THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF BEING A DIRECTOR
Let’s look at the lows first. If it’s your first film, everyone somewhere doubts you. Right from your friends, to your family, to your well wishers, to your camera person to your sound designer, to your Executive Producer and finally, your actors. If you’re a producer, director, writer all rolled into one, at least your producer and writer can’t doubt you because they’re part of you. So that saves you some grief. All these people, just as you do, will go through phases of doubt and belief, just as you will about yourself. If your planning is thorough, you’ve worked hard and gone over stuff time and again, you’ll have more phases of confidence than you’ll have of doubt. And so will these other people. You begin to realize that they derive large parts of their confidence from you. You become like their army general in a war. And making a film in some sense is like wartime. Nothing is chilled, nothing is at ease in a sense. Har Waqt Chaukanna Rehna Padta Hai. So if and when you have bouts of self doubt, the entire ship begins to slow down and the sea gets stormy. So as quick as is humanly possible, you have to solve your shit and get back to manning the wheel. Your inner battles need quick solving, the voice that does your objective steering in that mad psyche from where the creativity arises, has to be working overtime.
There are days when you feel that you have been holding onto this dream the longest. More than the actors, more than the crew, more than anyone else. And then you realize that this is your role, it’s part of the job description. A large part of a director’s mettle is in being able to just hold onto the project long enough for it to be realized. Like a dog with his bone, you just can’t let go, no matter how much someone is yanking it from you. So there will be days when one feels extremely lonely. Because for the entire period of the wait, you’ll be alone. And this brings us to the sub topic of the wait.
A large, important part of a director’s job is to wait; patiently and productively. Your cast, if they’re worth their weight at a cinema theatre will be able to give you dates based on a busy schedule. And prep for your first film, the smaller the budget, more the prep, will take you at least a year. The actors’ dates may change a few times, and you’ve got to keep everyone else’s morale high enough to deal with these tectonic shifts in a films’ schedule. If you show your cracks, this ship will slow down. So while you’re dealing with your own irritation or insecurities, you have to outwardly deal with everyone else’s. Films require many important people to make time for it. But right through them being able to make time for it, you’ve always got to have time for it. You’ll be the one person who has to always have time for the film even if absolutely no one else does. Other people will have their lives, their kids, their spouses, their friends, their other work and when you begin shooting they’ll also give this their all. But until then, and that’s more often than not the hardest period, you’ll always have to give the film all your time and your highest priority. Directors who make it, clearly are ones who have mastered this ‘wait’.
Finding people who’re serious about the film.
When you’re crewing up, you’ll meet all kinds of people. People who have no business wanting to work on the film but either have nothing else to do, or want to act or do something completely different from filmmaking who’ll try their utmost best to convince you that they should be hired. Amidst tons of these people who aren’t right for the job, you’ll meet those few and far between people who’re just perfect for it. Like gems in a mine you’ll see them, your instincts will seek them out and they’ll end up literally building this dream with you, hand in hand.
Now onto the good parts.
Being a feature film director is like being God. You’re making a mini world of your own. Not just a fictional one on screen, but a little company of sorts off-screen, for the duration of the film, where you’re the top dad, the godfather, the Ben Hur of it all. Your word counts, above anyone else’s and this actually is a healthy thing. For the vision of a film to come alive, your vision is what everyone is following, sometimes blindly, sometimes with valid suggestions. Captaining a feature film means you get to actually cull the best work that people are possible of doing, from about 50 or so people.
When it’s a passion project, a director ends up getting the absolute best that people have to offer because money or fame, or big names aren’t people’s motivation, passion for the story and the characters is. A director on a passion project gets to see people actually taking pay cuts, sometimes working without money, people working day in and day out, going beyond what is their job description and what is expected of them, people functioning at the highest levels of integrity and earnestness and dedication possible in the city of Mumbai, without money or fame being their motivation. Good work is a great motivator. And as the director of a passion project, you end up getting not just everyone’s best but also the best of the city of Mumbai, which amidst its squalor, its dense, thick traffic, its almost impossibility of negotiation, is the only place in the country where this kind of coming together is possible for the making of a film. An Esprit De Corps.
If you’re a writer – director it’s also easier for you to allow a certain level of improvisation because you know the characters and aren’t creating this world from someone else’s script. So at an instinctive level you’ll know if someone is going off character or not. And so you can control improvisations.
Most importantly, you get to shoot in locations where most larger films cannot. Because it takes a lot more effort to set up big lighting, vanity vans, generators in remote locations and so people avoid real locations and stick to big or made up ones. You’ll get to see things and the world around in a certain beautiful mix of reality and fiction because you’re shooting in a real space. With a real backdrop.
It is strangely probably the most draining and yet the most satisfying job in the world.
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