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Film Matters. Tell the world why.

INSIGHT: Prashant Rai

“I want freedom to shoot and this is where 16mm film comes into play.”

The Indian Navy was an experience of rigorous education and physical training that no other institute in the world could impart to PRASHANT RAI.  It was in the navy, while on the move, where he developed a passion for still photography and documented his little adventures to exotic destinations on KODAK film.  The times spent at sea made him marvel at how light played with the colours of the waters. It was this fascination that drove him to a different path, a challenging change in career.  After serving in the navy for thirteen years, PRASHANT RAI is creating inspiring images like the sea, in motion picture…

1. Who is your all time inspiration?
I think Indian Cinema has played a great role in shaping my visual taste. I am a great fan of P. C. Sreeram’s and Santosh Sivan’s works. They are superb craftsmen and artists in equal measure. From the early years, I have liked V. K. Murthy’s work in Kaagaz Ke Phool. And of course, my well of inspiration wouldn’t be complete if I don’t mention Conrad Hall and Janusz Kaminsky.

2. What have been your achievements over the years?
I have yet to shoot a major commercial film. My trysts have been mostly with art house films. I shot R(EVOLUTION) which was screened at Karlovy Vary film fest in Czech Republic under the forum of independents and was competing against some real good talents from Europe and North America. The film was shot on 35 anamorphic. We couldn’t afford a DI because of budget constraints so we sent an optical print and it looked terrific at the festival. Audience loved the look.  I also shot a low budget horror thriller.  I again chose 35mm with anamorphic glasses to capture the vistas in Kashmir. I think shooting anamorphic is the best option if you are on a budget.
It is too early to boast of achievements. In terms of honing my skills in cinematography as a craft, yes I have come a long way. I feel much confident now when I am on a location or a set. Earlier the light controlled me, now I can control the light to a satisfactory extent. I can now dare to think that I can get a look that would suit the Director’s vision. I think this in itself an achievement.

3. In this era where production is moving towards digital, what made you decide, to instead purchase a S16 camera?
I love Indie style filmmaking. A S16 camera like an ARRI SR3 HS packs a lot of punch in its small size. The camera is robust and strong. I shot a short on a beach, almost waist deep in the sea. There were splashes and salt. After the shoot I just wiped it with a moist cloth, let it dry, and then bingo – it was running fine. I don’t think any digital camera with all that tons of electronics embedded in it would be able to take this kind of abuse.
A S16 camera sets me free from all that umbilical cord which otherwise tethers the digital cameras to the video village. Low budget filmmaking requires quick turnaround from one set up to another.  And to be honest, these digital cameras have fallen into the rut of smart phone culture. Within 2 years they get outdated and the worst part is, they are not getting any cheaper in spite of their abundant supply.  Most filmmakers fall prey to their specs and numbers which the manufacturers display around. They make movies on digital not realizing what lies down the road – a higher cost in post. There is nothing called a low budget digital filmmaking. It is either UGLY or EXPENSIVE.

4. What drives you to shoot on S16 so passionately?
Being an Indie filmmaker S16 gives you the best cost economics without compromising on the aesthetics. I want freedom to shoot and this is where 16mm film comes into play. It’s a very versatile format which you can use from shooting content from web and internet to a feature for theatrical release. The resilience of this format is proven worldwide over decades.  There have been so many films shot on 16mm which I couldn’t discern in the theatre but later researches took me by pleasant surprise. Off late, some of the best looking 16mm theatrical release films have been LORE(2012), THE RUM DIARY, STONED, THE WRESTLER, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, BLACK SWAN, HURT LOCKER, and I can go on with 20 more titles.

5. What do you think is the best medium to capture images?
FILM.  With advances in KODAK’s Vision3 film stocks, there are more details in highlights and it looks deeper into the shadows. The best part of film is that most of us have no exact word to describe the LOOK – some say it’s organic, some say it’s alive, I say it’s the unchartered territory where science meets art. What happens in those 3 dimensional layers is the best example of a magic beyond the reach of programmers and code writers.  Every time I look at the rushes/telecine the images come out beautiful than expected.  The look of the film is something like an extension of nature.  I process my films at Kodak Cine Lab.

I recently saw this film called The Master. The 65mm scenes just blew me away. I have never seen ordinary faces look so magnificent. I am looking forward to watching more film shot on 65mm because the whole optics is very different and intimate.

6. How do you feel about getting your desired results “in post” instead of “in camera”?
It is the look of the film that you can’t quantify in terms of complex mathematical formulas or codes.  I think the best way a cinematographer can help his/her producer save money is by shooting on film and getting the desired result in the camera.  It is very much possible.

7.  Tell us about the short film you recently shot on S16?
The short filmis about connecting with your inner self. Though there could be many ways ranging from philosophical to spiritual, but I chose a much simpler way. Being an avid runner myself, I think the best way one can sync with himself is by running. The short film depicts a girl running and discovering her beautiful inner self.

Film Matters.  Tell us why…
Absolutely!  There are no compromises when it comes to FILM. FILM is not a line product. FILM is a ‘de rigueur’ for any production, big or small. The best investment to a producer is to shoot on film. This safeguards his/her interests in all possible ways. It’s proven over the years.


Watch Prashant Rai’s short film By the Seaside >>


The power of denial!

The power of denial

Professional photography meant access to a lot of equipments starting with good SLR to having your dark room; some even had their own processing machines. The desire to produce stunning images required not just craftsmanship or skills but access to logistics too which was limited to a handful. There were many whose creativity was limited or dependent on other technicians as to how they processed their stills or whether they could get their negatives pushed or pull for creative effects. I think the digital industry saw this gaping hole in the market which comprises mostly of amateur photographers and within a decade they changed the global photography market. Now with just one time investment for a good DSLR and software like Photoshop, you bypass everything else that came between a photographer and his image. No film stocks, no labs, no chemicals, no dark rooms, and no hassle of exercising economy of usage.

Though, I am still an avid fan of film based photography because nothing beats the photochemical look even though I have to spend on expensive stocks and digitisation of negatives. I don’t like to compromise, maybe. For many others, who are happy with digital, the credit goes to the digital revolution which grew from mass based photography support. One can never underplay the power of denial.

About the picture above – http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=631856208&v=photos&viewas=631856208#/photo.php?pid=2296036&id=631856208

35mm still processing.

I will go 5 may be 6 yrs back when there were ample ‘photo studios’ around. You give them a roll of film and they would give it back in an hour – processed in those bulky konica/fuji/kodak machines. If you would be a tad patient they would even scan it on a disc at 300 dpi. It was relatively cheaper then because there was competition.

fast forward to 2009 and I have to use Just-Dial facility to find out are there any still film processing shops around or they all have been devoured by the digital revolution. The bulky process machines replaced by desktops, chemicals pipped off by photoshops, and people slowly forgot the photochemical look of a film; they are contend with digital images – it’s hassle free, you see!

I am sure the so called ‘film look’ void in the market will soon be filled with a 49$ plug-in for image enhancing softwares. Whatever, film based photography has become expensive now, especially in India. Even in Europe, there is still a substantial demand and market for film based photographers. I am sincerely hoping to see some revival of film.

’11 Weeks’ – the film shoot. Part-1

Srinagar greeted with a dry autumn and deserted streets. The tourists who thronged the markets and shikaras a few months back were missing. As a photographer I felt like the streets, the landscape too was barren, with a veneer of gritty yellowy dust all over compared to the lush greens three months back.

to read more click on the page – ’11 Weeks’ – the film shoot. Part-1