You Don't Become A Filmmaker Simply Because You Have A Camera! There's More To It Than That...

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on December 19, 2015

Umesh Kulkarni is a filmmaker we adore. His 4 feature films have a lot to do with it. Sensible stories populated with memorable performances told with an admirable skill are the hallmarks of his cinema. He is a part of that breed of Marathi filmmakers, who've managed to bridge the gulf between their craft & the commercial side of cinema. The remarkable efflorescence of Marathi cinema in the last decade is one of the most happy trends of our times.

What makes Kulkarni even more remarkable is his passion to share his knowledge & contribute to the next generation of filmmakers. He, alongwith Mr. Samar Nakhate, the ex-dean of FTII, has been running filmmaking workshops in Pune for the last 4 years, where they've trained over 300 young filmmakers from all walks of life in the basics of filmmaking.

While the digital revolution has opened the doors of filmmaking for everyone, it has not led to an attendant surge in high-quality short films. Kulkarni is passionate about the short film format & feels that this is because of our obsession with cameras & cheap tricks, and a lack of understanding of the potential of the medium. This is what he wants to address through these workshops. For the first time, he's stepping out of his home town of Pune and bringing the workshop to Mumbai.

The workshop will focus on how to flesh out ideas, turn them into stories & bring them alive on the screen. The workshop will be in English & will take place from Jan 7th to 10th. Check our previous post to know more about the workshop.

Umesh Kulkarni 4

We recently spoke with Kulkarni on the short format & its potential, why he started the workshop & how students will benefit from it. Published below are excerpts from that interview.

1. You’ve been a proponent of the short film format for long. You made Girni in film school & Three of Us & Makkhi after that? How does it help an established filmmaker like you?

I came across this format of short films when I started studying at the Film and Television Institute of India. At that time we were making short films as an exercise. In our second year, I made a film called Darshan, which went to a lot of festivals, including Hamburg. Then I made Girni as my diploma film,which traveled to some 40-odd festivals around the world. Later it also won the National Award. When I went to many of these film festivals, I realized how vibrant this format is! People are exploring this format in several ways and the kind of freedom this format gives you as a filmmaker is huge, it's tremendous. Going to all these festivals really motivated me to convert many of my ideas into short films.

In this format, one can really explore the medium in whatever way one wants to. In feature films you have certain kind of limitations. Firstly, you have to bring a sufficient budget. And it's not even about that every time. Sometimes you have certain ideas, which you really want to explore and there's no need of the feature format for these ideas. You only need a shorter duration to bring out that idea. Also, you don't have pressures like whether or not the film is going to be a hit on the box office, whether or not it will recover the money and other concerns like that. I realized that short films give you an opportunity to explore the medium, sans these pressures.

So I have made it a point to make one short film between every two features I make. It kind of rejuvenates me as a filmmaker, by bringing me closer to the medium.  Because there's a huge paraphernalia associated with feature films, while in a short film you can go much closer to the concept of cinema.

2. Filmmaking, especially short film making has become very democratic today. A large number of youngsters out there are making short films. You watch many shorts yourself. What do you think of this trend? What do you think of the films & filmmaking?

I think that earlier this medium of cinema was quite far away. Mainly because it was too technical, the cameras weren't that easily available to people. The equipment was also expensive. But after the digital revolution, the medium became democratised, and it became easier & more practical. One could simply take a camera and shoot what they feel like shooting. So, anyone who wanted to express something through this medium, it became possible for them to do so. Like, if someone wants to write a poem, the person can simply write a poem. It became almost like that with cinema as well, if someone wanted to make a film, it was easy!

I felt that after this kind of revolution, there will be many great short films. And some good short films were made, no doubt. However, we see most of the times that simply having a camera is not enough. The technology and the easy-to-operate software aren't sufficient to make a good film. You need to know certain things about the medium and the thought process has to be in line with the medium. That somehow wasn't happening.

I observed that many people have felt similar disappointment. When I travelled to Kerala to attend a lecture by renowned filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, and he expressed the same concern in his lecture. He said that with the advent of digital technology, he himself decided to go digital owing to the minimal paraphernalia and the greater freedom that digital offered. Also, he expected a lot of good films to come up in Iran, shot digitally, but unfortunately, excess of anything creates a problem as well. Because then people simply turn on their camera and start shooting without realizing what they're actually doing.

If one knows a language,  that does not make him a writer. Or a poet.  Likewise though we have a camera, we don't become a film maker. It needs a mindset.

3. So is that why you decided to conduct the short filmmaking workshop?

Yes, that is actually the reason why I decided to conduct this workshop. It's certainly a good thing that people who aren't necessarily mainstream filmmakers too, want to make short films. People from different fields, different walks of life can explore this medium, this format. However, there should be some kind of orientation, some understanding of the possibilities of what can be done with this medium. That's where this idea of a workshop started taking shape in my mind.

If we give some inputs to people who are really keen on exploring this medium, who aren't necessarily in filmmaking full time, it certainly helps. There are youngsters who want to explore this medium, grapple with it, this workshop is for them.


4. Is a formal training necessary to be a good filmmaker?

It'll definitely help the filmmaker. It helps the young, enthusiastic people to know how to approach this medium.

5. There are some films, which have a certain 'spark', which other films lack. So, what is it that differentiates a good filmmaker from an average one? What are the few things you would suggest to budding filmmakers out there who want to get better?

We have to understand that a filmmaker is not simply a technician. The search of the filmmaker is also important. A filmmaker is always in search of understanding, like any other artist. He's trying to understand and explore his relationship with his surroundings, with the society and with the medium through which he wants to convey. So all of it is important to become a good filmmaker. It's not just about how to use a camera or how to take a shot. More than anything else, it's necessary to know why we need to tell the story and in what way do we want to tell it.

Many of the times, the intent is very pure, because the intention of making a film comes from a very personal space. However, because the medium is so alien and one doesn't know the possibilities of the medium, one is not able to translate the idea into a film. Sometimes people are really enthusiastic, they'll make a short film by pulling up resources and then when the film is made, it doesn't get that kind of response from the viewers. And there's a possibility that the filmmaker can get disheartened, because what he or she thought is something else and the final output, the film is not able to covey that properly. And this kind of disillusionment can take one away from the medium itself. But if one gives it some thought and tunes the mind to this medium, then it becomes easier for someone who's handling this medium for the first time.

6. Could you take us through the structure of the workshop?

Basically, the workshop intends to talk to students about various things, like why make short films, what are the fundamentals of this format, and the process one has to undertake to convert an idea into a short film. Apart from that, the workshop also tries to talk to the students about the basics of cinema as a medium, the strength and uniqueness of this medium.

We talk about the concepts of space and time, the pre-production, post-production, art direction, music and all these elements which are part of the filmmaking process like costumes, cinematography, editing and sound design. We talk about all these concepts in the workshop.

We are trying to open their eyes to look at several things, to open the ears to experience the sound, and ultimately, to open the mind.

7. Could you recommend some really good short films to our readers? Classics, International, Indian? Some that you’ve been impressed with?

I love the short films Zoo Glass by Bert Hanstra, then the short films by Tarkovsky, Jacques Tati. Abbas Kiarostami's short film The Bread and Ally is another favourite. These are all classics.


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