Child's play

Producing a film is no easy task, but when only 35 mm was available, making a film seemed to be a remote dream for most people. Today, with the availability of digital formats, more people with talent are able to make films. In an exclusive interview with Digital Studio, Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Ali Soleymani, shares how he realised his dream of making a film thanks to the new HDV camera.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  February 1, 2006

I|~|cover1sol.jpg|~|Mohammad Ali Soleymani|~|Digital cameras have truly democratised filmmaking. With the launch of affordable digital cameras that boast a quality that can almost rival that of celluloid, talented filmmakers with limited budgets are beginning to realise their dreams of seeing their films on screen. Iranian cameraman, Mohammad Ali Soleymani, is one such filmmaker. Soleymani bought a Sony HDV camera late last year, got together a crew and made his first feature film. The script itself is simple. Set against the backdrop of the verdant suburbs of Iran, the film titled Khorsheid (The Sun) tells the story of the friendship between two boys, one of whom is handicapped and helped daily by the other. When an upsetting incident changes their lives, the handicapped boy has to overcome his disability to save his friend. The film also gives us a glimpse into the Iranian way of life and its culture through other characters in the film including various members of the boys’ families and the people in the village. “Although I used a digital camera, we worked just as if we were shooting with film,” claims Soleymani. “Some people say the lighting should be applied differently but we applied the same principles as film and got beautiful results. We did several test shots both indoors and outdoors to check which light would produce the best results and what kind of makeup would be appropriate to get the right skin tones, colour tones, the setting and so on. From my tests, I think this camera works best with HMI (day light) lighting. I programmed the camera to the settings I wanted and told my DoP (director of photography) how I wanted the movie to be shot. Everything went well. My DoP was so happy with the results that he is now planning to buy a similar camera,” he adds. According to Soleymani, this camera needs more light than the DV cam and about as much as 35 mm. “In one instance, it took us seven hours to set up the lighting for just one 30-second shot,” he says. Soleymani, who has been based in Dubai for the last four years, had been toying with a script for a long time. What stopped him from realising his dream was the budget. When the HD camera was launched, renting seemed a possibility but what really bowled him over was the format that came after. The HDV format has opened up the potential for low-budget filmmakers to own a camera that allows them to move on from the DV format to HD. “This format is simply the best thing that has happened to filmmakers like myself. Otherwise, filmmaking was limited to a few people who could afford it,” says Soleymani, who worked with a team of 35 people including crew and actors over a period of 26 days to shoot the film. ||**||II|~||~||~|In some cases, Soleymani has improvised by using a DVcam’s monitor instead of an ordinary monitor to view the scenes shot on the HDV. But in other cases, he has stuck to the traditional ways of filmmaking. For this, he had tracks made to move his camera. “My idea was to get the kind of compositions and frames that you would get with a classic film. I wanted the 35 mm style so I made my camera move on a track. We had to make a track just for this camera because this is very light. Also, we had to make it slightly heavier to ensure that it didn’t shake,” he adds. Soleymani had also purchased the Manfrotto Fig Rig camera support system, which he used extensively for filming Khorsheid. This hand held DV camera support system offers the shake-free stability of a tripod with the framing flexibility of handheld shooting. For countries like Iran, which has a tremendous talent base and a track record in producing art films, the HDV revolution has meant that low budgets will no longer hinder the production of good films. And for the world, it means exposure to a whole new generation of films from people who think differently. “This is an important step forward and when we evaluate the quality of the image, there is no doubt that the HDV format can handle it. The one thing, however, that we are struggling with, is the post production aspect,” confesses Soleymani, who works with the Dubai-based production house, Ocean World Productions. Although Final Cut Pro does the job, according to Soleymani, he admits that the newness of the format brings with it several issues. “Storage, for instance, has been a big issue,” he says. “Working with a format that needs five times more space than we are used to means spending that much more money. Many people who are looking at HDV come from a DVCAM production history. To make the jump forward to camera acquisition and anything else that goes behind it means considering the amount of capital that needs to be invested into the post production to support HDV,” he adds. Soleymani himself has had to invest a significant amount of his budget to making storage possible. “I had to buy about 2.6 terabytes of storage to carry out the edit. This again was possible because I did a rough edit on the DV format and only then, began work on the HDV format. Otherwise, I’d need even more space. This, plus edit and special effects meant that I’d need at least this much storage.” Ocean World Productions, the production firm for which Soleymani works, is also struggling with the storage issue. After completing an entire documentary series titled Cycle of Life on the DVCAM, the company had recently ventured on a new series with the HDV camera. Initially, it merely meant making the transition to Final Cut Pro for editing purposes. “We made the transition to FCP when we began to use it at the DVCAM level itself but this was a painless process. We produced the entire Cycle of Life series on it. We also had no trouble using Maxtor hard drives for the purpose and they were great,” says Jonathan Ali Khan, managing director, Ocean World Productions. “But now, we need to operate a minimum of two terabytes to handle the scale of the project we are involved in. I am going to have to invest in about five to six terabytes of storage to be on the safe side. That will easily cost us about US $25,000. I am sure we will eventually sort out all the gremlins in post. We have to give the product some time to settle as all new technology and systems take a little time to sort themselves out.” For Soleymani, however, these little challenges, have meant that he has overshot his budget. The whole film, when done and dusted, will still cost the filmmaker a whopping US $100,000, and the additional budget has meant that his film will take a little longer to release than he initially planned. “I am currently looking for sponsors to get that additional budget, which will enable me to complete the last bits and bobs and blow it up to 35 mm. I should say the film will take another month to complete. But at least, I have had the chance to make a feature film. With 35 mm, I don’t think I’d ever have been able to realise my dream of becoming a filmmaker one day.” ||**||

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