A better take

It’s 9:02 PM on our shooting set. The last take was okay –  just okay. I would love another take but if we go beyond 9PM the crew payments go into 3rd call sheet, dinner has to be organised on set, there is need for late night transportation which eventually affects the next morning schedule etc. Considerable price for a better take. I look at the 1st AD  who reads my face and looks at the cameraman who looks at the line producer who looks back at me. It has been a long exhausting day and everyone just wants to hear the two magic words – “Pack up”. The clapper boy arches his back and looks at me. Such moments remind me that I should never be a producer when I am a director. Yet such moments happen in every single film. 

Every shoot day we start our working day at 6am with a one hour break for lunch that gets eaten into by many small bits of work. Every day finishes earliest at 9PM so that’s a minimum of 15 hours plus the time it takes to load, unload, gather, prepare, pack, unpack all that is required for our work. We work 7 days a week on shoot often shooting whole films in single schedules. This is not just our crew – this is how most film crews work in the regional film industry in India. About a hundred people on each crew.

Abroad film crews are much smaller in number mainly because they are quite expensive to hire. Instead of a hundred there can be 20-40 crew members to do the same kind of work. Then why do we need so many people? Fact is, in India labour is the cheapest to hire so the dynamics are accordingly different.  The same reason why we have lift operators, ATM security and such personnel when most of the world doesn’t. It is supposedly cheaper to hire personnel to ensure the safety of equipment that is far more expensive in comparison. Bulk of the crew here are untrained personnel just growing through the ranks. I have heard this discussed in condescending tones by top cast & crew, especially those who have just returned from a schedule abroad.

But the other side of the coin is that the specialised crew abroad usually drops their gear when the shift is over and in the rare situation where they agree to work beyond confirmed hours, prohibitive overtime rates apply. Whereas that is not true of our homegrown local crew who still work for minimal pay and minimal work conditions. Like a friend observed, the professional crew here work like the student/ lo/no pay crew abroad.

“Madam! One more-alle?” calls out the lighting chief cheerfully interrupting my thoughts about a third call sheet. I nod without looking at my line producer. The crew swings into action preparing for a quick retake and all flows into motion – this time coming together as a magical take. My eyes light up as it unfolds before me. “Cut! Good take!” and smiling I turn to the chief and he smiles back acknowledging my silent thank you. Pack up is announced so we don’t go into another call sheet and the day ends well.

That willingness to go the extra mile irrespective of how hard the day has been  – is a specific trait found in film crews. Unlike other industries, this one calls for physical and mental work as well as undying passion that fuels the work. Every shot matters. Especially in a country that makes so much indie cinema within very limited resources, that passion is what makes it survive. The assistant directors who double up as junior artistes or sound lock up as and when the situation demands, the art assistant who carries a primitive pan of burning coal to get that misty look on screen, the costume person who up-cycles costumes to help save on budget, the DA who carries 5 heavy musical instruments himself to ensure their safety, the dancers who demonstrate a step a hundred times with the same energy, the catering staff who cheerfully serve every meal… each of them bring their own bit to make the film. Finally, the top cast and crew are lauded and appreciated for their work but could it ever be done the same way without everyone else? NO it couldn’t. While the big names may zoom off for rest and relaxation, the bulk of the film crew simply shift to other film sets and go back to work.

We have a tradition on our set. After particularly difficult days, everyone – the whole cast and crew get a lollipop treat. In an instant, everyone suddenly turns into a child, squabbling over flavours and numbers of lollipops! Those are special times when everyone is the same, going about their work with a smile on their face and a lollipop in their mouths, but they deserve so much more. My salute to the wonderful people on our crews who work so hard and yet keep alive that childlike enthusiasm for the work they do. They deserve a better take – much better work conditions and respect. I hope better will come soon. #May Day #Salute #Respect

Lollipop lowres

11 thoughts on “A better take

  1. I have a feeling you have already read “making movies” by Sydney Lumet 🙂. This is probably your best piece so far.

  2. Quite surprising and glad to see someone like you write about those workers who sweat it out maam.

    One of the reasons why we have soo many job names – lift operator/ atm security/ despatch lady and so on and on is also because of this bloody caste system, which is further intertwined and emboldened by the class divides.
    Indian upper castes/class would never let this system change as this is their privilege.
    People like you, am afraid, even after many decades will be forced to work with such large crews. Sadly, no one wants to acknowledge the issues and begin a change.

    Heard soo many of our big writers and celebrities talking about apartheid and the struggle by the Afro Americans, but none of them talks about our own bloody caste issues, which is on another level. Our films never goes into this. Only Tamil and very rarely Marathi film do..

  3. Good one ..I hope Indian film crew set conditions would change and more labour favourable. People like you can show how to execute examples and lead .since you have considerable international exposure.

  4. That was a beautiful tribute to the crew behind the scenes .. Honestly..an avid movie goer like me didn’t know that so much hard work went behind the screen.Thanks Anjali for enlightening us about it.A big salute to all of them.

  5. An excellent thought and very well written.
    However, the bigger question is what are we going to do about it?
    A pat in the back or a “lolly-pop” is no longer enough to counter the social injustice, thriving day by day!
    Elitism is defining a new caste system especially in the work-environment. Every job has its own contribution to the society; This message is greatly undermined by the uneven proportion of acknowledgement given in forms of remuneration and social respect.
    May ” Equality” be the vision which drives us .

    1. The first step is to acknowledge it and then each one of us needs to do our bit to address it.

  6. Dear Anjali

    A nice read!
    Good, you wrote about the non-glamourous part of film making & the sheer hard work of the unassuming crew.
    The machinery which is equally part of the final product, the director’s dream, should deserve better.
    As you mentioned for them it is hopping from one set to another & and just another hard days work.
    People watching a movie is not aware of this & they are carried away by their stars presence & the magic of the content.
    I have seen many directors or I am not sure whether’s it is the producers who take that call, of showing the behind the scenes of the making of that movie.
    Probably they can show their crew, whose efforts were equally important in the making of that cinema.
    That would be an honour!

    Thanks & Best Regards
    Rajesh V R

    1. That was a beautiful tribute to the crew behind the scenes .. Honestly..an avid movie goer like me didn’t know that so much hard work went behind the screen.Thanks Anjali for enlightening us about it.And what a better day to acknowledge their contribution to the film field.A big salute to all of them.

  7. Dear Anjali

    A nice read!
    Good you wrote about the non-glamourous part of film making & the sheer hard work of the unassuming crew.
    The machinery which is equally part of the final product, the director’s dream, should deserve better.
    As you mentioned for them it is hopping from one set to another & and just another hard days work.
    People watching a movie is not aware of this & they are carried away by their stars presence & the magic of the content.
    I have seen many directors or iam not sure whether’s it is the producers who take that call, of showing the behind the scenes of the making of that movie.
    Probably they can show their crew, who’s efforts were equally important in the making of that cinema.
    That would be a honour!

    Thanks & Best Regards
    Rajesh V R

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