Production Notes

Tenzing Sonam
29 July 2004

Avid MonitorMore than six months have whizzed by since we finished the shoot, a blur of intense editing, emotional ups and downs, and movements across continents. We're happy to announce that finally, we have finished the edit and locked picture!

We started the edit in Delhi on the 12th of January. For the first month, we worked with our assistant editor, Shanu, digitizing the footage into an Avid Film Composer, synching the rushes, selecting the best takes and assembling the material to the shooting script. As Delhi is a wasteland as far as feature filmmaking is concerned, we had to hire in the Avid Film Composer all the way from Bombay, which meant that all technical hitches - and we had plenty of those - had to be dealt with long distance, a veritable nightmare. Fortunately, there were no major problems with the footage itself. The picture looked good and the acting, for the most part, was convincing. The first rough assembly ran almost two hours and we could feel that lurking in there somewhere was a potentially good film. The task at hand was to extract it. Easier said than done!

Ritu and Paul in the Edit RoomOur editor, Paul Dosaj, arrived from London on the 8th of February and we began editing in earnest. We arrived at our first proper rough cut a month later. The film was now down to about 90 minutes. Ritu took the rough cut to London to show it to Jeremy Thomas, our executive producer, whose company HanWay Films, will be our sales agent. To our relief, he liked the rough cut. He, and a number of other friends who also saw the film, had many useful comments and suggestions to make. On Ritu's return, we continued with the edit, taking into consideration the feedback we had received from her trip and from limited screenings we did here in Delhi. This proved to be a challenging and frustrating phase as we grappled with the minutiae of nuance, pace and structure, constantly striving to attain that elusive balance, which would signal to us that the film was in its best possible form and we could finally stop editing. Of course, that holy grail of creative fulfillment can never quite be accomplished and all works of art are necessarily unfinished; the only decision one can make as the artist is when to call it quits!

While we struggled with the edit, we started work on the music long distance with our composer, Andy Spence, who lives in London. Andy is a dance music dj and electronica artist, better known as Organic Audio. He was an unusual choice to do the music as he had never scored a film before, but we had known him for a number of years and instinctively felt that he could give us the sound we were after; a mix of contemporary electronica and traditional Tibetan sounds. We roped in our old friend, Techung, the Tibetan musician based in California, to collaborate with Andy. Techung sent Andy various Tibetan instrumental solos played on the piwang, dranyen, and yangchin. Incorporating these, Andy came up with some beautiful pieces of music. We had a three-way, cross-continental, digital dialogue, uploading and downloading tracks on the Yahoo briefcase - the miracles of modern technology!

Shanu, Dorji and Tenzin Tsetan in the OfficeBy the end of March, we arrived at a rough cut that was almost there. We had hoped to finish the edit by this point but Paul had to go back to London as he had a prior commitment on another project. In any case, we were more than happy to take a break from the edit as we desperately needed to get some distance from the film. By this stage, none of us had any objectivity left; the film had consumed our lives. Our every waking moment revolved around it, and even sleep was no guarantee of respite, the heated discussions, frustrating impasses and unresolved editing issues of each working day, percolating into our subconscious.

With the film on the back burner, we went to Bombay in April to start some of the preliminary sound prep work with Satheesh, our Sound Recordist and Designer. While there, we visited Prasad Labs, where we had done our film processing work. We were pleasantly surprised to find a modern and high tech facility (horror stories of Bombay labs had somewhat coloured our expectations); and even more taken aback to discover that they had the latest equipment to do what is known as a Digital Intermediate process, a new method of doing our blow-up from Super 16 to 35mm. Unlike the traditional process that requires inter-negatives and inter-positives to be made optically in the lab, the DI route enables us to scan our Super 16mm negatives directly into a hard drive, do all the grading work in the digital domain (which opens up possibilities undreamt of in the past), and then record out the final picture back to 35mm film. The advantages of this process are enormous but it is also prohibitively expensive in the West, and we had never considered the possibility of going this route. But the good folks at Prasad made us an offer that meant that if we stretched our budget a little bit, we could take advantage of this revolutionary new process. Subject to our approval of a test blow-up that we will do in early August, we will go ahead and do the final blow-up going the DI route, an exciting prospect.

We left for London in early May. Paul had taken back our entire project on hard drives so we could simply open it up there. In the interim, we had watched the rough cut several times, tried out various re-edits on our laptop, and now had a much clearer idea of the changes we wanted to make. We ensconced ourselves at CineContact, an off-line editing facility in Soho where Paul was busy finishing his next film, working initially on the weekends with Johnny, our new assistant editor. While the film underwent another transformation, we spent time with Andy, finessing the score. In early July, Paul was free once again and we attacked the film for the final time. By now, we were very close to the structure and pace we were after. Jeremy Thomas had watched a new version and had judged it to be almost ready. But there were a few surprises lurking even at this late stage and even we were taken aback when we made some dramatic changes in the very last week. We took out an entire scene and made a drastic change to the opening sequence, both scenes that we had lived with for months. Yet, when we finally made these changes, it was as if the last missing bits had fallen into place and the film was suddenly complete. We never even noticed the changes in subsequent viewings!

Before we fine cut the film and locked picture, we had a last screening for Jeremy and some of his staff from Recorded Picture Company, including the sales people from HanWay Films. Jeremy had liked the previous version but he was keen that his personal enthusiasm for the film shouldn't colour the judgment of his staff. He was keen that they should like the film themselves so that they could promote it with conviction. It was an important moment for us. This was, in a sense, our first public screening and the audience - all knowledgeable film types - was a tough one to impress. We gathered at Mr Young's, a well-known Soho screening house. The Beta SP projection was superb (given that the picture was from a low-resolution Avid off-line edit). For the first time, it felt like we had made a real movie. As the last shot faded to black, there was a long silence before the house lights came on. Then Jeremy turned and, looking very pleased, started to clap. To our relief, the rest followed suit; everyone seemed to have genuinely liked the film. We had passed our first test!

Now, it's off to Bombay for three weeks to do the preparatory sound work with Satheesh and the digital grading at Prasad. If all goes well, we will be back in London in early September to do the final sound mix with Stuart Hilliker, an award-winning mixer at Boom Post, a top-notch post sound facility. We had always worried about where we would do the final mix. Satheesh had warned us that although we could do all the sound prep work in Bombay, we would find it very difficult to get in India, the kind of sensitive and subtle sound mix that we wanted, and yet, our budget simply would not allow us to do the mix in the West, a real quandary. But once again, luck was on our side; we were fortunate to have a meeting with Paul Hamblin who runs Boom Post and is a highly regarded mixer himself. He watched the rough cut of our film, really liked its gentle quality and the fact that, against all odds, we had made it on such a low budget, and agreed to let us do the mix during down time at a reasonable price, and that too, with someone of Stuart's caliber. We could not have hoped for more.

With some luck, the film should be completely ready some time in October. What next? Jeremy hopes to be able to launch the film at one of the big European festivals next year. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

Looking back on the edit, it was a complex and, at times, difficult process. We've completely changed our minds about one glib certainty we used to entertain; that shooting a film is the hard part and that editing is the fun bit. Looking back at the shoot now, it seems like we were on a picnic, all sun and happy frolicking! The edit, on the other hand, feels like we've been through the wringer, our innards strung out and laid bare. But giving birth to any baby is a painful job (as Ritu knows well!) and god knows, Dreaming Lhasa was definitely a very big baby…

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