Behind the scenes with Shubham Sinha
From the sets of Udaan just beside his house, Shubham Sinha discovered his passion and ambition in films. Following it, he made a way through and is a director now, with his short films being promoted at film festivals. His works include ‘Baaki Sab Baatein Bekar’ and ‘O Maa.’
With an undying ardor for his work, Shubham Sinha is meticulous at whatever he does and strives for perfection at work. He has created different ideas and implemented them by setting cultural roots in the hearts of the audience through his short films. Read his interview to live his journey along with Team Storiyaan as he takes us through the aspects of film-making and his first encounter with the art of direction.
Questions and answers
What steps do you undertake for conflict resolutions when creative differences arise between the brand and the company?
In the case of any agency, the process of action is taken by its brand team which constitutes of the Copywriter, Accountant and so on. The directors get the project and the script through the producer. The writer and concept are finalized by the agency due to which we, as directors don’t have the liberty to change much. We can pitch ideas. The script preference is quite strict and the director is finalized only when the client and the agency agrees to it after looking at the treatment note.
Timing is one of the essential aspects of making an ad film. How would you explain an ad film concept to a beginner covering concepts like ideating, dialogues, art direction, and background score?
In the beginning when script comes to us we make a treatment docket, in that we try to visualize the whole film, look & feel references, costume references, then we do a storyboard of the shoot and art references, what and how would it be in art.
In all, I think pre-production meeting we call it PPM meeting is very important because it’s where everything is finalized, in front of the client and the agency.
You got to work with stalwarts like Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, and Ayushmann Khurrana. Some of them have even indulged in behind the scenes of making a movie. What did you learn from each of them? Were you nervous when they were on the set?
We are nervous obviously but, we don’t get that intimidated. In the beginning, you are like excited that oh my God Big B is going to come, but this change grips me, like when I’m directing, I can’t go in the fan zone.
It becomes normal, and their star status doesn’t intimate you. But you get to learn a lot from them because they have very much experience on set, and they religiously adhere to punctuality, and Amitabh is known to drop by sets before time.
You interact with them, bond a bit, and suggest you improvise in the script. They have much-rounded knowledge on the camera to the lighting, to the background, so I got to learn a lot from them. You do get nervous around them, but these people know how to keep their calm, stay down to earth and friendly nature makes it easier to deal with them.
Many of the people who have directed ad films have ventured into write and direct full-length films. Do you have a draft ready, and will we see you directing a film that will be featured on a 300 mm screen?
Right now I’m focusing more on ad films and short films, because in Bombay, it’s been around five years, and I’m still learning new things. So not right now is what I would say, but in the future, if I get a producer, I have it on the corner of mind to make one, but not right now.
Some individuals can't go to film schools due to financial constraints, familial issues, and even because they are pursuing another course. How can one self-study about the art form beginning with analyzing the commercials?
I also haven’t gone to a film school, but practical knowledge like being on set helps a lot in whatever field you have to work in. If you want to be a director, you have to learn what it is and how the job works.
Our jobs are not very theory-based; you should know how lighting works. The more you work, the more you know about the job. If you work with talented directors, you will get to learn. Whatever I know, I have learned from them. You need to learn a lot more in feature films than commercials. Dedication and hard work are very important in this field. If you don’t work, you won’t be able to learn or make contacts. People who aren’t able to go to college can learn through working. If you’re giving a script to a producer, you should know about the film’s budget, the entire filming process, and everything in between.
Your short films' O Maa' and 'Baaki Sab BateinBekar' were selected for screening at 'Lift-Off Global Network Sessions.' The former was selected for screening at Marbella International Film Festival (Grounded Platform). How did you prep before sending your short films for consideration?
I submitted my film on filmfreeway.com, it’s a film festival site where you can submit your film, and my movies got selected.
We never thought in our wildest dreams that a movie we made at home would get selected for such a huge film festival. It was just a huge experiment for us. It is difficult; you have to coordinate actor schedules, you must know how to take certain shots, and we did all this in 3 days. One night I wrote the script and contacted the actress Aksha Pardasany, and I told her about my project, and she said, “Let’s do it.” One day the song has been finalized and recorded, the next day, we had the shoot, and in just 3-4 days, we accomplished all that. It was a great experience.
Prominent director Anurag Kashyap stated in an interview that during the initial days, there were financial issues, and he didn't receive support from the film board too. Have you faced this issue? If yes, how did you manage this situation?
Yeah, I have faced such issues. Recently, 2-3 of my films are stuck due to the pandemic.
I am taking this positively as we don’t have to spend during these months. Our savings are growing! I am finally taking savings seriously now, and I didn’t use to at the beginning of my career. I did not care when the money came and if it was 15 days late or so. But one of my qualities is that I am easy-going about this stuff, and I don’t care too much about it.
A song becomes more beautiful when there is a memory or a still attached to it. The musical short film 'Baaki Sab Baatein Bekaar' was relatable at many levels, and the message resonated with us. How did you come up with creating this beautiful piece sans any dialogues but just featuring touching gesturing and a soothing background score?
For ‘Baaki Sab Baatein Bekaar,’ I was working with the music director, Avinash Narayan, and we had been working on a different project together for over a years. We were planning on a different movie for this song.
I told him that “let’s do something different for COVID – 19” and suggested on using Baaki Sab BaateinBekaar as the song for the film. All the credit for this film goes to the whole team specially Aksha & Avinash. We needed fabulous actors for the film because a large part of the film depends on the acting since there are no dialogues in it. Since I understand emotions as a person, I know how to play with emotions as there are no dialogues in those scenes also.
Tata Pipes was your first project as a director. What were your key takeaways, and can you share some fond memories of working on the sets?
One of the producers I have worked with told me about this job. I was working as an A.D. at that time. He called me, told me the budget, and asked me if I want to do it, and I immediately said yes. I was a little bit nervous on set about doing my first film ever. But I learned by doing more and more jobs, and now I have certain people I work with on set with because we are very in tune with each other’s needs. I was very concerned about the film because it was my first film and depending on this I would get any further work.
'O Maa' was another heart-warming short film that touched upon a relationship that is rarely acknowledged. Individual equations with parents and the separate roles they play are less frequently talked about. What compelled you to make this famous film?
I was just sitting at night, and I was keen on making something for mother’s day. Then, the concept came in of showing father instead of a mother on mother’s day because the father is a mother. I then discussed it with my music director.
So, in ‘O Maa,’ the theme was different altogether because first, I wrote the concept. Then according to the idea, the song was written and composed. I have two friends who don’t have a mother. Their fathers are single parents. So, I kept that in mind. And it’s quite different as a concept, I feel. It’s very different in this quarantine time, in this COVID time.
'O Maa' and 'Baaki Sab Batein Bekar' were both made and released during the lockdown period. What was your process of making a film during this pandemic, and how did you supervise everything, right from the music, to camera work and editing?
It was very difficult. I had to coordinate with everyone over the phone. Editors were in Bombay, and actors were also in Bombay, the whole crew was in Bombay. Basically, my work process is like whenever there is a take/script, I first do the casting scene. After sorting out everything about casting, I made mock shoots with my mom, and I shared everything with the cast. I tell them how everything will be.
As for editing, music, everything, I had to coordinate on the phone, and the main difficulty was about transferring the files. Sometimes there were network issues or other issues. So, I remember there were only two days left for ‘O Maa.’ I had planned that we would plan out the acting for four days, one day we will do the shoot, and one day before mother’s day our scene will be ready. But the plan turned upside down. So, the character who was thereof a little girl crying with the bottle said her mom was unable to send the file on google drive. I was awake the whole night 6-7 hours, and even she was awake.
Finally, the file came to me then I sent it to the editor, he started editing at 11 and completed it till night. We had planned to release it on Zee Music, but it didn’t happen because of the timeline. It was a different experience because I didn’t think that I would make films like that in quarantine. And shooting and coordinating it on the phone, it’s altogether a different experience.
The short film 'Naari' was your tribute to all the housewives. The first character had a supportive family, but her leisure time was cut down. The second was a working woman who's juggling between her profession and passion, and the last one was someone whose husband didn't acknowledge her work. What we observed was the lyrics were in sync with their actions. How do you come up with these ideas?
Naari was short, but we had taken a lot of time behind the conceptualization and shoot. We did not want to release it immediately. So, we did shoot for four days slowly.
As far as the idea or concept is concerned, it’s based on our mother only. She works all day in the kitchen. Never rests. So, that’s how the idea came to do something for the housewives as a tribute, and the song is very touchy. Sanchit is the music director, and the written lyrics accordingly fitted to the script, and the song was ready. In ‘Baki Sab Batein Bekar,’ it was different because the song was ready before, and according to the song, I made the concept. And in other 2-3, which I made, the concept was ready before.
Music has played an essential role in your short films. Which are some of your favorite films in which songs were an unwritten character, and why?
My favorite films would be ‘A Star Is Born,’ ‘Udaan,’ and ‘Masaan,’ where the song plays an important role in describing the scene or character of the film. If you will watch Udaan, every song has its meaning and importance to the film.
You have assisted many directors in ad films. How has the experience of working as an A.D been?
As an assistant director, I started as a 3rd A.D. intern. My responsibility was coordinating with the juniors, background juniors. Then I progressed as 2nd and then 1st. So, the main job of A.D. is that the director would visualize the whole scene; he should get it done on time.
An assistant director’s job is to make the film as per the director and finish on time. 1st ad job is to run sets. 2nd ad job is to do casting and manage costumes. Every A.D. has to manage the prep, it’s very important. Every director has a different taste, different nature work, and different kinds of things. So, some directors do a workshop with actors beforehand, before the shoot. Some directors don’t rehearse. They rehearse onsets. Then, responsibility wise, as an assistant, you have to coordinate with all the departments so that there will be no fuck up on shoot, everything will be okay. And the more you assist, the more you learn.
Did you get to briefly interact with the cast of 'Udaan' as you had stated that you were inspired to pursue a career in films after you got to watch it's shooting next to your home? Is there a specific scene that led you to make this decision?
So, by that time, the ‘Udaan’ shooting happened next to my house. As a kid of 10th grade, I didn’t even know what was going on. Ronit Roy and Ram Kapoor came into the house and sat there. My mom served them tea.
Seeing all of that prepared me, and I knew that I had to do this. I didn’t know what exactly it was, but I decided that I will do this.
For me, Facebook is my LinkedIn because whatever work I got, it was on Facebook only in the starting. My uncle-‘mama’, is a film editor in Bombay, Aseem Sinha, so he also inspired me. Before, I wanted to go into editing, but he told me to get into the direction, and that’s how it started. And the seed was sown via Udaan in my life. But altogether, it was a different experience. As for boys in the 10th, it was different. For the first time, I saw actors in real. A different picnic was going on with my mom serving tea-samosas and all. It was a turning point in my life.
We read in a leading daily that you had made short films in your college days too. Can you talk about them, and how did your friends assist you in doing so?
I made one short film, ‘Fight with Failure’, after school. I made my first short film along with my school friends. Then, we collected money by contributions and went ahead with it.
I made ‘Fight With Failure’ in college. For instance, if someone wants to be an actor or work in films, we find such people. So it began like that. Just like that, we formed a team, a cultural club in college, first cultural club. Also, don’t watch those films! I won’t recommend it.
•If you had the opportunity to remake one classic, which one would it be?– Pyaasa
• An Indian and an International director you religiously follow–
International- Henry-Alex Rubin
• Favorite Short Film that has been released in recent times– Khujli and Jai Mata Di (Produced by Terribly Tiny Tales)
• Your best work so far in terms of TVC and shorts– Pareto Capital – Cyrus Ad Film and Phone Pe
• Three words that you would use to describe your short film ‘The Date’–
Emotion, parenthood, and love