Rock On 2 is much more than a normal musical film – Marc
Rock On 2 is Belgian Cinematographer Marc Koninckx’s first Hindi film. Having shot Bharat Bala’s Telugu film Maryan in 2012, Koninckx had been yearning to do more work in India. Though he wasn’t shot of offers, Rock On 2 was the story that drew him. Here he talks to Pandolin about working on the film, the beauty of Shillong and it’s people and how passion makes working heavenly.
Rock On 2 is your first Hindi Film. How did you bag the project? How would you describe the overall experience?
A few years ago, I shot a Tamil film with Bharat Bala called Maryan. And I fell in love with India. I got a lot of proposals after that to shoot in India but I was too busy with other projects. Rock On 2 came at the right time. All the actors were so involved in the film. I had such pleasure to see them work. It’s quite different from Europe or the US. But I loved it and this will stay on my mind.
What is the most challenging part of shooting an ensemble cast in a musical drama? Did you take precautions to ensure that it didn’t look like a Rock concert or a stage show?
I wanted to do this film because of the story. There is a moment in any lifetime were everybody is confronted with existential questions, mid-life crises and doubt about how this world is functioning and one’s future. There is a lot of courage needed to change one’s lifestyle and to be in accordance with yourself. This was, for me, the foundation of the story and I found it a very “human” and “honest” standpoint. When I was reading the script (It was incomplete at that time), I had the feeling that it was an important subject, much more than a normal musical film.
Director Shujaat Saudagar and I talked a lot about the characters and the style of filming. We looked at other music videos and musical dramas and films but every time, we came to the same conclusion. This film was based on the emotions of the characters and everything had to match this. The best source of inspiration (for us) was real life and real light. The visuals of each song in Rock On 2 are different because they are linked to the scenes which precede or follow them. We wanted the emotions of the actors to come through and build up throughout the songs. The songs are also an illustration of their feelings, they are preparing the mood of the following scene. We never shot a song as a concert or a stage-show but we shot it like a normal scene with actors on a stage/set. We had specific framing and lighting for each part of the songs. In my opinion it made the characters and the story stronger.
I like to adapt to the movements of the actors and to amplify their performance
Could you tell us more about the references that you’ll referred to?
When you start a film, you are always looking for references to launch the approach of the story. It’s extremely important that the director and the cinematographer are on the same page. So yes, we saw other films, other music videos and paintings but in the end the best references were our stills that we took on the recces. That was more concrete and my light was more based on natural light and contrasts. What struck me during the recces in Shillong was the beauty of the faces of the people we came across there. This inspired me to try and capture our actors’ emotions on their faces and in their eyes.
What camera did you shoot on and what determined this choice?
I shot the whole film on the Mini Alexa camera in a 2K ProRes 4X4X4 resolution. This camera came on the market just when we started the shooting and there were still a few bugs but my terrific DIT Vicky Vivek and colorist Rob Lang solved everything. Since several years, I’ve been using smaller cameras and the mini Alexa gives a much better quality and it’s very light. I like to adapt to the movements of the actors and to amplify their performance. I frame very instinctively and that’s why I mostly go handheld or with the Stab One (a handheld stabilizer).
I prefer to add color to the light rather than to the costumes but my rule is to keep the visuals as simple as possible
In terms of the camera set up and lensing, what were the requirements for the concert sequences?
I used Alexa cameras, Zeiss Ultra-Primes and Master-Prime lenses. I love block lenses and almost never use zoom lenses. We always tried to have a story-line in the concert scenes. We considered it as a normal shooting. I didn’t want to follow the regular way to film a concert. I didn’t want to use long focal lenses because they flatten the image. Shujaat and I wanted to be inside the heads of the musicians. To try and achieve that we used wider lenses like 20mm, 28mm & 32mm. Exactly the same lenses that I was using for the rest of the scenes. I was really close to the actors with the camera and in the beginning it was a bit intrusive for them. Luckily they were extremely good, they kept their own rhythm and I was floating around them with the camera, trying to make them as powerful as possible. After a few days, they were used to it and it became a very organic ballet.
What kind of lighting have you tried to achieve in this film? Also, how has the location, North East of India, supported your approach?
The light and framing were dependent on the atmosphere and state of mind that were needed in a particular scene. We had two main distinctive approaches – the Shillong locations were brighter and fresher in visuals and the Bombay locations were more contrasted and darker. I also used colors to show a difference between certain scenes. In general too, I prefer to add color to the light rather than to the costumes but my rule is to keep the visuals as simple as possible. If you add too much distraction around an actor, than you are losing him. I’m also convinced that too much color kills color. Probably I shouldn’t say this in a country where color is so important. (laughs)
The beauty of the faces of the people in Shillong inspired me to capture our actors’ emotions on their faces
Can you tell us about your camera team? As you shoot in different countries, do you have a set of dedicated assistants?
I didn’t know anybody in Bombay, so the producers agreed that I could have my 1st camera assistant Monic Gandhi that I had on Maryan. He is one of the best focus-pullers I’ve ever met and he could also organize the rest of the crew. I was very lucky. My gaffer Kamlesh Sandrini and grip Ninad Nayampally/ Veer were also the best. All the beauty-staff was so involved and I had a great collaboration with production designer Shashank Tere. It was a dream to work with such creative people.
When I’m shooting, in a lot of countries I have my preferred technicians to work with. But sometimes they are not free and then I’m looking for other crew members and finally there is no difference between a talented Indian, French, American, Belgian or whatever technician. From the moment the ‘passion’ is there, our craft becomes a paradise.