Saturday, April 09, 2005

The TFLW Shoot: A collection of short stories - 1

We wrapped up the first schedule of the movie today.

We finished 85 per cent of the shoot in 11 days of shoot!

That's like a record of sorts cuz I didn't think we would be able to shoot at that pace and stick to the schedule. But we did.

Only cuz we didn't have a choice but to wrap up shoot by 8th.

Usha leaves to America on the 18th of this month. And we need to give our editor at least five days to edit her scenes so that she can dub on the 13th and 14th before she leaves for Bangalore on 15th. The last two weeks have been a rollercoaster.

It all started with a rather well-thoughtout decision and a very hard one at that. Getting back my place at the top.

"You fired a star. You've arrived as a director finally," said a friend.

Please... more than firing, for me, it was about losing someone who put in a lot of effort and time in the film. I still feel bad that it happened and ended that way but like they say, it all happens for the good.

So after that fateful night on March 23, we had a huge task on hand. Replacing a star meant losing another who he had brought in and the cinematographer too. And the food sponsorships.

We called a meeting next morning to check who's in and who's out. The other star and the cinematographer turned up for the meeting to tell me they had to opt out cuz "I can't give up on 14 years of friendship for a movie" and "I'm doing this cuz he's the Executive Producer and would like to be paid at the end of the project. Now that he's not there, there is no guarantee that this movie will be made."

This meant that we had to get three out of the four guys who play lead roles in the film because Ranvir said that he had absolutely no dates till May.

Vijay, my friend who made the no-budget film called 'I just don't get it,' said that I could try Aashil from Bangalore for the lead character Sunil. Aashil, had done a small role in the movie 'Brides Wanted' and was an excellent actor who would fit the part, said Vijay. So we asked him to send his pics.

Aashil also sent me a Sprite ad he had done. The minute I saw the ad, I knew I had Sunil. He had energy, he looked like the boy next door and he was the same age as the character he had to play!

Problem: He was now working with IBM and his boss was outta town till April 6. He had already given up a job with STAR for doing 'Brides Wanted.' He didn't want to lose another job now. We sent him the script.

Then we made Vijay tell him nice things about the movie. We bullied him into travelling by bus though he was willing to pay the rest of the fare and fly down.

We put him up with a mentally ill girl with a literally psycho (it was given behaviour correction therapy) dog called Frodo. We made him wear all his clothes and didn't give him a chance to wash them at all, so he ended up carrying and wear dirty clothes, all for the sake of costume continuity. We make him travel by bike, pillion on an Activa with the Assistant director Swathi.

Talking of Swathi, my AD, I couldn't have asked for a more super efficient soul. A bundle of energy, despite the price she's had to pay for agreeing to do the film. At last count, the amount of damage the movie has caused her, can be valued at Rs. 51,500 plus fuel.

She had an accident one morning when she was picking up people for the early morning shoot and ran over a median. She lost (I hope not) the mike she borrowed for us.

She also ran production errands half the time and was part-time production manager too since Arch, our production manager, had a more complex production to run at the same time: her in-laws and household chores. Yes, Archana would wake up by five, make breakfast and lunch and land up at the set by seven or eight, all the way from Ambattur and then go back early evening to make dinner since her folks didn't know she was shooting for a movie. She would also cajole her hubby Vivek into doubling up as driver to chauffer the whole unit around, apart from chipping in as stuntman for the climax scene.

Oh, back to: March 24, the day after we part ways with our star actor who was also Executive Producer.

So we saw Aashil's ad on 24th evening and convinced him on 25th evening to leave Bangalore the same night by bus. We auditioned this London trained actor called Tejas Sreedhar to play the part of Prashant. He seemed perfect and he agreed to do the role.

So we had the third Prashant for the film after my buddy Pradyumna who did the role three years ago and Kunal, the star's friend.

We auditioned half a dozen people for Zebra (Ranvir had played Zebra) and finally zeroed in on 'Evam' Sunil for the role.

March 25

We had a cast. A friend put us on to Manoj, the assistant cameraman to Saravanan, the guy who had worked on masala action movies 'Madurae' and 'Tirupaachi.' I was so excited at the prospect and yes, Manoj did have this natural flair for creating energy and pace!

Then I meet 'Evam' Sunil who gets all his doubts clarified about Zebra. I get a call from home.

My mom just wanted me to get some money from the ATM and rush home cuz she and Dad were leaving town same evening. Grand-dad was critical in Kochi.

March 26

I haven't slept and it's 1 a.m. on what is supposed to be the first day of my shoot, my third attempt in making the film after the second one ended two days ago. I set the alarm to go to bed, had to pick up Aashil at 5 a.m.

I get a call at 3 a.m. It was news from Kochi, my Grand-dad was no more. I pick up Aashil from the Koyambedu bus-stand, bring him home by 5.30 and then call all my relatives in the city to inform them about the death of grand-dad and then leave for shoot, after dropping off Aashil at a friend's place.

We shoot Scene 55 for the third time with our third Prashant. The scene involves Vishal (Cary) race against another car as Prashant (now played by London-trained dumbfuck actor Tejas Sreedhar) tries to drill some seriousness into the carefree Vishal.

We bring back Swathi's friends Rishab and Abhinav to play the menacing rivals in the race for the second time in a week, for the same scene we had shot earlier with actor K as Prashant.

We also shoot a scene where Prashant is supposed to teach Sara (Paloma) to drive. And Paloma really didn't know to drive. Talk about reality filmmaking. Ha ha! A

nyway, with great fear, we let Paloma take the driver's seat as Tejas sat in the front seat to guide her through her driving. Manoj and me are in the backseat filming the scene. And the way Paloma drove, it was quite an adventure in itself.

March 27

We decide to do the garage scenes at Archana's factory garage. The art directors Anu and Preethi did a super job in four hours flat to convert the garage into Sunil's movie production office within the film.

Aashil (who plays Sunil) gives his first shot of typing a script as we wait nervously for T to land up. T had been inaccessible all morning. We had the garage only for a day and there was no way we can erect the same set again cuz the garage was to be occupied soon. Also, we still had not got a bike for Aashil in the film. With no option left, I hand over my Last Samurai to the art directors and ask them to give it a little character. I can't speak about what they did to my bike.

I will post a picture tomorrow when I'm in a better mood. Well, right now it looks dirty orange with paint scraped off, it looks like a contraption someone stole from a mechanic shop. And I've taken a vow not to paint it back till I finish the film.

We got another bike for Aashil, Abhinav's BULLET! T did not turn up, nor does he pick up 500 of our missed calls. So we shoot the scene without him.

March 28

Cinematographer Manoj had to leave cuz his boss called him. So he put us on to Jai, who had an entirely different style. If Manoj was the Vijay masala action movie cinematographer, Jai was more like PC Sreeram working for Kathir.

But when we shot outside Stella Maris College, it was more like Bowfinger style. We make our actors walk up to the gate and do their acting and shoot from a camera hidden in a car on the opposite side of the road. Meanwhile Tejas is still inaccessible. So we also make a pretty common friend call him and Tejas returns her call promptly.

She gives me the phone and he has a story ready. That his Dad was in the ICU and he doesn't have dates anymore. We hope his Dad really was in the ICU or he's gonna take a truckload of curses straight to hell. Losing Tejas at this stage meant looking for one more Prashant and reshooting one whole day's shoot all over again. For the fourth time.

We had permission to shoot at Sathyam theatre that night and it was the climax scene. We cannot do without a Prashant. So we need to find a Prashant in a few hours. We audition half a dozen theatre actors. All of them are too dramatic. It's about half past ten in the night and the shoot at Sathyam is scheduled for 1 a.m. and we don't have a Prashant.

10.30. p.m.

We finally touch base with Praveen, who played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, after tryin in vain to reach him throughout the day. We ask him to come to Besant Nagar Cozee for an audition. We reach there at 10.45 and there's a Tsunami warning, they ask us to clear the coast. We go to Swathi's house with Praveen and make him do a reading. At the end of the first attempt, I shake hands with Cary. He had suggested Praveen after all. We had a Prashant. We found him two hours before our shoot! I hate to think what we would have done if Praveen was as dramatic as the others who auditioned!

March 29

Early morning. 1.00 a.m. Chandrachoodan, who volunteered to help reading blogs, lands up with his colleagues. We have about 30 extras for the climax scene. Enough to fill the frame and cheat it to make you believe its a full house on camera. Finally, good news. We have a cast. And we also have extras!!

It's a long night as we try and get a sleep deprived Aashil to remember his lines.

March 30

Aashil really gets under the skin of the character. He's a blast as we shoot a scene outside Coffee? and then one on Broken bridge, where he has a conversation with God. It's a blast of a scene. This scene will surely work. Watch out for this. We had him standing on the edge of the bridge and he almost fell off. Twice. Shooting hasn't been more fun.

March 31

We get permission to shoot in Spencer Plaza. We shoot with Aashil and scores of unsuspecting visitors in the mall. We make some of them say 'Hi Sunil' on camera to establish that Sunil (Aashil) is a popular guy always found with his handycam. Thanks to Landmark for letting us get some really colourful footage.

April 1

We came back to Sathyam theatre to shoot the rest of the climax early in the morning. This is when Swathi had an accident and ran over the median. Now, we were one car less and after this, we had to use autorickshaws, call taxis and bikes for moving around! VinodJi landed up for shooting another scene at Sathyam theatre and hey, you guys must read about his tryst with stardom.

For the evening, we needed 30 cars for the traffic jam.

Being April 1, a lot of people thought we were joking. So we had only seven cars for the finale. And we had to manage with that! Damn! Add that to the pangs of being a low budget film!

We took permission from the Deputy Commissioner and still had to bribe the beat cops in Anna Nagar to shoot at Anna Nagar Roundtana. This was the most stressful day of shoot and almost all of us lost our cool.

Imagine, the Commissioner was on rounds and he along with his convoy stopped right behind us wondering what the hell was happening, just as I had called Cary to say Action (He was 200 metres away at the signal before the Roundtana one).

What that meant was that Cary would now come driving at 100 km per hour and come crashing into the Commissioner's convoy if I missed calling him right back to say Cut! I couldn't reach him but thankfully, he called back to check if it was really 'Action'.

God saved us that night for sure. We shot two angles of the scene after that and got outta there. We went to my street and shot the rest of the close-ups, recreating the scene right outside my house.

Okay, it's already been too long a blog. So let me call it a night and continue the rest of it tomorrow! Intermission! :)

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