It’s always a pleasure to have writer-director Sandeep Mohan share his experiences, both as a filmmaker and a storyteller, with us. Today, he writes exclusively for Flickside, streamlining the movie-making process and sharing tips around how to prepare yourself for the journey. If you’re venturing into filmmaking for the first time or don’t know where to get started, this one is for you!
I never understood what they mean by ‘low budget’ or ‘big budget’ films. It has always been about the ‘right budget’ for me. Since the stories that I attempt to tell are slightly offbeat or as I prefer to believe ‘middle of the road,’ I keep the risks less for the investors. It is common sense.
Is there a certain formula that I follow for making my films? Well, not that I know of. Each time, it has been a new challenge. I learn new things with each film. But here are few practices I’ve followed in all of my films.
I try to take up multiple roles, and delegate less until absolutely necessary. I also try to keep the crew small, and shoot in less number of days. Remember each extra day of shoot means extra money. If possible, I also do away with Costume Designers, Production Designers, Make-up/Hair-stylists, Executive Producers, Production Managers etc. Me and a couple of Assistant Directors along with the rest of the team including the DoP, and Actors end up doing most of this work. A small crew that respects each other and focuses on getting things done is what my team is like, most of the times. The Director leads. The teammates support me through thick and thin. And we make it happen together.
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The costliest film that I have made is my first film – Love, Wrinkle-Free (2011). It was under a crore. I am using the word ‘crore’ because people in our industry love the sound of that word. Let me say the word again ‘crore’. Feels good. This film was shot in Goa, I had a crew of around 45. This film taught me many things about production too. I made a lot of mistakes despite all that planning since it was my first time.
So for my second film Hola Venky (2014), I decided to go totally experimental. I shot this feature with a crew of 3 and completed the film in 10 lakhs. This is the least number of people with which I have made a film. My Cinematographer, my Sync Sound Recordist and me. We had actors, of course. There was a freedom here which I really enjoyed. I might attempt this a few more times in my life I feel as it suits my personality. Create on the go!
Going into my third film Shreelancer (2017), I went for a budget between the last two films. And crew-size wise too, I had a maximum of 15 people in one schedule in the mountains; and a crew of 5 when I shot the Bangalore schedule.
For the new film Nirmal Anand Ki Puppy (2019, due), which I just finished the post production work for, I have gone for a limited crew — not exceeding 15-20, on most days.
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So as you see, from my first film to the current film, I have been working with various crew strengths and budget. The number of days of shoot has fluctuated between 21-25 days. For me, filmmaking is a team game where you and your team are working in sync to make your vision come alive.
Also, one should never forget these things — respect, discipline, punctuality, alertness. It’s easy to, amid all the chaos of the filmmaking process. On my shoots, I inform the DoP and my team that I don’t like too much shouting on the set, and thankfully they have always understood me. Our entire focus is on getting the actors into a comfortable space. It is my team’s job to put the actors at ease so that they can deliver their best.
Many a times, people ask about the equipment needed to get a tight-budget film done. I tell them that they should instead focus more on the script. Write a smart script with interesting characters and spend time fine-tuning it to suit a tight budget. Instead, what I find is people are spending more time on researching on cameras and sound equipment. All that can be taken care of to be honest.
There are so many cameras to choose from nowadays, depending on what you can afford. Also you can, in association with your DoP, arrive at the right one depending on the nature of your shoot and the story. But please focus on the script. Think script, script, script. Think characters, characters, characters. Not camera, camera, camera. The equipments will fall into place, trust me!
Get together a core team of sensible people who are excited about your script. A small team that will help you make your vision come alive and cares for you.
Be shameless about the funding process. Ask your near and dear ones money to make the film. Ask politely, but be shameless. You will be surprised with the result as long as you are not asking for a lot of money. Be patient.
Also plan out the shoot schedule wisely. Don’t over-delegate the pre-production work to many people, if possible, do it yourself. It’s not rocket science if you are ready to work hard. I have always loved doing it myself. At times, I employ one Assistant when we have a month or so to shoot. Till then, I fly solo.
Also prepare yourself physically and mentally for the super challenging task awaiting you during the filmmaking process. It’s like the acclimatizing process before you go into high altitude mountain climbing/treks! Be ready before you set out on the journey. Filmmaking tests your body, mind and everything else much more than you can imagine. Once you think you are ready, and you will know it when you are, go! Start the shoot.
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Be prepared for the worst. Don’t give up midway despite whatever challenges come your way. Stay calm and find creative solutions. Finish the shoot at any cost. Shoot with a minimal crew, thus cutting wastages. Take more responsibility yourself as a filmmaker. This is how I have been going about with my 4 films.
Concentrate hard. Get into the ‘I can do it‘ zone. Fear nothing. No one knows everything. Stick to your schedule and as much as possible, don’t go over schedule.
Now go and make that film. Take responsibility for your dream. No one else is going to push you beyond a point. All are busy doing their own day-dreaming.
It’s a long journey. Start now!
By Sandeep Mohan
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