May 18, 2016

Week 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

Week 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.”

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.