Saturday, 14 February 2009

Wildscreen '09

Attended the Mumbai leg of the Wildscreen festival, an international wildlife and nature film festival, on Thursday and Friday, at Film City. It was a gathering of amateur and professional wildlife and nature lovers, photographers, documentary filmmakers, interested souls, etc.

The festival is a part of the activities conducted by Wildscreen, a U.K based charity that, according to their website, seeks
"to promote the public appreciation of biodiversity and the conservation of nature through the power of wildlife imagery."

The main festival is held at Bristol every two years, with an awards ceremony, where they hand out Panda awards, and hold debates, seminars, screenings, workshops, etc. The international version of the festival is essentially going from city to city screening films and holding workshops encouraging wildlife filmmaking.

Thursday, 12th Feb.

I arrived in time for registration at Whistling Woods International, close to the Goregaon gate of the SGNP at 9.15, only to see the British Council people, who were organising the event, begin setting up.

Sipped coffee while waiting for everyone else to turn up and then sat inside the main auditorium waiting for the 10.00 A.M inauguration to begin. But things like laptops and stage furniture were still being set up. There seemed to be a lot of confusion and poor planning and it was only by 10.15 that things got started.

John Lee, the Dean of WWI, gave an introductory speech, followed by Harriet Nimmo, the CEO of Wildscreen, at 10.20.

Bittu Sahgal, sans ponytail, then gave a typically impassioned talk at 10.30. He stated that the entire film budget of a Wildlife documentary in India is less than the budget of the second sound unit of a BBC documentary. His entire talk was one long rant, mostly about there being no money to work with.

We saw a David Attenborough film from 10.40 to 11.40, Can we Save Planet Earth?, one half of a two part documentary on global warming. The most interesting things about it were the 7 steps to arrest global warming as put forth by a Princeton University professor, and interesting graphics to support main ideas.

Had a 5 minute break after which Harriet Nimmo delivered a Master Class on 'Trends in Wildlife & Environmental Filmmaking'. She described for us the Wildscreen Festival, told us the next awards ceremony would be in 2010, for which they would be accepting entries in January next year, and described ARKive, a relatively new Wildscreen product, a website that collects wildlife pictures for use by others.

  • I learnt that blue chip documentaries are those dealing primarily with animal behaviour (like David Attenborough films), as opposed to human-animal interaction at the opposite end (an example would be Saving Luna).

  • Expedition Guyana was quoted as an example of getting realistic footage - a man in a tent capturing on camera his thoughts and fears about a storm passing overhead.

  • Meerkat Manor: The Story begins was quoted as an example of a new trend where a T.V series is so popular it spins off into a movie. The clip of the start of the movie was good. It built up a description of what was to come to make it seem like some sort of dramatic epic. Also, I liked the shot of the sun rising just as the movie title fades away.

  • Another new trend is wildlife documentaries making it to movie theatres, like March of the Penguins. A lot of people are now looking to make something as popular.

  • The trend nowadays is to get people's attention, and one way to do this is by keeping them laughing and entertained. They might not want to see something gloomy after a long day at work.
The example shown to us was a funny ad for Rethinking the Shark.

  • The clip on Polar Bears on Thin Ice taught us to really engage our audiences, use graphics interactively, and make good use of sound and music.

We had lunch after which Producer Amanda Theunissen delivered a Masterclass on 'Storytelling' at 1.45.

  • She stared off with telling us to remember 2 rules.
    1. You must have a story.
    2. The story must have a beginning, middle, and an end.
She told us that you must have a story, and even though things may change while filming, so that parts of the story or the story itself change, you still need to have a plan to allow for continuance of the story.

She also told us that the rules shouldn't be straitjackets. You were allowed to develop stories around the rules, but not develop narrow stories to fit the rules.

  • We were shown a clip where two kingfishers were fighting and trying to drown each other, when they suddenly get attacked by a predator, showing us that in rare instances, filmmakers do get lucky.

  • We were told that two minutes into the movie, your audience needs to know two things:

  1. What is the story?
  2. What kind of story is it?
We were shown clips of the intros to episodes of Animal Planet shows Meerkat Manor and Vets in Action to demonstrate these points. While the former's intro narrated the the latest dealings in Meerkat Manor, making it seem like a soap opera, the latter's was urgent, clear and to the point, describing the three main cases it would be dealing with. Both intros answered both questions. Their narratives answered the first question, while their tone answered the second.

  • For a quick lesson on audience responsiveness, we were shown 3 clips from documentaries about the Wolverine, having to pick the one that we felt appealed to the most number of people.
    1. The first one was German; it built up on suspense but otherwise wasn't exciting and didn't show the main subject till the very end.
    2. The second was American; it was a bit in-your-face, with a thriller-sounding narration, and showed the wolverine right from the start, making it look ominous and scary with music to follow.
    3. The final one was Japanese. It showed ridiculous drawings of a story involving a wolverine with childish sound effects to describe actions that were taking place in the pictures.
I personally liked the first and second ones more or less equally, but disliked the third. However, I wonder how I would have felt about the first and second had I seen them in their entirety. As regards which would be the most appealing to the masses, I went with the third. Though it didn't appeal to me, I guess a simple cartoon type documentary would work well on DD.

Others felt that all three would be appealing, but to different audiences. The first one to serious documentary watchers, the second to the normal Nat Geo, Discovery, and Animal planet watchers, and the third to kids and the masses.

  • We were told that studies have shown that you just have 5 seconds to capture your audience's attention.

  • We were also told that it's best to include a discreet reminder of where the narrative is going somewhere in the documentary.

  • A question you were supposed to ask yourself is how much does the audience need to know. Too much information and they may get bored.
  • The Jeopardy factor. Many filmmakers include something exciting or some amount of tension mid way through the film. (For example, a major challenge confronts the explorers or the main subject.
False jeopardy is when there is false or no tension; when it's played up to be something its not.

  • Humans on film need to be understanding, likable, and interesting.
You need to use only interesting people who can carry the audience with them.

  • Studies have shown that a person remembers only 3 facts from a documentary and the ending needs to be one of them.
    • There shouldn't be too many endings.
    • It should be definite and wrapped up well. One example is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.
    • It should end with the main character if there is one.
We finished at 2.45 and had a 15 minute break, after which we returned to watch another David Attenborough feature, 'Life in Cold Blood: Armoured Giants'.

Friday, 13th Feb.

The day was supposed to start at 10.05. I only reached at around 10.45, but was able to catch a lot of Paul Donovan's Masterclass on 'Sound'.

  • He showed us videos as examples of sync recording.
  • He quoted David Lynch on sound - you can't have all sound all the time or too little sound all the time. Sound usage depends on the story.
  • Layered sound.
    • Do it piece by piece.
    • Use Atmos for background effect.
    • Then add sound effects.
    • Then add a soundtrack.
We then had a 10 minute break, after which we were supposed to have Naresh Bedi present one of his films, but I guess he was running late, so they showed us the hour long Earth: The Power of the Planet: Atmosphere, instead, which they were supposed to show after lunch.

We then had lunch, followed by Naresh Bedi introducing his film Cherub of the Mist, to us, followed by an after movie discussion, where we learnt about the hardships he faced while filming, like standing alone in the cold for a shot lasting only a few seconds, and having to endure leeches. He then showed us a clip from one of his other documentaries.

All this uptil around 2.30, when Rabiya Nazaki, one of the faculty from WWI, and one of Mike Pandey's proteges, gave us a talk on Mike Pandey's films, and showed us Shores of Silence - Whale Sharks in India, and one of his Earth Matters episodes.

We then had a short break, followed by a viewing of some The Animals Save the Planet shorts, and the morbid movie Global Dimming.


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