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SHREEKRISHNA DOESN’T MIND IF YOU CALL HIM “LONGSHOT”

(By Kelly James)

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One of the most important lessons in dealing with life’s fortune and misfortune is that we can choose to laugh or cry, most often at the absurdity of it all. A malevolent storm destroys a neighborhood with the exception of one house, one of two twins receives fame and fortune while the other suffers constant defeat and humiliation, even a well-placed gambling debt can make or destroy a person. Life is fascinating when one considers the minute variations that lead to (seeming) happiness or tragedy. Writer Shreekrishna Padhye has always been fascinated by these situations. His self-declared love of dark comedy has led him to create a number of disturbing and yet laughable productions. Rather than showing us the real hero that each of us has the potential to become, Padhye finds amusement in showing us all how potentially sinister we can become…or possibly how wary we should be that those around us might become. His stories of the baser aspects of human nature exhibit proof that he has made peace with the self-centered facet of the members of society.

The pervasive sentiment in a large number of the stories which Shreekrishna writes is not judgmental, although the viewer might impose their own sense of right and wrong onto what they witness in them. It is Padhye’s contention that human motivation and action is a delicate precipice on which circumstance and emotions teeter. He concedes that while many of us wear the visage of ethics, we all are suspect until placed in situations that test our resolve. Padhye explains, “Humans are generally peaceful until they’re not and I’m fascinated by how little it can take to push someone over that line. It’s not easy to acknowledge the darkness that resides in every one of us and I feel that through humor you can ask these tough questions without making the audience defensive. I think people are inherently selfish. That isn’t a pessimistic statement, because we are all motivated by the same desire to survive. This also doesn’t mean people are bad. Being altruistic or bad is the result of our selfish motivations and the situation.

Shreekrishna’s “Longshot” is more a character study than simply a story. In the film, a mailman drops a package off at a residence as a man and wife are in their middle of their weekly ritual of watching the lottery drawing. During the delivery, the wife squints at the TV and erupts in excitement as she sees that they have won the lottery. They break open a special bottle of champagne and offer a drink to the mailman. The postman recognizes opportunity and before the couple can call the Lottery Board with their winning numbers, the mailman procures a knife from the kitchen and stabs them to death. With the couple dead and no obstacle between him and the fortune, the mailman picks up the ticket. It’s at this point that he notices the numbers all match…with the exception of one. He discovers the wife’s reading glasses…which were unused when she saw the winning numbers, he killed for nothing.

What is so interesting and such an important part of Padhye’s writing is that he lays some of the blame (thought not evenly) on both victim and perpetrator. In the film, the mailman tries to change what he feels is his miserable existence by stealing the lottery ticket and ends up killing the couple. The husband invites the mailman in to celebrate because sharing his happiness amplifies it. Both sides of this story are motivated by selfish reasons. The intersection that both sides of this equation share is greed. One may be more socially acceptable but the outcome for all involved parties is destruction. Shreekrishna reveals that he has always been suspicious of lotteries because they seem to amplify greed and selfishness, thereby creating a perfect setting for him to construct a tale of humanity’s shortcomings.

The plot itself is fairly simple, but this isn’t the source of what makes so many filmmakers and audience members fans of Padhye’s writing. The sense of knowing and relatability that he brings to his characters is palpable. They seem familiar in a way that is sometimes too close for comfort. The Mailman feels that life has not given him the proper opportunities and he must correct it through his own actions. The wife focuses her energy on this “get rich quick with luck” idea that she feels will ultimately allow her to have the things she desires. The husband feels that he serves at the behest of his wife and under the surface may resent this. He “goes along to get along.” It’s the source of the characters and their true motivations that make the story work. Padhye had discussions with each of the actors playing these three main roles about what their characters felt and truly thought versus what they exhibited on the surface. He relates, “One of the pitfalls a writer needs to avoid is molding the characters to fit a particular story. This will make them seem unrealistic, instead the better approach is to create conflicting characters in a tense situation and let them tell you how a something would play out.

In this case the comedy arises not necessarily from the quirky characters but from the situation that they find themselves in. It’s naturally funny to see people fall and make a fool of themselves. The mistakes the husband and wife make in this film are relatively benign (being overly friendly with their mailman) but because the circumstance is so unusual and there’s a lot at stake, this mistake ends up costing them their lives. The mailman’s character is funny and relatable because he is a rookie… at crime. We can laugh at his failure without him having to act in an exaggerated manner.”

Audiences were thrilled by the film but even more exuberant were the actors of “Longshot” who were given the chance to play such layered characters. Asdis Thorlaksdotti, the Icelandic actress who played the wife in the film describes, “Great writing like the kind Shreekrishna creates gives an actor the opportunity to think and discover. There are a number of ways to communicate this character and discussing them with him was an exercise in creativity…which doesn’t always happen for actors. He brilliantly explored the sinister impulses that lurk just beneath the surface of normal everyday life, and ended up creating something truly unique and refreshing. It was an immense pleasure to find the humor, the malevolent situations, and actions in this film.”

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Calvin Khurniawan on the impressionistic art of cinematography

There is an age old saying that tells us “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For many different art forms, these words could not be truer. For instance, by nature, the art of cinematography is entirely subjective. What may appeal to one person, may disinterest another. What you consider beautiful, your peer may deem hideous. It all amounts to the different ways in which individuals perceive the world. In order to succeed as a cinematographer, therefore, an artist must be able to speak to multiple different audiences at once. They need to understand how to channel the vast array of emotions, thoughts, and experiences that life has to offer into their medium of choice. They require a different kind of creativity and they must use it to entertain audiences of all different sizes. They need to see the world the way that Calvin Khurniawan does and once they do, they need to share their artistry with people from all walks of life, challenging them to see their surroundings in new lights.

“It seems obvious, but if you ask ten different painters to paint a tree, you’ll wind up with ten different styles of paintings of the same tree. It truly comes down to an artisanal approach. No other cinematographer would be able to replicate and do the same thing as the other, even with the same material to focus on. Everyone will light and place the camera differently. For that reason, I would say that cinematography is an impressionistic art. It makes my job all the more enjoyable because I get to determine how I’d like to tell a story and then I get to bring it to life,” told Khurniawan.

Khurniawan’s unwavering passion for filmmaking extends back as early as his childhood and his perspective derives from years of immersing himself in the arts. At a young age, Khurniawan’s father allowed him to use the family camera to take photographs of their vacation and he became addicted to the feeling of seeing his photos once he had them developed. He began to notice the different ways to manipulate an image he’d like to depict and loved the depth of emotions he could capture. It wasn’t until he began taking videos with his first ever mobile phone that he realized how intrigued he was by filmmaking. From there, he never looked back. His work as a photographer and cinematographer has landed him success with a number of films, many of which he ended up winning awards. For instance, Khurniawan’s film Alchemist won Best Student Film at festivals like the Around the World International Festival, the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and more. His other films, such as Antifilm and Kudeta, have also earned Official Selections at a number of prestigious festivals, as well as praise from his peers. He is a force to be reckoned with in the filmmaking industry and he has no plans of stopping any time soon.

In July of this year, Khurniawan collaborated with fashion guru Peggy Hartanto to bring Kudeta to life. The film juxtaposes modern choreography with modern fashion as it portrays Hartanto’s finesse in the fashion industry. The simplicity of her design doesn’t simply translate as modern, but rather it signifies a daring take on modern wear. Essentially, the basic idea of the film was to dress female warriors in dresses and present them like they hadn’t ever been seen before. It created an anti-thesis to fashion film and Khurniawan is drawn to the idea of bringing unexpected notions to life before his audiences. Prior to filming, however, Khurniawan was apprehensive given the amount of VFX shots that he would need to create. Rather than succumbing to the pressure, he dedicated every fiber of his being to learn how to use VFX to the best of his abilities and the result was profound. In fact, his mastery of VFX and his eye for filmmaking made him an instrumental key to the film’s success.

“It was truly challenging at first because I knew there were going to be a lot of VFX shots, but I trained and I took my time to understand the tools. I stayed up all night prior to each shoot in order to prepare so that I could be confident that I would capture the best content as possible,” recalled Khurniawan.

Another of Khurniawan’s favorite aspects of his profession is getting to collaborate with other top artists in the industry. For Kudeta, Khurniawan was fortunate enough to work with Hartanto and explore the world of modern fashion. He was also able to work with other designers and film enthusiasts on set. For instance, Kudeta’s production designer, Indrianty Lihardinata was humbled by the experience of working with Khurniawan for the film. Most artists who work with him are taken aback by the caliber of professionalism and expertise that he brings to the table when he works. According to Lihardinata, in fact, Khurniawan was the ideal combination of professional and enjoyable to create with.

“My favorite part about working with Calvin is his willingness to spend time with key departments to discuss the different aspects of the film. Kudeta was a fun one because it is a high-speed fashion film and so he would shoot everything in a high frame rate to accentuate the movement of the dancers. He is the coolest person to work with because he would take the time to frame every minor detail to ensure that it had a strong “wow” factor,” emphasized Lihardinata.

In all, Khurniawan takes great pride in the content he created for Kudeta. For this reason, he was even more pleased when Kudeta earned the recognition that it did so early on in its festival run. It was chosen as an Official Selection at both Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival in Florida, as well as the Short to the Point Festival in Bucharest and will likely go on to inspire even more audiences as time progresses. In the meantime, the esteemed cinematographer is excited to try his hand at creating a documentary. He believes that it will allow him to exercise his instinct as opposed to allowing technical elements to dominate his content. Stay tuned for more.

 

Photo by Joshua Kang

Saudi Arabia’s Talha Bin Abdulrahman is director extraordinaire

As a child, growing up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Talha Bin Abdulrahman’s father used to rent movies and watch them with his family. This quality time together meant even more for the oldest brother, as he was enthralled by the films in a different way than the rest of his family. Bin Abdulrahman knew then that he was meant to be a filmmaker, and has spent his life making that dream a reality.

Now, as a director, Bin Abdulrahman does exactly what he always dreamed of. He creates all new worlds, and sees his job as gathering all the pieces of a puzzle and putting them together just right. This viewpoint is that of a perfectionist, which is exactly what Bin Abdulrahman is when it comes to filmmaking. His newest film, The Scapegoat, is a telling tale of a writer going through a rough spot, and is expected to be a strong contender at many of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. This is no different than his previous work. His comedic musical Film School Musical is an award-winning look at the difficulties a young filmmaker can go through, and his feature Viral Night, although still in pre-production, is a thriller that audiences can already look forward to.

“The rush of being on set, there’s nothing quite like it. You get to see performances of talented people giving you their best with what they were given, even when things go south there’s always some kind of silver lining or a lesson to be learned so you avoid it in future situations,” said Bin Abdulrahman.

One of the director’s favorite films to work on was the 2015 dramatic thriller Served Cold. Honoring television shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Bin Abdulrahman wanted to tell a story about the drug world, showing that there is no clear-cut black and white in this world. Therefore, Served Cold is about a former drug lord who is sentenced to life in prison after killing an undercover cop. With the help of his shady attorney, he has to take desperate measures in order to be with his teenage daughter.

“There is a lot of interesting grey areas to discover and I wanted this project to shed some light on that theme. It’s essentially a cold revenge story about a criminal lawyer who poisons one of his clients who was sentenced to do a life sentence for illegal drug trafficking and killing the undercover DEA agent, who is also the lawyer’s father by adoption. This scheme doesn’t go as planned,” said Bin Abdulrahman. “Revenge stories can be very emotionally engaging and it’s a good way to see the characters faced with their worst nightmare, the rage behind the revenge fuels the whole story and it’s satisfying for the audience to go through this emotional journey.”

Bin Abdulrahman’s vision for the film was achieved when it won the “Audience Choice” at the SFA awards in January 2015, which was being held at the same time and place as the Sundance Film Festival. The film’s rights were then sold to ShortsHD, an international cable channel, where it was such a hit with audiences that it has aired twelve times during 2015.

“It feels very rewarding to be validated by awards and audience reactions. I think to myself that I must be headed on the right direction. It feels reassuring after five months of work to know that it wasn’t for nothing and it boosts you to move on to your next project,” said Bin Abdulrahman.

After writing the script himself and self-financing the production with his producer, Bin Abdulrahman made the decision to also direct the film. After finding the right cinematographer, the project took off. Immediately, Bin Abdulrahman became committed to telling the story of Served Cold with a specific vision in mind. He knew the look and feel that was appropriate for the genre and worked hard to bring the script to life. The story is very moody and has layers of dark tones, so maintaining that feeling depended a lot on the actors and how realistic their performances were, so as the director, Bin Abdulrahman strived to get the best out of his cast, and his efforts paid off. It gave him quite a lesson on finding the best way to get his actors in the mood and to get them be very serious, as all of the scenes were extremely intense. Throughout filming, the director strived to be fully harmonious with his crew, and he succeeded.

“Working with Talha is a blessing. He comes to set extremely prepared, knows what he wants and is very easy to work with. I enjoy working with directors like Talha who makes a producer’s life easier,” said Maan B., the Producer of Served Cold. “Talha is a very talented, creative, and visionary director. I experienced it on set with him; we came to set one day with something we have long prepared for, but something did not work, so Talha came up with a better idea on the spot and we continued with our day without losing money. That’s the kind of directors I like. He’s not married to his ideas. He’s open to suggestions and anything else that will help the project for the better.”

Bin Abdulrahman knows just how to bring the best out of those he works with, and the best out of himself. It is what makes him such an in-demand director, and why he will continue to have such a prosperous career.

COMPOSER CREATES BEAUTIFUL MADNESS: SAI SRIRAM MADDURY

Anyone who has been driving around town at night with their friends when that “perfect” song comes on the stereo…the own which causes everyone in the car to go wild (it’s a universally shared experience) has a deep understanding of the ability of music to take any experience into the stratosphere. This is the same concept filmmakers apply to the score of their film, regardless of the genre. They may not want head banging of chair dancing but said filmmakers definitely want to use music’s power over the human psyche and body to deepen the impact of what they are exhibiting on the screen. Michael Helms, director & screenwriter of the film “Madness” did not originally want a score for his film about a military officer returning home and dealing with the psychological aftermath and trauma of what he’d seen and done. He felt that the solemnity that a lack of music communicates would be more disturbing to the audience than anything a composer could muster; that is…until he heard examples of composer Sai Sriram Maddury’s work.

“Madness” is about feeling out of place and the isolation and personal disruption to one’s psyche even when surroundings do not support this sense. In the story, a Military officer returns home while a radical militant group’s merciless killings continues to haunt him and his memory. On leave from a deployment Cliff (the main character), visits home to experience normal life with his pregnant wife Liz. During this time, his battle experiences monopolize his thoughts. Unable to integrate into “normal” life, Cliff discusses this with Liz and returns back to the army front.

Helms wanted to communicate Cliff’s inability to find a comfortable place in his life and his mind. He explained to Sai that the score for the film should be as minimal as possible in order to not disturb this isolated environment. While the two did not share a vocational language, the discussions were in no way cumbersome. Maddury describes, “Michael was very good in describing what he wanted. It’s always something of a challenge to understand what a director wants but I did not have that problem with Michael as he is very good in articulating want he needs from the film and story point of view. Music is a part of the storytelling process. When a filmmaker like Michael speaks to me in terms that discuss emotion and the mood that he wants to create, we become collaborators. For example, when he needed the score to underplay a particular scene in which a character reveals his past, Michael explained the reasons why the score needed to underplay and why that particular scene was so important for the film. This way I knew the exact point and reason why Michael wanted the score to underplay and this made it easy for me to find a way to create music that presents his vision. As a composer I prefer directors to explain what exactly they need in terms of story rather than in musical terms. If a director tends to use more musical language, I might take it in a traditional musical terminology but it might be not exactly what the director was referring to. This doesn’t happen when we discuss in terms of characters, story, importance of the scenes and use of words like underplay, overplay, busy, not too busy, intense, light etc.”

In line with the early vision of Helm’s, Sai matched his composition to the film with very simple drones to create ambiguity and uncomfortability. You can’t keep a true creative personality from receiving and interpreting emotion; after multiple viewings of the film, the composer began to recognize a glaring omission in his work. Maddury wanted to justify the story of the character and his past because this concept is the core of the film. When memories of past events and individuals disturb Cliff, his past becomes as important as the character itself.  Sai presented the idea of using Arabic chants and a rhythmic motif that represented these past. experiences. Michael conceded that he loved that idea and felt that it amplified the overall intensity of the film. The use of voice rather than instrumentation was a calculated decision by the composer. The idea to use Arabic chants rather than an instrument like Duduk or Persian Dulcimer was in order to prevent the score from sounding too ethnic. The film focuses on the main character’s state of mind and thoughts rather than scenes that display the war in the Middle East, this caused Sai to feel that the use of ethnic scales and instruments were not justified. Maddury’s reasoning for using chants is directly applicable to the storyline. It was his contention that the character might have heard these chants coming from the terror groups in the army front and these continue to haunt Cliff. In a style that he has become recognized for, Sai blended Western instrumentation with these chants for a score that it is not completely immersed in one singular culture.

Maddury is full embracing of the technological advancements that are afforded to a composer these days. While he is well versed in the last software and MIDI, sometimes old school is what works best. He wanted a rhythmic motif representative of a heartbeat. After exhausting countless samples (and blends of these), he began experimenting with a more analog approach. He reveals, “After trying numerous samples, I did not get the right tone I was looking for. I tried experimenting and recording the sounds of a wooden desk, empty wooden shelfs, etc. After trying almost every wooden furniture I could get my hands on, I ended up using the sound of the rear side of the upright piano. It has a great hollowness and created the perfect “heartbeat” like tone I wanted. It’s such a fine instrument, it seems somewhat wrong to use it in this manner but there are no rules when it comes to making the appropriate music for a film. When I played it for Michael, he immediately wanted me to use it in the score and that’s how it ended up as a main motif for the haunting memories of the character.”

Just as a filmmaker has a process that produces an emotional creation, so does Sai. Preceding a viewing of the film but following discussions with the director, he writes thematic suites. These suites represent the ideas and emotional interpretations based on the script. Once these have been played for the director and he has provided feedback, they are then tailored to the film during the spotting session. This is when the structure of the score, where more and less emphasis is needed, cues, etc. happens. Following this, Maddury actually starts writing to the picture. The process is multi layered and Sai openly states that a director who understands exactly what he wants and is confident about it makes them a composer’s best friend.

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“Madness” was officially selected and screened at the Full Bloom Film Festival 2016 Queen City Cinephiles.