4/19/11

ROHIT TELLS US WHAT HAPPENED "ONE CIGARETTE AGO"



Please watch this one minute short film before you start reading this post.

"One Cigarette Ago" (Oka Cigarette Kritam, Telugu) is a beautiful short made by young filmmaker Rohit Penumatsa. Rohit has been making films on simple subjects based on the society around him from quite some time now. He also writes a very nice blog on cinema which mirrors his cinematic taste...

We think, as aspiring filmmakers, the story behind the making of the film is much more inspiring than the film most of the times. For the first time on Cue For Change, we get to you a filmmaker's story in his own words. The making, the hardships, the luck, the process, the result; enjoy this essay on his own work by Rohit Penumatsa;



About 3 years back I heard of a short story called ‘Budget’. It was a story by an artist named Chandra who had written the story in the 80s. He had written it for a post card story contest and he was trying to reflect on the price rise situation back then. The contest was about writing a short story, a very short one, one that doesn’t exceed the lengths and widths of a post card.

Ever since I’ve heard of it I’ve wanted make a version of it with moving images. And I wrote a two page screenplay almost immediately and in the usual order of things it had gone through so many changes that I hardly remember the pattern of the first draft.
    
A friend called up one morning and told me about a short film contest in Vijayawada. Seemed like the perfect time to make it and with about 20 days to submission, there was ample time left!
   
Now, we wanted a room. A small room which suited the ambiance of the character’s financial state more than anything else. After trying to make a room with a few set properties we had in mind, we luckily found a small abandoned pent house on a friend’s apartment complex. It was previously used by the watchman of the apartment and hence it had all the properties we needed. A few religious pictures (calendars too), clothes dumped in a corner, sweeps and the perfect surroundings we were looking for.
   
Casting – The actual plan was to use a bike mechanic we knew and get an actual prostitute to play the lady. Seemed like the move which would bring in the authenticity. We approached a few sex workers and one of them accepted to do the role, but, when I told her the script she asked whether we were shooting blue films (“Blue film cassetlu teestunnaara?”).  
   
Had to give up on that move, but, luckily we found the guy and the lady at a local drama society. They instantly understood the seriousness of the script and the shoot was done in 2 hours. Couldn’t accommodate a fourth person in the tiny room, hence I had to handle the camera myself.
   
All the difficulties of amateur (free of cost) film making had to be endured through the post production process - editing, grading, sound designing and even the Telugu titling. The sound designer (Raghunath) was a big time technician who had designed the sound for films such as Magadheera.  Raghu liked the film instantly and had even recreated the simple sounds using his Foley artist.

All in all it was another fun ride with glimpses of utter disappointment and long waits in the corridor to get the work done (for free).

Glad that it paid off.


Rohit Penumatsa is a lover of cinema, filmmaker, screenwriter, blogger, photographer and a lot of other things. Find him interesting? Connect with him on Facebook

4/14/11

REMEMBERING SID LUMET







The death of Sidney Lumet was the death of the last of the classic Hollywood film directors. Among his contemporaries in Hollywood, Lumet was distinguishable as a stage and TV director who turned to making films. He brought with himself values from these mediums and these were evident in his work in films.


A comparison with contemporary Delbert Mann will teach us a lot about Lumet. Both similarly successful TV directors, starting out with adaptations of teleplays, Sidney Lumet with his 12 Angry Men in 1957 and Delbert Mann with his very very successful Marty two years earlier. While Mann continued bringing plays to screen till his 1960 movie, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Lumet stuck to it till 1962’s film Long Day's Journey Into Night. Both moved out of this and since then their worked largely on original screenplays and adapted novels. Mann found success with his next movie, the screwball comedy Lover Come Back (1961), he also got The Outsiders (1961) to rank among classics. But by 1968 and a few movies later Mann had already returned to TV. Lumet made this his momentous phase. The Pawnbrokers and Fail Safe in the same year are viewed as brilliant movies. The latter though failed at the box office it was more because of its similarities to Dr Strangelove, released earlier that year than anything else.


To a stage director to a film director, his transition was becoming. Through his movies we see his astounding adaptiveness. After all, his last film, Before The Devil Knows You Are Dead came out in 2007 when he was 82 years old. We swear it does not look like it. You, like Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman critic may say that the movie is "proof that Sidney Lumet's talent is, in every sense, timeless" but you have to agree that no body survives this long without adapting to the new. To include an example, when Lumet came to film The Verdict, he gave it a visual treatment totally different than any of his past movies. 


According to him, he closely collaborated with cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, to get a more stylish result out of each frame. Lumet was always a better friend to his cinematographer than he was to his writer. Always honest about his inability to write, he says- “I can’t write. And I have such respect for writers- I don’t know how two writers collaborate.” This was probably one of the values he brought from television and stage. Former directors of the stage and TV were not required to write. Elia Kazan was not known to write excessively (with exceptions such as America, America, adapted from the novel that he wrote himself) neither were any of Mann, Frankenheimer etc.


Another interesting one of these values was the practice of extensive rehearsals for “a minimum of two weeks” according to Lumet. This would have allowed the actors to master their characters. Not all actors were comfortable with it. It would also have been difficult to continue the practice through time into the 21st century changed movie making. But it was such an effort to give a personal attention to his actors that earned him the title of “Actor’s Director”. We will not forget that not only did he work with the absolute best in acting business but can be credited with making good actors out of many of them.


It was the chase for realism that had probably brought him into films; he considered the theater to be a “totally unreal medium”. He called the difference between the stage and movies, the difference between poetry and prose. And he understood this difference, well while making12 Angry Men where he was trying to bring the worlds of poetry and prose together. The confinement of the jury room in 12 Angry Men is the stage. The first take in the jury room is a 7 minutes long shot with the camera focusing into and out of a different set of characters and moving on to the next set, this while the actors out of focus continue to be in the role; a classic stage phenomenon. 


 Through the movie the film is moving towards realism. To quote from article Evolution of Twelve Angry Men, “In the movie, director Lumet achieved movement and variety by frequently varying the camera angles.  The changes in camera angles multiply as the dramatic tension increases.  Also, he progressively lowered the level from which the movie was shot.  The first third was shot from above eye level, the second third at eye level, and the last third from below eye level.  In the last third, the ceiling of the room began to appear, giving a sense that the room was getting smaller.”


This paragraph comprehensively summarizes Lumet’s Art. 


With films like Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Network, Lumet has proved to be a legendary filmmaker who has adapted to changing times. He not only made films on contemporary issues but also with contemporary filmmaking styles. Lumet had a long lasting career and a very glorious one at that. With more than 50 films in his filmography, he was one of the most active brilliant directors cinema has seen. In his own words from a 1970 interview, "If you're a director, then you've got to direct ... I don't believe that you should sit back and wait until circumstances are perfect before you and it's all gorgeous and marvelous ... I never did a picture because I was hungry ... Every picture I did was an active, believable, passionate wish. Every picture I did I wanted to do ... I'm having a good time."


His death definitely is the death of the best era cinema has yet seen. We remember this legend and pray his soul rests in peace. To cinema! To Lumet!

References:
- An Interview with Sidney Lumet by Peter Bogdanovich,


- Evolution of 12 Angry Men