In the first part of the blog series by our honorary board members,  cinematographer Tribhuvan Babu talks about the pre-shoot anxiety and preparation that is associated with a project. Let’s read what the man said in his own words:

For me, I am nervous for every project irrespective of the first or the last day of the shoot. And its not because I don’t know what I am going to be doing but for what I am going to be doing. Though in Indian cinema, all stories seem similar, yet they look different on screen since everybody shoots or conceives in their own way. For example, if I give you a romantic scene, and you speak to hundred cinematographers they will tell you thousand ways of shooting it as everybody will have at least ten variations to shoot the same scene. Now this is what makes me anxious when I am getting into a project.

Obviously, one starts with a script first. So, when I get the script and the moment I start reading it, I am automatically conceiving a particular scene. This happens by default actually, means I don’t intent to do it. Now while reading a script, I start taking references from here and there and create an idea about that given script. Be it Amar Chitrakatha or Batman or the kind of cinema you have been exposed to as a child, all that become your source of references.

Next, you go and meet the director and listen to his or her vision about that particular film. Now more often than not, that vision is diametrically opposite of what you have already conceived in your mind without taking into consideration anybody else’s biases. So once the director comes in, he or she will have ideas about how they see the scene or the entire film. And after my director and I come to consensus about the look and feel of the film, then the production designer comes in. And he might just add another stronger element that could completely change our perspective. So that is another influence.

Essentially film making is nothing but a collaborative art where everyone has an individual voice and when all voices come together in harmony, cinema happens. It’s very much similar to our Indian classical music where there are different notes and verses but at one point, they all merge together retaining their respective octaves. This is how; we create harmony in filmmaking too without losing the individuality.

Now when you see a frame in the film, you are seeing a production design by virtue of the color of the walls or the kind of props and the space that a production designer has designed. Also, you witness the work of the director by virtue of how he is making his characters perform in that space and a cinematographer by virtue of how he shoots and a sound designer by how he enhances or captures the feel of it in the terms of sound. Then the music director and the folly and various other things come into picture and it just spirals. This seems like the tree of life, which starts from the root and then you don’t know, where it’s going. But the moment you step back, you see a tree with its shade and fruits. This is what we strive to achieve in this medium too.

Also as a cinematographer, you must be able to observe things very carefully and emulate it not only from within but from others as well. This is what we call articulation that is an art. For example, in bollywood, we always talk about fresh young love but romance is an emotion that is not same for a sixteen-year-old teenager and a middle aged married man. Hence, before your audience feels something, you must feel it first and then deliver it to them. So, that connection matters, which ultimately makes a film flop or success.

Having said that, when you read a script, there are preconceived ideas that take the form of a skeletal structure but they are not as rigid as a skeleton. One can always add or take out bones and create a new skeleton altogether from it. Now for that, one must never lose objectivity. One must be able to see the larger picture first and then apply subjectivity to the scenes. So when with everyone’s virtue and preconceptions from the scripting stage, you have made a skeleton taking bones from everybody, then that skeleton becomes objective. You cannot change that skeleton but can modify it. Once that is taken care of, you need to get in your bone and i.e. subjectivity.

Lets try to understand this with the help of this example, Suppose a director says, we are shooting this scene with two people in a room where one person comes and sits and its just a conversation. But at one point of time, the other guy gets up angry and goes to the window. Now that is screenplay for you, but as a cinematographer I will conceive it as follows:

  • One person enters the room i.e. one camera with a specific lens; I will probably put a track and follow him.
  • When he sits, I will have an over the shoulder shot.
  • For a cut, I will have close-ups from both the sides.
  • Then may be a two shot when this guy gets up angrily, I will lay the track in a certain way so that I can capture him getting up, walk, isolate the other guy and go to the window.

So, for me this is mathematics. In one minute, I have given you the kind of lenses I will be using, the kind of movements and the kind of lights. Now, window is a source of natural light.  However, I haven’t told you the level of light. Now this is what, I will take a call on the location itself.

Also, there is a strong emotion in the scene that director has narrated, which is anger. Now how will you show anger apart from acting? As a cinematographer, you can always enhance that anger by the mood of a space. Assuming it’s a night sequence, and anger is an isolated emotion, so I will light up the place very sparsely keeping lots of grey spaces and some very bright spaces. And my character will move in and out of those that will justify the mood of the scene. That’s one way of looking at it and there are many other ways. As a reference, you must watch the film named The Conformist shot by Vittorio Storaro. There you must observe the cinematographer’s work and notice how he has played with lights and emotions for enhancing the mood of the film.

Now this is all about pre-shoot but when you actually go to the location for shooting, your conceptions start to change. At a concept level when you have something on paper only, your mind is still free. But having gone to the location and seeing it, you realize the restrictions of shooting. So, not only what you are trying to achieve but also how best you can achieve with the kind of restrictions you have, becomes your primary consideration. Hence, here as a cinematographer you not only visualize but you end up becoming a production manager as well. Since you have to take a particular decision, which reflects on to the production and the money, you need to take into consideration each and every aspect.