Suitcase Tales – Work in Progress

Posted on 2 May, 2017 by Team Wishberry

Image Courtesy: Film School

The road to the red carpet was paved with good intentions and big mistakes. The idea of Suitcase Tales is not to share just the wins but also some of the mistakes – and the learning – from the journey.

As regular followers may be aware, my film Side A Side B was shot in July, mostly on a train in 44 hours, with an eight-member crew and mobile phones.

We rushed the edit to get a work in progress cut done (with unmixed pilot sound and no colour correction) for an extended deadline given to us by the Mumbai Film Festival. We paid the submission fee and sent it in because we knew it was the best platform to launch the film in India. We were excited to show it to the world but we didn’t make the cut.

It was obviously disappointing because 5000 rupees, when you are living out of a backpack, is a lot of money. But it helps to have been on juries before to understand one simple truth – the cut that WAS submitted, in THAT rough form, simply wasn’t good enough from the bunch they had to pick from.

I remember trying to make a case for a work in progress cut of a Malayalam film we had watched for IFFK a few years ago and one of my fellow selection members explained it to me patiently: “We cannot take a chance that the finished film will be good. Once it’s selected, we cannot control how much effort they put in. If it’s bad, it will reflect badly on us for picking an amateur film.”

Next came the season for Tribeca deadlines. Once again, we rushed as much as we could, finished a screener cut – did a quick grade and a basic sound mix after another cut of the film, subtitled it – and sent it in. We knew we had to shoot some additional bits to make the film stronger but at some level, we had to take a chance. Friends who had seen the screener cut thought we were unfortunate enough to have missed the Sundance deadline but we must not miss Tribeca. Again, we spent 75 dollars, sent them a Vimeo link with password and kept our fingers crossed.

Until two weeks before the results, there were no hits on the screener. Tribeca had taken our money but hadn’t viewed the film? So I mailed the festival with a screenshot. They assured me that they watch all films. “Vimeo stats are sometimes not accurately counted, especially when the link is viewed through a third party app or in an embedded video,” the email said.

We didn’t make Tribeca either but we made it to New York Indian Film Festival that happens at the same venue the very next week after Tribeca. The festival had picked the film on the basis of the screener cut.  To give Tribeca the benefit of doubt, maybe the screener cut didn’t cut it for them when they have access to fully finished completed films.  

Festivals encourage you to submit work in progress because

1. That means they make more money through applications

2. They don’t miss out on new films by exciting new directors

So unless your film screams EXCITING FRESH HOT CONTENT even its screener form, exercise restraint.

We finished our final schedule in Delhi this January, final edit and basic sound mix in February, final sound mix in March and the grade in April. It’s incredible how every step of the process – including the typography and packaging – enhances the storytelling, helps to bind the narrative, hides the cracks and makes it seamless.

On April 6, we watched the completed film. It was a truly special moment. The film worked. It made people tear up, smile, miss a part of their life and had them instantly excited about its potential. We realised we had made something we could be truly proud of. We were happy about it. Finally.

That’s also when realisation occurred. This was not the cut the festival programmers had seen. We made it to a reputed festival with a screener cut because it was good enough. But it wasn’t perfect. Good enough films don’t make history. They don’t get awards. They don’t even get nominated sometimes. So if you have a film you are completing – a film you know is breaking new ground, a film you are very excited about, a film that deserves a special platform – do NOT make the mistakes we did.

Money lost is bad enough and then, you have to deal with the uphill task of convincing programmers to see one more cut of the film. Very rarely do people watch a different cut of the same film again when there are so many films out there. There is only one first impression. Don’t cry wolf. Until you have seen the beast you have created shows up on screen in all its glory.

Update: Side A Side B premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival on May 1 and it opened to highly appreciative and positive reviews.

Also read: Suitcase Tales - The Sizzle Reel

About Sudhish Kamath:

Sudhish is a film critic turned filmmaker. He’s worked on 4 films so far, along with the critically acclaimed - Good Night|Good Morning. Currently Sudhish is set off on a journey to breathe life into all the films he penned down, while living out of his backpack.

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