

After the final CC, sound and music are added. Only at this stage, the project gets ready for an initial approval.

These days, almost all projects are going for a final encryption at ehe hands of companies like Scrabble and Qube, to be packaged as projection ready Digital Cinema Packages.

Neil Sadwelkar answered a few final questions related to Cinema projection, and how projectors handle the encrypted DCP, with a unique Keycode.

It was a marathon session covering almost a biography of Digital Cinema. However, there was little time in the end, for a detailed discussion on Digital Intermediate. Many students wanted to hear more about that highly glamorized workflow on which Neil is an expert. However, Neil satisfied their quest by showing that it is not possible to talk about all workflows, as they keep changing with the nature of the project, and finally all boil down to commonsense.

Shooting with Green Screen

The usage of visual effects has become an integral part of filmmaking process, and it is not limited to fantasy or sci-fi features anymore which call for the creation of complex non existing creatures and locations. Today, it is increasingly being used in regular productions to add smaller nuances to scenes, to extend live action sets, to add locations and objects which could have turned out expensive to shoot and so on. So as to say, it is not confined to creating big bulky Transformers alone but is also used for something as small as TV and mobile screen replacement. And that is the reason why all new age filmmakers need to be equipped with the fundamental knowledge and understanding of conducting a chroma or green screen shoot.

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To chroma key is to composite two separate images into one. In video production, a blue or green screen, ideally made of non reflective cotton, is used behind the subject so that the green or blue color can be keyed out or made transparent and another background can replace it. Chroma keys are generally blue or green because these colors are furthest away from human skin tone. Green has become a more popular choice in this process as sensors in the latest digital cameras work better with green and green channel is the cleanest in them.

Certain basic things to remember: when setting up a green screen one needs to remove all possible wrinkles from it. Tightly pulling the ends of screen and positioning it with the help of a stand and tape or clamps helps in this process. Also, when storing, it is advisable to roll the screen.

Lighting on the background is also very important for getting a good key. Shadows and hot spots on the backdrop can prove very difficult to remove in the post. A three point or five point lighting set up done effectively to eliminate shadows is very essential in a chroma shoot. When it comes to camera, the white balance has to be properly set and ISO needs to be kept at the lowest. Higher ISO settings produce more noise in your image which makes keying difficult.

greenscreen_by_sanfranguy1

Also keep the aperture in the camera as wide as possible. You will get more depth of field with wider aperture, which in turn will blur the background making it easier to key out.

Other pointers to keep in mind: Do not let your subjects wear green, as this will lead to the subject’s clothes getting keyed out along with the background in post. Try not to have reflective clothing and jewelry and glass props on the set as these might lead to a green glow which is hard to edit out. Make your subject stand at least 4-6 feet away from the backdrop to avoid green spill, wherein the green color from the background spills on the subject’s skin, which leads to a green glow.

With all these points in mind, when chroma key is done properly it can open a whole new world of possibilities only limited by the filmmaker’s imagination.

The Art of Cinematography

What does a cinematographer do? He tries to translate ideas into images. He figures how to express a particular story in the given space. He is like a visual psychiatrist, making the audience think what he wants them to think.

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When you are making a movie, you have control over every single thing that audience sees or hears for the next 2-3 hours. So what do you do with that kind of freedom and most importantly what do you not do?

Everything a cinematographer does with the camera translates into some kind of understanding in the viewers mind. For instance, every time you go for a close up, the audience knows subconsciously that you have made an editorial decision, you are saying look at this, this is important. The audience knows you are going in for a reason, it is an underlining of sorts.

Hence a cinematographer has to do three key things to make a shot work.

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Lighting

It is one of the most crucial steps in the filmmaking process for without light we cannot have an image. Hence there are certain basic things to consider before lighting a set, like the quality of light being used, the objects/elements in the set you want to expose, underexpose, and overexpose and most importantly the source/sources of light. All these things should be selected and aligned in accordance to the look the scene demands. And like all other aspects of the scene, lighting also needs to follow the rule of continuity in terms of quality and quantity.

Composition

There are two very simple things that you need to look out for when composing a shot. First is the background, the environment by itself tells a part of your story and where you set your scene is an important choice in the process. The location tells a lot about the character and it adds credibility to the messenger and the message.

Second is the person you are filming. Where the camera is placed in relation to the subject greatly affects the way your viewer perceives the subject. For example, an extreme wide shot is generally used for setting a scene. A wide shot shows the entire person you are establishing, it is intended to place them in relation to the surrounding. A medium shot balances the subject and the environment. The closer you place the subject, the less importance you place on the environment. There is also a psychology to camera height and it gives specific cues to the audience. For example, a low angle shot makes the subject look powerful and shooting down on a subject not so much.

Movement

Though the way in which camera will move in the scene depends on the director, the cinematographer is his collaborator in this process. He helps him answer questions like whether camera movement should be motivated by the action of the scene or the subtext, should it be restricted to tilting and panning or should it be hosted on a dolly and so on.

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What a cinematographer does with the camera movements is kind of a dance between the actors and the camera, the dance is what engages people and how well the dance goes is what camera movement is all about.

Beating the Writer’s Block

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The biggest adversary of screenwriters across the globe is the Writer’s Block. It is also the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the writing process. This comes in different shapes and forms: ‘I just do not feel like writing now/today’ ‘I do not know how to take this character/ scene forward’ ‘This conflict does not feel good enough’ and so on. Staring at a blank page, waiting for the words to come can be quite frustrating, more so when you are starting out as a screenwriter. Here are few techniques to fight this menacing monster:

Draw a plot outline

This is a good practice which involves defining the characters, scenes, flow of events and all important elements of the story before starting to write the actual script.

Do not be a victim of perfection

Do not try to be extremely good in the first go. The quickest way to write is not to think about making it perfect. Just go ahead and write something, review it and make it better. Writing is an iterative process and nothing is set in stone.

Unburden yourself

You have to eventually write the full film/episode/play, but for now you have to finish this scene. Thinking about the volume of writing that is still left to be done will do you no good and will only busy your mind with the deadlines rather than the problem in hand.

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Focus on the problem area

Think about the world, the characters, the complexity, and most importantly the conflict of the scene that you are currently working on. Take a break and imagine the scene, visualize the setup, let the dialogues flow, replay it multiple times in your mind until you have something that you feel is good enough to write. Eventually the answers will come to you. Unconscious mind of a talented writer has already created stories within it. Once he is inspired enough, these find their way to his work.

Skip ahead

Sometimes certain scenes and characters take time to come to you. In such situations it helps to go ahead and get done with easy ones while you are waiting for the breakthrough, on the complex stuff. Writing is rooted to your emotions, so there can be days when you cannot bring yourself to write something funny and in mood for something serious and drama oriented. So go ahead and pick that part of script which suits your mood.

Set a schedule

This works for many professional writers. Dedicating a slot in the day purely for writing can help you get that procrastination out of the way. This helps in making sure that your other day-to-day activities do not stop you from writing. There can be thousands of legitimate reasons for you not to write and which you will eventually end up calling writer’s block.

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Ultimately it all boil down to getting yourself to writing. As many screenwriters suggest ‘Get to your desk, say I do not have a writer’s block and start writing. That is the only way.’

Workshop by Siddharth Sinha

Graduated from the FTII as a Direction student, Siddharth Sinha’s final Diploma Film ‘Udedhbun’ won the Silver Bear award in the Short Film Category at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin in 2008. This award, holding prestigious value, had been conferred on Indian Luminaries like V.Shantaram, Tapan Sinha, Satayajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, in the past. Being appointed as a member in the selection committee for the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI) 2009, he is currently planning to direct his first feature Film.

Here is what he had to tell the students of NM College at a seminar organized by DA at their college festival in December 2012. Starting off on a note about how movies turn out the way they appear to us, he posed a question to the students, Do you think a movie turns out the way it was thought exactly?” No! You might prepare in advance for weeks, months or years; but the location, situation and Actors are the defining factors that can change things you may have visualized them to be.

Today, the attention span of movies for the audience has got shorter. That’s why it has become even more important that a Film needs to tell a story visually. You need to make the audience believe what they see. He gave an example of Chak De India, where, in one of the stadium scenes SRK is very angry, but he shows his anger through nuances in expression rather than dialogues.

Write a scene, not a dialogue” was what Siddharth stressed on. The audience should understand the Actor’s tension and intensity, and that’s what makes a scene.

To further prove his point, Siddharth asked students what they would pick if given a choice as a Filmmaker – a screenplay filled with pages or a movie scene which one could enjoy and understand even when watching on mute? Definitely you would go for the later one. And yes there’s a broader reason to it. The movie needs to be enjoyed by all and language should not become a barrier. Even more so, because translating a movie to different languages results in losing out on the essence of the movie.

Talking about Digital Filmmaking, he recalled a situation where he was a member of the jury at a Film Festival in Delhi. Among the top entries received, there were 2-3 movie entries by students, that were shot using a cell phone camera. And yes, he was amazed by the work. Ten years back, there was a classical and methodical way of shooting. But Digital Filmmaking has broken all norms today.

Superman of Malegaon’ shot in this unconventional style, was the best example according to him. Being a locally shot movie, it caught every Filmmaker’s attention. Digital Filmmaking without doubt, has given a casual approach to Filmmaking today. You never know five years down the line, there would be no reel Films, no 35mm. Today digital is the game changer; in earlier times, it was sound.

Concluding on an interesting note, Siddharth spoke about how people often confuse short Films with documentaries. Even a Feature Film, in his opinion could be short. Also, documentary movies need not always have a social message, is what he believes. Today, fortunately, there is a market for each and every type of movie, as long as you can make the audience believe in it. A Film is eventually about creating a world, a world which can be believed by the audience, irrespective of the format or the time it lasts!

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