April 27, 2016

The First Month at 'First Draft' - Students Share their Experience

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.

At the end of five weeks, the students were asked to write about their experience so far. This post is a compilation of excerpts from what they wrote:

“Has it been 5 weeks already? In these days, I’ve felt everything from excitement and anticipation to exhaustion and absolute nothingness. But the most prominent feeling has been of gratitude. The gratitude for the opportunity – it’s only when a million things go right, does this happen. The gratitude for my family – I could achieve nothing without their unshakeable support. And the gratitude to be simply living this moment – it’s rare and unmatched.”

“Unlike the day I began, today I am not intimidated by the task at hand. Not because I think I’ve gotten better at writing, but because I have finally been able to wrap my head around the concept that writing does not require talent, it requires discipline.”

“We devoted our first five weeks to ‘ideation’ – a deceptively simple word for a process that is incredibly tough and frustrating. Coming up with ideas that have emotional appeal and would also work as a piece of art—a living, breathing entity—is a task so humongous, there is no possible metaphor that can do justice to its enormity.”

“I slept fewer and fewer hours as the month went on, but I felt more fulfilled as a human being. I could fight my doubt with the fire of my determination that grew brighter each sleepless night. Doubt was no match for any of us. It may creep up on us on a lonely night as the cursor blinks expectantly, but it will be banished as quickly as it arrived. I believe that now.

“I have a tendency to reject ideas when they don’t seem to be working out. But because of the feedback, I was forced to keep thinking, even if I didn’t love what I was thinking of. And I realized that if you keep going, it’s possible that an idea will evolve into something you would never have imagined when you began.”

“There was a ticking clock every day and you had to achieve certain goals before going to bed. It left me a bit drained. I felt like I have been living in Mumbai for months. But I scraped through.”

“I was pretty sure about the Plot Points of my first movie idea but hazy about the second. And that’s where the whole breakdown of the Three Act structure saved me. It’s science. It does sound less artistic but it’s an amazing experience to “solve” a plot using this tool. At the very least, it removes all the excuses of muses from my writing. It ensures that I’ll get something done even if what I write is ordinary. That takes a lot of burden off my shoulders.”

“It’s amazing how lost I am now. There’s a constant struggle to not let the cynic in me overpower the child. All the usual worries of life have been thwarted with such ease yet, the ultimate struggle remains. I often question myself, wondering whether I’ve been able to absorb all that’s been thrown my way. Whether my biases and pre-conceived notions are melting or whether some of them are being reinforced.”

The second awesome part of this journey has been having my love for cinema incredibly deepened. The understanding of scripts, how the written word in a screenplay translates to a cinematic movement, crafts of cinematography and direction, have incredibly richened the movie experience. For me movie-watching is slowly developing from a highly enjoyable thing to something very spiritual – I would love to remain on that track, and complete this journey.”

“Between us, I saw the world – from Korba to Chennai via Delhi, Nagpur and Bombay. What a fascinating universe! Brainstorming on others’ ideas, picking their brains on mine, writing log lines on WhatsApp and whatnot. The journey has been invigorating and has made us bond, solidly, as a team. This is here to stay. And I am so glad we’ve all found each other.”

“We learnt the wonderful lesson of staying grounded, always. We cannot feel proud of the fact that we are a chosen few out of 3000 applications. When I look at my course-mates, I find how all of them are rooted. They do not get too high-headed when they write something good, they do not mock at even the most absurd idea someone else comes up with and that enables us to share even our bad writing without caring about our “image”. Bonding like this so soon is perhaps our biggest achievement.”

“These are weird friends that I have got. Instead of stealing ideas, they help make them better. Before they start eating, they ask if I have had my food. If I ask for any help, they do, and then, a while later, they make sure to check if their help has been of any help!”

“Pitch day in itself was a whole different experience. Being good at presentation helped a little but I was still scared.”

“The day waiting for which so many people perish, the appointment of a few minutes, in which you have to pitch your story ideas, hoping that through this your ideas will grow into an actual work. It was an important day and I was nervous, of course.”

“However the pitch went smoothly. Sitting in a room with people and discussing both film and show-ideas was a dream come true. It wasn’t a place for judgment but helpful criticism. How can you make it better? What does this idea lack? It was a big stepping-stone for me to stand in front of people from the industry and present my idea and see how they reacted to it.”

“The moment I began pitching, I felt my hard-work and my batch-mates’ contribution is working. All doubts melted away. And the bottom-line was the learning that writing is “creative manual labor”. So, to turn into a laborer, I am determined.”

“As I prepare to face the second month of this course with a brave face, I’m already dreading the day it will end. I’m sure the months to follow will be fun in the most grueling way possible. I’m really looking forward to them.”

“Will I ever come to terms with the loneliness of writing? Maybe. Will I ever see something I wrote along with thousands of people? We’ll see. What matters is that I’ve resolved to give everything in trying. If I fail, I fail. I have come to be comfortable with being in flux. Chaos does not scare me. With my diary and pen, I have found a way to embrace pandemonium. That is my biggest strength.”

I thought this was about learning to write, but this is much more – it’s about becoming a writer.”

April 21, 2016

Week 5: The Pitch

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.

If our 26-week course has a Three Act Structure, the end of fifth week is definitely when the Set-Up is complete and Act I ends. I say so, because after four weeks of lectures, analyses, movie-watching, discussions, assignments etc. (as discussed in the previous posts), the fifth week was spent only in fine tuning the film/show ideas that the students had come up with. They wrote and re-wrote the ideas, helping each other, and creating their one-page pitch documents, that comprised of log-lines, plot outlines and treatments. And for that the students had a lot of time by themselves.

Of course, we started the week with watching 'The Jungle Book'. This would remain the only movie they would watch this week. No reading screenplays. No field trips or intuition exercises. Just working and reworking their pitch documents. I was amazed by the energy that engulfed them and I deeply admire how the students helped each other develop their ideas. It was as if an exam is round the corner. I too prioritized my life accordingly - trying to make sure that the students received my feedback as soon as possible, and repeatedly. All of us were together and it looked like a massive team-effort. 

Finally, we had two evenings of pitching. On the first evening, fourteen show ideas were pitched. On the next day, fifteen movie ideas. The panel comprised of the four AIB boys - Tanmay, Khamba, Rohan and Ashish, Ajay Nair from OML, my friend/manager Chaitanya from Tulsea, author/screenwriter Ramkumar Singh and my brother and co-director Devanshu. For four hours on both days, the classroom had this wonderful atmosphere where the students pitched their ideas with honesty and self-belief, the panel reacted to the ideas, providing suggestions for improvement and I observed all of them connect through nothing but stories! What an experience it was! Those two evenings were so special that I do not expect anything from 2016 any more. In the end, the panel expressed strong belief and conviction for at least sixteen ideas and spoke to the students to congratulate them for what they have achieved and to inspire them for the immediate future.

Perhaps the most important message that the students got was that they are really good, and they should now stop worrying about what will happen once the course ends. All of them should start professional writing and there is no going back now. Hopefully. 

Wasn't it an irreversible event in the lives of these students? This must be the First Plot Point. And this is how Act I of First Draft ends - with the students knowing which ideas they are going to work on for the next five months. With two days off - for the first time since 15th March, the students partied hard, slept a lot, played FIFA, watched shows and movies and relaxed. And prepared themselves for the very crucial next weeks. The Second Act is always long and tricky. The students know that - with respect to the second acts of their stories and of the course they are in. But like strong, motivated protagonists, they have it in them to go through this and emerge victorious. I wish them all the best with all my heart.

April 13, 2016

Weeks 3 and 4: How to Come Up with Ideas for Shows

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.

Objective: The students were required to come up with original ideas for episodic narrative or shows, write them down in 100 words each and get at least two of those ideas approved during these two weeks.

The third week started with a lecture on how episodic content is different from feature films and what are the different types of fiction shows that have typically been written. It was followed by, over two days, a screening of 1-2 episodes of ten different shows: 'Breaking Bad', 'Fargo', 'The Office', 'House', 'Entourage', 'Grey's Anatomy', 'Californication', 'Modern Family', 'Catastrophe' and 'Man Seeking Woman'. The idea was to observe different styles and formats, compare them with film-writing, and understand the power episodic writing inherently has.

The students read the screenplay of 'American Beauty' and apart from the regular 3-4 hour discussion on it they also discussed the possibility of a show using the characters and situations from the film. 

Over more lectures, we also discussed topics like: Types of Conflict, Types of Protagonists, Scene and its functions and how to fine tune your use of screenwriting format, style and grammar. During the first week, the students had watched 'Khosla Ka Ghosla' and created its Beat Sheet. Now, they reworked on the beat sheet, adding what purpose each scene serves and then they had a group discussion on the same so that everyone understood the practical aspects of "functions of a scene". The students were also introduced to the very useful tool called the 'Table of Everything'.

As an introduction to 'Film History', the students watched 'Hugo', followed by a discussion on the Birth of Cinema and the contributions of the Lumiere Brothers and Georges Melies. We also screened 'Amdavad Ma Famous' - a mesmerizing National Award-winning documentary for them, followed by a discussion on the film by its director and my dear friend Hardik Mehta.

The students also watched 'Kung Fu Panda 3' on the big screen and two Hindi plays - 'Naqqash' (it was the students' first visit to the iconic Prithvi Theater) and the wonderful musical 'Ishq Aha'.

A significant event of this fortnight was the Guest Lecture by Sudip Sharma, the writer of 'NH 10'. The students read the screenplay of the film one day before the lecture and Sudip broke down the structure and the writing process of the film during his insightful talk. We also had a discussion on his life and journey as a screenwriter and the two hours he spent with us might just be perhaps the most inspiring thing that has happened with AIB First Draft in its first four weeks. With his simple but persistent approach to film-writing, he humbled us. And with his infectious self-belief and love for cinema, he left us insanely inspired. I must thank Sudip for this wonderful, priceless session. Once he left, the students were asked to retire into solitude and reflect on what just happened, indulge in this moment of inspiration and do a one-page free-association writing to let everything out on paper. This was a personal exercise and not to be shared with anyone.

Since we had spent almost twenty days trying to analyse films and screenplays and learn theory and practise what we learnt, the fourth week was spent on indulging in the intuitive and imaginative side of ourselves. The students did several 'secret' assignments, to be shared with no one but themselves. These included going down memory lane and think of a father-daughter relationship they have closely observed as they listened to the song 'Ek Tha Bachpan' from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Aashirwaad'. On the next day, they imagined a graphic and detailed sex scene in the most unlikely of settings. Later one day they indulged in the biggest fear they have - physical fear, or something that totally shatters them. And they would write - without thinking, without worrying about the structure, without trying to impress anyone, but to simply, uninhibitedly indulge in inspiration, nostalgia, lust and fear. They were also asked to spend one day breaking all patterns of daily-life. From food to sleep to the soap they use, they were encouraged to spend the day as differently as possible. And on the last day of the fourth week, we had some 'live' intuition exercises in class. It involved physical imagination of your mind-space and cleaning it, free-association writing of words and, later, visuals. And sharing with the batch their fears and dreams, as well as imagining their lives with some regrets and joys they do not have presently.

Apart from all these tasks, the students worked tirelessly on developing their four 100-word ideas into 300-word outlines. And, of course, they wrote at least one page of a scene, any random scene, every single day, now taking the uninterrupted practice to 27 consecutive days!

The first month at AIB First Draft is over. Within a couple of days, the students will have a Pitch Day, where they will present their ideas to a large panel. By the end of the fifth week, each of the students will know which idea they are going to work on over the remaining 21 weeks. This is getting intense by the day!

March 31, 2016

Weeks 1 and 2: How to Come Up with Ideas for Feature Films

AIB First Draft is a six-month writers' residency programme where a select group of aspiring writers from all over India are being trained in the craft of screenwriting. I feel thrilled to head this project and design and conduct the course. This post is a part of the series that chronicles all that happens at the course. Click here and read from bottom upwards for all posts related to this.

Objective: The students were required to come up with original ideas for feature films, write them down in 100 words each and get at least two of those ideas approved during these two weeks.

Three screenwriting lectures were held during these two weeks - each 4-5 hours long. These involved topics like: How to Ideate Stories for Feature Films; Introduction to the Format of Screenwriting, Script-Writing Software, and the Language Screenwriters Use; the Concepts of the Archetypal Story, the Three Act Structure, Inciting Incident, Act Breaks, and Climax; and a Discussion on the Dialectic Approach of Writing versus the Didactic approach.

Screenplay Reading and Movie Analyses: The students read the screenplays of 'Witness', 'The Matrix', 'E.T' and a yet-to-be-produced film and followed each with four-hour group discussions. Each session was moderated by one of the students and the discussion involved the overall reaction to the script but also going into the details of characters, conflicts, structure, tools of screenwriting, scenes, dialogue, themes and image systems, and the style of writing. A week after reading 'Witness' the students watched the movie, comparing what has changed from the script to screen followed by a one-hour lecture illustrating how the director has narrated the story using tools of cinema. The students also watched Dibakar Banerjee's 'Khosla Ka Ghosla' and created a Beat Sheet of the entire movie.

We also had a lecture on 'Introduction to the Visual Design of Film' that talked about use of images to tell a story, how a filmmaker uses color, light, and camera to affect our emotional response and how depth and balance is used to add meanings and aesthetic richness to visuals. Zhang Yimou's 'Hero' (China/ 2002) was screened after the lecture as an illustration of these concepts.

The students also had four big-screen experiences of latest movies: 'Zootopia', 'Kapoor and Sons', 'Eye in the Sky' and 'Batman versus Superman'. The British drama 'Locke' was also screened to them followed by a discussion on the same. They wrote brief plot outlines of two of these movies. They also spent two evenings watching professional theater performances - 'Sidhus of Upper Juhu' and 'I Don't Like It As You Like It' at St. Andrews Auditorium, Bandra. They then brainstormed on how and if these plays can be adapted into a movie and wrote and submitted a report on the same.

These two weeks also involved three field-trips:
1. In groups of three, the students were asked to discover five locations in Mumbai which are drastically different from each other. Each one of them was supposed to click ten photos at each of these locations, thus clicking at least fifty during the day. The condition was that each of this picture should be, for the photographer, a new perspective or experience - in terms of content, theme, or presentation. In the evening, the students selected five pictures each and presented in front of the batch, sharing what inspired them to click those.
2. The students were sent to different shopping malls. They had to spend 3-4 hours at the food court and observe people. And then they had to write a five-page scene from what they observed. They were not allowed to use their imagination, only observation. After writing, they read each others' scenes and provided feedback. Then they rewrote their scenes, but this time using imagination to make them better.
3. Two days after the lecture on 'Visual Design of Film' the students spent another day clicking pictures. This time all of them were sent to South Mumbai and had to click at least 35 pictures to practise the tools that were discussed in the class. The improvement in the aesthetic value of the pictures was remarkable. In the evening, the students selected 7-8 of these pictures but they were not asked to make the presentation. Instead each one of them presented one of their batch-mate's pictures, commenting on what tools of composition have been employed and how these pictures could have been clicked better.

The students were also made to read a few pages from screenwriting text-books. Most importantly, they were made to write at least one page of a non-dialogue scene every single day, without any exception. During the lectures, feedback was offered to them with respect to the format and the language to use.

Despite such a hectic schedule, the students managed to meet the target of the week and each one of them got at least two good ideas approved, and most got four or more. These ideas were presented in the class and the students responded to them so that we could find patterns in the ideas that are more universally loved.

An all-consuming first two weeks, sleep deprivation, and incessant hard work. AIB First Draft has kicked off with a bang!

March 30, 2016

Introducing 'First Draft'

Just one post in almost two-and-half months! I do come across as world's laziest blogger. But then something so amazing has kept me busy that I don't mind at all. You won't either, once you get to know about it. Or perhaps you already know, because everyone knows about it. My family and friends who call me these days begin the conversation with - "How's your course going?". Every trip that I have taken in the last couple of months, I have met people who didn't know me, but were well-aware of this remarkable endeavor I'm fortunate to be associated with. In fact, the boy sitting next to me on a flight to Bangalore had actually applied for the course and he couldn't believe that the person who is one of the decision-makers regarding his selection was this bearded, bald man sitting next to him, reading the screenplay of 'The Shawshank Redemption'. 'First Draft' is everywhere. And I think the time has come to share my experiences with it here on this blog.

I am sure most of you reading this are aware of AIB. If you don't know what AIB is, please google and check because it is not OK to not be aware of one of the biggest cultural revolutions of recent time. And AIB, in more ways than one, are also a major milestone, a watershed, in the way Indians have been offered and have consumed audio-visual and live entertainment. So let me not boast about how long I've known Tanmay, because it has been eleven years now, and his partners through him. Let me come straight to the point - the phone conversation one night between him and me that formed the foundation of AIB First Draft.

The phone conversation that night was simple. Both of us were aware of the problems we face as creators - the scarcity of good scripts and both of us wanted to do something about it. Tanmay proposed the creation of a writers' room, where we would train aspiring writers in the craft of screenwriting. He asked if I would like to lead the project. "I would give up all my teaching assignments for this" - I instantly replied. For me, it was clear that AIB's platform would help me find a bunch of really talented and passionate students from all over India. And knowing Tanmay I also knew that he will have them pay very reasonable fees. So my idea of sharing cinema with anyone who had the talent and the will despite not having too much money was about to be materialized here. The way this course shaped up, I was more than surprised by the intent and honesty of AIB.

On 31st December, 2015, AIB made the announcement on their Youtube channel. 'First Draft' is a six-month course where a handful of aspiring writers from all over India get to learn the craft of screenwriting - feature films and web-shows. Not only is the course free, and the writers get accommodation better than I can afford, they get paid some stipend every month to take care of their expenses. By the time the course started, AIB decided to provide them with laptops, screenwriting software, health insurance, and free movie tickets for these six months. And the course would not restrict itself to the genre of comedy. The writers would get to write whatever they want to, as long as it is good. Within four hours of the announcement video's release, we had had 2000+ registrations on our website. By 31st January, the deadline, more than 30,000 people had registered.

We had devised an assignment that the applicants were supposed to complete and send in within ten days. Ninety-per cent of the applicants did not or could not do that and hence we were left with a 'small' number of 3000 applications. Through several stages and a long process of evaluation, we selected 30 for interview. Meeting these final thirty candidates was an inspiring and humbling experience and extremely enriching for us - there is so much of passion and aspiration in every corner of our country and most of them never get any opportunity. By the time we finished the interviews, we were troubled - how to choose a handful from so many deserving candidates!

On 14th March, the selected students reached Mumbai. We have ten of them, three girls and rest of them boys. The age range represented by them is 22 to 43 years. And they have come from Mumbai, Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Raipur, Korba, and Ranchi. 'First Draft' has started on 15th March and until mid-September, these students are going to single-mindedly work on learning the craft and practising it, every single day, and eventually come up with the first draft of their screenplays. I do not promise that the final content will be ground-breaking. I do not claim that I am the guy most suitable to lead this project. I know very well that my own journey as a filmmaker, screenwriter and a teacher has just started and my education far from complete. But I have promised myself that I will give my all, in these six months, to make it a fruitful and enriching experience for these bright and passionate students I am so proud of. How are we going to do it? Keep looking for updates on this space.

March 19, 2016

Modern Masters: 2016 List

TSPDT recently released its list of the 1000 most-acclaimed films of this century. Like LAST YEAR, I created a list of film-makers based on TSPDT's 1000, film-makers with the most impressive filmographies during the years 2000 to 2015. Their ranking considers two aspect - how many of their films feature in Top 1000, and what is the respective rank of each of these films on that list.

So here they are, the top ten film-makers of the last fifteen years:

10. Claire Denis (69-year old French film-maker): The only woman on the list, Denis is one spot down from last year. She has directed six feature films since 2000, ALL of which feature in Top 1000: Trouble Every DayFriday NightThe Intruder35 Shots of RumWhite Material, and Bastards.

9. Martin Scorsese (73-year old American film-maker): Scorsese is one spot down this year as well. But his latest feature, 'Silence' should release by year-end and that will give him the opportunity to climb up the chart. He has directed six films since 2000, ALL of which feature in Top 1000: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, Hugo, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. Quentin Tarantino (52-year old American film-maker): Tarantino did not feature in the top ten list last year. But this year, thanks to his latest film, he grabs the eighth rank, being the only new entry, and kicking out Christopher Nolan from top ten. He has made six films in the last fifteen years, ALL of which feature in Top 1000: Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight

7. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (45-year old Thai film-maker): His latest, 'Cemetery of Splendour' could not make it to Top 1000. And hence, this Thai master is one rank down from last year. He has directed seven feature films in his career, all since 2000, five of which feature in Top 1000. More remarkable is the fact that four of his movies are among top 60: Tropical Malady (2004) is highest rated at #13, followed by Blissfully YoursUncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesSyndromes and a Century, and Mysterious Object at Noon.

6. Steven Spielberg (69-year old American film-maker): Has directed eleven films since 2000, eight of which feature in Top 1000: AI Artifical Intelligence, Minority ReportCatch Me If You Can,MunichWar of the WorldsWar Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies. Thanks to his latest, he has climbed one rank up from last year. In a few months, his new film will be out: The BFG. It is based on a Roald Dahl novel and the screenplay is by Melissa Mathison who wrote the wonderful ET for Spielberg more than three decades ago.

5. Jia Zhangke (45-year old Chinese film-maker): Has directed seven films since 2000, six of which feature in Top 1000: Platform (2000) is highest rated at #17, followed by Still LifeThe WorldUnknown PleasuresA Touch of Sin, and 24 City. His latest, Mountains May Depart, could not make it to Top 1000, and hence he is one position down from last year. 

4. Wes Anderson (46-year old American filmmaker): Despite no release this year, Anderson has climbed one place up from last year's rankings. He has directed six films since 2000, ALL of which feature in Top 1000: The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise KingdomFantastic Mr. FoxThe Grand Budapest Hotel, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeing Limited.

3. Joel and Ethan Coen (American film-makers, respectively 61 and 58 years of age): Missing the second spot narrowly by one point, the Coen Brothers have retained their third rank. They have directed nine films during 2000-2015, seven of which feature in Top 1000: No Country for Old Men, A Serious ManInside Llewyn DavisO Brother, Where Art Thou?True GritThe Man Who Wasn't There, and Burn After Reading. Their latest, Hail, Caesar! may take them to the second spot next year.

2. Richard Linklater (55-year old American film-maker): Holding on to the second spot, Linklater has directed eleven films since 2000, seven of which feature in Top 1000: Before Sunset, BoyhoodWaking LifeBefore MidnightSchool of RockA Scanner Darkly, and Bernie. His latest, Everybody Wants Some!! is about to be released and Linklater may continue to stay in top three next year as well.

1. Michael Haneke (Austrian film-maker, about to turn 74): Despite having no releases in the last three years, Haneke is at the top. And it seems he will stay there for the next year as well. Reason? Six of the seven features he made since 2000 are ranked so highly that his total score surpasses film-makers with more movies. Cache (2005) is highest ranked at #7, followed by The Piano Teacher (#45), The White Ribbon (#47), Code Unknown (#66) and Amour (#73). Time of the Wolf is ranked #479.

January 15, 2016

Oscar 2016: The Regulars

This time there is no Meryl Streep. But Steven Spielberg has earned his sixteenth nomination for 'Bridge of Spies' and the Coen Brothers have earned their fourteenth for co-writing the same film. Spielberg's nomination is also ninth as a producer and that is a record. Brad Pitt is nominated as a producer for 'The Big Short' and Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett have both earned their seventh nomination.

These are all well-known names. But at the upcoming Oscar night there will be several stalwarts sitting in that auditorium, behind-the-scene crew members, we do not know much about. Like last year, I'm sharing with you the names of technicians and musicians who are nominated on a regular basis. It's the time to salute the unsung.

Emmanuel Lubezki: 'The Revenant' has earned this 51-year old cinematographer his eighth nomination, his first being for 'A Little Princess' (1996). His filmography includes 'Children of Men' (2006), 'The Tree of Life' (2011), 'Gravity' (2013) and 'Birdman' (2014). If he wins this year, it will be his third win in a row!

Diane Warren: 59-year old Warren is a Grammy-winning American songwriter whose first Oscar nomination came for the 1987 film 'Mannequin'.  Her latest nomination for 'The Hunting Ground' is her eighth, with which she will hope to win her first Oscar.

Alan Robert Murray: Murray won his second Oscar trophy last year, for the sound editing of 'American Sniper'. His first trophy was also a Clint Eastwood film - 'Letters from Iwo Jima' (2006). This year, he has earned his eighth nomination for 'Sicario' and will hope for his third win.

Frank A Montano: With a filmography that boasts of 'The Fugitive' (1993) as well as 'Birdman' (2014), re-recording mixer Montano has earned his eighth nomination for 'The Revenant' with which he will hope to finally win that elusive trophy.

Robert Richardson: 'Platoon' (1986), 'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989) and 'Inglorious Basterds' (2009) are some of the movies shot by this 60-year old cinematographer who has earned his ninth nomination for 'The Hateful Eight'. He will hope to win his fourth trophy after winning it thrice before for 'JFK' (1991), 'The Aviator' (2004), and 'Hugo' (2011).

Jenny Beavan: Beavan won her first and only Oscar for the costume design of 'The Room with a View' (1985) when she was forty five. Her filmography includes 'Sense and Sensibility' (1995) and 'The King's Speech' (2010). 'Mad Max: Fury Road' has earned Beavan her tenth nomination.

Sandy Powell: 55-year old Powell has won three Oscars already, for the costume design of 'Shakespeare in Love' (1998), 'The Aviator' (2004) and 'The Young Victoria' (2009). This year she has been nominated for 'Cinderella' and 'Carol', her 11th and 12th nominations. Will she win her fourth trophy?

Roger Deakins: He is 66 and has been nominated thirteen times, without a win. The cinematographer of 'The Shawshank Redemption' (1994), 'Kundun' (1997), 'The Reader' (2008), 'Skyfall' (2012) and most Coen Brothers films, he is a living legend. Of course, the world will talk about DiCaprio's chance at his maiden trophy. But for DOPs all over the world, Deakins will be the man to watch as he hopes to win for 'Sicario'.

Thomas Newman: 60-year old Newman provided the original score for 'The Shawshank Redemption' (1994), 'American Beauty' (1999), 'Road to Perdition' (2002), 'WALL-E' (2008) and 'Skyfall' (2012). And he is yet to win an Oscar. 'Bridge of Spies' is his thirteenth nomination with which he will hope to walk on to the stage and bring the trophy home.

Randy Thom: A sound mixer who started his career with 'Apocalypse Now' (1979). 'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980) and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981), Randy Thom won his first Oscar for 'The Right Stuff' (1983) and his second for 'The Incredibles' (2004). 'The Revenant' is his fifteenth nomination, preceded by 'Return of the Jedi' (1983), 'Forrest Gump' (1994), 'Cast Away' (2000), and 'Ratatouille' (2008), to name a few.

Gary Rydstrom: Just in case you have not been overwhelmed by the names mentioned above, here comes sound designer Gary Rydstorm. When he was 32, he won his first two Oscar trophies for 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' (1991). By the time he turned 39, he had won seven, for 'Jurassic Park' (1993), 'Titanic' (1997), and 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998). Then, as if law of averages caught up with him, he did not win any despite earning eight more nominations. 'Bridge of Spies' is his eighteenth nomination and his hope to win his eighth trophy!

Andy Nelson: And there is more. The sound designer of 'Schindler's List' (1993), 'Braveheart' (1995), 'L.A. Confidential' (1997), 'The Thin Red Line' (1998), 'The Last Samurai' (2003) and 'Avatar' (2009), Andy Nelson has earned his 19th and 20th nominations for 'Bridge of Spies' and 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'. He has won the trophy twice already, for 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998) and 'Les Miserables' (2012).

John Williams: And finally, sharing with you the name that gave me the shock of my life a few hours ago. The 83-year old music composer, John Williams, is the man behind some of the most popular and recognisable musical scores of all time. Earning a nomination almost every year since 1968, and winning the trophy five times, for 'Fiddler on the Roof' (1971), 'Jaws' (1975), 'Star Wars' (1977), 'E.T.' (1982) and 'Schindler's List' (1993), Williams has earned his 50th nomination for the musical score of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'. His last eighteen nominations have not converted to a win and that must be sad, right? I wonder if the Academy Awards would have any importance for this legend, who has also composed music for 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977), 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981), 'Born on the Fourth of July' (1989), 'Home Alone' (1990), 'JFK' (1991), 'Saving Private Ryan' (1998), 'AI' (2001), and 'Harry Potter'. The hall will erupt with standing ovation if he wins and I will root for him just to witness that.

January 14, 2016

Top 10 at Oscars 2016

The Oscar nominations were announced a little while ago. Like 2013, 2014, and 2015, I'm presenting my list of top ten movies you must watch to understand what is happening at the Oscar stage on 28th February (morning of 29th for India). The ten movies that featured in my 2013 list shared 68 nominations among themselves. The number has kept decreasing in the successive years to 64 and 62. This year, the top ten movies I list here account for only 59 nominations. This clearly shows there is a greater variety at the awards this year. None of the movies have managed the Big Five nomination again this year. So no repeat of the rare feat can be expected.

Following are the ten movies in alphabetic order:

'The Big Short' by Adam McKay (5 nominations, including Best Picture and Directing): I have not seen any film directed or written by 47-year old McKay who seems to be quite a name on TV. 'The Big Short' must be his shot to the major league with directing and adapted screenplay nominations. The film also earns Brad Pitt his third producing nomination after 'Moneyball' and '12 Years a Slave', and Christian Bale his second supporting-actor nomination after 'The Fighter'. There is no new yet on when 'The Big Short' is releasing in India.

'Bridge of Spies' by Steven Spielberg (6 nominations, including Best Picture): It is good to see this film in the list of the eight Best Picture nominees. I totally loved it. Although Spielberg has been left out from the Directors list, this his ninth nomination as a producer. The film also earns the Coen Brothers their sixth screenplay nomination. The film has already had its run in India.

'Brooklyn' by John Crowley (3 nominations, including Best Picture): I chose 'Brooklyn' over 'The Danish Girl', which has four nominations, because all its three nominations are big: Picture, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay. Saoirse Ronan has won her second Oscar nomination after the Supporting Actress nomination for 'Atonement' (2007). John Crowley is again a new name for me and this is the film that brings him to the big league despite not earning a directing nomination. I wonder if it will be released in India.

'Carol' by Todd Haynes (6 nominations): Despite six nominations, including one for Cate Blanchett (her seventh, fourth in a Leading Role), 'Carol' could not make it to the Best Picture short-list. Rooney Mara has won her second nomination after 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2011). It is the sixth film by director Todd Haynes and I have seen only one of his previous works - 'I'm Not There.' (2007). The PVR website says 'Carol' will be released in India on the 26th of February.

'Mad Max: Fury Road' by George Miller (10 nominations, including Best Picture): Despite loving the film when it came out last summer I had no idea that it will be such a favourite among the Academy voters. The second highest score among the nominees, the film should also win quite a handful. George Miller had won the Animated Feature award for 'Happy Feet' nine years ago. He would love to go back on the stage for this indulgent genre feast. If it is re-released in India, I'm going to watch it again. At Imax. For sure.

'The Martian' by Ridley Scott (7 nominations, including Best Picture): Scott not making it to the Directing shortlist must be one of the biggest surprises of today's announcement. He is yet to win an Oscar despite an illustrious career and he will hope to win it for this one as one of its producers. Matt Damon has won his fourth acting nomination, although he has won as a writer eighteen years ago for 'Good Will Hunting'. The film has played in India already.

'The Revenant' by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (12 nominations, including Best Picture): Inarritu won three Oscars last year for 'Birdman', as its producer, director, and writer. And over the last few days he has emerged as a front-runner for the second consecutive year. With most nominations this year, 'The Revenant' can also end Leonardo DiCaprio's dry run - this is his fifth acting nomination without a win yet. The film will probably release in India on the 26th of February. Eagerly waiting for it.

'Room' by Lenny Abrahamson (4 nominations, including Best Picture): When I missed watching this film at MAMI2015, I had no idea it would be so big at the Oscar stage. This is such a triumph for small films! Brie Larson is one of the biggest contenders for the Best Actress trophy and I hope this will make people discover 'Short Term 12', one of my favourite films of recent time. Lenny Abrahamson is another new name for me and his Directing nomination has come as a big surprise to a lot of people. They say this film will be released in India on 26th Feb.

'Spotlight' by Tom McCarthy (6 nominations, including Best Picture): Of McCarthy's works I have only seen 'Up' (2009) that was co-written by him. With 'Spotlight' he has earned a writing as well as a directing nomination. Mark Ruffalo has earned his third Supporting Actor nomination, although it will be tough to beat Stallone ('Creed') and Rylance ('Bridge of Spies'). Waiting for its India release.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' by JJ Abrams (5 nominations): Nominated for film editing, sound editing, sound mixing, original score and VFX, the latest Star Wars film, and my favourite in the series, should pick an award or two. It is playing in India since its Christmas release and I would recommend it to you. If you can, watch Star Wars IV, V, and VI before you go for it. The emotional connection will be ten times more.

I have to watch six of these ten movies in the next 45 days or so. I will soon write more posts on the Oscar race. Stay tuned.

P.S. 'The Danish Girl' (4), 'The Hateful Eight' (3), 'Sicario' (3) and 'Steve Jobs' (2) are four more movies you may want to watch apart from the top ten. The first two of these release in India tomorrow. 'Sicario' has already played and 'Steve Jobs' should be released on 5th Feb.