I put up a random epic post last Monday going over every step of the filmmaking process. But it seems like as a follow up I should really zero in on what happens during a “schedule”, when you actually start filming. Oh, and my Hindi Film 101 schedule is now totally blown, you may not get anything at all next week, because this exhausted me. But it was so interesting I just couldn’t resist!
The last section talked about a film start to finish. It always starts with one person who obsessively prepares for filming. But during that period when you are actually filming, all sorts of other people become involved and everything is very different for about 6 weeks of the entire multi-year process of putting a film together. Everything leads up to those 6 weeks and everything expands out of them as well, so let’s talk about exactly what happens during that time.
In my example, I suggested a film that had 3 schedules of 2 weeks each, one on location, and one 4 day song session. Let’s stick with that and talk about what that kind of shoot might look like. I’m going to give you one example of how it might go
Let’s say our star says “hey, I have a house in Dubai and I need to do a show there in August anyway. So the first 2 week location shoot is going to start the day after my show, on Wednesday August 9th, and go through Wednesday August 23rd. Also, I’ve got a contact at a hotel there where we shot my last film, here’s his card, and here’s the contact for the company we used to supply a crew.”
(This movie could have been filmed anywhere, including Bombay itself, but Dubai was easy for SRK)
You say “thank you thank you!” and think “God Bless you, Movie Star and your international contacts! I had no idea what to do next!” And then you go and slightly rewrite your script so it can be set in Dubai.
Before the first schedule, you assemble a tiny team in Bombay that will be flying out with you. But you don’t take anybody you won’t need. No song sequences in Dubai? Good-bye to the choreographer and their assistants, and to the AD you just hired who has been working primarily with them! Bought all your costumes in advance and packed them? Good-bye costume person!
Instead, what you do is bring along a handful of one-size-fits-all ADs. This is very very very different from American film. The American industry has a bunch of unions. If you aren’t in the right one, you can’t do the job. Specialization is key.
But in India, specialization is expensive! You aren’t going to pay someone to sit around until their one thing is ready for them. And you also aren’t going to do all of those one things all at once on the one day they are available, because the schedule has to work around the Star, not the technicians. So instead, everyone has to know a little bit of everything. You are looking for the wash-and-wear little knit black dress version of a film crew. And this is especially important when putting together your overseas crew. Because they have to be able to teach the local crew how to do everything and anything “Indian style”.
(Farah’s there, Karan’s there, Shahrukh and Sonali are there, there’s 4 white guys who must be locals, and what? 9 other crew members? And that’s it for the whole shoot!)
So yourself (the director), and your handful of ADs, fly to Dubai a week early. You have already contacted that film crew and hotel the star handed off to you, because they have worked with an Indian film crew before, they are a little bit on top of things. The hotel is ready for the security concerns, to offer up certain areas for filming, to fulfill requirements like keeping the gym open in the middle of the night because your star has to be able to stay on his routine, and providing food to meet the heroine’s diet requirements. And the crew is ready for a guerrilla style of filming, fast and cheap and no mistakes.
You spend the week doing the final planning. You already have extensive notes about what is needed on this schedule. The Dubai section of the film is towards the end of the narrative, you need to get in the final wedding confrontation scene, a fight with the heroine’s brothers, a conversation between the heroine and the hero in which she says she can’t run away with him, and a couple conversations between the hero and his friend where the friend tries to convince him to leave and the hero reiterates his love. Plus a comedy scene where the hero and his friend try to find a place to sleep, and a scene where the hero tries to climb up to the heroine’s window.
You find the location that would work for all those scenes, and walk them with your ADs so you are familiar with the space. Your local contact tells you whether you should bother alerting the authorities that you will be filming or if they don’t care here. And the hotel agrees to block off the space you will need in their hallways.
Filming starts, the heroine gets there along with the actors playing her family. The first day of shooting you do all the pre-wedding scenes with them. The next day your star is supposed to start, you are going to start with the pre-wedding love scene. And then word comes down, the stage show the night before ran long, and your star has completely lost his voice. He still showed up for work on only two hours sleep, but he looks rough and is guzzling medication and his personal doctor is standing by.
(Part of the reason it is so sad that “Premika” was cut from Dilwale is that Varun filmed it while struggling with a high fever, because they couldn’t waste the time waiting for him to get better)
Scrap today’s shooting plan. You are doing the fight scene instead. No close-ups on the stars face. He takes a bunch of antihistamines, your fight coordinator/AD runs through the moves with him for ten minutes, and you shoot it in short 2 minute bursts so as to eliminate the possibility of errors. You get it done. The heroine’s time is wasted for the day, she is a bit snippy about it, but there is nothing you can do.
Middle of the night, word comes that the doctor won’t let your star leave his bed for at least a day, maybe longer. Fine, can’t waste time. You call India and wake up the cheap young comic actor and tell him he has to get on an earlier flight, his scenes have been moved up, you need him in 8 hours. Then one of the ADs suggests that they worked with an up and coming choreography who they think is free now, you tell them to call her.
(This is how Farah Khan ended up doing “Ruk Ja”, while Soraj Khan did the rest of the songs. Soraj was late arriving for the European schedule, they weren’t going to wait for her, Farah was shooting something else nearby, she could be there in 10 hours and throw a song together)
By 10am the next day, you have re-written the comic scenes so only the friend is required and are on the streets shooting it. There is a street fair in the first location you planned, but you remember an alley that looks interesting, you move there. Your street crew is just yourself, two ADs, and 3 local crew members, you don’t even need a van, you just carry everything you need in your hands and shoot the scenes all day. The sound is super funky, but it doesn’t matter, because you are doing the dialogue in post-dubbing anyway, you just need the shots.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, some other ADs are working with the choreographer who just arrived. You’ve found rehearsal space, the heroine is learning a dance that you were planning to shoot on a different schedule in Bombay, but instead you are doing it here and turning the hotel ballroom into a Bombay nightclub. And now the heroine is happy, because she doesn’t feel like you are wasting her valuable time. And you are happy, because you aren’t wasting her valuable time.
By the 5th day of the schedule, you have expanded the comic friend role and added a subplot where he gets arrested. The song is in the can and looks really good, maybe better than if you had used the choreographer you planned. And, FINALLY, the doctor is letting your star out of bed.
You start right in with the romantic scene you were planning, give the star notes for five minutes and then shoot. Thank goodness, your star and your heroine worked together before, so they have a natural chemistry and don’t need any time to get used to each other before filming. You have to do a couple quick resets, but you get the whole scene done by the end of the day. Which is good, because your star is feeling sick again.
(Kareena Kapoor was brilliant casting for Bajrangi. 20 minutes of screentime, but 20 years of history between her and Salman. Those scenes together must have been a breeze to film)
You stay up all night trying to figure out what to do. You have the love scene and the fight scene, those are the most important, that’s why you started with them. But the movie just won’t work without that confrontation at the wedding scene between the fight and the love scene. Your heroine’s family actors are scheduled to come back for the second half of the schedule, plus one of your ADs has been hitting the streets hiring extras for that, it’s going to be so complicated you scheduled a full 6 days for it. What are you going to do if the star isn’t ready? Can you move more from the planned Bombay schedule to here? Could you possibly turn a Dubai luxury hotel into a college campus?
The star is late the next day, the mood on set is bleak. But when he finally shows up, he is apologetic, and looks better than he has before. And he says he is ready to do whatever it takes to get this done.
The next 6 days are a blur. Shooting lasts 15-20 hours a day. You and your ADs take to sleeping in half hour chunks on the floor of the set. The star has a luxury suite set up next door, so with 5 minute warning he will be on set any time. The heroine is a trooper, she takes meetings lining up her next shoots in between shots, keeping producers on hold so she can do her part. When you discover a costume didn’t get packed, she provides it from her own clothes. The character actors arrive and leave without you even noticing, they are such professionals they barely need direction. The local crew works 10 hours and leaves, but is caught up in the excitement of how the Indian artists are working flat out and say this is unlike any film shoot they have ever been on. Somehow, you get it done. You exchange grateful good-byes with the local crew and hotel, your heroine takes off after confirming her next dates with you, and the hero does a final check to make sure you have everything you need, confirms the studio lot you will be shooting at next and the dates of the shoot.
(It sounds like what I described above is what Bahubali was like, but for 4 years. Rajamouli and his entire family working 20 hour days, along with Prabhas, to get it done)
You have 4 weeks before the next shoot. You and your ADs fly home and then scatter. Half go into the editing booth to make sure all your footage is usable. Some of the stuff from the police station was damaged in transit, most of it doesn’t matter, but there is one line you put in that effects the plot. Your comic actor is doing a series of stand-ups right now at a Bombay club, he is willing to come in and reshoot in the middle of the night after his act. But the cop actor is on location with another film and unavailable. But another familiar cop actor is available, you call him up, write dialogue making him the superior of the first officer, shoot the whole thing in your own office. The rest of the time is spent preparing for the next shoot, the big one. Most of it is on the studio lot, that’s easy. One location shoot needed, a “walking through Bombay at night” love song montage. Otherwise, simple.
First day of the second schedule, your star shows up late again. But with gifts for all the ADs, and remembers all their names from the last shoot. And he is enthusiastic and ready to go. He’s shot on this set so many times, he can even tell you where to place the cameras and point out when a light is in the shot. In some ways it is easier filming in Bombay, you don’t have to fly anyone in and or train a foreign crew. But it is a lot harder with timing. A foreign schedule, once they are there they are all yours 24 hours a day. But here, you get used to your star arriving 1 to 6 hours late, because one of his many meetings before the shoot ran late, or he got stuck in traffic, or his kids were sick. And it’s the same with everyone else, a character actor doesn’t show up because they got a last minute ad shoot, the heroine has to launch a new brand and the question/answer session ran long. You find yourself sitting around a lot and feeling nostalgic for those days in Dubai when at least you felt like you were getting things done. But you get all the shots you need, including the late night Bombay love song and a college function challenge song. You had to cut a couple scenes of campus hijinks, but you got the rest of it. And you’ve got another two weeks to prepare for the song schedule, and then the final schedule.
(I’ve never been to Goa, but I kind of feel like I don’t have to because I have seen those same settings in song videos sooooooooo much. And the poor actors must just see the whole place as their office at this point, instead of a beautiful place)
The overseas song is going to be in Morocco. Your choreographer, your regular one not your emergency one, has some contacts there, and two of your ADs have worked there before. You fly out early again, get a local crew, find a good hotel, make arrangements. It’s a little hard to explain what is happening, your local crew has only worked on Hollywood productions before and keeps asking when everyone else will arrive, who should they report to, what about crafts services and gaffers and best boys, and you keep just directing them back to the same ADs that do a little bit of everything.
It’s still a little rough by the time the stars arrive, but you can make it work. You get in the rhythm of a song shoot. The choreographer is mostly in charge, you just sit back and watch. She gives them the steps, the heroine is a little slower but your star guides her through it. The song is blaring on the loudspeakers all day every day. Your choreographer has broken it down into 4 locations and then further broken those down into little 10 second segments. Both actors have a good grasp on the lipsynching and the mood of the piece, especially the star because he sat in on some of the music sittings and recordings of it. Song is done on schedule, only bad moment is when it is overcast the day you are set to shoot outside. You and the choreographer get together and work out how to do light adjustments and change the color tone and work with it. Star’s family flies in the last day, you take turns holding his kids on your laps and the whole mood in the crew brightens. Song over, star drops heroine at airport and then he and his family continue on a family vacation. You and your ADs struggle home in economy class.
(I have no idea how they got permission to film here, but it looks fun!)
You can start roughly cutting together the film at this point, and showing things to the producer, to your industry mentor, getting advice on how it is coming together. Everyone likes it. But then the star calls you up at 2am, says he has to fly out in a couple hours so isn’t going to bother going to bed, can you bring a rough cut to his home screening room. And the star likes it, he likes the way his character is going and it will be a good film. But it needs another song, a hit song for the end credits. Also, the tagline he said in that scene in the first half, he needs that to come back up in the second half, that’s going to be good for promotions, he can do something with that. And he needs a new intro scene, this one is good, but the audience is leaning more towards action right now, he needs a big action scene opening. He knows it is a lot of changes, so he’ll give you a little more time, but it will have to be soon. He needs a Republic Day release date, because that’s when he will have a gap in the schedule to help with promotions. Be ready for a call with another two 4 day shoots, for the new action intro and the song.
(I love Talaash, and rumor has it that Aamir did a re-edit after seeing the rough cut, pushing the release a good 3 months. Producer was happy, director was happy, Aamir wasn’t happy. But whatever happened, it worked, the movie is brilliant)
You leave his house in a panic, your producer is furious with you when you ask for more money, but has no choice if the star demands it, especially when you explain that the star isn’t charging anything extra and is even pulling strings to get you the top rapper for the song. Your mentor says another song and an action opening will ruin the spirit of the film. But also says if you insult a star like this you will never work again.
The final schedule goes by in a blur, by now your team is working like clockwork, they hardly need you. Meanwhile, you and the star are running back and forth to music sittings and look tests and meeting with action directors for the two extra pieces. You have the song ready, you have the look ready, you have the new cheap choreographer on stand by, you just need the dates so you can book a studio lot and pull together a crew. The heroine is just not going to be possible, for the song, that’s the one real headache, but then the star calls up and says he was able to convince a heroine from one of his previous films to step in and do a cameo. And, finally, the star gives you his dates. A wedding appearance was canceled, he has an unexpected gap, he can do action or song, either one, so long as you have it ready. Meanwhile, your star and heroine and character actors have all completed their dubbing separately on their own schedule, you weren’t even present for that (except the star, because he wanted to talk in between recordings).
You do song first, throw some bright colors up in an empty stage, the heroine is great, you almost wish you had used her instead, and you will try to work with her on your next project. The star is everywhere, glad-handing people, thanking them for coming in so last minute, full of enthusiasm, you start to feel better about putting this song in your film as the shoot goes on, it really is fun!
(“Fevicol Se” was good for Kareena’s career, but also Salman asked her to do it. And also-also, adding that one song probably pumped the box office up a good 20%)
And then the star says good-bye, he will call when he is free for that last action scene, but the release date is fixed, he has started tweeting photos, the poster is coming soon, you should start your final editing. You hit the editing bay with your few remaining ADs and an editor, and the producer and your mentor stop by when they can. You get good advice, like putting the comic bits where the energy goes down right before the first half finale so the fight scene will pop more, moving some of the campus hijinks to before the heroine’s introduction so the romance moves more smoothly, and so on. But you can’t really cut anything at this point, you have shot the bare minimum all along, and no one asks you to cut either. The star stops by too, random visits for an hour here or there, whenever he is near by. He likes how it is going, but he is already moving on to promotion, wants you to cut together a trailer quickly, he has an idea for how to launch it.
You let the star and your producer work together on the promo ideas, while you figure out that action intro. You are shooting it on a studio, your stunt coordinator has worked out something new that no one has tried so far, your star is enthusiastic, you know the exact minute it will slide into in the film, you just need the time from the star. Finally, you get the call, he is free for the next 3 days, you have to do it now. You call your stunt coordinator, the stunt team you had ready, and are fully prepared. Shoot goes off without a hitch, it’s even fun. You rush back to the editing bay, the star records his two lines of dialogue immediately, you throw on some kind of music and slap it on to the start of the film. And then send it off to the censor board after saying a little prayer that it passes quickly.
The censors get back to you, they want two cuts. But they are big cuts. You call up the star and ask him what to do. He says not to worry, he will take care of it. He does. Censor board calls back 3 days later, softens the request.
From here on out, you suddenly feel like a passenger in your own journey. Your star and producer have taken over the promotional plan, and figuring out the number of screens. Every once in a while you will speak up and suggest that it might not work on so many screens, or that the poster doesn’t really convey the story, but they ignore you.
The last minute song is released in full through a big event that the star hosts, the country goes mad for it. Suddenly everyone is talking about your movie, even your own family is proud of you (despite you deciding to go into film), because they are seeing “your” movie everywhere. And then the teaser trailer comes out that is mostly a rough edit of the action intro. Everyone goes mad for this too, op-eds appear about how the star is “reinventing” himself, his fans take over twitter, the tagline from the film starts appearing as puns in newspaper headlines.
(This is how you know your promotion has legs)
You are flying high, at which point you have a final meeting with the star, talking about how big this is going to be, the producer is sitting there too already counting his money, and your star says “yeah, no. It’s going to have a good opening weekend, but there’s another better film coming out in a month, it’s my friend’s, I’ve seen the rough cut, it’s going to blow us out of the water. Don’t worry, we will all do very well, but you should start signing your next projects now while excitement is at it’s peak.”
You have five offers now, some of the projects you worked on in the past and set aside are finally being picked up. You choose the producer your star introduced you to and start working on the lengthy set-up process for that film. You tentatively reach out to that actress from the song and ask if she might be interested. She is, but only if you get a big name star. She has some suggestions on who to approach, so does your new producer, and your mentor is there too to help out. You start making overtures while the last few weeks before release of this film slide by. When it finally releases, it makes almost to the penny what the star told you to expect. You are glad you’ve already got another project lined up and can move on. A year and a half later, in the middle of shooting your next film, you bump into your first Star at a party. He says he has heard your new shoot is going well, the unknown actor you signed is doing a really good job. He’s sorry that original project fell apart after no big star would sign when your last film dropped off in week 3, but glad to hear you are working on something interesting and different. He offers to do an appearance for you, if you want him. He thinks this film could be big for your career, if enough people see it. And you are “his” director now, he owes you. That’s the most important thing you got from this whole filming experience, lifetime connection to your star.
Now, this is just a random imaginary case study, my composite of the many many many things I have read about how filming happens.
You can replace some things with other things. If you don’t have a big star in your film, but are making it with Excel, Dharma, Bhatt Films, or Yash Raj, then all that advice and control the star had, you can replace with your producer/mentor, Farhan or Karan or Mahesh Bhatt or Aditya. If you yourself are a big experienced director/producer (Rakesh Roshan, Abbas-Mustan), then you are having all those conversations with your own self, you don’t need anyone else. And of course the details of exactly what goes wrong during filming will always be different, but SOMETHING will always go wrong and the key is how you handle it.