Thursday, June 10, 2004

Adventures in Bollywood

Just to protect myself from libel and make clear my intentions I should be very clear that a lot of this is related information and hearsay! There's a lot of people working on this film and I'm sure they all see things slightly differently. It is possible that some of the things I say that so-and-so said about so-and-so having said to so-and-so may be slightly misrepresentative of the actual case!

The Story So Far

An old friend of the family's and long time collaborator of my dad's, Farukh Dhondy, began to work with a small Anglo-Indian production company. He wrote a film for them which they called "Take 3 Girls." He brought my dad in to work on the script, and dad was then also draughted in to produce. They got a production office in a room in a hotel just off the A40 (no landline, no internet access). Half of the crew (the technical guys, sound, lighting, cinematography and an art director) have been flown in from India, and an English director called Baz has been hired. A first AD come Line Producer come Production manager was hired, and brought in some people to work on the production (a second AD, 3 third ADs, an assistant location manager and a designer). Shooting started last Friday, and I arrived in London on Sunday, which was the production's first day off. I had been invited to come along and shoot a making of documentary, and help out where needed. I arrived to find my dad in the back garden on his mobile, in the process of firing the First AD and/or the First AD resigning, depending on who you ask. There had been some communication problems - which were not helped by the chap's questionable attitude towards the peoples of the subcontinent - it also appeared he'd begun to make expenditures on the budget without consulting the necessary people, which on a production of such complexity in terms of management structure was far from ideal. I went to bed about half an hour after arriving and drifted off to sleep hearing dad in the back garden explaining the situation to many, many people...

Day One

So, me and dad head out to the M4 to make our way straight to the location. As I get to the Hammersmith roundabout his phone goes and it's Katerina. Katerina is the mother of my little sister's best friend. A few days before the start of shooting, someone from the production company had asked dad why the measurements for the costumes for the cast (apart from the 2 Bollywood stars) had not been sent to India so the costumes could be made up. It quickly became apparent that this was both impractical and also would not provide the right kind of fashions for the kind of hip London kids in the script. At this point, Katerina and Beth (my step-mother)worked out a deal with some shops in London whereby they could hire costumes for free in exchange for a credit and Katerina was brought in to be the full time costume designer on the project. So, back to the roundabout. Katerina called to say that the driver hadn't come to collect her and the many bags of costumes she had. The driver had been given the wrong pick-up time, allegedly by the original second AD (who had, during the first two days left to go and work on Eastenders). So, we swung back to pick her up and head to the production office before going to the location. The phone rang about 243 times on the journey in. Some of the things that happened were:

The make up artist that was supposed to be working on the girls had been told she wasn't needed for the day. This was ok though, as the girls wanted to do their own make up for the time being, unless they could steal the make-up artist who was working exclusively on Kabir, who is playing the male lead, and is a huge star of the Indian film industry.
No one could find the actress who was needed in costume at the hotel where the production office was but
That was ok because no one could find the key to get into the costume room at the hotel
The director rang to say that the silver Mercedes needed for the first shot wasn't there.
The director was asked to track down the make-up girl who was missing, only to be told that dad had found out from a completely different source that she had been told not to come. This same source then told dad that the Mercedes was in fact on set. This turned out to be true. Not sure how Baz (the director) missed it, but in fairness he was probably off looking for stray make up artists, and the location was split into three parts.
Amazingly, the whole day ran more or less bang on schedule. The new first and second ADs are really efficient and the director seems to be taking all the madness pretty well in his stride. At lunch time the crew and cast all sat around on the grass together, and it seems to be a very democratic set. A few local kids started to gather round to get pictures with Charlie (Janine no more!) Brooks, who was obliging. I was slightly disturbed by the fervour of one kid in trying to get her picture:

Kid, to me: "Excuse me, are you working with Charlie Brooks?"
Me, to kid: "Well, sort of, but I haven't even met her yet."
Kid, to me (his eyes taking on the kind of expression of need I haven't seen since I gave up taking drugs): "Can you get me a picture with her?"
Me, to kid: "Well I'm not really the person to ask."
Kid: "Who is?"
Me: "Well, I'm not sure about that either."
Kid: "Well, can you find out who I need to ask about asking?"
Me: "Ok, I'll try."


Me: "So, I hear you got your photo."
Kid: (beaming) "Yeah. And an autograph. I'm gonna try and get another one."

Towards the evening Farukh, the writer came to the set and kidnapped my dad, Katerina and Mohan from the production company and took them to the pub. I drove them, and was rewarded by some excellent dialogue. They sat round talking about the many financial and personnel uncertainties in the air, and dad uttered my favourite line of the day "Still, we're making a movie and that's fun."

In terms of the documentary, it was the first day I'd been there so I didn't want to be too in people's faces. I shot some really nice stuff at lunch time of people milling about, and a great bit of the sound man running down the road pushing his cart in front of him. Also got shouted at by the departing first ad (adding my name to the ever extending list of people to have been shouted at by him) for filming him. But that didn't colour what had been a fine, if exhausting day.

Day Two

For me, the first half of day two will be remembered for driving to uxbridge in search of a hat for my dad and one for Baz. And then sleeping in the car whilst lots of people worked very hard in the hot sun in a park in Hillingdon. The second half of the day will be remembered for getting a few cool shots of the whole crew shooting a scene with Kabir and Karen (who's playing Lyla, one of the three girls from the original title)from way across the park. Oh! And I got to move the grips truck when it was blocking me in in a car park which was way cool. It's a big truck man!

In between that though, there was a seminal meeting in the pub of the hotel (where, having had lunch in the dining bus in the car park Baz and dad had retired to quench their thirsts. They said it was because of the curry. I'm not convinced). There was a discussion about the film's title, and how it would need to be decided upon before any publicity could be done. Baz said he'd always thought that, although not perfect, the fact that there was a club in the film called "Slam" they could name the film that. I said "what about Slammin' - with an apostrophe?" I explained that slammin' vinyl was a record label and that it was a word associated with dance culture. I also blinded them with science by looking it up on the IMDB on my phone. Later, after I'd gone home they tested the two titles out on a focus group of kids who'd been hanging around the set and then drafted in as extras. Slammin' won. I think I might end up having come up with the title! Which would be ironic given that I've been working on my film for a year and have yet to come up with a single good idea for a name.

I missed the high point of the day's drama though. There have been on-going difficulties with permissions for locations. A lot of this is to do with communication, but some of it is also to do with the fact that the Bollywood method appears to literally be turn up on the day and point the camera at stuff. Here, of course, you need police and local authority permissions for all shooting, and without it you can't work. On Day two, the morning and early afternoon had been spent shooting in a park, but the evening was going to be spent working just off a busy road. Manesh, the lovely location manager had been really struggling to work with the bullish and somewhat aggressive original first ad and had been hassled by him from day one. Manesh said to me that David (the original AD) had been using "bad words, and I don't like those words. I don't use those words and I don't want to work with someone using those words." Now, come 5 o'clock, dad got a phone call from Baz saying "Peter, I'm at the location, but no-one's here." David hadn't got the permissions to film there. After berating Manesh for a week on that very topic, he'd blown a location. When Manesh asked him about it David launched into a racist tirade and said he was leaving the production anyway. Dad, having just received this phone call was running down to the production office to see what was going on. He saw Manesh screaming off in his motor, flagged him down and found Manesh in an understandable fury, "I'm not working with that man, he's a bad man" - that type of thing. Dad reassured him when he said David was leaving the next day. Manesh asked "who's taking over his job?" Dad said "me." Manesh said "jump in" and within 15 minutes they'd called action on the location and were shooting again.

Day Three and Four

And that set the tone for the next two days. There have been a few hiccups, as there always are on films, but generally things have been pretty smooth and the crew seem to be beginning to come together as a unit. There's what is hopefully going to be an interesting documentary shaping up in the coming together of two film making traditions - at all levels, this production is a combination of the talents of the "Western" and Indian traditions and seeing how it gels is fascinating. Some of my personal highlights of these two days have been:

1. Dressing a set with a guy who worked on 2001 and Barry Lyndon, two Kubrick pictures. He told me a brilliant story about Kubrick's legendary crazy perfectionism. Barry Lydon was shot mostly in candle light and during one scene the characters are playing cards with antique French playing cards. Kubrick asked the art department if they had got genuine antique French playing cards. They hadn't, they'd painted some up. Kubrick was not pleased. He sent the production buyer to Paris. Two days later shooting started again. And it's in candle light. So you can't see the cards clearly enough to make any difference. Still, you can't legislate for genius.
2. Filming Kabir surrounded by 20 adoring fans in the luxurious basement of the house we've been shooting in for these two days, and will be in for another 5. The lady of the house, the formidable Mrs Malhotra arranged a substantial gathering of admirers for the first day we were there.
3. Filming Mrs Malhotra showing the Generator operator how to work her sit on lawn mower.
4. Filming Karen learning to ride the aforementioned lawnmower, chasing various people round the garden.
5. Just generally being on a film set. I loves it I do. And the documentary is shaping up nicely. We'll see how it progresses!

Ok, love and exhausted best wishes to all. I'll keep up the diary as often as I can!