In an exclusive session on FC Front Row, filmmakers Neeraj Ghaywan, Karishma Dev Dube and Tisca Chopra – the creators behind well-acclaimed stories like Geeli Pucchi, Bittu and Rubaru – talk about their learnings while making short films, along with some useful tips to keep in mind when planning your own short.
Neeraj Ghaywan: Don't beat yourself up, thinking, 'Oh my God! Is it going to turn out like this? There are so many better filmmakers out there!' Trust me, everybody is learning, so keep that fear out of the window.
NG: If you want to make low-budget films, you may think that, 'Low-budget filmmaking mein kya jaata hai, camera leke nikal jaate hain!' Trust me, that's exactly where you go wrong. Because you don't have resources, you don't have money, you don't have anything, that's why you have to prepare double, you have to plan more. Hence, writing the screenplay is the first step.
Karishma Dev Dube: Editing, in the last three years, helped me become a little more economical as a writer. I realized staying within my budget allowed me a lot more time, especially in Bittu with the kids. It allowed me to spend more time with them within scenes and hope to discover something new even when I was in a micro scene with a small objective. I want to buy as much time as I can with my actors.
KDD: If I can spend the bulk of my money on really good technical people, I've never regretted it. If the camera team is good and I can move on quickly between setups, I can live with a little bit of over-budget for my own mistakes. I'm always trying to keep a room for that.
NG: Remember that you are depending on people's favors. So you can't be like, 'OK, I'm the director, please get me something.' Nobody is going to give you any favors. You have to make an effort to actually warm up to your HODs. You have to tell them, 'This is the idea and I am passionate about it, please come on board.' They'll be excited only if you have a great screenplay.
NG: Don't be afraid to get caught if you're doing low-budget filmmaking. I have a guerilla kit, which has a fake mic, a fake ID, and a lot of these fake things which I don't use anymore. I've used it a lot in the past. So if you get caught, you have to know the drill about what you have to do when you get caught.
Tisca Chopra: I put aside a little bit of money that I had. I had another friend who said, "I'll put in an equal amount and let it go where it does." There was this idea in my head and I was not aware of Large Short Films till I did a bit of looking around. And as we were writing it, we proceeded with the writing as if we're going to shoot it. We set up a shooting date. We said, "We're going to go ahead. We have plan A and plan B. If we know that we are going to get some more money, then we're going to go here, which is to Delhi, to Chandni Chowk and to shoot it exactly where it is at the moment. Else, we'll shoot somewhere in Pune, in a community which looks similar, etc." After that, I got a contact of Large Short Films and sent out an email to them about my film. They responded asking me to send whatever I had on it so far, which I did. The next morning, they sanctioned the budget. I passed out. I had to sit down – it was six times the amount that I had thought! It was like one of those apocryphal moments where you're thinking, 'Oh my God, my wishes are coming true and I'm going to make the film that I always wanted to make.'
KDD: It's basically your immediate community that provides the funding in the beginning at least. And then, even though it feels impossible, slowly, there's an inherent audience that you start to build who keep showing up and supporting you. I can apply to 17-27 grants through a year because I'm just looking for funding. Even though I'm in New York and it feels like it's more prominent here and popping up in my inbox, it's actually accessible to everyone around the world. There are a lot of smaller, independent people who put together a rolling fund every year, even if it is $3000 or $5000. It's open to international filmmakers. There are institutions like Film Independent and Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) too.