Monday, November 03, 2008

How I Became A Production Designer by Iggy Ahluwalia (Part 1 of 2)

Iggy works in the Indian Film and Advertising industry in a variety of capacities. And because she has such a plethora of experiences in this area, I thought it would be terrific to have her stop by the Drift and give us some idea of how certain aspects of the industry work. Because she is so tremendously engaging, instead of doing a traditional Q&A, I'll just let her tell us her story.

Hi my name is Iggy Ahluwalia. When I was little, my kid sister couldn’t pronounce 'Didi'. She kept calling me Iggy – so the name stuck.

I grew up and went to school in Goa. I majored in Literature. I moved to Mumbai to do a MassComm course at Sophia Polytechnic. When I finished in 1997, I miraculously ran into and then got my first real job with a film director called Mukul Anand.

Mukul was a major film director – he had movies like Khuda Gawah and Agneepath under his belt. I was his second Assistant Director (AD). The film was based on terrorism in Kashmir and revolved around two special agents played by Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt. I ended up doing a lot of research on that subject, the Indian Army and the political situation.

Mukul passed away while making the film. Dus was the most expensive project on the floors at that time – it never got made. I was very close to Mukul. His passing away broke my heart.

I think I tend to run away whenever I’m really low in life. It might not be the best thing...but it works for me. Gives me time to think and recuperate.I went to Pune and worked at the OSHO commune there and later at an animal shelter, Jeev Raksha.

A year passed and in 1998 I got a call from Mukul’s first Assistant Director Raj Kaushal (Raj is Mandira Bedi’s husband). Raj wanted me to work on his first feature film, called Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi, which was also the launch for Dimple’s daughter Rinke Khanna. I was Raj’s AD and production assistant. We were a small team so we did everything ourselves – Art, Dialogs, even song lyrics. It was a fun experience. Hands on on all fronts.

Once PMKK wrapped, I went to work as a producer for Raj’s production house called FUEL. We had a panel of five directors and I produced advertising films for all of them. Santosh Sivan did some films for us, so did Ashutosh Gowarikar. (FUEL shut down about two years ago.)

In my six year stint with FUEL I had produced close to 200 commercials. I had directed some small commercials and promos as well. I had always wanted to direct my own film. In fact at FUEL, we were constantly writing Film scripts for Raj and pitching them to various film production houses. I had been writing a script with Vibha Singh (the writer of Dharm). Raj at FUEL and Vicky Tejwani approached me and agreed to produce my film. We went to the floors in 2003, worked on the music and casting. And a couple of weeks before I was to go to Scotland to shoot, the producers pulled out. My film was basically a children’s film and the producers weren’t sure they would recover their money from it.

Now the producers had registered the script in their name. They told me the script belonged to them (officially it did...but Raj was a friend and I totally didn't expect this). I was stuck – I couldn’t take my script to anyone else. Over the last year of producing the monies that FUEL owed me had been accumulating. Besides there was an agreed amount for working on the film as well. The amount owed to me was negotiated ruthlessly and I ended up walking out of FUEL with a paltry sum, no script and scars from being betrayed by what i thought was a close friend.

I was pretty screwed. It seemed like perfect timing to leave Mumbai...and so I took a year off.

I moved to Bangalore...spent a lot of time reading, writing, watching films, walking and somewhere along that time I took up sculling. I learned with the Indian Army coaches and was on the brink of sculling for Karnataka for the Indian Nationals.

That's about when some work lucked out in Mumbai (producing for ginger water films) which I took up keeping Bangalore as base. When I got back from Mumbai I decided to move to Auroville, Pondicherry for a while (Mumbai really makes you crave silence!!) and worked there as an organic farmer and as a part time English teacher to village kids.

Right about then the Raj who pulled the plug on my feature film approached me to work on his feature film. I was not sure of doing this because of how things had ended between us. But his producer (Nikhil Panchamiya, Fourth Wall Productions) called me and he was a really nice guy. He told me he really wanted me on board. He didn’t need an associate director or a line producer but he wanted a Production Designer instead.

Initially I refused as I didn’t have any prior experience of Production Design. But when I found out that Hemant Chaturvedi (Makdee, Company, Maqbool) was on board as the cinematographer I decided to brave it and take the plunge. I'd been wanting to work with Hemant for some time and this seemed opportune. So I got hold of the script, read up and prepared myself.

And that is how Anthony Kaun Hai happened and I became a so called Production Designer.

Iggy will back soon to tell us more about how Production Design works in India in Part 2 of her story

31 comments:

Deep said...

Woo, is this a new INSIDE THE MUSIC series only for films? i like! although making films sounds too stressful.

musical said...

Thanks Aspi and Iggy! Waiting for part-2.

(Secretly wishes for it to be a series).

Aspi said...

Iggy, thanks for doing this!

I can't wait to run Part 2 but I will wait for just a bit. Its a pretty fascinating sequel.

Anonymous said...

how did iggy survive all this? i would have givn up long ago!!!!

part 2, part 2!!

megan said...

Sorry to like gate crash here but like what happened to Linkology? I can't see it anywhere? :(

anyhoo, this is the trailor for new movie (modern interpretation of Devdas) called Dev D

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRLjycn11Rw

OMG IT LOOKS SOOOOOOO GOOD!

Hi Iggy..nice name

Aspi said...

I took linkology out because it was too much work (I'm lazy!) and replaced it with the BollyBuzz thingie. But you can always leave links in the latest post - no worries about gate crashing. Yeh space hamara hai!

I'm tracking the music of Dev D because I hear so much about Amit Trivedi plus Aditi Sharma has a song in it and I want a few data points on her. (She sang on the Hindi version of HSM)

iggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
iggy said...

hello people

for those who thought making or working on films / advertising was simple ...
think again!!!

but honestly ...
for all the heartache
and for what its worth
you wouldnt catch me
doing anything else

this is what i know
and what i love !!!

~
iggy

Anonymous said...

v v interesting story! iggy, thanks for sharing with us!!

if you are not with a big banner in India you get jacked?! that's kind of depressing...

- Deb

Anonymous said...

That was fascinating! Please post part 2 soon.

From your post it appears that production houses are pretty unscrupulous about the means they use to make money :( While not surprised, it is rather disenheartening to hear.

Bitterlemons

Kanan said...

Very nice, Iggy. Thanks for sharing this, Aspi. It made an inspiring read.

iggy said...

just saw Obama's speech ...
way to go!!!

Manish said...

Interesting, how the unfinished Dus had a bunch of people who are really big names now.

Wasn't Shekhar Ravjiani working for Mukul Anand's MAD films and Dus at that point of time?

And wasn't Dus the first time Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy came together as movie-composers?

BTW, the wiki says that Anthony Kaun Hai was "inspired" by "Who Is Cletis Tout?".

Not sure if you were involved with the scripting of the movie - but assuming someone came to you with a DVD of a Hollywood film and tells you - I need this as a Bollywoodised script - how do you react?

Manish said...

One question about Vibha Singh - how can someone who has scripted Dharm, also be the writer of a film like Aap ka Suroor?

Maybe it's possible - didn't Annu Malek compose both "Oonchi hai building" and "Sandese aate hain"...

Aspi said...

That reminds me - I need to tell you my favorite Obama story one of these days.

Manish, funny about that Hollywood to Bollywood DVD. Why, Iggy will be talking about one such movie in Part 2 although that's all I'll say about it.

Also SEL came together for the first time to compose Dus for the Abhishek-Dutt movie. This is a different Dus.

iggy said...

:)
to bring a bit of clarity to everything you've mentioned in your posts ...on DUS

DUS was a dream project for Mukul... and he was a visionary if i ever saw one.
he wanted to bring into the film world music that would equal Rahman's ... he got together Shekhar Ravjiani and Vishal Dadlani... though Shekhar was involved with DUS. he also was instrumental in, if not getting together ESL (ehsaan shankar loy), then in giving them a huge opportunity .. their first.
Sandeep Chowta who hadnt been introduced to Bollywood was also roped in.

in fact ... DUS had awesome music.
and now i cant even lay my hands on a CD anywhere.
Sanjay Dutt & Salman Khan catapulted to further fame ... as expected.
Lisa Ray (who was part of the film) dissapeared ... ;)
Rahul Dev was was played Kashmiri terrorist, Mast Gul made his film debut as a villain.
raveena tandon, shilpa shetty, urmila matondkar, vinod khanna were other names involved in the project.

the producer who later made DUS ( Sanjay Dutt, Zayed khan, abhishek Bachhan) had the title rights ... and he used the title for this film which he later produced.

Raj Kaushal (chief ad) went on to make films ... Pyaar mein kabhi kabhi, shaadi ka laddoo and anthony kaun hai.

Prashant Chadha ( 1st AD ) went on to direct blockbuster ...Aap ka Suroor with Himesh.

and yours truly ... is here
and waiting to make a film!!

Manish said...

No, Aspi, SEL came together for the first time for this very unreleased Dus. It included the very catchy song "Sun le Maahiya" in both Shankar and Sukhwinder versions.

The same producer, Nitin Manmohan, having registered the title produced Dus in 2005 - similar theme, but entirely different script.

The old Dus.

The New Dus.

The Abhishek-Sanju Dus has VS as composers.

iggy said...

umm
if you would want to know the truth
i wasnt involved in the scripting of anthony kaun hai ... but i did know it was inspired from (hahaha) from 'who is cletis tout?'

yes vibha singh who wrote Dharm was involved not only in the writing of Aap ka Suroor but also Parineeta (which i dont think she got credit for ... i think Rekha Nigam got the credit) and more recently Kismet Konnection.

uhhh ...script writing in india is dodgy business ,... often you're given a dvd and asked to write a film. often you're the one who writes the film(physically) but its like taking dictation from the director and his cronies, often a perfectly viable script is screwed over to make it commercial and sometimes you get a chance to write a script the way you want and then even rarer that it gets made the way it was written.

personally to me dharm was a script that was beautiful but got exploited to appeal to the international audiences. and thats really where it scored.

Aspi ... manish has his stats right ...

Aspi said...

I bow to Manish's nascent knowledge of behind the scenes!

Iggy thanks for the info - its always amazing to see how career arcs develop in the film industry.

Manish said...

Iggy, I was wondering if you could help me with a few suggestions without charging me a consultatation fee (And Aspi, probably you could excuse the customary commission that Nargol Parsis are famous for).

My first script almost ready - the first draft is close to done - and I plan to do a couple of rewrites soon. It is "commercialised" - not a script that would win a national award - but not all that bad either.

Now, how do I go about distributing it, once I have got it registered? I am not based in Mumbai - nor do I have any intentions to relocate. Neither am I interested in taking up calls from directors or their cronies to make changes.

What I would prefer is that somebody takes up the script - pays me the money - and then they do whatever they want to do with it. I don't mind if they screw the entire script or make wholesale changes - as long as they pay me - and hopefully give me credit.

At the moment what I plan is to register - and distribute like hell. If the script does get stolen - I could possibly send them a last minute legal notice.

Your suggestions Iggy?

iggy said...

what you could do manish
is register the script in the USA
and register the script with the writer's association in Mumbai.
and post that send off the registered copies of the scripts to directors who are interested.

STEP 1:
to begin with though what you should have is a synopsis of the film
a page with cast descriptions
and if you can put togther a rough page on what you think it would cost to make a film like that ...
you know headers like ...
duration : 120 mins
format : 35mm
locations : on location / sets in mumbai, greece, goa
film budget (not including cast) ... xxxx

cast page :
jimmy : our protagonist is blah blah blah
rekha : the girl next door who's life changes blah blah blah

synopsis : you know what that means.

STEP 2:
start a dialogue with directors who you'd like to make this film with ... and eventually send them off the synopsis, cast page and film overview.

STEP 3:
if they like the sound and feel of that ...send them the script.

STEP 4:
which should actually exist between steps 2 and 3 ... talk monies if the want to buy the film.

Aspi said...

Ok, that'll be $10 commission that will go towards the newly set up 'Send Sarah Palin to school' fund. No child should be left behind, people.

m said...

what did you guys think of CNN beaming in reporters and judges AS HOLOGRAMS

it was so funny!! like something out of a 70's sci fi movies

btw like didn't Han Solo have hologram sex with Princess Leia in one of those star wars movies?

m said...

oops i mean guests not judges..random

Aspi said...

No, Han didn't! But I noticed that will.i.am had to stand straight and as much as he could in once place while he was being hologrammed. It kind of looked like Boxing Helena.

Its kind of corny because you are beaming 2-D images of a 3-D projection. Its like hitching a Ferrari to a couple of bullocks.

m said...

haha yeah will.i.am looked like he was about the bust some moves..and he looked like a celestial spirit ya know with halo around him LOL

it was hilarious..

Manish said...

Thanks Iggy! But sadly I have more questions and hopefully this could turn out to be a FAQ for screenwriting in India.

What on earth is a script "narrattion"?

Out there in Hollywood, people speak "when I first read the script..."

Back in Mumbai, I read that Aamir Khan told Tyrewala - "shoot the script just as you narrated to me...."

Do I assume that most Bollywood actors and directors are so illiterate that they can't read 120 pages and someone has to read things out to them?

I understand that many can't read devnagari, but I doubt if devnagari is used anymore.

Aspi said...

manish, iggy might be gone for a few so in case she doesn't get to it, I'll attempt this.

In Hollywood a script narration is basically a walk through of the script with the writer explaining key points and the audience asking questions. Its a script reading on steroids if you will.

Just sending a script to anyone to read without a follow up narration (or pre-reading narration) will result in your ideas getting lost because scripts don't read naturally like stories.

iggy said...

am off later today
but i couldnt resist answering this one
manish, most Big stars in india dont have the patience to read a script.
perhaps not the time either.

they get a narration ... which would mean the full story narrated excitedly by a Good orator.
(think of a one man play acting the film ...:)

else what they are actually looking at is getting their attention grabbed ... so narrate the best few scenes (for them) in the film ...
(after knowing which actor will like what .... salman might want the perfect action seq, aamir the perfect complex story, srk ..the best entertaining moment etc etc ...)

Anonymous said...

When's the Part 2 coming?

Aspi said...

Anon, this week for sure. And you'll love it.