About Me

My photo
I operate an Internet radio show that seeks to help independent entertainers and artists promote their projects.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

How I Made a Documentary: By: guest writer: Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Editor’s Note:
I first met Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar when she was referred to me as a possible guest for my radio show by mutual friend, noted indie author Rachel Thompson. I went on to interview Mohana last July and was very happy when she approached me recently to discuss options for working together again.

A prolific public speaker and published author (both fiction and non-fiction), she’s also proving herself to be one hell of a filmmaker. Below you’ll read about her first documentary short subject – a fun and compelling slice of sociology that takes a peek at the little-known stand-up comedy scene in Qatar aptly titled “Laughing with an Accent”. You'll also get a peek at her next documentary called "Doha Driving".
Mohanalakshmi, the floor is yours…


How I Made a Documentary:

I have loved documentaries for as long as I have been going to the movies. A good documentary can take you inside the world of a person you may never meet on the street but who you may like very much if she lived in your neighborhood. As with all my hopes, I told everyone – most often my husband – how much I wanted to make a documentary one day. I firmly believe that if you would like to set out to do something creatively, talk about it as often as you can. Your mind hears what you say and internalizes these dreams; like a silk worm, you are building a cocoon of intention that will materialize in the future. My journey as a short documentary filmmaker is quick compared to some and long compared to others.
Two years ago, I interviewed a guy for a book I was writing on the origins of Hip Hop dance in America. The guy turned out to have made a documentary on Hip Hop in Chicago for his PhD in Sociology.  I watched the film as part of research for my project, turned in the final manuscript and had a baby. When said baby was standing on his feet, I started self-publishing eBooks. Six books later, I had a strong readership but found myself tired of the written word.

Yes, writer’s fatigue set in even though I had two more works in progress to complete my goal of 9 titles. While boredom sank in, I became really good friends with the filmmaking hip hop expert’s wife.  The four of us spent more time together at parties and dinners. One night it happened:  the veteran documentarist and I were bating back and forth ideas about potential subjects. He knew I was part of the grassroots Stand Up Comedy Qatar, a group that performed bi-monthly in cafes around the Arabian Gulf city of Doha. The New York Times featured us and even the BCC did a passing interview on restrictions on comedians in the conservative state. Everyone within Qatar was talking about how unusual a comedy group was in the Middle East and it seemed more and more people outside the country were as well. None of them saw the edgy potential in what the guys were doing in a region where most of the entertainment is state controlled; few knew how hard they worked on their routines.

I had my topic. That’s all it took because I am very susceptible to the power of suggestion. Literally, I went from talking about something I wanted to do for years and one nudge – someone is going to make a film about that group – is all it took to get me going. I checked out camera equipment from the two universities with which I’m affiliated, enlisted my undergraduate students as production crew, and started filming our group’s performances. Being behind the camera was exhilarating because at first I was so bad at it.

There was so much to learn: unlike with creative writing, I knew virtually nothing about this entire industry I had plunged myself into. From lighting to microphones to SD card readers and converting files, there was something new to learn with each task. I lost an entire day of filming because of a tech error. Computer crashes deleted whole sections of the film in progress. And with each of these new tasks, I felt energized, emboldened, and rejuvenated creatively. Each challenge made me more determined to get the story told.
Having watched hundreds of documentaries, I knew the bones of a good one. You needed interviews mixed with live footage and also great music. I set to work on a dream list of interviews, shooting dates, and viewed hours upon hours of YouTube performances. Out of a group of fifteen or so comics, I had to choose four that I thought would be compelling enough to hold an audience’s attention for 20-40 minutes.

I jumped straight from the short on the comedy group into another hot topic in Doha, driving. The roads are a cultural metaphor for gender, power, and control, and this was the topic of my second documentary, Doha Driving. 
Here’s what I learned from my newbie experience:
1. Pick a subject you love because you will spend hours, days, weeks, even longer working with the same files over and over again.

2. Start small. I had made 6 book trailers from 30 seconds to 2 minutes in length before attempting a short feature.

3. Ask for help. I went back to my friend’s husband, the guy who had made 5 films, and asked for his feedback for the trailer. I also had him as one of my cultural commentators in the film, speaking about the sociology of comedy.

4. Have a group of previewers. People who are as interested in the subject as you – or your work in general – and who are knowledge about the genre. Send them samples, trailers, drafts, stages of your final project for feedback.

Additional Links:

Watch Laughing With an Accent & Doha Driving on YouTube

Follow Mohanalakshmi on Twitter
Mohanalakshmi's main website
SUCQ - Stand Up Comedy Qatar - on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment