Bollywood in Tbilisi

by Thomas

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Just finished shooting two Indian music videos for a group of filmmakers from Mumbai, led by the talented directors Ajay and Sanjukta Jain and T-Series executive producer Sumeet Mithra. This was my first experience working with Bollywood and it was very rewarding. An entirely creative and very professional group.

We shot for five days in locations around Tbilisi. Some days were smoother than others, of course, but that’s the nature of the job. The directors seem pleased with what we shot, and that always helps take the sting out of my own mistakes. There was only a minimal amount of music performance in these videos, so the shoots themselves were much more akin to stylized short films. On our first day we shot in the entry halls of the Tbilisi Opera, which we transformed to look like a night club. A fantastic location that would cost five times more to rent in any other country. Will post stills when I’m able.

The biggest challenge for me as the DoP was one I encounter on so many short-form shoots I work on: I haven’t yet learned how to convey to production managers the value of having an experienced 1st AD on set. Often this job is given to a PA or a producer to save money, though in the end not having an experienced 1st AD always ends up costing far, far more. This is the single most costly mistake I see in production. Despite all my warnings, explanations, and downright pleading during pre-production, I’m still not communicating very well about the importance of this issue.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this shoot for me was my exposure to an entirely new film industry. After so many years in Hollywood, it’s easy to forget that there is an even bigger industry in Mumbai. Work practices on set are more or less the same, though I learned about a few things I think Hollywood would really benefit from. On many projects in India, for example, there are “Associate Directors” on set who are basically apprentice directors. Unlike “assistant directors” in the US who handle scheduling and run the set, “associate director” is a creative position for those on a directing career track. The joke in Hollywood is that there are only two entry-level positions on a movie set: PA and director. There’s a lot of truth to this. It’s sometimes shocking how much authority new directors are given despite having no professional directing experience. Hollywood could learn a lot from Mumbai in this regard; the DGA should consider implementing a more institutionalized apprentice path for directors.

Shoots like this one remind me why I moved to Tbilisi: I wanted more contact with filmmakers and artists on a global level. It’s inspiring to work with people who are intensely creative but also have a completely different visual framework and cinema history. Projects like this one dramatically broaden my artistic practice, and I find this immensely rewarding. Looking forward working with more Indians!

The view from Kostava Street: Bright sun. Slow days of recovery. The mountains call with a siren song.

What’s next?