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.’

Master Class in Film making with Sanjay Gadhvi


Sanjay Gadhvi, who made his Directorial debut with ‘Tere Liye’ in 2000, started his career as an Assistant Director during the making of ‘Patthar Ke Phool’ nearly 20 years ago. With this box-office hit that released in 1991, there was absolutely no looking back.

While speaking about his journey, Gadhvi particularly spoke about his blockbuster ‘Dhoom’ which received wide acclaim for its stellar cast and action sequences. The sequel, ‘Dhoom 2’, turned out to be the highest grosser of 2006 and also won him a nomination as the Best Director at the Filmfare Awards in 2007.

With these two Films, Sanjay set a benchmark for action in Indian Cinema. Speaking about the secret of his success, Sanjay said, “Always visualize the character in the script even if you have all the knowledge about the location, décor, setup, filming, camera, etc.”

As far as he is concerned, you may have all the technical knowledge in the world; but Film making is all about recreating a scene from someone’s life. However, the biggest question in today’s times is, ‘Does a movie work well only if its promoted well?’ A classic case, Sanjay mentioned, was that of ‘The Artist’. It’s all about how you reach out to the audience. “Talent prevails all around us, all we need to do is see,” he says.

When speaking of casting, Sanjay highlighted two aspects that are essential from a Director’s point of view. Suitability and potential are the absolute core. But from a Producer’s point of view, the fees charged by artists and the revenue earned from the final product (the Film) are very important. So how do they find a common ground? “Through the ability to stick to the basics (the purpose/message of the Film) while maintaining the commercial viability of the Film,” says Sanjay.

Narrating the story of the ‘Six Blind Men and the Elephant’, Sanjay explained what movie-making really feels like. Everyone has his own opinion. However, one need not make a movie for the approval of the masses. Instead, it should be made with the intention of engaging the audience.

Making a captivating Film, where the audience can’t take their eyes off the screen, needs a lot of inspiration. As for Sanjay, he wasn’t just inspired, somewhere down the line his inspiration was accompanied by the craving to make a Film. He was also the inspiration for one of the students at DA to join him as an Assistant Director during the making of ‘Dhoom’.

When asked whether songs are necessary in a Film, he was of the opinion that, “Songs are the essence and recognition of the character in the movie and there is no getting away from the character.” Picturing the screenplay of the song Mehbooba in ‘Sholay’where Jai and Veeruare orchestrating an attack, he said it was essential to the script.

Sanjay also mentioned how the length of each scene needs to be planned. For instance, the length of the basketball scene in Dhoom 2 with Sunehri and Mr. A was crucial, yet debated over, as it was 4-5 min long shot. Pulling off a scene that long was quite a challenge. Besides, it was essential to balance the length of this scene against other scenes in the movie.

During the question and answer session, Sanjay laid out some ground rules, like being open minded and avoiding rigidity completely. He also gave tips to aspiring Filmmakers about accepting the challenges that come with the process of movie making. While summing it all, he said that depending on the story, everything related to it needs to be connected with the content of the movie.

With his masterclass, Sanjay Gadhvi proved to be an inspiration to aspiring Filmmakers who are looking to find a foothold in the Indian Film industry. His secret to success lies in the fact that he makes the most of the process of Filmmaking and reflects a vibrant energy as a Director. With this one-on-one session, he showed how a Film as one man’s vision can win the vote of a 100 people.

Role of an Editor in Film Making

There are many roles in the Film making process that require a person to be a sound technician and an equally accomplished artist. The Editor of a Film is a critical role that also draws in equal measure on creative talent and technique.

At the most basic level, the role of a Film Editor is to put together the scenes of a Film in a manner where they are entertaining, engaging and tell the story as it was intended to be told. Let us exemplify this point. If it is a romantic comedy, then it is the Editor’s job to place visual and time emphasis on crucial moments in the Film. Likewise, in a thrilling crime drama, it is an Editor’s skill to build and sustain the suspense of the Film. This can be done by pacing the edit in a certain manner, cutting shots and scenes intelligently to reveal just enough to tease the audience.

Therefore, not only must the Editor possess an extremely keen sense of story-telling, he must also be armed with the technical tools to accomplish these goals. Hence, the artistry and technical wizardry combination.

Editing, in more than one way, is direction in post. An Editor is the first critic of the film. But unlike the passive viewer, or the regular critic, s/he takes an active part in presenting the story in its most effective, streamlined packaging.It is an extremely rewarding but arduous job that needs careful studying. And perhaps the best way to receive this comprehensive training is by attending a great school.

Digital Academy – The Film School, has finally arrived in India to impart a world class education in Film making. The Editing program at DA will instruct you not just about the theory of editing, but also in all the aspects relating to story-telling and the nuances of a keen story sense, and then back that up with hands on training on industry standard equipment.

A program at DA will be like editing out the years of struggle and self-teaching that will be replaced by a robust and complete education, and the confidence to take on the world of Films.

Role of a Producer in Film Making

The Producer is an indispensable part during the making of a Film. Sure there are many types of Producers – Executive, Line, Supervising, Creative; but whatever their specific charge, an appropriate word to encapsulate a Producer’s primary role can be ‘Enabler’. The Producer is the one person, on or off the set, with the network, contacts and wherewithal to get people & other resources organized. When a Film is being made, many things are needed. To begin with, it is the Producer who brings together the core team for the project, like the Screenwriter, Actors, Director and so on. He is someone who gives the idea of the Film a tangible shape.

Once the initial team is set up and pre-production begins, the Producer continues to serve as the primary enabler – assisting and tapping into his vast pool of contacts to get anything, like locations, shooting venues, Actor’s dates etc. And once the shooting begins, he takes on the additional responsibility of an ‘overseeing executive’, someone who ensures that the Film and all its elements are in place and are moving forward as per the assigned schedule & budget. In that sense, the Producer is the binding force that guides the idea of the film to come to fruition.

Depending of course on the type of Producer, it is likely that a large sum of money, personal or representative, is invested by the Producer in the Film. This then makes the Producer’s duties even more broad-based, as he has to ensure that even after the Film has been shot & edited, it’s marketed & distributed properly for it to generate maximum profits. After all, Film-making is a business too.

To truly understand & learn the craft of effective Producing, it is best to have hands-on training & experience. Since the Producer is involved in every aspect of the Film-making process, he or she must be intimately familiar with each facet as well. For instance, though he may not be shooting the Film himself, a Producer who does not know the basics of Cinematography will not prove to be an effective Producer. Only a Producer with a total knowledge in all sections of filmmaking can arrange for, and oversee, a proper utilization of correct resources. For example, if a big budget commercial movie is being shot on the state-of-the-art Arri Alexa camera, it is the producer’s responsiblity, as much as the DOP’s, to arrange a 4K recorder with full colour reproduction. Otherwise, the film images would lack the finesse of a true blockbuster, and that can hamper the sell as the audience would not feel too involved.

So you must be wondering which is the best way to fast track this learning process? It is by taking a world class Producers’ program at an institution like Digital Academy – The Film School. Here, aspiring Producers learn each nuance of the Film-making process, interact with well known Producers and even have an opportunity to work under them after the program.

To be an enabler in Films, you need to first enable yourself to get an excellent education, right?

Role of an Actor in Film Making

An Actor is an artist; the most vital tool in the visual medium of Films, via whom the story and the journey of a Film is articulated. A fitting analogy for an Actor could be a race car driver. While many people and talents come together to create the racing team, like the engineers, the sponsors and the pit-stop crew, it is ultimately the driver’s performance that wins or loses a race, no matter how well-prepared the team may have been.

It’s the same when it comes to a Film. There could be great direction, compelling story and visuals, soulful music; but all this can be a let down if the Actors do not do justice to their characters and to the story. So what is the role of an Actor then? At the most basic level, it is to translate an engaging and believable portrayal of the written character onto screen.

But in doing so, an Actor needs many tools too. And this is one skill set that is limitless. Even if someone is a born Actor, his talent needs to be harnessed in a manner where either the Actor himself or the Director can draw on that talent and manifest it in a winning performance.

Therefore an Actor needs to be a good listener observer, be able to take directions, be intuitive and must possess a tangible acting range. It’s a skill set that eludes most and not everyone can learn it by themselves. Which is why in order to bring out the best in you as an Actor, it is advisable to formally learn Acting. With an institution like Digital Academy – The Film School, there is a truly world class education in Acting that awaits all young and aspiring students who are eager to become Actors.

Learn the craft from the best in the business and train using the most renowned methods to fast track your way to stardom. Not only will you learn the history and theory of acting at DA, you could also become the actual Actor in Films the students shoot, where you can experience the real process involved in translating a character onto screen while using your craft & learning. Act now, if you want to be a great Actor!

The Life and Times of Anand Bakshi

Digital Academy – The Film School recently organized an interactive session to discuss the Life and Times of the late Anand Bakshi , one of India’s greatest lyricists where his son Rakesh Bakshi and the noted historian and lyricst Vijay “Akela” gave the students insights on Anand Bakshi’s life.

Anand Bakshi achieved fame with the song from Brij Mohan’s film titled, ‘Bhala Aadmi’, 1958. He became a star in 1965 (Jab Jab Phool Khile) and went on to work as a lyricist of over 3500 songs and 650 films in the course of his life. His hits touched the cords of the masses – right from ‘Sawan Ka Mahina’ (Milan – 1968) to ‘Taal Se Taal Mila’ (Taal – 2000). Some of his other noted work in the later part of his career included songs of ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ & ‘Pardes’.

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Vijay ‘Akela’ who’s written a book on Anand ji, called ‘Main Shayar Badnam’ comprising 151 greatest lyrics of Anand Bakshi, spent a long time with the great lyricist and got to know him very closely. He and Rakesh Bakshi shared many interesting incidents from Anandji’s life. He said that once Anandji sat with a Producer to narrate the lyrics but before starting he asked the Producer to make the Actor wear a hat and only then did he start the narration. Once the Actor did that, Anandji started narrating the firstt stanza, “Tirchi Topiwale”. Anandji used to insist on listening to the whole story, because he used to make lyrics out of common everyday situations. Many times it so happened that Producers used to like Anandji’s creation to such an extent, that they would create situations and modify their movies especially to accommodate his songs.

Rakesh Bakshi nostalgically narrated “When Anandji used to write, he used to whistle. That whistle used to be the tune that he’d prepare in his mind for the song that he was writing,” Another incident that he shared was that during the India-Pakistan partition, Anand Bakshi had to flee Pakistan overnight and come to India. The only thing he brought with him was his mother’s photograph. Looking at that, his father got angry and asked him, why he didn’t carry any clothes, food or money. Anandji replied, “We can earn money, gather food, buy clothes, but from where will we get mother’s last photograph, once lost?” Anandji used to miss his mother and motherland when he moved to Mumbai, which is why he wrote a number of songs about his mother and his native land.

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Vijay Akela perfectly captured the extent of Anandji’s great work spanning generations in the following lines: “Anandji wrote songs for Rajesh Khanna, his wife Dimple Khanna, his daughter Twinkle Khanna, his son-in-law Akshay Kumar. He wrote songs for Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, he even wrote songs for Raj Kapoor’s grand daughter Kareena Kapoor for the movie Yaadein.”

Rakesh once asked his father as to when he realized for the first time that he had made it big. To this, Anandji replied, “I was once travelling by train. The train stopped in the middle of the night at some small town. I looked out of the window and it was pitch dark. In that darkness, I saw a beggar singing a song and begging for alms. He came close to me and I realized he is singing a song that’s written by me. When I heard my song being sung by a beggar who doesn’t even own a radio, in a village that doesn’t even have electricity, I realized my songs are now famous. The beggar didn’t know me, but he knew my songs.”

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Anandji’s brilliance doesn’t lie in what we say or think about him, but in his words, his lyrics and his songs which speak for his genius . Such is the greatness of this man, that even after his passing away, his words will always be with us in our hearts and on our lips, for generations to come.

Return of the Studio System in Indian Cinemas?

Indian cinema started as an individual’s passion and slowly turned into a segment of family entrepreneurship. People like Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar, who took up the helms of Indian Documentary Production in the 1890s, Hiralal Sen in Calcutta and Dadasaheb Phalke in Kolhapur, who experimented a lot in theatre recording and mythico-social fiction Films, were Film makers who used their family, friends and servants as crew and Actors. In a way, the initial years of Indian Film making was modeled on the Hindu joint family structure and not as a capital venture.

As the idea of the talkie slowly crept in, during the 1930s, a need for conglomeration was felt. The model of America was available as reference – the capitalist model of assembly system for manufacture. At that time, India was going through an unpredictable economic change. On one hand, the rural self-sufficient economy had broken down and on the other hand, Gandhi’s call for self-promotion in the form of indigenous industries and products had led to the emergence of a pro-active and intelligent business class striving for a free India.

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Film industry, at the hands of Phalke and his followers, was at best a flourishing cottage industry without the promise of a continuous return. Film makers such as Ardeshir Irani and Chunilal Munim tried to get a bank loan for their projects. But as a completely unorganized industry, Cinema posed a big risk for prospective investors. Also, the whole idea of Film making, especially by Indians, was unacceptable to the conservative British. As an upstart art-form, Cinema wasn’t held in high-esteem by the elite British. With Gujarati and Parsee banias as financiers of the Films, and technicians as well as Actors coming from the lower classes, cinema was ill-reputed from the start.

With the advent of sound, similar problems were addressed in the United States. Five major and the three minor studios started controlling production, distribution and exhibition of their movies. At no point was the control of the Film out of their hands. Any uncertainty of selling the Film and showing it to a full-scale audience could be ruled out. Screenwriters, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, Music Composers and especially the actors became members of the studio’s paid staff.

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A similar need to connect the Film industry to modern capital was strongly felt in Bombay and Calcutta. Studio system, as a fool-proof company structure stepped in to remedy the bank’s lack of support and the problem of under-capitalization in the industry. In a way, that gave a certain legitimacy to the not-so-elite essence of Cinema in India.

As a result , state-of-the-art equipments could be purchased and used. Also, technical experiments and innovations as well as experiments in ideas were encouraged. Playback system started in a studio in Calcutta called New Theatres, much before it started in Hollywood. Different colour processes, like Technicolor and Metrocolor, were tried out. New innovations from Hollywood were incorporated in Indian studios. And then the first stars appeared.

The first trio of stars from Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, were products of the studio system to start with. However, as their careers progressed and a major chunk of the audience started equating the stars with their Films, studio system led to an era of stars. This was due to the intake of large venture capital in the form of black money. Quite a few newcomers entered the industry as financiers/Producers. But they were interested in making a portion of their money legal and not in a sustainable growth of the industry through a disciplined, charted out process as taken by studio owners.

Under pressure, major studios like New Theatres, Vassan Studios (later Gemini Pictures), Bombay Talkies, Prabhat, Ranjit Movietones and a bunch of others either closed down or changed their operation from movie production to another niche.

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It was at this time when the Indian government stepped in to support Film Production, distribution and exhibition through organizations like Films Division, NFDC, PSBT and other similar bodies in the 1950s. However, there used to be a pro-State propagandist stance in the Films produced and exhibited by the government. Cinema being the biggest machinery for hegemony in the post-independence years, only certain expressions of mind were allowed.

Mainstream cinema of 60s and 70s, specially the Angry Young Man Films, were silently supported by the government program of integration and subordination. In the 80s, the theme of corruption, anger, inequality, underworld and romance continued. Indian cinema was not genre based then. Terms such as masala movies were coined keeping this phenomenon in mind.

Indian cinema became too parochial in this period. Bollywood became the other name of Indian Cinema, flanked by the alternate, art-house Indian new wave Films, most of which weren’t properly distributed or exhibited outside Film festivals and failed to pull a crowd. There was almost no variation in the mainstream themes. Even though both non-mainstream and parallel cinemas had really interesting stories to offer, their presentation was mostly off-the-mark and boring for the uninitiated audience.

In the post-2000 scenario, with easy access to movies with better sound and picture quality which could be watched at home, old theatres started dying. But interesting changes were occurring in the Indian retail marketplace. Shopping malls began sprouting up in every major city in India. They offered a panoply of choices under a single roof and a cozy tour across designed spaces in the weekend. These malls became meeting joints and the hub for all activities for the youth. They were the new public squares where all kinds of enjoyment and socialization was possible.

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As the way to incorporate foreign venture capitals in Indian industries, American and European companies started coming to India for collaborations in the entertainment business. Companies like Reliance, Mahindra and Mahindra and UTV started operating in a structured way, reminiscent of studios in the 30s. As Bollywood became a burgeoning brand, owing to the large expat groups in the Western world, many production-distribution companies like Pathé, Channel 4, Warner Bros, Disney and Fortissimo Films started showing interest in collaborating with Indian entertainment companies. It was unimaginable, even in 2000, that every week a host of Bollywood Films could be commercially shown in theatres across Germany, Netherlands, France, America and UK.

So how do these corporates differ from the previous single Producer system in approach? The answer is simple – neatness of activities and a proper business orientation with domain knowledge. During the star system, Films were produced by short-sighted businessmen who wanted a quick profit in exchange for their unaccounted money. Staleness of thought and repetition of themes crept in easily. New corporate Film houses changed this habit. Habits of financial transparencies changed. But more noticeable was the changes in stories and the way the movies were shot. It was impossible to imagine something like Ishqiya, Band Baaja Baaraat or Delhi Belly a few years back.

As new players took over during the period of globalization, models for sustainable growth were chalked out. The new corporate structures are based on modern American Film studios. In a way, this is the second coming of the old studio system with the difference that, barring a few exceptions, the companies aren’t family bound. The studio system in India was like a feudal structure while the new corporate model is capitalistic. With fresh talent from Film schools joining these companies the current picture looks more pro-youth.

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However, like anything that’s new, the corporate structure has some problems too. Some companies are under the impression that entertainment can be run just like any other business and they tend to undermine creativity. Creativity can be controlled but can never be methodical. That would be similar to controlling the human psyche in a flowcharted manner. Mystery and beauty lies in this randomness. The old studios understood this and gave birth to some of the most beautiful works from Indian Cinema. The star system of the 50s made fixed patterns stronger with the help of stars. People used to come to the theatre to get entertained, even though they already knew the story. That was pleasure for an audience that had a limited choice for entertainment.

However, the Indian audience of the new millennium is smarter. They are consumers with a variety of choices. With the advent of so many TV channels, websites and social networking sites, it is very difficult to keep the audience glued to the big screen. So an organized market research, market segmentation, vertical and horizontal combinations in the market are mandatory to survive today. With companies like Big Pictures creating theatre chains across India and in US, the return of the studio system in the new guise of the corporate has arrived. It is for the new generation of Film lovers, like us, to see if it sustains. 

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