Interviews with the Director
Where and what is Zero Bridge?
“The city planners made a mistake, because when they built an eighth bridge, nobody knew what to call it. So they simply decided to call it “Zero Bridge” – to reset the clock, as it were, rather than go forward.”
The bridge itself has a lot of significance, and so I chose its appearance and its timing in the story – at the beginning and at the end -- quite deliberately; not only for its visual and dramatic possibilities but also for the multiple meanings its actual history would lend to the characters and their situation.
In the opening shot of the film, you see a wooden bridge prominently in the background. That is Zero Bridge, and it was built over 200 years ago by British colonialists and Christian missionaries who, by virtue of having taken over the trade post settlement which became present-day Srinagar, involved themselves in planning the capital city’s arteries and architecture. Much of their work remains in place today, even if the region’s control keeps shifting hands from one group of outsiders to another – a phenomenon stretching back throughout the region’s entire 2,000 year history, across the reigns of the Mughals, followed respectively by the Afghans, the Sikhs, the British, until the India of present day.
During its Industrial Age-era planning, Srinagar was then known to outsiders as “the city of seven bridges” so that traders on the Great Silk Route (called “the crossroads of Asia”) would recognize it when they came across it on their way to any of the several bordering countries. But the city planners made a mistake, because when they built an eighth bridge, nobody knew what to call it. So they simply decided to call it “Zero Bridge” – to reset the clock, as it were, rather than allow History to go forward; an apt metaphor.
But today, this wooden structure is now called “Old” Zero Bridge, and is only open to foot traffic. Further complicating matters, a new, concrete bridge was erected. The concrete bridge, on which the main character sets foot at the beginning and ending of the film, is commonly called “New” Zero Bridge. Today it is one of the main thoroughfares of Srinagar, which is now the capital city of what is now Indian-controlled Kashmir. Both bridges cross the Jhelum River, which itself runs through the middle of the city, and which eventually flows across the “Line of Control” -- the 550-mile political border separating the armies guarding Indian-controlled Kashmir from those guarding Pakistani-controlled Azadi (“free”) Kashmir. For citizens of Srinagar traveling by bus, Zero Bridge is a common connecting station for those heading out of Kashmir, as the main character attempts to do. The Kashmir conflict still lurks today, unresolved. An unresolved ending seemed most apt.
Families live in houseboats on the banks of the Jhelum, beneath Zero Bridge. They take in tourists and make handicrafts to support themselves. On a personal note, my family used to live there in a houseboat as well. My parents were married at an inn just beside the bridge.
How did the story come about? Was it scripted?
“I was in Kashmir for three months before I had the story for "Zero Bridge”… Using material from my short stories, I fashioned a first draft screenplay in a few weeks.”
I began by expanding one of the short stories into a screenplay, for a different film. I did over a year’s worth of pre-production and arrived alone with a backpack’s worth of equipment in September 2006, only to have everything fall apart in the first month. Fortunately, I still had all my equipment and the other short stories. So I started over again - from scratch - on a new film. The result is “Zero Bridge,” which finished shooting in May 2007. But I don’t mourn all that lost work on the first film, because I think it helped me to respond more intuitively during “Zero Bridge.” A great writer said: “Visions come to prepared spirits.”
It helped that I'd wanted to make a cycle of films in Kashmir for almost a decade. But it seemed impossible, so to keep the flame burning I did other things: for years, I kept a running file of short stories, drawings, short videos -- basically a show bible -- organized around panoramic themes of contemporary daily life in Srinagar. I was inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners, and by Dickens. Certain characters would reappear in each other's stories. I kept them in various notebooks. The stories were loosely based on memories of my times there visiting family; things I read in local papers; stories my dad would tell about his youth. I was just a magpie, really, collecting all this material. Kurosawa said “creation is memory.” And I feel that so much of writing is about gaining access imaginatively to what you already know, experientially. So when the time came to go shoot years later, I brought this material with me for inspiration. It was great to have a bible to reference whenever I found myself getting caught up in so many different ideas. (Other stories I want to film in Kashmir, for this and for future films in the cycle, come from these short stories.)
When I arrived, my cousin Hilal showed his friends the short stories in my show bible but he crossed out my name to get their objective reactions to what I -- an outsider -- had written. The reactions were positive; people were entertained and some even felt it was the work of some new local writer.
I was in Kashmir for three months before I had the story for "Zero Bridge." I wanted to write something accurate to how Kashmiri daily life had changed from my memories and received stories, but I wanted to write about matters close to my heart. Using ideas and events from the stories, I fashioned the first draft of a 140-page screenplay in a few weeks.
But immediately upon finishing the screenplay, I realized it was useless. None of the first-time actors I wanted to cast would understand how to analyze a script the way a trained actor would, much less make sense of the strange screenplay format. So I put the screenplay aside and distilled it down to a 10-page scene outline that just described the important scenes, who was in them, what happened and why, what the important dialogue was, etc. That's what we rehearsed with for three months. And that now closely resembles the finished movie.
I didn’t initially anticipate being my sole crew, but the decision to record sound while shooting and directing the actors all simultaneously came really by circumstance. I realized that, in that environment, it was a better use of my time just to plunge in entirely on my own than to wait around recruiting and coordinating a crew. Besides, people shoot documentaries that way all the time, so why not a fiction feature?
To begin, I showed the cast DVDs I brought with me - films by Olmi, Lean, Kurosawa, Dreyer, Capra, Ozu, Rossellini, Vigo; but also Chinatown and The Purple Rose of Cairo and the Bruce Timm-Batman animated series and many other personal favorites I was drawing from for this film. Each week was another cinematheque, with everybody in the room clustered around my laptop. We bonded over that. They started to see how I wanted to do Zero Bridge.
The initial impulse to capture a city under military control through the eyes of an adolescent adrift came partly from Germany Year Zero, while the desire to capture the devil-may-care attitude of schoolboys came from Zero for Conduct. Aside from the aptness of the bridge metaphor I described earlier and the obvious lineage its title draws from those two films, Zero Bridge also drew its inspiration to find the drama and poetry of daily life from the films of Renoir and of Olmi, whose Il Posto and The Tree of Wooden Clogs delighted the cast. They too were inspired by the spontaneity and respectfulness in Maestro Olmi’s work. I decided to apply those same qualities to all aspects of the production while remembering to keep things as personal as possible.
And then actually getting to meet Mr. Olmi at Venice in 2008 for the world premiere was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I mean, there I was in Kashmir making my little no-budget movie, some broke film student with a video camera and some DVDs, and whenever I felt like praying, I'd watch one of his movies (made 40-50 years ago!) and I’d feel better and find the strength to keep going; as if he were right there, speaking right to me. And then, just a year later we met face-to-face and spent a few days together in Venice! It was like magic! He also saw “Zero Bridge” in a private screening and what he said to me privately about it afterwards I’ll never forget. I told him how much his films meant to me, and asked if he recognized all the scenes and moments I ripped off from his movies. He had no idea what I was talking about and just laughed and kept giving me big hugs and later I cried like a baby. I absolutely love him with all my heart. And I'll always be grateful to the festival for arranging that meeting, and to Artists Public Domain for putting up the finishing funds to screen there. He's one of those souls, like Renoir, who has remained committed to his art and to a career making movies that, whatever their genre or budget, have testified to the joy of just being alive, however tough living life itself can be. I tried to convey that with my movie, and I hope I succeeded.
Why did you shoot it the way you did?
“All of Dilawar’s scenes are handheld; while all of Bani’s scene’s are on a tripod. The handheld shots are meant to underscore Dilawar’s perpetual nervous anxiety about survival; while the tripod shots with Bani underscore the circumscriptions of her life.”
I chose the camera style for two mutually reinforcing reasons, one thematic and the other technical. First, I wanted to avoid the visual clichés about Kashmir’s vistas. I wanted to let the viewer know immediately not to focus on the landscape, and thus by implication, the politics. That this would not be a Bollywood musical with two lovers singing by a stream. The landscape tends to hypnotize newcomers to the region, and I wanted keep the viewer engaged with the characters at all times. Staying close to the actors’ faces was an unspoken way of saying: “Stick with their humanity.” As I said in my statement, I wanted to keep the story restricted to the main character’s daily experiences and immediate perceptions. Keeping the camera close was a way for the viewer to feel as if he were bearing witness.
The other reason was that I knew I would have to shoot in 24p DV. This was late 2006, before today’s conveniences of High-Def storage solutions. Remember, I could only shoot on what I could bring in one backpack, and there just wasn’t enough hard drive space. So it had to be DV. Shooting DV, like any format, has its ups and downs. It’s horses for courses. The advantage of DV is that the smallness of the cameras preserves the intimacy that a first-time cast need, and it made our production light on its feet. Having shot in the format a lot before, I thought the smeariness and graininess of DV would work well for the vision of life in Srinagar I was after; and during the Digital Intermediate, I kept asking the colorist to drain the image to make things look more mundane. DV also tends not to handle wide shots too well: too much loss of detail.
But what DV does handle very well are close-ups, which is what I wanted anyway. My shooting strategy was very straightforward: all of Dilawar’s scenes are handheld; while all of Bani’s scene’s are on a tripod. The handheld shots with Dilawar are meant to underscore his perpetual nervous anxiety about survival; while the tripod shots with Bani are meant to underscore the circumscriptions of her life. For their scenes together, it’s a mixture of the two camera styles. Not many viewers so far have consciously noticed this strategy, but if you go back and look at the film again, you’ll see it’s rigorously adhered to.
What was your process for casting and rehearsing with the lead?
“I handed him a 500-page notebook and told him to fill up the notebooks with Dilawar’s thoughts, as if they were his own.”
I wanted exclusively first-time, non-professionals. I did not, for example, want actors from Delhi or Mumbai. I wanted only local talent, locations, and music: every choice had to rigorously follow this dictum. Many of the cast had never even seen a camera, much less been in front of one. And none had any desire to be on camera until I met them and individually persuaded them to participate over a few months.
First, I did the traditional casting method for the role of Dilawar and his friends. My cousin Imran (who was helping me as a production assistant) and I went around the city on bicycles with a bucket of glue and a brush to plaster a stack of audition posters. I also paid the government propaganda channels to run an ad on TV, as a crawling text at the bottom of the screen. I looked at about 70 boys who showed up to audition for Dilawar. I had them do different physical activities, perform some stories from their own lives about when they felt most ashamed, most proud, etc. to try to see how they presented themselves, how accessible they were to their emotions, and if they could relax with somebody watching them do something intimate, like washing their face. After a month, I still hadn’t found my lead. The night before the last audition call, I was in a panic because we had to start shooting in three weeks.
That night, my cousin Imran and I were playing chess when I suddenly knew that he was Dilawar. I didn’t want to just come right out and ask him to do it, so I began to test him in little ways. I began inviting him into the acting workshops I was holding and examined how he did with the other (first-time) actors. He did very well, really bringing his own personal history to the role and enhancing what I had written. So I offered him the lead part. I handed him a blank 500-page notebook and told him to fill it with Dilawar’s thoughts, as if they were his own. That helped him get into character, and it kept him occupied while I continued pre-production.
I also showed him “The 400 Blows” and “Il Posto”. He got very excited about being in a film like this. All he had ever seen before were Bollywood romances and Hollywood action movies; never movies about someone just like himself, movies with people who had never performed before. That’s when he began to see my point: that anyone can act, as long as the person is correctly cast, made to feel like a collaborator, and is given simple, specific directions to keep his performance as un-self-conscious and as physical as possible.
How did you cast the other leads?
“People in Kashmir didn’t understand why I didn’t have any dance sequences, or why there was no propaganda. What kind of movie was I really trying to make? Many people were suspicious.”
The week I arrived in Kashmir, my first task was to figure out what the casting pool was like. To do this, I had a ruse: I offered my filmmaker services to small businesses in need of some promotional videos. One of these companies was a 40-man mason outfit. I went to their site and shot for a whole day while the construction crew was doing its work. The result was the short documentary “Day of Concrete”. It was there that I met Ali Muhammed Dar. He was interested in what I was doing and we became friends. I knew he had to have a part in the movie I was going to make, even though, at that time, I was still gathering wool and adapting my show bible to the world around me.
I insisted on casting exclusively first-time, non-professional performers, people who didn’t have aspirations to act for the camera. This was generally met with a lot of resistance. People in Kashmir didn’t understand why I didn’t have any dance sequences, or why there was no propaganda. What kind of movie was I really trying to make? Many people were suspicious.
After casting Ali and Imran, I still had to cast Bani. I found Bani after posting notices at several girls’ technical colleges – not at drama schools – in the city. I decided to cast Taniya for the role after I had her practice several scenes with Imran. Once I saw the chemistry between them, I knew it would work.
That was enough to start shooting. During the frequent interruptions in shooting, I often ran into people whom I cast to fill out the bit players.
What was the experience like making a film in Srinagar, Kashmir?
“Trying to plan something as seemingly simple as three people meeting one another at a location just to shoot a simple dialogue scene for two hours becomes a real struggle.”
Kashmir is a controlled territory of India, basically a war zone. This situation causes logistical nightmares simply because one has no control over one’s own destiny in a place where personal safety, civil rights, a fixed price economy, communications, and infrastructure are all deeply, maddeningly uncertain most of the time. A lot of time was spent waiting, planning, anticipating, dealing with endless setbacks – such as strikes, violence, protests, curfews.
Due to the series of natural, political, and economic disasters that have devastated the region over the past several decades, there is very little industrial infrastructure in Kashmir, and virtually none for making or viewing feature films. No major studios or labs exist except for a couple of very small local channels which mostly handle business PSAs. The only video shooting that’s done is for weddings and local news. In the past twenty years the movie theaters have all been converted into police and military structures. (That is, until recently, when one theater did bravely re-open but sadly its business has been poor). I sincerely doubt that anyone there currently under the age of 30 has ever sat in a theater and seen a film. History has robbed this generation of cinema. For pleasure, people watch soaps and blockbusters on satellite TV. In Kashmir, cinema is the word for what exists only between commercials.
So, to propose making a movie there - especially with no crew and no money - really means getting a lot of blank stares. It was like walking up to people on the street and asking if they wanted to build a rocket ship. Not only did we get no help, but people began to think we were up to trouble. So, we had to work discreetly and we had to reinvent the wheel of film production at every step of the process, including things like: halting shooting in order to find electricity and fuel during shortages; or halting rehearsals due to police curfews, bomb blasts, or demonstrations. Sometimes, if we needed something to accomplish a given task and the thing we needed didn’t exist, we’d have to teach ourselves how to make it. And when we couldn’t do that, we had to just learn how to continue without it. And each day, the entire film nearly fell apart because of anything that would intrude right at the last minute. It was exhausting. But, because we were starting from ground zero every day, it gave us the feeling that we were also inventing cinema itself as we went along, as crazy as that sounds. We were purely going along by what we could carry on our backs or what we could solve with our hands. It was a very savage or primitive way of working, but I think it taught me to appreciate the things about filmmaking that I took for granted.
There were also natural setbacks, such as snowstorms and avalanches, which, because of the poor infrastructure in the region, could bring the whole city to a halt for days on end. This happened regularly. So, there would often be little to eat because the main supplies road had been cut off, and there were no gas canisters to cook with or to keep warm in winter. For instance, there was a two week-period taken just driving around on a motorcycle, going from one black market to another, looking for gas to buy.
Overcoming any one of the possible obstacles was a matter of luck and physical endurance. The likelihood of overcoming many such obstacles in a single day, or the odds of myself plus three other actors overcoming many of these obstacles within the same window of time decreases the odds of getting to shoot quite dramatically. Trying to plan something as seemingly simple as three people meeting one another at a location for a simple dialogue scene for two hours becomes a real struggle. I had to reorganize the shooting schedule constantly. There was no rest from these for 9 months.
Over the course of those 12 weeks, we probably shot 30 days at most. No day was ever more than 4 hours, usually just 2 or 3. So everything had to be extremely economical and precise during rehearsals and when I planned my coverage, because actual shooting time was so limited. Then at night, my cousin would translate the footage, by time-code, on my laptop. We wound up with 1500 pages worth of transcripts, which were later on invaluable during editing.
Describe a typical shooting day.
“Once at the location, we usually had to observe the custom of sitting and having
tea with the location owner. During this I’d get the camera and microphones set up.”
My cousin Hilal (who acted as my assistant-director) would call the actors beforehand to let them know when and where to show up. Then, on the day of the shoot, Hilal, Imran (Dilawar) and I would pile onto our motorcycle to go to the shooting location. Once at the location, we usually had to observe the custom of sitting and having tea with the location owner. While my cousins did this I’d get the camera and microphones set up.
If I couldn’t use the shotgun mike because of too much wind noise, then I’d wire the actors for sound. If it was an indoor scene, like in the office, I would gaff tape the radio microphones’ body transmitters to the ceiling instead of to the actors’ waists, and then just dangle the mike wires down to just above the actors’ heads, out of frame. This way I could circumvent the lack of a boom operator. As long as I knew the shot would be framed tightly on the actor's faces, the “dumb-booms” would hear everything clearly.
Then we’d actually get the scene on its feet and shoot it. I’d make performance adjustments to Imran in English and in Kashmiri, and make sure the dialogue was set before we started shooting. I could only communicate to Ali through Hilal’s translation. Frequently I would ask Imran to draw his performance from the 500-pages of character thoughts, which he wrote in Dilawar’s notebook. (Later I recorded him reading this and used it as voice-over).
Since I was shooting it like a documentary, I had a little leeway with continuity but not that much. Most times we could only shoot something a couple of times before we’d have to move. Basically, I learned to work quickly while also keeping performance, camera, sound, story, and continuity all in my head at once during each take. That was tiring, but it was manageable in the time we had to work with. It was so difficult shooting “Zero Bridge” that in the 9 months I stayed in Kashmir, I was only able to shoot less than 40 hours of footage. Still, I got what I needed to make the story work and had enough options when editing back in the US.
Monitoring both picture and sound while also directing the actors and giving notes on their performances, all at the same time, was hard. But sometimes it could be a lot of fun, because it gives the feeling of seeing and hearing exactly what you’re getting as it’s happening, just like shooting a documentary.
While shooting, I kept the story outline folded up in my pocket. I referred to it all the time to explain the action to the actors (or to Hilal, the translator). I never storyboarded any shots, but I did decide whose point-of-view each scene was from, and what the turning point of each scene was. Then, all I had to do was just make sure that those two things were clear and convincing in the actors’ performances. Those were my only two criteria. It usually only took a few hours to get a scene done.
Once we started to shoot, things tended to happen very quickly. The result was that it focused everyone’s energy – mine and the actors’ – so we actually wound up doing most scenes only a few times, some even just once. Occasionally, I would re-shoot on a different day a few scenes I felt could have been better or different, but the re-shoots always lacked that same intensity of knowing we had only one chance to get it right.
Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?
“…I didn't find out he was a gangster until I showed up with my camera and microphones.”
On the day we shot the scene with the black market passport dealer, that part still had not been cast. For weeks I had been "reassured" by one of the other bit actors that he knew the perfect guy and I would meet him when the time was right.
Well, it turned out that this person was a well-known and feared underworld figure in Srinagar. He had a code name. One of his less violent pursuits was being in the black market. But he owned a shop and had other front businesses, which is where we eventually agreed to meet and we were frisked as we entered.
I didn't find out he was a gangster until I showed up with my camera and microphones. (Repeat experiences had taught me to just be ready whenever the moment presented itself, so I didn’t expect anything risky.) So, I met this gentleman – who was very nice, offered tea, and was a lovely host. He absolutely looked like the part I had in mind, and I liked the way he carried himself and thought he would work fine as an actor. When the subject of money came up, he was surprisingly blasé about it. He seemed to understand my situation and just wanted to help. So I said "Great, let's set up, here's the scene..." and as I was talking he wasn't really listening because he suddenly started changing his clothes; completely changing his appearance, making himself look, eventually, like a Kashmiri version of Stallone as Rambo, complete with black wife-beater and headband.
I said “What is this?” and he said “You wanted a tough guy, right? I'm looking tough for you.” I explained that he was already quite tough the way he was naturally. There was a pause and he looked at me, confused, so I explained: “It's a more realistic kind of story, not Bollywood.” Another pause. Then he grimaced and yanked off his headband, muttering, “Ugh, not another one of those 'art' movies.” I convinced him to do it anyway, and I think he's great in the movie.
I have a hundred other anecdotes, but I think that story sums up everything about independent filmmaking, no matter where or who you are in the world.
How did you capture and translate scenes? Or keep your equipment safe?
“Because Kashmir can be quite cold in winter, and there is no central heating, I’d wait for the portable gas heater to get the room up to 50°F before I turned on the equipment.”
I went to Kashmir in September 2006 with my MacBook, external hard drives, and a one-chip Sony Handicam (which I used to capture the mini DV tapes). To protect this equipment from condensation resulting from temperature changes, or from the dust and insects, I kept all the equipment in a few layers of Ziploc bags.
Every day after a shoot, I would capture the day's tapes into the MacBook. Because Kashmir can be quite cold in the winter, and there is no central heating, I would wait for the portable gas heater to get the room temperature up to 50°F before I turned on the equipment. While the tapes were being captured, I’d charge the camera batteries and plan the next day of shooting.
When the day's tapes were captured, Hilal would look at the footage in Final Cut Pro and transcribe the dialogue in English into a MS Word document, indicating the beginning of each sentence by its corresponding timecode.
Where did you get the music? How did you record the sound?
“Later, Niyaz and I met four other musicians in a friend’s small house in the middle of a quiet field – the perfect place to have a recording session, because there was no traffic, and certainly no electricity or air conditioners. (One actual technical advantage of making a film in Kashmir is that it’s easy to record great sound).”
For the music of the film, I wanted to use very traditional Kashmiri folk songs that everyone in Kashmir would know. I had learned Kashmiri folk songs from the cassettes my father used to play on the car radio when I was growing up. Years later, I found myself finally not only appreciating this music but actually being quite moved by it. Not knowing anything about music, I just wanted something simple, easy to remember, that could capture a variety of moods depending on where and how I wanted to use it in the film.
I met the leader of a musician group, Niyaz Patloo, during one of the audition sessions. When we started talking about music, I played some of these folk songs for him on my computer. Later, Niyaz and I met four other musicians in a friend’s small house in the middle of a quiet field – the perfect place to have a recording session, because there was no traffic, and certainly no electricity or air conditioners. (One actual technical advantage of making a film in Kashmir is that it’s easy to record great sound). I gaff-taped two ends of a rope between the two corners of the quietest room in the house, so that the rope hung across, like a laundry line. Then, I clipped all three microphones I had onto the rope, so that they faced downward, towards the corner of the room. The musicians sat close together in the corner and played, so that their acoustics flowed outward nicely and hit the sweet spot on the binaural mikes, recording into the MiniDisc. For a few hours, they played the same theme over and over again, in a variety of instrumentations and tempos and keys. It was low-fi record producing!
On the days we couldn’t shoot, I’d rehearse, rewrite, or record sounds for the soundtrack. Intent on having a soundtrack of strictly native Kashmiri sounds, I recorded a whole sound library’s worth of ambience, effects, and music all native to Kashmir. I would write sounds into the script in order to use them to help tell the story instead of relying on too much dialogue, and then I’d go find and record those sounds. Things like prayer calls, nature, traffic, radio, and Kashmiri folk music all helped flesh out the world of the story. Plus they were royalty free.
I recorded all the ambient sound for the film as well. On days when our shoot got cancelled (quite often), I would often keep up creative morale by visiting the location alone, except I would bring along my microphones and mini-disc recorder, tuck my Sony headphones underneath my wool cap, incognito-style, and would just make many ambient recordings at each location in the movie, from multiple angles and with multiple microphones. So, when I returned, I had a whole sound library of native, distinctly Kashmiri ambient tracks and effects to work with.
By being so rigorously specific about every choice - including the casting, the locations, the sounds, and the music - I was trying to present a total vision of what life is like there.
Talk about the editing process.
“We started “lining” the transcripts the way assistant editors traditionally do with a post-production screenplay (in which they make vertical lines showing how a given scene was covered during the production). We lined printed versions of the transcribed dialogue.”
When I returned from Kashmir, my co-editor and I took three months sifting through the 45 hours of video, 20 hours of audio, and all 1500 pages of time-coded translations saved as MS Word files. Most of the material recorded for the production consisted less of extensive coverage of the same material, and more of different stories I was originally trying to tell in this one movie. We went through all of that material a second time, and started “lining” the transcripts the way assistant editors traditionally do with a post-production screenplay (in which they make vertical lines showing how a given scene was covered during the production). Except, I didn’t shoot the screenplay I wrote, exactly, so we lined printed versions of the transcribed dialogue.
We also made index cards for each scene, and organized them on a wall-sized cork board – just the whole story of the movie laid out on the wall. We rearranged the cards several times for weeks as we tried to find scenes that would “hang together” as groups, to try to build sequences. Based on the arrangement of the cards, we made our first assembly, which came out to 3hrs and 6 mins and which we screened around Thanksgiving 2007. In that version, there were several more supporting characters and subplots in Dilawar’s life, and every single character had an interior monologue playing as a voice-over. Eventually, we cut almost all of that material and focused the story on Dilawar’s main dilemma.
In September, I moved back to Los Angeles, while my co-editor remained in San Francisco. We each had one external hard drive with exact copies of the original media. We shared Final Cut Pro project files through emails. We would alternate editing the film sequences. When one editor finished an editing pass on a sequence, we would email it to each other (the recipient would download it, open it, and re-link media). We would discuss the latest edit, before the other editor tackled the sequence further. Over the course of the winter months, we went through twenty-four versions of the film, each version getting progressively shorter, tighter, denser; until we finally locked picture at 96 minutes.
How did you prepare the film for its launch?
With the completed, mixed film, I applied and was quite honored to be invited to the 2008 IFP [Independent Feature Project] Narrative Lab, where I got to meet other filmmakers and distinguished members of the independent film world. The film got a good reaction and we received tons of support from IFP, which was just the perfect place for us to be, what with where we were with the film and how we needed to start thinking about positioning it to festivals. Then, shortly after the Lab, we began receiving invitations to some high-profile film festivals. I was excited, but needed help bridging the gap in order to attend and screen at a large festival. IFP really came through again in a big way. Through the generous efforts of [then-IFP Executive Director] Michelle Byrd, I was quite blessed to be put in touch with Hunter Gray and Paul Mezey of Artists Public Domain, and we were on our way.