July 31, 2016

Weeks 18 and 19

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.

After a three-day vacation to Lonavala at the end of seventeen weeks, the course resumed. We had the following exercises during these two weeks:
  • Write a four-page dialogue-scene from a movie being developed by one of the writers at the course. The ten writers presented the scenes in class.
  • Write a five-page dialogue-scene from a show being developed by two writers at the course. These scenes were also presented for feedback.
  • Each student was assigned two of the twenty-two rules of screenwriting by Pixar and were asked to prepare five-minute presentations for each. Exercises like these enable the student the habit of self-study and provide them with the opportunity to showcase their learning of key concepts.
  • The students were asked to select five best scene-transitions from a movie they respectively chose and were asked to present those transitions on class. They were also shown examples from other films, based on the chapter on Transitions by Robert McKee in his book 'Story'.
The students read the screenplays of 'Sling Blade' and 'The Lunchbox'. The students met Ritesh Batra, the writer and director of 'The Lunchbox' at an interactive session on developing film-scripts in Koolar Cafe, Matunga.

We have started lectures on directing and the students were asked to come up with the shot division of a long dramatic scene between two characters. In the lecture that followed, we discussed how to develop a logical approach for such an exercise during which we discussed scenes from 'Udaan', 'Notorious', 'Vertigo' and 'About Elly'.

The screening of movies to understand structure concluded with 'Pulp Fiction', 'Memento', '21 Grams' and 'Primer'. More movies to understand the evolution of cinema were screened: 'Bonnie and Clyde', 'Easy Rider', 'A Woman Under the Influence', 'Kes', 'Sunset Blvd.' and 'Soy Cuba'. We also watched 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' at Matterden and attended Shubha Mudgal's concert on monsoons ragas at Nehru Center.

Three-quarters of the course is over and we are quickly approaching the business end where all the students will invest all their learning into writing their respective first drafts.

July 28, 2016

My TEDx Talk at IIM-Indore

Sometime in May I received an email from IIM-Indore, inviting me to deliver a talk at their upcoming TEDx event. They wanted to know if I would want to accept the invitation. I was overwhelmed and despite the doubt if I was worthy of that stage, I accepted it. That was the only reasonable thing to do.

I was then informed of the theme: "Inscriptions on Sand". This is how they explained it to me: "Norms help us against the chaos and structure our life. So it becomes tough to stand up against the existing norms and bring about a revolutionary change. But these transformations are inevitable and necessary as they lead to the betterment of the society, washing away our current perceptions as new waves wash away the 'inscriptions on sand'."

When I had agreed to the invitation, I didn't know that I'll have to speak on a theme. From here to receiving the strict TEDx instructions and eventually working on the content of my speech, I constantly wondered what I am getting into. I must mention that the support that I received from the organizers was phenomenal - they literally helped me figure out my talk for myself. When I saw the list of the rest of the speakers, I felt so honored and humbled. There were seven of us. Apart from me, the rest of them were:
  • Anu Vaidyanathan: Athlete (swimmer, biker and marathon runner), PhD in Electrical Engineering and CEO of an IP Consulting Firm
  • Navin Gulia: Guinness Record Holder Adventurer, Author and Social Worker
  • Vijay Padaki: Psychologist, Behavioral Scientist and Theatre Guru
  • Abhishant Pant: Fintech Enthusiast, Explorer, presently on a Cashless Endeavour
  • Swapna Sundar: Entrepreneur, Lawyer and Author
  • Padmashri Dr. V. Adimurthy: The Brain behind Mangalyaan
Finally on 26th of June, we had the event in the beautiful campus of IIM-Indore. I decided to talk about "the Essential Ingredient of Your Life-Changing Moment". What is that? Watch the video below and see if it is of any help to you. For me, it was a privilege to be there and listen to my fellow speakers and an experience I will never forget. I cannot ask for more.

July 12, 2016

Weeks 16 and 17: Plotting (Part 2)

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.

Four months are over at First Draft. As I write these words, the students are on a three-day holiday to Lonavala. I have advised them to stay away from their writing. I hope they do take this break and enjoy, because the last nine weeks are going to be very hectic, like the rest of the course.

We had four scene-writing exercises during the last two weeks:
  • The students were asked to write a four-page interrogation scene from a hypothetical crime drama movie. After their scenes were discussed, the opening scene from 'Maqbool' was read.
  • As part of "atmosphere exercise" the students were asked to write three one-page scenes, without any dialogue, one each from a romance-drama, a comedy, and an action-thriller. The idea was to make them use scene descriptions to serve different genres.
  • The students wrote the first four pages of a fantasy-drama web-show being developed by one of them at the course.
  • They wrote the first four pages of a dramedy web-show being developed by another student at the course. Both these exercises were followed by detailed discussions.
We also had a discussion on Billy Wilder's Ten Screenwriting Rules. Each student was asked to make a five-minute presentation on one of the rules. The students were also made to read eight chapters from the text-book 'The Tools of Screenwriting' by Howard and Mabley.

We had a lecture-discussion on film editing where the documentary film 'Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing' was screened. 

The screening of movies that have interesting structures continued. In the last two weeks, they watched 'Ijaazat', 'Magnolia', 'Mystery Train', 'Chungking Express', 'Blind Chance', 'Rashomon', 'Amores Perros', and 'Irreversible'. Apart from these, they watched 'Finding Dory' on the big screen and 'The Third Man' at Matterden.

The students read the screenplay of 'Her'. They also read the screenplay of 'Shahid' and watched 'Aligarh' and eventually we had a very inspiring guest lecture by Hansal Mehta, director of the above-mentioned two movies.

We also had a six-hour workshop with writer-director Atul Mongia where he talked about writing in general, apart from conducting acting-exercises that were a new experience for the students. The students also visited the Disney office and had a long interaction with Disney CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur where we talked about how the studios in the industry today are looking at new writers. It was a wonderfully reassuring session for the students.

The students also watched two plays - 'Ismat Aapa Ke Naam' that starred Naseeruddin Shah and 'Stories in a Song' at Prithvi Theater. Apart from this they also visited the shoot of AIB's upcoming sketch.

June 29, 2016

Weeks 14 and 15: Plotting (Part 1)

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.

Fifteen weeks are over at First Draft. 105 days! Time really flies when you are immersed in something that is so fulfilling. As of now, thirteen stories are being developed at the course, six feature films and seven shows, and while we apply all the learning to find the right structure to these stories, time and again we remind ourselves that the most important elements for us are characters and the emotions they generate through a difficult but rewarding journey.

The students started Week 14 with a 600-word write-up on what they have learnt as the course reaches its mid-point. In the two weeks that followed, we focussed on scene and dialogue writing. The students would write a scene and present it in the class. After a discussion on their scenes, they were shown a similar scene from a movie. Following were the instructions given to them for these exercises:
  • A man is wounded and is lying unattended in a hospital room. Finally a female doctor enters. The two are shocked - she is this man's ex-wife. They are meeting after ten years. As she tends to his wounds, they have a conversation. The scene is somewhere in the second act and the man is the protagonist. Write this dialogue scene in 2-3 pages. Different genres were given to different students. After a discussion on what they wrote, two scenes from 'Ijaazat' were presented.
  • A group of girls are busy with their dance practice for an upcoming college function. A girl comes to them and requests to join in. The other girls tease her for a while but then eventually allow her to join the group. The scene should not be more than 4 pages. It should mainly rely on dialogue, but some action is allowed. The scene where Lakha joins Bhuvan's team in 'Lagaan' was presented after the discussion.
  • A boy and a girl are meeting for the last time. They may never see each other again. The boy loves the girl. In parting, he says something that touches her deeply. Write this scene in no more than 4 pages. Stay away from too much action. Keep the scene dialogue heavy. A scene from 'Life in a Metro' was presented after the discussion.
  • The students were also asked to write a Voice Over narration for a two-minute scene from 'Moonrise Kingdom' - the original scene does not have spoken lines. They then recorded and edited the VO with the scene and submitted for discussion.
  • All ten students were made to write the opening sequence of one of their batch-mate's feature film being developed at the course. It was a wonderful exercise and it has set very high standards for the days to come. I am now very proud of the way these students are approaching scene-writing.
The students continue to provide feedback to each other. They also read the screenplays of 'Juno' and 'The Social Network' during these two weeks. Two regional language films, 'Valu' and 'Visaranai' were screened for the students. The students also watched the latest releases: 'Te3n', 'The Conjuring 2', 'Udta Punjab', 'Dhanak', and 'Raman Raghav 2.0' and attended Vikalp's special screening of the documentary 'Among the Believers' at Prithvi Theatre.

As part of Film History lectures, 'Citizen Kane' was screened, followed by a discussion on why it is widely considered as the greatest film ever made. Later, 'Breathless' was screened, followed by a discussion on French New Wave. We also had a short introduction to Film Editing as part of our Film-making Lectures.

We had a three-hour session with Guest Lecturer Neeraj Ghaywan (writer-director of 'Masaan') during which he shared his journey as a film-maker and the way he approaches his craft. It was insightful and very inspiring. The students also attended a day-long workshop at Avid Learning, a masterclass on film appreciation by Meenakshi Shedde, with a focus on regional Indian cinema.

And a very unique thing happened one Sunday morning. The students attended a Classical Flute recital at Prithvi starting 7.30 am. Not only it was a beautiful experience, it appears that it led to the rains finally arriving in Mumbai! I am sure experiences like these will stay with them forever.

June 23, 2016

Weeks 12 and 13: Story Development (Part 2)

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.

With all the theory lectures on writing over by week eleven, the students were given new exercises as we finish thirteen weeks of the course and reach the mid-point. During these two weeks:
  • We had a session where each student read out one page of write-up on their relationship with the story they are writing: how they are discovering it, what they like about it, what are the doubts in their heads and how they see the way forward. Other students were made to react to the reading - with the intention to help each other with the help of what they have learnt in the class or while doing their own writing. It was a session where the students did almost all of the talking.
  • The students were asked to select five scenes from different movies or shows which come closest to the tone of their respective stories. They then presented those scenes in class and shared the features of those scene that may define the tone of their stories.
  • The students were asked to write the opening scene of a hypothetical movie where a husband and a wife who are going through a difficult marriage meet a counsellor. The students were assigned different genres for this exercise. After their scenes were presented in class and feedback was provided on their scene and dialogue, we discussed the opening scene of 'Blood Simple' (1984).
  • We have also started Mandatory Feedback exercises where the write-up of one student is shared with all and everyone is asked to read and provide constructive feedback. The beauty of this exercise is that when the student and the mentor have lost objectivity on the story, the feedback by other students shows how to improve it.
During these two weeks the students read the screenplays of 'The Verdict' and 'Ordinary People' and created a detailed beat sheet of 'Satya' after watching the film. They also wrote the functions of each scene of the beat sheet.

As part of the film history classes, the students watched:
  • 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (1920), followed by a lecture on German Expressionism
  • 'Un chien andalou' (1928) as an introduction to Surrealism
  • 'The Rules of the Game' (1939), followed by a lecture on French Poetic Realism
The students watched the latest releases on big screen: 'Phobia', 'Waiting', 'Thithi' and 'The Nice Guys'. We also watched the silent classic 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans' at Matterden. 

They also watched a play at Prithvi and attended a talk at Avid Learning, Mahalaxmi, on women professionals in cinema that featured Guneet Monga (producer of Gangs of Wasseypur and The Lunchbox), Juhi Chaturvedi (writer of Vicky Donor and Piku), Pubali Chaudhari (writer of Rock On and Kai Po Che), Jabeen Merchant (editor of NH10), and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (director of Nil Battey Sannata).

Apart from all this, the students submitted the short film screenplays they have individually developed over the last few weeks. And yes, the daily scene-writing has continued uninterrupted for 90 days now.

June 03, 2016

Cannes in Andheri 2016

The regular readers of this blog must be aware of these festivals I organize for myself at my place - a mini-version of the big global festivals. This May, synchronising with the Cannes, I organized another Cannes in Andheri Film Festival. But this time I was not alone. My students at AIB First Draft joined me and the screenings were held at our movie-cum-lecture hall. We screened eight movies this time:

'Apocalypse Now' (1979/ USA) by Francis Ford Coppola: The OPENING FILM of our festival was the 3 hr 22 min long 'Redux' version of this anti-war classic. Winner of the highest honor at Cannes, the Palme d'Or, the film went on to win two Oscars - for cinematography and sound and is regarded today as one of the greatest films ever made. Watch it to know why. It is nothing short of a wonder!

'The Tin Drum' (1979/ West Germany) by Volker Schlondorff: This surrealistic black comedy, based on the novel by Nobel laureate Gunter Grass, is unforgettable! Winning the Palme d'Or with 'Apocalypse Now' it eventually also won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The film introduced me to the work of Volker Schlondorff - a veteran director of feature, documentary and TV. At the age of 77, he is still making films.

'12:08 East of Bucharest' (2006/ Romania) by Corneliu Porumboiu: This minimalistic dark comedy in the typical Romanian New Wave style was the feature debut for Porumboiu and won him the Camera d'Or at Cannes - arguable the most prestigious award for a debutant director.

'Marty' (1955/ USA) by Delbert Mann: I had never even heard of this and what a revelation this film was! It is one of the two films who have won both the Palme d'Or and Best Picture Oscar. It also went on to win Oscars for Direction (for Delbert Mann in his feature debut), Screenplay (for Paddy Chayefsky who also wrote 'Network') and Actor. The film was shot over 19 days and its box office revenue was nine times its small budget. Moving and thoroughly entertaining.

'The Scent of Green Papaya' (1993/ France-Vietnam) by Tran Anh Hung: The first film of the Vietnamese director won the Camera d'Or at Cannes and then became the first Vietnamese film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. It is one of the most beautiful films you will see. It will leave you with a meditative calm that will stay for very long.

'The Double Life of Veronique' (1991/ France-Poland) by Krzysztof Kieslowski: When this Kieslowski film won three awards at Cannes - Best Actress, the FIPRESCI Prize, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury - it brought Kieslowski to world stage. His Three Colours Trilogy and the rediscovery of Decalogue followed, making him a master in world cinema. My favourite film-maker, and it was a joy to rewatch this film after six years.

'Son of Saul' (2015/ Hungary) by Laszlo Nemes: Widely acclaimed as one of the finest films of last year, this Oscar-winner had started its journey at Cannes with four wins: the Grand Prize of the Jury, the Francois Chalais award, the FIPRESCI Prize and the Vulcain Prize for Sound Design. Very unique in its style, the film sets the wait for the next film by this Hungarian filmmaker.

'Secrets & Lies' (1996/ UK) by Mike Leigh: This great British drama by seven-time Oscar nominee, the great Mike Leigh had won three awards at Cannes - Best Actress for Brenda Blethyn, the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the top honour - Palme d'Or. The film had five Oscar nominations - Best Picture, Direction, Screenplay, Actress and Supporting Actress. I may watch 100 more movies this year, but I doubt many will come close to the greatness and emotional depth of 'Secrets & Lies' - the perfect CLOSING FILM of our festival.

June 02, 2016

Weeks 10 and 11: Story Development (Part 1)

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.

Eleven weeks are over at First Draft. Fifteen more remain, out of which, the last five will be spent not in any instruction, assignments or workshops, but in writing first drafts of screenplays. So only ten more weeks of instruction will follow. It is all building up - each student busy with their respective stories, each having unique struggles, and individual journeys. The instruction and the feedback process too has changed now. It is no more a uniform approach, but tweaked to suit each individual and the story he or she is developing. 

Fourteen ideas are being developed currently. Seven of them are feature films and the aim with them is to have a four-page story document by the end of week 13. Out of the seven show ideas, four are episodic stories with a light-ish long arc and the students are presently trying to write their episodes in half a page each, and understanding the parameters of their shows' respective first seasons. The other three shows are long narratives and the idea is to first develop the broad story outline before dividing those into episodes. Somewhere, in the middle of all this, the students are also working on a short screenplay.

Week 10 started with each student writing in one page his or her expectations from the rest of the course and from themselves. We had writing lectures on: 
  • Themes, Premise, Controlling Idea and Image Systems
  • Story Development: The Principle of antagonism and Types of Progression (from Robert McKee's book 'Story')
  • Plotting: How to Deal with the Second Act, Use of Index Cards, Sub-Plots, Time-Lock and MacGuffins.
  • The Hero's Journey: (from Christopher Vogler's book 'The Writer's Journey')
The students indulged in an in-depth study of the narrative of 'Casablanca' with the help of this series I had put up last year on my blog. They also read the screenplays of 'The King's Speech', 'Little Miss Sunshine', 'Masaan' and 'Kahani'. So they have now read sixteen screenplays in eleven weeks.

We also had a film-making lecture where we studied the concepts of Aspect Ratio, Film Stock, Camera Equipment and Lenses.

The students watched Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal' on big screen and the play 'The Merchant of Venice' at Prithvi theater. Optional screenings of 'The Double Life of Veronique', 'Son of Saul' and 'Secret & Lies' were held as part of our 'Cannes in Andheri Film Festival 2016'. 

We are immediately following it up with another festival of rare favourite films where each student is screening a film he or she loves but most of others have not seen. We saw the French film 'Love Me If You Dare' (2003) as the opening film of that festival.

However, the biggest highlights of these two weeks were the two day-long workshops we had. The first was conducted by Varun Grover in which he talked about his approach to writing, his influences, and his writing process especially with respect to 'Masaan'. He then went on to demonstrate the importance of the opening scenes of films. Eventually he talked about dialogue-writing with examples from dialogue scenes written by our students. Varun was with us for an entire day and has promised to return.

The second workshop was a surprise improv-workshop with the extremely talented improv-artist and comedian, Kaneez Surka. It was the day to shed inhibitions and indulge in games and exercises through which Kaneez taught us the principles of improv. It might just be the most fun day of all the 77 the students have had so far. Kaneez too has promised to return!

Perhaps it is about the sincerity and the brilliance of the students or the warmth of the set-up or the extra-ordinary effort by AIB behind the course that every guest leaves with the promise to meet the students again. It is not a secret any more that AIB First Draft is one of the best courses in film-writing in this country. After all, the students have written at least one page of a scene every single day for the past 76 days! How many writers or writing-students in this city can claim to have done that?

May 28, 2016

Must Watch Before You Die #47: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

I had watched 'Rosemary's Baby' for the first time in 2010. And I had loved it. I was not sure if I would call it a horror film, but its impact was enormous and I wanted to discuss it with everyone around me. Unfortunately, you cannot discuss this movie without spoiling it for others - as it has one of the most devastating closing scenes in film history, almost as powerful as the closing moments of 'Bicycle Thieves' (1948). I also remember doubting my fascination with the film. Without any real reason, I find myself biased toward Polanski and I love almost all of his twelve films that I have watched - including some lesser ones. Was it my Polanski-worship that made me so strongly appreciate this 1968 classic? I wondered. I wanted to give it some time, and re-watch it, and then see what it does to me.

The rewatch happened recently. With the AIB First Draft students, I revisited the film on a big screen - at Matterden. And I could feel it all over again - the masterful direction of Roman Polanski so efficiently retelling the horrifying story on screen, with every decision - of the use of color to lenses to the perfectly eerie background score adding to one singular purpose - creating a timeless textbook of not just horror, but film-making in general. I could feel my body reacting to the film, shivers all over me, and my mind getting sucked into the horrors that I was more aware of this time than the characters on screen or the students of mine around me. When the movie ended - we were stunned - no one said a word. Without any conventional horror device, the film had terrified us, and me, once again.

Do not read about it. Do not watch its trailer. Do yourself a favor and watch this film. There is, however, only one catch - experiencing this movie is a point of no return, with the end so terrifying that you might regret why you watched it. There is no escaping 'Rosemary's Baby'. But it is a must-watch-before-you-die if you are game for it! Go and get scared for life!

May 18, 2016

Weeks 8 and 9: Creating Your Characters and Setting (Part 2)

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.

Two months are over at AIB First Draft! Time never flew so fast as it did in the last nine weeks. As I write these words, the ten students have completed the mammoth task of writing one page of character sketch for ten to thirteen characters per story, as well as three pages of description of the setting of their stories: the location, the time/year/season, and the socio-cultural milieu. Considering sixteen stories are being developed among these ten students, to achieve this in four weeks is truly praiseworthy. Apart from this, they have also been working on the plotting of their stories/ episodes and on a short screenplay.

Weeks 8 and 9 involved all that is mentioned above, and more. The students also indulged in some character-development exercises to create rounded, three-dimensional characters for their respective stories.
  • Find similarities between you and each of your characters and then write about those similarities in 100 words each. The idea is to find yourself in all your 10-13 characters, including the so-called villains.
  • Find, in each of your characters, reasons that make them loveable. And write it down in 100 words each. You must find reasons to fall in love with each one of them.
  • Think of one person from your real life for the following: closest friend from childhood with whom you have lost touch, your favorite neighbor, a child who fascinates you. (27 such questions were given to them). After identifying them, write for each one of them: one admirable/ likeable quality, one flaw and one quirk.
  • Write in 50-100 words how each one of your character changes through the story.
These two weeks also included a lecture on 'Italian Neo-Realism' and the screening of 'Bicycle Thieves' (1948). The highlight, however, was the guest lecture at the sound studio of Biswadeep Chatterjee (he has designed the sound of, among others, '3 Idiots', 'Piku', 'Madras Cafe', and 'Bajirao Mastani'). From making us experience the multitude of sound that surrounds our every-day lives, to talking about the basic theoretical aspects of sound design and he eventually demonstrated for us how emotions and aesthetic of film are enhanced with the meticulous work on sound. The lecture was an overwhelming experience for me as well as the students. I am so deeply thankful to Mr. Chatterjee for his time and effort, and enthusiasm.

The students also read the screenplays of 'The Godfather' and 'Udaan', taking the number of screenplay-cum-discussion exercises to twelve in nine weeks. They also watched 'Casablanca', 'Sideways' and 'Short Term 12' - the screenplays of which they had read recently. We also watched three new releases: '10 Cloverfield Lane', 'Sairat', and 'Captain America: Civil War'. And we visited Matterden (Lower Parel) to watch the timeless horror classic 'Rosemary's Baby' on the big screen. Optional screenings of 'Apocalypse Now Redux', 'The Tin Drum', '12:08 East of Bucharest', 'Marty' and 'The Scent of Green Papaya' were held as part of our 'Cannes in Andheri Film Festival 2016'.

We decided to reward the students with two things in these two weeks. One, we had a surprise dance workshop where they were introduced to different dance forms and encouraged to shed their inhibitions and shake a leg. And at the end of the ninth week, the students had three days off, almost. The daily writing of 1-2 pages of scenes continued and as on today the students have been doing this for a consecutive 63 days! Isn't that something! :)

May 02, 2016

Weeks 6 and 7: Creating Your Characters and Setting (Part 1)

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.

The ten students at our course are currently, among themselves, working on sixteen ideas - eight feature films and eight shows. In the second month of the course they are supposed to brainstorm over their ideas, research about the setting and the tone of their stories, and develop characters. This is the phase where there cannot be any right or wrong decision. You have to welcome all ideas and consider them to be used later. You have to understand your story and its world and know why you want to tell it. You have to familiarise yourself with this new world and characters you are creating. Trial and error. Considering one option and then having more. Thinking wild. Indulging in the vague and hoping that clarity will arrive, soon. This is what they are doing currently. 

Writing Tasks of these Two Weeks: The students started week six with writing a one-page account of their experience at First Draft so far. Excerpts from what they wrote were shared in this post. Over these fourteen days, they were supposed to write 200-word sketches of ten characters per story. They were also supposed to write 200-word descriptions each of the place, the time, and the socio-cultural milieu in which their stories are set. Apart from this, they expanded their story outline to a one-page document, worked on some short film ideas, and continued writing two pages of scenes every single day, thus taking the uninterrupted practice to 48 consecutive days! 

The activities during this period were designed to enable the students achieve these targets. We had a lecture on 'the Eight Character Archetypes', based on the writings of Christopher Vogler, followed by breaking down a character into his or her physiological, sociological and psychological traits. A few practical assignments followed this: 
  1. Each student was assigned one of the batch-mates, ideally someone he or she does not know very well. Then the student was asked to interview all remaining students, except the one assigned, to understand that one character. By the end of the week, they were supposed to submit one page of character sketch of the assigned batch-mate. 
  2. Each student was asked to go out and find a stranger who is willing to talk to them. Then, after a couple of hours of conversation with their "stranger", the students were asked to write one page about him or her. 
  3. They were asked to answer a questionnaire to discover the darkest secrets and the biggest ambitions, and so on, of all the ten characters they are developing. They were also given a list of about 600 character traits and asked to choose the best traits that define their characters. Six per character. 
The students studied and had long discussions on the screenplays of 'Short Term 12', 'Chinatown', 'Casablanca' and 'Sideways'. They studied five chapters from the book 'The Tools of Screenwriting' by Howard and Mabley. They also watched the latest releases: 'Fan', 'Nil Battey Sannata' and 'The Man Who Knew Infinity' and discussed the merits and weaknesses of their writing. They also watched shows and movies recommended to them individually as per the ideas they are working on. And all of them watched the entire Season 1 of 'Fargo'. All of this in two weeks. And more...

We had three more lectures, covering different aspects of writing and film-making: 
  • A feedback session on scene and dialogue writing where a scene written by each one of them was presented and we discussed ways of improving each one of them. 
  • A screening of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' (1958), followed by a discussion on the film's narrative. We also had a lecture on 'The Basics of Sound Design in Cinema' followed by demonstrations from selected clips from different films. 
  • A screening of 'Singin' in the Rain' (1952), followed by a lecture on the first fifty years of American cinema, including the contribution of Griffith and the merits and limitations of the Hollywood Studio System. 
We had a wonderful guest lecture where Shakun Batra, writer-director of 'Kapoor and Sons', shed light on his writing and creative process and inspired them about the medium and its craft. The students also watched the play 'Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane' at Prithvi and a classical dance performance at NCPA. 

Seven weeks are over. Already! Time is flying away!!

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.”