Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mindfulness and the art of filmmaking

I am trying to develop a more regular writing habit (The goal is to ultimately write everyday) and of late, posts on methods to develop mindfulness have attracted my attention a lot. One can find tons of writing on mindfulness and food, mindfulness while doing daily chores like dishes, laundry etc. But I didn't find a lot on being mindful in your professional work, so I decided to write about that.

I am a filmmaker, finishing up a short film and I was recently reviewing a file that my colorist had sent me. I had gotten into the 'zone' quite fast and when I snapped out of it to take a break, a certain idea that I have been wanting to write about for a while popped up again - how the different stages of film-making can help cultivate mindfulness. A quick primer on the film-making workflow : once the film is shot, it goes through several edits before what is called a 'picture lock' can be achieved, after which it goes on to audio post-production (music and sound). The director has to watch the film through each of these edits, over and over again, as each layer is added to take the film towards completion. And each time she watches it, she cannot tune out of it as though she were watching someone else's film - She has to be alert to spot mistakes. And the more layers that get added, the greater the possibilities of there being mistakes. She has to keep her ears open for sound, eyes open for the images and also her sixth sense open to catch any mistakes that cannot be spotted through logical reasoning. And its not just 'mistake' spotting, being alert also helps her find unexpected connections between what she has in front of her and what her film could become. (creative accidents are the best thing that can happen to an artist). I have been working on this short film for close to a year and must have watched it more than a hundred times (I'm not kidding). I also like to watch it more times than necessary because I like to let it all incubate in my head. The director also represents the cast and crew that she has worked with on the film, so rushing through the process of watching the film over and over is in a sense, a sign of disrespect to your team. 

Back to the mindfulness aspect of this post - As the filmmaking cycle comes to an end, there are several things to watch/listen for and if you are not completely rooted in the present moment, chances are that someone in the audience is going to spot an error that could have been easily avoided. Thankfully, one does not have to be 30% mindful at the first cut stage of the film, and then 100% mindful when you are mixing the film (the final stage of filmmaking). Mindfulness is not a gradational state of mind in that sense. If you are mindful, then you are 100% there and that is all that is needed. And that shows in your film. When we were filming this short, there was a certain shot of one of the leads pouring coffee into a cup. It is a tight close up of the coffee falling into the cup. When we shot this, the fifteen person crew was on red alert (we were recording live sound and therefore there had to be complete silence so that the coffee sounds could be picked up). When I played this back while looking at the rushes, I could feel the alert energy of those fifteen people in that shot! 

When I made my first short film, this process of watching the same film over and over again until it was done, drove me nuts. But now, I try to watch it like I'm watching it for the first time.

The non-gradational nature of mindfulness reminds me of a Sloka from the Isha Upanishad and I will end with that : 

"Om Purnamadah Purnamidam
  Purnat Purnamudachyate
  Purnasya Purnamadaya
  Purnameva Vashishyate "

This translates to : 
That is the whole, this is the whole;
From the whole, the whole springs forth;
Taking away the whole from the whole,
The whole still remains whole.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Choosing a belief system.. Or not?

"A belief system is not something you choose.. It chooses you". As much as it sounds like a bumper sticker, I agree with this. There used to be a time when I was aware of different schools of thought, but they were merely textbook knowledge. I was never drawn to them - not to read and definitely not to reflect. Having grown up in Chennai, the hometown of Jiddu Krishnamurti and living a few kilometres away from his foundation, it was hard to not run into one of his lectures here, or another one of his books there. But it made about as much sense to me as would a C++ program to my dog. I 'wanted' to understand him 'cause it was cool, a lot of people who I looked up to read him and would throw around his quotes rather offhandedly in the middle of conversations. Everytime I tried reading him or listening to him, one of two things would happen - I would fall asleep on the book or his long, complex sentences comprising simple words would keep repeating themselves in my head, and made less and less sense, the more I pondered them. (It was his thoughts that seemed complex to me)

Three years later, I now live in the United States and like a lot of Indians, have revisited Hinduism (and the paradoxes that it comes with), and other schools of philosophy that have been influenced by it (like Nihilism). I had completely forgotten about Jiddu and his love for confounding me with his words. Then one day, I chanced upon one of his videos on youtube. And it resonated loud and clear with me!

How did this happen? I'm unable to reduce this to the same as reading a book or watching a movie several times to uncover layers you didn't get the first time. Agreed, in the book/movie example you grow in maturity over each read/watch and are able to see new things. But a belief system?

As Ray Bradbury says - "We're a fabulous mulch of everything that's gone into our heads".  How exactly did the mulch created by the experiences of the last three years draw me to towards the things I believe in, today? If I had to trace it down to a series of links, I suppose I could. After all, given the kind of information we have at our disposal, I suppose I could prove a connection between fractal geometry and the Taliban, if I had to. Just saying.