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Filmmaking completes me: Sanjay Nambiar

Sanjay Nambiar

This is cinema and it’s not for pussys. No guts… no glory.

My name is Sanjay Nambiar and I am a filmmaker. I run a company called FilmCamp in Bangalore. I studied mathematics at Loyola College, Chennai. I left in India in 1989 to do further study in math in Russia. In 1991, I moved to the United States where I continued my study in math.

But l later became a journalist and filmmaker in Chicago in 1994. After completing my first documentary on Bharatanatyam in the US (Dance Celestial 1997), I became a software engineer.

While, managing both my software and filmmaking careers, I made my first feature film ‘Yanam’ (2004) in Kerala. In 2006, I returned to India to form FilmCamp, a company that teaches, produces and distributes film using the internet.


Q.: Sanjay, you run FilmCamp.tv. Tell us what is it about? What inspired you to start the same?

FilmCamp is a company that teaches filmmaking, produces films and also distributes films using the internet. These three elements of the company are closely tied to each other. Practical knowledge on filmmaking in India is very poor. There are only a handful of institutes in India catering to the giant industry and entertainment consuming population. Most institutes teach a theory and are minimally practical. The need of the hour is practical education. Practical filmmakers who prepare, write, shoot and execute better scripts produce films that are high on content/story and lean on budget. Hence FilmCamp’s production plans are tightly integrated with it teaching methodology. In the decade to come, more films will be watched on the internet and cell phones than in the theater. It is in this internet space that FilmCamp plans to position itself as distributor.

Q.: At FilmCamp, we get to see many Short Films. Among all of them, so far I’ve watched ‘A few more minutes‘, ‘Eureka‘, ‘Bullshit‘, ‘Sperm Mis-count‘, ‘Swept Dreams‘, and ‘Nothing for sale.’ Rest are in process to be watched. Among these short films, I liked ‘Nothing for sale‘ more. The collective feeling that I got from these short films is that, if we’re good at film making, we can give a million dollar message through a mere 2 minute short film. I would like to request you to shed some light on making a short film, i.e. from story writing/selection to editing. What are all Hows and Whats that a new enthusiastic filmmaker should keep in mind?

“A million dollar message through a short film” is what the entire ad-filmmaking industry is based on. Filmmakers who can powerfully communicate a story within 7 shots over 15 seconds and can proportionately do the same for a 2 hour feature film are successful filmmakers. An ad film, is like any film (or story). It has three parts. Beginning, middle and end. Characters and circumstances are established in the beginning. A problem is introduced in the middle. The product that amicably solves the problem is introduced in the end. Everyone is happy (because of the product). Every ad film from ‘Fair and Lovely’ to ‘Airtel’ and ‘IPL’ ads have this format. The non-ad film or feature does not have a product but a philosophy/ideal/way of thinking that solves (or doesn’t solve) the problem and the characters live happly (or unhappily) ever after.

The (1:1) films on the FilmCamp.TV website are made by first-time filmmakers who have never made a film before. They are all made in 1 day (12 hrs) from writing through storyboarding, shooting and first cut of the edit. The FilmCamp 1:1 Workshop lays a lot of emphasis on writing i.e. treatment, script and storyboard. A good 4-5 hours of rigorous work in the morning section goes to this work. It is the area where ALL of Indian filmmaking fails. We Indians make the worst movies in the world because we don’t bother to write, re-write and polish our scripts. If a story does not work on paper, it will NOT work on screen. It’s all in the writing and pre-production planning. Once the script and storyboard are ready, execution can be done in 3 hours. The edit of the film that is executed according to storyboad can be done in 2-3 hours. All this is explained here: http://www.filmcamp.tv/FilmCamp.TV/Academy/Entries/2008/6/18_1_on_1_Workshop.html No rocket science. You can find this in any book on filmmaking. And yet, filmmaking is extremely challenging. Go figure…

Q.: At FilmCamp, you instruct and tutor passionate beings to make a short film in a day. What are the facial and internal expressions of them after they create their first short film, that to in a day?

The one-day workshop is intended as a primer or introduction to the mechanics of filmmaking. The internal feelings that express themselves in profound facial expressions of the actors face (as in Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep or Naseerudin Shah) is a lifetime’s work. That, no film school can teach you. You have to learn that by studying yourself and your psychology and applying your observations of yourself to your filmmaking. At FilmCamp, we begin to do that in the advanced Rookie course. http://www.filmcamp.tv/FilmCamp.TV/Academy_Courses/Entries/2008/6/3_The_Rookie_-_Level_1.html

Q.: You’ve said “We believe in making unique cinema rather than talking or dreaming about it.” Can you elaborate the same?

I know we are already unique. Every short on the website is different. Every film has a beginning, middle and end. Most Bollywood films cannot boast a story (with beginning, middle and end) even after being made for several crores. They only have stars that give very mediocre performance considering their hefty salaries. Bollywood is ALL hype, and bad lottery business with less than 1% success rate. FilmCamp, on the other hand, is ALL real. The pity is, you don’t know how to evaluate it. You are not a filmmaker. You never critique Rembrandt’s student works or listen to Lata Mangeshkar’s recordings as a student singer. Do you? FilmCamp is very different. By the fourth hour into a one-day workshop, you are actually shooting a film. No ifs, no buts, no hype and no bullshit! You go to Whistling Woods you might (or might not) make a film after paying 12 Lakhs and sitting in class rooms for 3 years.

Oh yes… we don’t talk, we do it. But you’d have to attend a workshop to know that for sure. Are you game? Or will you be preaching from Rajkot…

Q.: Funding is one of the critical issues that upcoming film makers do come across. I mean, even for renting a professional camera, they need to pay good amount. And there are expenses for editing, sound mixing etc. What are the funding opportunities in INDIA, particularly for Short Film makers? In other words, from where they can avail necessary funding for their short film / documentary project?

If one is a beginning filmmaker, there never has been a better/cheaper time to make films. A lot of experimentation can be done with a little Rs. 15000.00 Sony handycam and an Apple Mac Mini (Rs. 35,000 hardware and software).  So, for Rs. 50,000 you have a complete solution – shooting, editing and mixing. It’s never been cheaper than this. I know. I became a filmmaker before the digital age and started shooting on Kodak film. Short films are not going to be funded unless they are ad-films. Return on investment is virtually non-existent. What short films facilitate is a medium to learn, experiment, share using the internet and mobile phones, get feedback from an audience and build a fan base and community. That is a lot more than filmmakers could expect from short films 10 years ago. After making several short films, a filmmaker can confidently put to use his experience to make longer commercially viable works. Everybody from Spielberg to Scorsese began making short films. It’s all practice, and, if it works for those directors, it should work for us too! The funding for documentaries is not bad.

I think there are a lot of NGOs operating in India that need films made on their work. Budgets are small but there are good opportunities to tell interesting and different stories. Documentary filmmaking is very very good experience in filmmaking because one learns to cope with the unexpected. The story evolves and changes and you go along and one has to keep fine tuning the script and the edit to tell the story. It still is a story. At FilmCamp, we offer participants of our 1:1 Filmmaking workshop the Grass Root Filmmakers Grant. If they write and storyboard a 1-2 minute film, we allow them to borrow our camera and use our editing equipment for free. The principal aim is to hone the skills learned at the workshop i.e. writing, storyboarding, shooting and editing.

Q.: What should be the motive of short film making? In other words, which are the ways to earn from it? Are the Film Festivals good for that? Which are the other ways?

The purpose of making short films is explained above. If you think the motive of art is only to earn money then stick to getting an MBA or becoming a dentist. Cinema is an artform just like Kathak or Tabla. Pay is proportional to talent. And for talent one has to work hard to develop.  One can’t expect to be paid while still taking baby-step in the art form by making short films. Crawl before your run. Zakir Hussain is a truly gifted tabla Ustad. Ustad Allah Rakha used to play for him even when he was in his mother’s womb. Lucky guy. But to become an Ustad like his father, Zakir practiced 5+ hours a day to get to where he is now. He never talked about pay on that journey. He always was, and still is today, about love for the tabla. You can see that love in his face when he plays and feel it in his indescribably music. For that, audiences will pay him anything! Everything in life is NOT about pay. If it was so, God would have wanted us to be prostitutes on the day we were born. Go hungry first!

Q.: You also organize workshops for kids too. How is the experience of mentoring them?

Teaching children is much more fulfilling. They will certainly bring about change in Indian filmmaking because they are much more creative than adults, far less judgmental and far more fearless. They learn faster and don’t have pre-conceived notions about filmmaking. They bring their innocence to the filmmaking process and so they shine. They are the future of Indian filmmaking and will be foot soldiers of change. They are not going to pay money to watch the Bacchans or the Khans but will make their own cinema. They are going to be free. Watch out Bollywood!

Q.: If I’m not wrong, presently, you’re operational from Bangalore only. Are you planning to stretch the activities of FilmCamp in other cities of India? If yes, what are the planning and what exactly you’re looking for to establish another center in another city?

FilmCamp’s plans for the future will unfold in the years to come.

Q.: What else completes Sanjay Nambiar other than film making?

Filmmaking completes me. A human being cannot express himself/herself better than with a film. It is the ultimate umbrella artform. I was lucky to have been introduced to it by a good teacher. Or I would be a restless ghost.

Q.: At the end, some real tips to enthusiastic and passionate upcoming short film makers?

Gotta write the script. There ABSOLUTELY is NO work-around to filmmaking. Even documentaries have to be scripted. You might never follow the script, but it is the only reference point for the entire team that makes the film. Anybody who tells you otherwise or cuts corners in script-writing is bullshitting. You have to storyboard it. As a beginner it is very very important. In later years, you might deviate from it and not story board every shot, perhaps even cutting in-camera like the great Satyajit Ray. But that level of confidence comes from having done a lot of storyboarding, shooting and editing.

Satyajit Ray did a lot of editing and re-shooting on his first film Pather Panchali. It was his film school. But he was always prepared with his storyboard. The film took four anguish-fraught and frustrating years to make. Subsequent films, he is famed to have cut in-camera. No extra shots. Only what he needs. Always on budget. That’s the genius. One has to learn to shoot on a budget from day one. Making cinema is ALL about money (and not having enough). If one owns a handycam and an Apple Mac mini, one should not spend more than Rs. 500 (Rupees five hundred) on production cost for a short 2-3 minute film.

In order to accomplish that, one must shoot and complete this 2-3 minute film in a day. Does that as a regime – knock out 20 shots in a day – like finishing a marathon, for every short film and you will become a Spielberg. We do that in FilmCamp’s Rookie, film after film. If one doesn’t have a camera and editing system, write the script till it’s sparkling. Do a complete storyboard. Then beg till you are on all fours. Let the producer/donor see how badly you want to make the film.

Display a do or die passion and commitment. Somebody will relent. Fuck, I’ll relent.


Devang Vibhakar is the Founder and Editor of www.SpeakBindas.com. He has interviewed more than 350 people. His effort was recognized by Limca Book of Records, twice. He has been to Scotland as well as Germany as part of vocational & cultural exchange programs and has compiled five books so far. He's passionate about bringing forth interesting stories & interviews of entrepreneurs to avid readers of SpeakBindas. He can be reached here.

3 thoughts on “Filmmaking completes me: Sanjay Nambiar

  1. ad film maker in Kolkata says:

    Success in filmmaking requires a lot of persistence and some luck, but clear goals and a good plan can guide the way. Keep up the good work. All the best.

  2. manmeet gill says:

    great …….

  3. imran basha says:

    Sir …i hve more interest on Cinema….bt..no one can establish. My talent…..i need to workshop with sanjay sir..pls hlp me…

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