Sunday, February 19, 2012

Working in Hyderabad

We have moved our production to a place called Ramoji Film City outside of Hyderabad. We have been here about three weeks with three more to go. Ramoji Film City is a trip. You can read more about that in my John in India blog.

Getting ready for a big day in Hyderabad
We are outside here at RFC.  The weather is even more stable here than it is in California, which is why Mumbai and Hyderabad are the capitals of Indian Cinema. It's hot though, and you have to protect yourself from the sun. It's been about 90ºF every day and getting hotter all the time as the sun starts heading towards us following the Solstice. We expect to crack the mid 90's this week. Luckily I have all my set gear from days in Morocco on The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. I guess this is The Return of the Dorks of the Desert. We're not in the desert though. We have two major sets, one is a public square which features a big statue celebrating our film's hero and hosts one of the famous Bollywood Musical Numbers. The second set is a two block long city set. It's impossible to shoot in Mumbai, so we built a couple of blocks of city-scape to stand in. It will be all set extensions all the time in this set. Big green screens at the ends and down the alleys.

A Big Wall gets a coat of Really Green Paint
Originally the square was to be set in amongst buildings, but we convinced the production to set it on the waterfront so that we could paint in the most picturesque part of Bombay rather than something random. We inherited a slightly larger green screen for our trouble but the trade-off is so worth it as we will have a great backdrop (that we can shoot with a camera) rather than some generic building we would have to build in CG. I am finding that here in India there is still a very linear mental relationship between money and quality. They just assume anything better will always cost more and so plan to do simple things. Generally this is a good rule, but the enthusiasm for CG sets has twisted the equation. It's cheaper to use a photo of real Bombay and do some water in the foreground than to build a bunch of "simple" generic houses with no real production value and light and render them. "You can have Bombay and it's cheaper!" totally does not compute.

The Finished Product
It will be Bombay one day
The other adjustment that we made to the production design was on the so-called Commercial Street. The plan was to build ten of the the twenty buildings up to 20 stories and then leave holes in between for CG buildings. I asked then to build all twenty buildings up to 30 feet and then let us extend all the buildings where needed. That way at least the shots that shoot below the 30 foot "waterline" won't  have any VFX. That I think is working out well. We get into lots of trouble with the sun or the shadows coming through above the "waterline" that are supposed to be blocked by buildings, but we would have had that problem and worse if we had some tall buildings and some holes. I am expecting a lot of hassle cleaning all this up but we have gotten the reference photography and measurements we need to make it all work.

How many sponsors can you count?
Plus, it's more visible screen real estate for the product placement! That may sound tasteless by American standards, but here, product placement is such an important source of funding that it is as accepted as commercials before the movie :-( are in the USA. On this film, it is rumored that the money paid to have logos, storefronts, signboards, shoes, motorcycles, cars, jewelry and watches have actually turned a profit against the cost of the sets in which they appear. 

I was told to expect a very different style of work at Ramoji than we had at Mumbai, but if that is true it has been masked by the other more obvious differences, like shooting musical numbers and action. Those are stories on their own.

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