Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making of Duality Music Video: my POV

There has already been a very detailed "blood, sweat and tears" version of making this video posted on our official news blog by Sudipto here. This post analyses our efforts from a very different angle and might be a very good read for those who are willing to take the DIY route in making music videos.

There is only one underlying concept behind making any video production work - be it an MV, a short or a feature - and that is planning. I cannot stress that word enough. If anyone remotely thinks that "let's shoot first, we'll edit it later" attitude will work, they cannot be more mistaken[1].

The Importance of Shooting Script

I had a copy of Satyajit Ray's text on making movies that was primarily written for kids. This piece essentially made me realise the importance of storyboard and shooting script. I insisted that we do it. Being the first video shot by our photographer, he wasn't so much aware of the pitfalls that might crop up if a proper shooting script is not prepared. In hindsight, I can say that about 40% of the shooting script was used. I am quite sure that this MV has been a tremendous learning experience for all of us and that the shooting scripts of future productions (for us as well as for Sagarneel Biswas) will become much tighter in coming times. I will not be surprised if there is a near 80% correlation between the shooting script and the actual shots in Sagarneel's future works. The development of shooting script requires some knowledge of the shooting process. Thus, this experience will help him build tighter and more feasible shooting script for future

Finally, we had a storyline that was converted to a workable shooting script. But we shelved it. Primarily because we did not have a model to work with.

The Shoot that was Later Discarded

Everything looks like a lesson in hindsight. Maybe that's what "motivational speakers" like James Clear (read this) or entrepreneurs like Paul Graham (read this) meant by jumping first, hustling later.

We drove to a deserted field with a railway track near the outskirts of Bangalore on a Saturday evening. We did not have a concrete plan. Sagarneel shot a few test shots so that we could prepare ourselves better for Sunday's extensive shoot. The prime lenses, a monopod and a shoulder pod had been rented out[2]. Sudipto carried Korak's drums from IISc - a location diametrically opposite to where we were shooting. We were there by 8 O'clock - ready to film the band shoot. We only had about two hours of shoot. We had to cycle through the same song over and over again as each of us did our individual takes on the song. Then there were the group shots.

A few of Ugyal's shots, especially involving a not so daring stint at playing the solo on railway tracks were captured. The locations were not researched a priori and we kind of went with our guts as to what worked and what didn't. We were not even half done when we had to stop our shoot because of the scorching sun.

Any decent photographer knows that nature only gives them a small window of opportunity right during the gentle sunshine of the morning and the setting sun at the evening. The images captured in the scorching sun usually have very harsh shadows. Not to mention, we would also have tired and burnt look on our faces. For us it meant stopping the shoot till afternoon 3 O'clock. Having nearly nothing to do, we resorted to a good rest under a tree that was infested by termites near its roots and sparsely populated with leaves at its top. Sudipto and Sagarneel went ahead to get us some food. It was more like a picnic for us[3].

When we resumed our shoot, we were able to wrap up Sudipto's parts as well as a few more band shots.

I had put together a rough edit later. It looked decent. Little did we know that we would end up discarding the entire shoot.

Filming the "Story"

Ugyal knew Priyanka, who studied at NIFT. We asked her to get hold of a model for us. Meanwhile, we had already learned the pitfalls of unplanned shoot. We tightened and cleaned up the shooting script.

One evening we met up with Priyanka. She brought with her Sakshi, the girl who would model for our MV. Priyanka agreed to style us all. We had to take care of six separate shots - the highway shot, the map shot, the park shot, the coffee shot, the chase shot and the wake-up shot. I designed the paraphernalia and Ugyal and Sudipto got them printed on desired objects - hard paper, stickers and a T-shirt.

Sagarneel, Sudipto and Sakshi shot the highway scene near the outskirts of Bangalore separately. The girls did not have much free time from their courses. So, we were under pressure of wrapping the entire "story" shoot in one weekend. This was by far the smoothest shoot sequence we had.

We had a call with Priyanka beforehand. As a result, Sudipto and Ugyal took care of most of the apparel before arriving at the shoot. Before lunch we had already wrapped up the outdoor scenes at the park and with the map. For the indoor shoots, a fellow member of the Photographians group, Partha, allowed us to shoot in his apartment. The wake-up shot was filmed first, followed by the chase shot and finally, the coffee shot. Barring one solo shot of Sudipto, the entire storyboard was wrapped up. All this time, Priyanka took care of the styling for the band as well as for our model.

We couldn't have been more grateful to the girls for their enormous support. Priyanka's involvement had an adverse effect on our MV. We looked so much better on frame than our usual selves that the frames from previous shoot looked like a cheap home video from the 80s. After much thought, we decided to scrap the whole shoot. It meant that the band shoot would have to be re-filmed. It also meant that the girls wouldn't be seeing their fruits of labour for another six months.

Wiser People Re-film the Band Shoot

We had become wiser. Shooting each of us individually was not at all necessary. Filling the frame is something that becomes a necessity when depicting fast motion sequences. A bit of hand jerk also adds to the effect of pseudo-motion to an otherwise static band shoot. All we had to do was select a nice location and plan the shoot accordingly. Korak was the cultural society conveyor of IISc. He made arrangements so that we could shoot in the practice room. I was happy that we needn't worry about the scorching sun outside.

At this point I also refused to do any rough edits on the "story" section unless I had all the shoots ready. What I learned during the rough edits of the first band shoot was this; it is nearly impossible to make any informed judgments without knowing what exactly one has in his hand, that it is not possible to arrange pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without having access to all the pieces.

The shoot itself went relatively smooth. The broken stuff lying around in a sea of cobwebs turned out to add a lot of colour to the frames. I think we took around five hours to wrap the whole band shoot up. The close, clumsy room and good choice of primes[4] ensured that we had loads of good colourful captures.

A side story: A young girl had her first communion. While we were shooting and making noise in a closed room, her parents were playing host to many guests who came to the event in an auditorium outside. They were kind enough to invite us to have lunch. As usual, we ate well!!

Editing it all Together and Certifying the Final Product

I used Adobe Premiere Pro to put it all together. It is an excellent (albeit expensive) non-linear editing tool. I had used Sony Vegas before but Adobe's Premiere Pro feels more powerful.

The techniques I used was relatively simple. Create a "story" comp and a "band" comp. Each of the comps had multiple layers of the shoots. These were sequences that were sorted by Sudipto and handed over to me. Transitions between scenes were created by slicing off chunks of each layer. Think of it like a book. You can expose a particular page by punching a hole of desired depth. To ensure synchronisation between the two comps, I used precisely times markers.

The band shoot has quite a bit of colour correction to distinguish it from the other sequence. The story comp has a bit of muted colours when one compares to the vibrant yellowish tint of the band comp.

During this time I realised that I did not particularly enjoy editing videos. Especially, one that involved precise trimming and synchronisations. It is too much of an effort. Unless, I like doing something, I don't feel like putting that much of an effort. If I draw parallels, mixing is an equally (or even more) tiring when compared to video editing. However, I like doing it. To me, editing felt a bit more mechanical.

Once the video was put together, we had to create a timecoded version and apply to CBFC.

CBFC took only a week to give us a certificate.

My Final Thoughts

It has been a good learning experience for us all. I can only enumerate the things that I have learned personally.
  1. Prepare a shooting script. It will accelerate the shooting process and ease a lot of problems during the editing stage.
  2. A bit of experience comes handy. However, the lack of that shouldn't stop anyone from preparing the details. As I had stated earlier, there is nothing that can be called as lack of preparation.
  3. Every look has to be deliberate. Even a shaggy look of a character has to be deliberately put together. Otherwise, it just looks like a lazy home video.
  4. It is okay to discard sub-standard shoots and re-shoot sections. This is also true for any art form. If there is a badly recorded section, it is worth re-doing that instead of putting out a substandard product.
  5. I don't like video editing.
Well there are more but those are embedded in my experience and is hard to objectify or quantify them. This was a long post, too.



  1. I have learned this while producing albums. In making records, the analogous philosophy - "let's record first, we'll fix in the mix later" - also doesn't work.
  2. Sagarneel has quite an arsenal of gears at his disposal. Thanks to that, we did not have to rent the entire equipment.
  3. Those who have read the original article know that, barring Sudipto, we all take our food very seriously.
  4. I can't recall exactly, but I believe Sagarneel used a 50mm and a 28mm(?) to film the entire band shoot.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My one+ year stint with Tumblr

Tumblr was a decent experience. However, it is not exactly a blog in the traditional sense. I found the following things not in line with my tastes, sensibilities or modes of operation.

Firstly, Tumblr focuses on micro content. Although the mechanism isn't exactly so, the layout is more in sync with such a philosophy. These micro chunks of content is something that is expected to arise from cellphones or tabs. I have seen many high quality posts but they are more of an exception than the norm.

Secondly, their sharing system is something that resembles a tumbleweed, and that's where probably they derive the name from. A comment is no more a comment - the post must be tumbled / reshared with the comment appended. This breaks the chain of linear conversation. I am yet to see what a modern CMS - discussion hybrid like Discourse is doing for they claim to have come up with a new paradigm in online discussion. I had to even set up a Disqus plugin on the site to enable discussion (even if it is sparser than matter in this Universe).

Thirdly, the internal dashboard seems more in line with Facebook or Twitter. There are trending posts highlighted that belong to the channels one has subscribed to. While someone may want a Flipboard like experience, I prefer the very personal dashboard of Blogger or even better - that of WordPress.

Finally, the customisation is something that leaves a lot to be desired. In both Blogger and Wordpress, I was able to set up the blog to nearly 90% of what I expect it to be. I understand that there are designing freedoms that must be restricted so that the engine can function properly.

My one+ year stint at Tumblr is still available at