Editing decoded, from the master himself!

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National Award winning film editor Akkineni Sreekar Prasad visited us for a Guest Lecture at Prasad Labs, to address our students on the topic of film editing. It was an honour and our pleasure to have him amongst us! He shared many an anecdote about his experiences while working on his award-winning films and interacted with the students.

Known for his works in Indian cinema he has worked on Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and English films and his last National Film Award for Best Editing was for his work on the feature film Firaaq. He has won the National Film Award for Best Editing seven times and owns one Special Jury Award, throughout a career spanning over two decades. Some of his notable editing works are Yodha (1992), Nirnayam (1995), Vaanaprastham (1999), Alaipayuthey (2000), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Kannathil Muthamittal (2002), Okkadu (2003), Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva (2004), Navarasa (2005), Anandabhadram (2005), Guru (2007), Billa (2007), Firaaq (2008), Pazhassi Raja (2009) and Talvar (2015).

AISFM Honorary Director Amala Akkineni and Dean Bala Rajasekharuni welcomed the guest, who needed no introduction. Sitting down for a long discussion with the students, he said that he was as nervous as he was as when editing a film. He got nostalgic about the place because he recalled that every time they finished editing a film, they come to Prasad Labs and view it. “That’s the most interesting part of a film when you see the first copy of a film and you know if it’s working or not.”

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Recollecting how his journey began in the industry he said, “It happened by chance. Dad and uncle were in the film industry. I was fascinated by books and thought journalism would be a good option. While that was yet to happen my dad asked me to come help out in the editing room and just watch and observe. During that process I got involved in working and then it became exciting because every day, every scene was a new story. I don’t know if I should regret not having a formal training but I think it is very important to have a formal training also, it’s a way of getting exposed to the techniques but it’s not the end of it. You will need to do an apprenticeship maybe but you will be much better trained than a person with no formal training.”

Students of different batches attended the guest lecture and trying to understand his perspective on various topics they asked him many questions and gained insights. Here is the excerpt of the session:

With over 300 films in your work record, what according to you is film editing and how has its definition changed over the years?
Film editing to me itself has changed over a period of time, from when I started off and today. If you go back in history, editing was started off mainly to join two strips of film, to make a video clip bigger so that they can see more. Slowly they realised the possibilities of how joining these film pieces into different forms could make it much more interesting. Then they tried to juxtapose a close up and slowly over 100 years, it slowly evolved. Initially editing was more functional and film was shot to a very bound script. As time passed they saw more possibilities in it. When I started, I was looking at it excitedly as a concept of storytelling and really never understood that editing can be much more than just joining those shots that the director wants to join to make it a scene. Slowly it sunk into me that a scene can be shown slightly in a different manner and you can withhold information, which was possible in editing. I should thank all my directors, for each one of them passed on some learning and a different perspective to filmmaking. Many people have asked me if I have a particular style but I have never felt it necessary to create a style and consciously I’ve never tried to create a style for myself. I would always try to get into a personal equation with the story and try to move with the story. Whatever is best for that story for those visuals I edit, we are not here to question what is been shot. Initially it was not possible to collaborate, but now it is easily possible to do that for the films I do, where I see the rushes immediately or two days later so I am able to give a creative input where it can still be corrected. Earlier that was not possible and whatever was given, we would try to make a structure out of it and polish it.

Editing impacting cinema as a tool for storytelling, where does it stand in the conventional workflow of filmmaking?
The whole concept of films is that you are trying to tell a story so that’s of paramount importance for the audience who is getting glued onto a scene in a particular story at some point. In our Indian ways of film, we have a lot of items inside a story and the audience has got used to it, like the leeway of songs etc. But if the story is not gripping for you at any point of time, then you would probably lose interest in the film. So the editor’s job directly is to make the story seem interesting and see to it that the story keeps moving all the time and it doesn’t become redundant or static; even with constraints like having breaks like songs or fights. The editor has to be conscious of his contribution and ensure that the story is moving in every frame of the film.

Is it a misconception that an editor comes only in the post-production of a film? How important do you think it is for an editor to be involved in the pre-production and production stages of a film?
I think it is very important for an editor to be a part of a film in preproduction itself because there are various things which he will be able to help in. In the story itself, if an editor is equipped enough to judge a story, he can suggest changes. What happens is that when you write a story most of it gets translated, 100% of it is never translated due to various problems. So even if 75% of what a director has visualized has been put on screen, then it is a huge effort. Some people don’t even visualize 50% of what they’ve written on paper. When a story is been written, there will be a lot of things that will not flow in the story and they may not be able to realise it sometimes. An editor’s insight will probably make him imagine how it will transition from one sequence to another, from one mood to another and can be corrected. And if computer graphics are involved, then it is better if the editor is involved from the beginning so that the whole system is smooth and there are no problems later in post production.

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So does editing start right from the development of the concept?
Yes, that is how it starts for me right now. But it is not fair for me to say that that’s how it could start for everybody. It didn’t start like that for me initially. Over the years I made it a point that it was not just cutting and pasting, and I started involving myself involuntarily also into the process with the director. You need to have a very good rapport and wavelength with the director. About 30 years ago lot of people would not have given importance to editing, and were very clear that this is the way it will be shot and edited. As time passed, filmmaking evolved and they realised that you could shoot more and get the best out of all the angles shot. Also with the advent of latest equipment there is a chance for us to experiment on a number of variations.

Editing starts during the shot division stage itself. Could you please explain how important editing is even for directors?
For a director also, it is very important to have an idea of editing in some way or another, maybe not in finesse or in totality. But if he knew from where it would be cut then it would be much easier for him. For a newer director it is always good to sit with the director and see how to break down the shots; why a close shot, why a wide or top angle one etc. The younger directors shoot with multi-cam and shoot all the angles for the whole sequence and then mostly leave it to the editor to decide. Just because we have all the shots, it doesn’t make sense to use all the scenes.

What are the misconceptions about editors that you have heard over the years?
Editing is not about lot of shots, editing is more about the shots that make an impact. It’s not about the number of cuts in a sequence. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of working on a digital platform. Advantages are endless because you can cut on any number of options. In the olden days they were editing on a smaller platform and they never watched it only on television, they watched it in places like this lab, so people would have an idea of how much would an expression register for a person.

Sometimes we change the story in the editing stage, can you please narrate any from your own experiences?
Once the shoot is done, we are editing in sequences and the overall flow is not seen. Once you put it into a story form you realise that there is repetition of information or obstructions, which need to be solved. 80% of the screenplay does change in the editing stage which will be in the interest of the film moving at a brisk pace. You need to show it in a concise manner. But when you write, not everyone can write like that. An example is a film called Kaminey. It had a peculiar problem which was that there were two characters and one was that of a person in action sequences and the other was of a love story. So in the parallel narrative when we put more time in the love story, the other action part was getting lost, so we had to strike a balance where it was almost uniformly similar in length. Another thing was that there was a wonderful 4-5 minute sequence in the beginning which had a great impact but at the same time what was after that was losing its impact so I had to tell the director the bad news that the scene had to go and he was shocked because they had spent lots of money on it. But as a director he didn’t buy it. In Bollywood there are screening for focus groups and their opinions were similar to mine. Then we took out that scene and showed it in other places to other groups and they liked it in terms of narrative of two brothers, so we had to remove the whole scene.

Another example is Firaaq, where there are five parallel stories and we had to maintain the rhythm of the five stories equally so that no one story got prominence. So we had to restructure the timing in such a way that the scenes end in almost a similar length. We also had to move a large chunk of the story form the middle towards the end to give it a climax for the theatre audience. Screenplay does change at the editing table to a large extent.

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What according to you makes an amazing cut?
Editing is not about showing off cuts. Probably there are situations and scenes where you show off cuts to make a point. But when the audience is watching he is seeing a movie not cuts, he does not know about cuts. We do use cuts when you want to jerk the audience into something or frighten them to create a certain effect. Predominantly you should not feel a cut and it should just flow with the story.

When our students saw Firaaq, they were surprised with the seemless editing for a topic like riots?
It also depends on the director because she was not trying to sensationalise the topic. She was affected by it and we tried to be sensitive to the issue and not sensationalise it in any way. It was her idea from the start which was to be an emotional experience. It needed that emotion to be carried forward.

It is said that an editor orchestrates the emotional rhythm, how important is the rhythm?
The rhythm is set by the story. So if that is clear to me what is that you want to convey then it helps. If you are working with people like Mani Ratnam, then he is also trying to convey an emotion even in a song, it is not an escapist song. There will be a balance of romance and story and it will not look just like a song. The amount of duration of a particular moment is important to convey a particular emotion. I follow; for every action and reaction there is a particular time. It cannot be a staccato type of editing, it will not seem real. So that amount of time you have to judge and leave. How to make it real and not synthetic is what you can set. If it is a retort, it has to be immediately etc.

In the Talvar climax conference room scene, how did you maintain the cuts?
There is a slight humour in the scene and it is a very unconventional scene for a climax where each team feels their investigation is right. So as a filmmaker we slightly have a tendency if you notice, although it seems objective, to make it look like Irfan Khan’s investigation was probably the real one. So when he was saying his lines ridiculing the others it always required the underline of the others reaction to make him look like he was making fun of them. The fun was the reactions of the others, if not it would not have lifted the scene to the level it did.

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How tough was it to show the same scene so many times from different perspectives?
That was the biggest challenge in that film for me, to start the story at the same time. Although the screenplay had the structure in place, as an editor the challenge was how much to show and how much to rewind because it shouldn’t get monotonous. So we slowly filtered out the monotony as the edit went on. If you realise the third is a short version because we realised it will not hold good. We just highlighted the points of difference or contention.

What are the job responsibilities of an intern and what hierarchy is followed once a student joins the industry?
The intern should know how to handle the equipment. Probably he/she might not know how to handle an assistant director or director, so he/she will have to observe. If he/she is becoming an editor then he/she has to make his/her own game plan. But if he/she is joining an editor as an assistant, then he/she should watch their workflow. It requires a year at least for them to get used to it.

You rarely use transitions in your films?
I don’t generally see it as a requirement, so I don’t use transitions because I feel it becomes unreal unless I am really trying to tell something. But for pure film viewing I don’t feel the need unless it’s a specific purpose like denoting a passage of eight years. Usually I am able to convey what I want to convey without these effects. For example, the jump cuts in Dil Chahta Hai.

What is your advice for budding film professionals?
Be passionate about what you are doing, whatever discipline you are going to take. In editing you need a lot of patience. You should be aware of where you are going to operate and create a market for yourself. That’s very important, so work towards that and explore that. You definitely have to experiment and try to do something different, so that you can make a mark for yourself. The most important thing is that you have to be clear where you are getting into in the industry, which market and be aware of that industry before you enter that industry.

See the rest of the photos here: http://bit.ly/2baHkgt

 

“Find that unique ‘You’ and develop it”

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Geeta Singh has been an editor for nearly two decades and has edited and put together over a 1000 hours of programming, across genres, cross channels and in different formats. Having been a linear editor in the past, her fundamentals and craft are rock solid, which allows her the opportunity to experiment and push the boundaries whenever it is demanded. Having edited three shows and programs that have been shortlisted to the exclusive Panda Awards (also known as the Green Oscars) is testament to her abilities as an editor.

She is currently editing Tigmanshu Dhulia’s feature film, Yaara and is the co-writer and editor of feature films like Listen Amaya, with the Late Farouque Shaikh, Deepti Naval and Swara Bhaskar, which was released theatrically and has travelled to several international film festivals. She was also the series editor for a four-part series on the Kolkata Knight Riders for the Discovery Channel titled ‘Living with KKR’ and the editor for the international version on the Kolkata Knight Riders called ‘Sons of Kolkata’.

She visited the AISFM campus recently to conduct a Guest Lecture and we spoke to her to know about the finer nuances involved in the art of editing. Read on to find out what she has to say.

Do you think editing styles have changed over the years?
They have become more refined and more conscious of editing. I don’t think that much thought was given to it earlier. There is a lot more thought, technique and craft that goes into it now, though it is still an invisible part of the filmmaking process. Because it is not very often that you see a film and very rarely do you comment about the editing. You might comment about the other technicalities but not editing, so in that sense it is still invisible. But the editors and directors have become more conscious of the small details and cuts involved, so I think the importance of editing is been recognized. Thank God for that.

Do you think editing can make or break a film?
“Well, I think it is 100% true. The editor comes right at the end of the film and then it is the editor’s responsibility, it is on his or her shoulders, to ensure that the film turns out as per the director’s vision and exceed the expectations.

While we often confuse editing with pacing, I don’t entirely agree with that because every film has a different need of pace and rhythm. Every film cannot have the same pace because it is motivated by the characters and so many other factors. Very often you may have shot a particular script and when it comes to the editing table, you come to know that it is not working and you might have to change the whole ending. That could change the way the film works or doesn’t work. Also sometimes the point of view of the writer’s can be greatly improved by editing and the way you construct shots, the usage of shots, etc. For example if you have A, B & C, the order and arrangement of these three shots can make a difference, and how much you hold a shot. It’s just that one frame extra that can make it or break it. Sometimes you feel that shot could have been held that much more. It’s just those fine details that really make all that difference. That’s where the editor’s job lies where you can construct that narrative and you can keep that rhythm that is required for that film. A fast film is not necessarily a good film; if it’s fast, it’s a requirement of that film and if it’s slow, it is for a reason.

You’ve worked across different genres and formats, out of all those which one was the most challenging and why?
I find documentary editing the most challenging because it is less structured, so you can begin and end anywhere, find a viewpoint and you could change the whole thing around and there is no one way of starting a story. Whereas if you talk about feature films, it is a little more cemented because you have a bound script. Even there, there is flexibility where you might decide to not begin the way it was shot or the way the director imagined it to be, you might change it around. But documentaries, for me, are still more challenging.  And having come from a large documentary background, I think it is an advantage for me.

What’s your favourite film, in terms of editing; a movie that you wish you had edited?
There are two films that I wish I had done, which are extremes in terms of editing styles and story. One is a French film called Amour, where you really need courage to edit like that. Where you have the courage to believe that you can hold a shot for two-and-a-half minutes without cutting, you need to internalise that kind of rhythm. You need to find your own internal rhythm to know we can pull the shot more. So that’s a bit of a challenge and which is interesting for me to do. The other thing is of course the Oscar winning film Whiplash, in terms of editing, which is extremely opposite to Amour, in terms of pacing and the student-teacher relationship. So, again here you have beat, rhythm and drama and it is very different. These two films are very different, equally satisfying to watch and be a part of. In terms of classics, I would have liked to work on some of Satyajit Ray’s films.

As an editor, have there been instances of professional differences where the director has his stand and you yours; and how does it always sort out?
Differences are there and differences are good because if there is no conflict then there is no fun. Conflicts always bring the best out and I think as long as it is not a conflict of ego and if it is for the betterment of the product, the film, then I think conflict is great. I think it is one person communicating with the other about the logic and reasoning and about why it should be a particular way and not the other way; and then arriving at an amicable solution.

That said, do you think, the director should not be interfering in the editor’s arena because he has his perception and wants to see it a particular way?
Fortunately or unfortunately, I always maintain that I cannot work if the director is sitting with me constantly while I am editing; so I prefer to go and edit myself so that I have that freedom and objectivity. Because I am seeing the rushes for the first time and with a very objective approach, where I don’t have any preconceived notions and have only read the script, so I am able to interpret it in my own way; and I like it that way. Once I am done then the director comes and sits with me at that time, and I am happy with that. I am not happy if the director will sit from the beginning till the end.

Have there been instances where the director has said, ‘sit along and see how its shot, so that you also see what I have in mind’?
Very rarely, only once or twice. Largely no and I prefer it that way. I am conscious of the people that I work with, since the relationship between a director and an editor is extremely crucial and if that equation is wrong then it is not good.

Any suggestions and key elements to keep in mind, when it comes to editing?
Well, as they say, ‘Cut with your gut’; keep your instinct alive. The other thing is that we all tend to become very close to our work, where we are not able to take decisions, which is not very good. It’s good to be close and love what you do, but beyond that one should be open to another opinion. Students still have a long way to go and the more they do, the more they practice, the more they watch to learn; and not just to sit back and enjoy, and learn about what went into the edit and other technicalities and apply that, is important. It is imperative to find that unique ‘You’, that separates you from the clutter, which comes over the years, is what is essential and needed. But if you are conscious of it, then you develop it and evolve it further.

The evolution of animation since the reign of Reiniger

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Rita Baukrowitz and Andy Giorbino

Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger, born 1899, was a German film director and the foremost pioneer of silhouette animation. Her passion for cinema and precision in work left a lasting impression on everyone including Walt Disney, who took her to Hollywood.

Reiniger made over 40 films in her career, before passing away in 1981.

To mark Goethe Zentrum’s 10th anniversary and the Hamburg – Hyderabad partnership, a guest lecture on Reiniger was held at AISFM recently. The speakers were Rita Baukrowitz and Andy Giorbino.

Rita Baukrowitz is the Head of International Programming at Kinemathek Hamburg. She studied ethnology, sociology and journalism at the University of Goettingen with an emphasis on theory and practice of ethnographic film, movie and documentary.

She was employed in various fields of visual arts and film. Since 2001, she’s been working as a Research Associate for the Cinematheque Hamburg and is responsible for programming, press and public relations at the cinema Kommunales Kino Metropolis, Hamburg.

The lecture began with a screening of Reiniger’s first silent animated feature, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) accompanied by live music composed by Andy Giorbino.

The guest lecture mapped the evolution of animation films in Germany from 1926 till today

Rita spoke about Reiniger’s animated film, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed or The Adventures of Prince Achmed. This was the first feature length animation film of Germany (65 minutes), about a prince who is given a flying horse by a cunning wizard and is sent off on an adventurous trip.

On the trip, he meets Aladdin, battles demons and befriends a witch, all to win the heart of a princess. Rita screened a few stunning sequences from the film and spoke about the techniques used by Reiniger back in 1926.

Rita spoke about how each silhouette was cut by hand with a nail scissor. She threw light on how Reiniger manipulated each joint of the characters to create movement. Rita also spoke about the restoration of the film and how each frame was tinted with color.

“Apparently, there were over 200,000 shots before the editing was complete and the film took almost four years to be made,” said Rita.

“Reiniger found inspiration to make this film from a shadow puppet show that she had seen and so she used the same shadowing technique in the film,” informed Rita.

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One of the founding fathers among the musicians of a Hamburg based avant garde music and experimental ‘New Wave’ scene (“Hamburger Schule”), Andy Giorbino composed live music for the film, years after it released.

The music in the original was provided by Wolfgang Zeller. But Andy’s arrangements combine both a live act and a pre-recorded electronic soundtrack. The composer then showed a clipping of ‘Prince Achmed’ with the sound that he used as a background score, and how it differed from that of the original composer.

Andy Giorbino demonstrated the software that he used for composing the piece of music and spoke about how he gives a different acoustic identification for each animation.

“For all scenes that included the flying horse, I’ve used the flute. The flute is a very compelling and fluid instrument. It took me an entire month to compose the background score,” revealed Andy.

“I did not want to refer to the music originally used for the film in 1926. I wanted something original. So it was a tough task,” he said.

A composer who follows all genres of music ardently, Andy knew well the impact of music in Hindi films. “Music plays an intricate part in Indian films. It forms a very strong bond between the visuals and audience,” he said.

Andy then went on to reveal his Indian inspiration. “I have been inspired by Indian music. In fact, I did use some elements in films that I composer for. I call it the ‘Indian’ shots,” he said, with a laugh.

Meanwhile, on the filmmaking front, Rita was mighty impressed with the talent coming to the forefront in Indian cinema. “People love Bollywood music in Germany. Indian cinema is much celebrated there.”

Showed her appreciation for indie filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, she said, “Anurag is an amazing and talented filmmaker. I had invited him to Hamburg recently as part of the Connecting Cultures Festival. It was a great experience.”

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Rasool Ellore tells you how to be a better cinematographer

Acclaimed Indian cinematographer and director, Rasool Ellore, was at AISFM recently to give our cinematography students a true masterclass in the art of cinematic aesthetics. We met up with him.

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