12 Essential Tips From Major Filmmakers, Film Companion

1. Rohit Shetty on keeping your unit happy

The secret behind keeping the unit happy is giving them respect. And when I say giving them respect, I mean giving them their share, giving them their platform. It is all happening because of them, because they are together. Take them as family and give them that respect. Today also, if I have to call my AD, I will ask, ‘Can I speak to you?’ I don’t need to do that, but by doing that I give them respect. I need to understand and to listen to them and I do that a lot. In every decision I make in my life, they are there with me. Love is the second most important thing, I would say. That and making them feel important. Everyone is very important in my team. When a guy leaves for my shoot, he should feel that he is very important, he has to reach on my set because he is an important part of me. That is why I have been successful in keeping my team intact for so many years. They work as a family. In my office, there are no office hours – it’s not like you have to reach here at 9 and you have to walk out at 6 and you have to stay till I’m there. This whole exercise has really worked for me. It’s like their second home. And for some of my team members it’s like their first home, they stay more here.

2. Shekhar Kapur on the most important personality trait a director should have

Humility. I think it’s really important to have humility because without humility, you have no vision, you have no understanding of life and you have no compassion for your characters. Then, if you’re arrogant, then every character will suffer under you and bear the burden of your arrogance. Unless you have humility, you don’t have the power of observation – you look at it from a very egoistic point of view. Everybody has two egos – they have a personal ego and a creative ego. You have to have a creative ego to make a film or any other work of art. It’s very tough sometimes because your personal ego comes in and that actually is destructive. A creative ego is constructive. So I would say humility is a really, really fundamental idea to all art.

3. Shoojit Sircar on failure

I think I have failed in all my films, when I look back, because of sometimes, commercial pressure, sometimes you have not done enough research, sometimes insecurity. In Madras Cafe, there are many failures which I would want to correct. Let me tell you what happened – there was a market research team. So many students came, many people came. The name of the film was Jafna. Jafna is a place in Sri Lanka, where the problem was. In the questionnaire it was written ‘What is Jafna?’. Somebody said, ‘It’s a fruit.’ So then I decided, ‘Oh if somebody thinks Jafna is a fruit then I’m in the wrong country making the wrong film.’ So that kind of research came in. They forced me to change a few things in the film. When I look back, I think it’s the silliest thing I have done.

4. Imtiaz Ali on how to know when you’ve written something well

When you’re writing, sometimes you get a feeling in your heart, you feel nice. It’s almost as though the writing of it has entertained you and you have been the first audience for that piece. For instance, I remember in Jab We Met that while I was writing it, I really thought that there was no story in it. I thought, ‘I don’t know whether this film will get made. I’m writing it.’ And then there was a point in the story where Geet rushes from the field, she comes and there is Aditya and she comes to him and he looks at her – he has an airgun in his hand – and she says, ‘Woh dekh raha hai?’ and the boyfriend says, ‘Yeah’ and she goes and hugs him. At that point, I got the thrill in myself and I thought that now the film would get made.

5. Rajkumar Hirani on looking for inspiration in unlikely places

I used to do a lot of plays in Nagpur – write, direct, act, everything. So I was in the habit of writing anything that seemed interesting. So a lot of my friends joined a medical college. I started doing commerce, which was three hours in the daytime. So I would spend a lot of time with those students, I’ve stayed in that hostel and it was a fascinating world of stories. Like one of my early memories is that in one of the hostel rooms they had an ashtray which was like a skull. It’s a face sitting there and people are tipping their ashes in that. And I said, ‘Yaar fantastic, bloody looks real.’ and the guy looks at me and says, ‘Yeah of course it’s real.’ So for their anatomy lectures they used to buy these skulls and they were real people. And I couldn’t believe it, so I said, ‘This was actually the head of some guy!’ So there were many funny anecdotes. So then when I went to the Film Institute, I actually wrote a story about three medical students.

6. Ram Gopal Varma on what a film’s success or failure means

I think it’s very wrong and irresponsible for any director, any filmmaker to say that he’s not interested in a film’s success or failure. Success for me, at the end of the day, is one part about the audience liking it, the box office and the second is there are so many people involved with you – actors and technicians and various investors and all of them have kind of invested their time, money and energy. And as the director, I’m responsible for seeing that their effort doesn’t get wasted, no matter what I think about myself. Like, for example, Aag. I said I don’t regret making Aag as a film, but I regret that I made Mr. (Amitabh) Bachchan, Ajay (Devgn), all these people be part of it. Because somewhere I can suffer the consequences of my decision, but to make others suffer the consequences is what I regret.

7. Sanjay Leela Bhansali on how he controls his anger on set

On the set I eat popcorn, peanuts, chana – all the riffraff in the world. It keeps me occupied and I talk less therefore. I keep eating so sometimes when I get angry, I quickly stuff my mouth. I had too much of anger in me so I used to just chew gum to keep quiet. And sometimes when you get angry and you keep chewing harder and you say, ‘Let it be,’ and you put another one. It keeps you occupied and it takes away lot of your unnecessary expression which might hurt or disappoint people.

8. Anurag Kashyap on the importance of collaboration

I like making movies. I work all the time. I write very fast, I write a lot and it’s a very strange thing – writing is kind of a gift I have. Other things I kind of have to practice and hone my skills, but writing comes very naturally. I don’t take more than three to four days to write a script. There’s always a first draft and then I keep making changes, making notes and since I’m also the writer, I have a team of people who work very closely with me – my assistants, my co-writers. My actor is always a co-writer. If you see, all my films, my actor’s always been a co-writer. They all work together and I write and re-write while shooting, I re-write while editing. It’s a constant process of evolution, so it’s all together. That’s what I do and I just like working. I have my scripts for the next seven films ready.

9. Sujoy Ghosh on using symbolism effectively

I remember when we were looking for a guest house in the first Kahaani, we came up with a place called Mona Lisa in Kolkata. It had the look and feel that we wanted but I got more attracted to the name. For me, Mona Lisa is associated with an enigma. I kept thinking about the painting where you don’t know whether she’s smiling or looking at you. Even in Kahaani 2, when Inder (Arjun Rampal) is running behind Goopi, how do we establish he’s a forger? Yes, we know he makes false passports. But it’s when you see two Mona Lisa paintings lying there, you know this guy is a counterfeit. These are little associations that I’m not sure people get but it helps evoke emotion. Another example from Kahaani 2, is that I start the movie with a song from the film Julie. There are so many meanings to that song – yeh raatein nayi poorani, aate jaate kehte hai koi kahaani. The reference is clear, but Julie is also about a single mother.

10. Nagraj Manjule on how to make it as an outsider

To make a film, you need neither contacts nor money. You just need good work, a good story, a vision. I’ve met many people who have long beards, they roam around with a big Shabnam-type bag, you see them deep in thought – they have everything except a story. That’s the thing – you can dress up, but you should also be willing to work. Sit at home, sit anywhere, just do good work. I had no contacts, no money, I was not from the kind of family where my father or grandfather made films. I’m from a very small town, a small family. Everyone looks at the person onstage, nobody looks at his journey, from where he arrived on that stage. I think that before climbing on the stage, you have to look at where you’re from and where you’ve reached. 

11. Ritesh Batra on being disciplined

If I don’t write I feel naked. I just need to do it. Also out of all the things I write there are bound to be many pages that are just terrible. And then I just outline, outline and outline. Writing, after all, is just rewriting. You have to invest time in it. Even with Photograph, I was rewriting it during the shoot. All these people invested in it based on the script, but you know it was still not fully there till we started filming.

12. Karan Johar on not seeing himself as the stars’ equal

You’re not a movie star, you’re a filmmaker. Even if you’re best friends with a movie star, they’re the movie star. When you’re walking into a crowd, 300 people will jump on them, not you. How does that make you equal? You might feel great about yourself,  you might think, ‘I made this film for him.’ And all those thoughts you can live with, they can fester and die in you. But you have to know that a movie star is a movie star. It won’t be an equal dynamic. It’s very difficult to be best friends with a movie star above and beyond a point of time. It’s not easy, no matter what the world has said about my fallout, my friendship, my up-and-down zone with Shahrukh (Khan). Shahrukh is one of the closest members of my family, he will always be. It is not an equal dynamic. I look up to him, not only as a movie star, but also as a member of my house and family. Even if there are ups and downs in that dynamic, it’s always going to be kosher because of the love that our families have for each other. But is it an equal relationship? Certainly not. He is the big movie star in that dynamic, I am the director he first gave a big break do. And that will never change. The moment a director starts believing he or she is a movie star, that’s going to be the end of their commercial success. They are not going to be able to survive the game.

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