"Horror Is A Unique Genre Because It Has An Inherent Paradox" - Upendra Sidhaye On The Challenges Of Writing A Horror Film!

By Nita Deshmukh. Posted on March 29, 2016

The film is first born in a writer’s mind. An effective screenplay acts as a backbone to the film. Screenplay of any film is the most vital instrument in shaping and structuring the narrative. A strong script often ensures a superior film and hence the role of the screenwriter is imperative to the process of filmmaking.

Upendra Sidhaye is an up & coming writer who already has an interesting mix of films to his credit. He's written for films as diverse as Killa, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Blood Money & Drishyam (hindi version). Sidhaye's latest project is a found-footage Marathi horror film called Episode 13 where he's worked both as a writer and actor.

The film is currently seeking funds for post-production. You can contribute to support the film's crowdfunding campaign by funding the film here. Last date to contribute is 9th April, 2016. You can also help by spreading the word (share their Wishberry page) and get others to participate in the campaign.

Episode 13 revolves around a television crew who want to shoot the 13th episode of their non-fiction TV show. Set in a village, the crew wants to unravel secrets and mysteries about a family that has never stepped out of their house in the last eight years. With no background score and complicated crane shots, the movie promises to give a real time experience for its viewers.

In an exclusive interview with Jamuura, Upendra Sidhaye speaks about his journey as a screenwriter, experience of working in both Hindi & Marathi film industry and about Episode 13. Published below are the excerpts from the interview.

You've worked on films as diverse as Blood Money, Killa, Drishyam & now this film. As a writer how do you adjust to these different genres?

As a writer, I always wanted to try as different genres as possible but didn’t know that things will play out so diversely. It just happened that way. Fortunately, I didn’t get time to settle in a particular genre because the next assignment was always completely different. After Mumbai Meri Jaan I was thrown into a small thriller called Payback, then typical Bhatt film Blood Money, then to subtle Killa and then to adaptation of Drishyam. And then there are scripts like Episode 13 which I wrote in this period but haven’t yet released.

I really didn’t adjust to genres per say. I just started from scratch with every film. Like a clean slate. Yes, I carried basic storytelling lessons which I had learnt on previous films but I didn’t carry rules or formulas. I knew that what worked in previous script wouldn’t work in the next because all these scripts were different monsters altogether. But there is this beauty of newness which guides you through this phase.

Whenever you try anything new, there is this excitement, eagerness and a sense of wonder which helps you to explore through unknown waters. It forces you to think differently, try new ideas and also gives you much more happiness than telling a story in the same genre. As they say, “Variety is the spice of life.”

A found-footage film is a rarity in India. We imagine it must have been a different experience writing it, since you want it to feel real, have a docu feel to it. How did you manage that in the film?

Yogesh Raut (Director) and Ashutosh Mishra (Co-writer) and myself have been ardent fans of horror. We’d already seen The Blair-Witch Project, Cloverfield, Rec. So when we decided to make a found-footage film, first thing we did was to watch these films again to understand the grammar and technique. We were working on the script for 2 years. We worked very hard on dialogues because in found-footage genre, they must sound very real, colloquial and not at all over-the-top.

Later, we also worked with actors who made those dialogues their own. It’s also extremely important to have sense of timing in these films because your 1 shot is one whole scene. There are no cutting points. So you can’t just “trim” the scene. You have to “delete” it. Also, we kept on asking questions which audience will ask while watching the film. For example, in found-footage films, audience wonders why these characters keep recording on camera when people are getting killed.

So we addressed that question in the film itself  - “Yeh Camera ON kyun hai?” Also, we chose not to explain things. In a traditional horror films, there will be a character in the 3rd Act, who will explain the reason behind the supernatural happenings or there will be flashback. We can’t have all that in found-footage genre. So you have to unravel the mystery in such a way that audience understands it but characters necessarily don’t.

Conversely, it’s a POV film and it captures only that much which is recorded on camera. So if 2 characters had spoken something important when the camera is off, audience won’t come to know of it at all. So anything that is said on camera has to feel very organic and not said exclusively for the audiences. Also, in real life, we don’t always talk things which are important. We also talk trivial, silly, irrelevant things. So while writing, we had to maintain focus on real story as well as be organic. That was tough but exciting.

Have you drawn references from other films or real events? What kind of research went into the writing of the script?

We haven’t drawn “references” from other films but it definitely has influence of films like The Blair-Witch Project, Cloverfield & Rec. The basic story idea about a family not getting out of their home is inspired from a real incidence which our director Yogesh encountered with many years ago when he was working on the TV series Maano Ya Na Maano.

There was this family in Aurangabad who had not come out of their home since 8 years but there was nothing horror about it. Yogesh & their crew couldn’t get their footage and that incident stayed with him and eventually triggered story of Episode 13. But apart from that there is no similarity to the real event. There are certain references of black magic in the film and we did a great deal of research regarding that.

Writing horror is a unique skill set, since it is so much about the tension that you build through the visuals. Am assuming this is your first work in the genre. What did you learn about writing horror in the process? What are some of the important things to keep in mind while writing horror, that may be different from writing in any other genre.

The biggest difference between writing horror and any other genre is that lot of it depends on how director treats it. As you said, so much is conveyed through visuals. Now as a writer I will write all necessary visuals but if director fails to “create the atmosphere” then those visuals will fall flat. Personally I don’t prefer horror films which are completely reliant on boo moments. These small hooks are nice tools but many horror films use them as crutches. I prefer films which create dread, get under your skin with minimum boo moments. For me, horror is all about character and atmosphere.

Horror is a unique genre because it has inherent paradox. It deals with supernatural things but it should also have a logic. Rules of Physics don’t necessary apply here but you get to create your own rules, your own logic and that’s very exciting and in a way, liberating. Only condition is that you mustn’t break your own rules. Another thing to keep in mind is that horror film doesn’t require only scares. It also requires a strong emotional hook. If there are no emotions, even 100 boo moments won’t work.

Also, just because it’s a horror film, characters don’t have to be dumb and do silly mistakes again & again. Instead, give characters a reason, a cause to make mistakes and it will resonate more with the audience. And don’t underestimate the audience by spoon-feeding them. They will get the hints, they will decode the clues. They are smart. They’re always trying to get ahead of the film and predict what’s gonna happen.

So it’s important to manipulate audience’s expectations. Raising them, preparing audience for something and then it doesn’t happen at that time. Then they get relaxed, and BAM...suddenly it hits them at most unexpected time. That kind of playing around is always fun.

You've written for both Hindi & Marathi films. Where do you feel most comfortable?

Marathi is my mother-tongue and so I will always be a tad more comfortable in it than in Hindi. But it’s worth noting that I have worked more in Hindi than Marathi. Killa is my first Marathi film since I started my career 10 years ago while Drishyam is my fourth Hindi film.


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