In an exclusive interview with the Seattle Film Festival, the talented Hemwant Tiwari tells us the story behind his one-shot film 'The Fox (Lomad)'.
SFF: Your acting and directing in this film was very impressive, did you study filmmaking and screenwriting at any specific schools?
HT: Thank you so much for these kind words.
Yes, I trained in acting under the well known Barry John Sir, but I have no formal training in filmmaking or screenwriting from any school. However, I am a very good listener, observer and learner. I listen to everyone very patiently. I observe everyone very minutely. I learn by following these rules and yes, living and breathing films has helped me achieve a lot.
SFF: Which directors or movies inspired you to make a one-shot film?
HT: Sir Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE definitely inspired me a long time back. Not many people know that I wrote a one-shot heist film which I wanted to make as my first film but just as I finished writing that I saw VICTORIA by Sebastian Schipper. I gave up that idea as Victoria is a heist film and after that I wrote the crime drama thriller The Fox (Lomad). So actually VICTORIA triggered me to make this film.
SFF: What are the thoughts behind your choice to film it in black and white?
HT: I always wanted to make this a black and white film. Everyone has a stranger within them that comes out at an unknown place and at an unusual time. This moment comes in everyone's life and that's when The Fox (Lomad) comes out. I feel that the color palette that we used in the film very uniquely and beautifully brings out each and everyone's character in Lomad. I also feel this color scheme moves the story forward at an amazing pace and helps create that suspense and thrill at every moment. It makes the look and the feel of this film real.
Another point I would like to bring out which not many people know of is that, if you inspect the location in real life, it has various shades of green as it's a forest and various other colors (of flowers and fruits). The color of the sky was beautiful as well. I wanted to shoot this film in the scorching heat of summer when there was no greenery, just dried up trees and 'burnt' skies. No flowers and fruits. However, I was unable to pull it off during that season and by the time I was ready it had rained and winter was approaching, so everything became lustrous and extremely colorful. This was also one of the major reasons I opted for this color palette
SFF: When did you first get the idea to make a one-shot film? How did you prepare the shoot?
HT: I am a big fan of one-shot films. I had it in mind that I will make one myself one day. I think it was in 2016 or maybe before that when I felt I should write something around it and I wrote a script. First, it was a 22 page short film. When I shared it with my friends, they loved the idea and the story and that's when I felt it should be made as a feature film.
I did go to many people to get finance but they all joked around this idea and no one understood the possibility of such a script. That's when I decided to produce it myself. It was a difficult task as I didn't know how I would do it, but that's when I thought if not now then it won't ever happen so I took out all my savings and started the pre-production.
Auditions and reading with actors took a lot of time as I wanted actors with good memory and who could also deliver good performances and then I finally found my actors. Meanwhile I was looking for the right cameraman but even that was a herculean task, because as they say, if you get the right cameraman then half of your job is done. Anyways, after working with a few of them, I found the right one. Everything was happening simultaneously! Yes, I was also preparing my team of assistant directors and the production unit. After I had my whole team ready I took them to the location and every other day rehearsed with the actors and on each day in between with my crew. I was fortunate to have an amazing team.
SFF: It looked like this was a very physical film, shot while exposed to the sun, especially considering you needed perfect timing from the actors and crew for the stunts and dialogue.
HT: It was definitely very tiring, especially during the initial part as me and my assistants were spending most of the shooting days there under sweltering sun. I clearly remember one of the assistants fainted while doing the initial location hunt. The next day he very politely made an excuse and left the team. I appreciate his efforts though and realised how hard the shoot was going to be and made sure that I mentioned this to every member of my team.
A couple of actors had to lay down on the ground in the middle of the day during the rehearsals. I can't even imagine what they must have gone through in that furnace-like heat.
So, a huge round of applause for the cast and crew for achieving the impossible under such circumstances. We did have an adequate amount of water and other essentials on the shoot though.
SFF: How long did you spend rehearsing the shoot?
HT: Initially, I used to take actors individually to the location to rehearse just their parts. On alternate days, I used to take my crew to help them understand the movements.
After all of them were on the same page, I took all of them together and rehearsed
with the whole set up. We rehearsed for 10 days start to end. This whole thing was a process of 6 months. Oh sorry, I just remembered: I had created the same location near my house which gave my actors the feel of the location. I had also made a model of the place,
so the actors and the crew had an idea of the length and breadth of the location which was really helpful. I remember one of the crew members saying "it is so nice to have an aerial view of the location via this model". It was really helpful for the crew as they could draw the whole map in their mind and could always gauge the area they'd have to cover in 93 minutes.
SFF: Did you rehearse in advance at the location you filmed at?
HT: Absolutely, we had to. My whole team had completely memorized the perimeter of that location in their head. We had gone and wandered around there so many times. We had rehearsed there so many times!
SFF: How did you secure that location for filming?
HT: It's a location that's rented out. So it was simple: we pay and the area is ours.
However, there are villagers nearby and you cannot stop them. There were four exits and entry points and I had my security team fixed at those points. Whenever the first assistant director gave them permission, they would allow movements. At one of the entry/exit points, the man who was securing that area saw a snake and was petrified. He instantly informed the executive producer who then joked on the walkie talkie to 'please give the snake a bowl of milk but don't move away from your position as we're in the middle of a shot!' So this is the kind of team I had and I was blessed. They were joking and kept their sense of humour even under those tough circumstances.
SFF: What kind of camera and post-production equipment did you use for your film?
HT: After instructing and consulting with my cameraman, he had suggested to shoot the film on Red and we were going ahead with either epic or dragon. However, just then he suggested Red Monstro. I remember one of the main instructions I had given him was to go with a camera that had the maximum storage capacity. That's why he suggested to me that we should use Monstro, which was new in the Indian market and had the storage capacity that we needed. So we went ahead with it. Post production was pretty much done the same way it's done on any other film shoot, except for the editing part.
SFF: How long did it take you to finish the film from the time you started writing the script?
HT: It took me 2 years.
SFF: How many times did you have to start from scratch or did it work on the first take?
HT: Well, the team had become so proficient with all the rehearsals, focus and hard work that we got our final shot in the second take. We would have easily got it in the first take, however, the card finished at the 88th minute!
SFF: With such an ambitious project and any acting faux-pas or crew mishaps having the potential to ruin the continuous shoot, how did you choose your actors and crew to ensure reliability in their performances and work?
HT: The moment I met Auroshikha Dey, Parimal Aloke, Tirrtha Murbaadkar and others, I knew I could rely on them, especially when they performed exactly how I wanted them to and in exactly the right places. I knew that this was the team I just have to go ahead with.
They always gave their valuable input, which was right to the point and was also inculcated in the film in various places. The crew on this film required people who can be ever ready and who were always on their toes. Slowly and gradually, I got everyone who had these qualities. The first assistant director of this film had messaged and called me so many times, asking to be part of this project that I had to respect her persistence of working on a one-shot film. She didn't have any experience before this but the kind of aggressiveness she showed with extreme composure made me want her to be a part of my team. The executive producer of this film was on his toes all the time, too and he wanted to be part of this project from the inception. All my team members displayed those kinds of qualities! The cameraman of this film used to come on the train after traveling for an hour. It never mattered to him whether it was raining or whether there was any other weather issue or natural calamity going on.
SFF: Were there any happy accidents that happened during the shoot that you somehow managed to work into the film, without having to stop and start the shoot from scratch?
HT: In one of the scenes where Auroshikha Dey is tying laces, accidentally the corner of the door had moved just above her back and when she got up she was hurt badly, but she didn't let on how much pain she was in. It hardly showed on her face and the little bit of her pained expression that did show, seemed to go with the scene. Parimal who is playing the cop, reacted so nonchalantly, that even that went down well in the scene. I had such fine actors on my team! There is a scene in the end which has a very interesting story, however, I can't tell you that now as that would give away the story! Everything has to do with the presence of mind she (Tirrtha Murbaadkar) applied. There is one funny incident as well, which includes me and Auroshikha Dey. I will tell you that on the day of release!
SFF: The Fox (Lomad) is a runaway hit at many festivals worldwide in a large variety of countries, is there any country or specific cities where you feel your film was appreciated on a deeper level than in others?
HT: Thank you for the kind words. It is all due to the hard work the team of LOMAD has put in. It was appreciated everywhere but to answer your question, I would say LOS ANGELES and SEATTLE has appreciated the film on a deeper level and I am really thankful to you and your team for that.
SFF: What do you have planned next for The Fox (Lomad)?
HT: This film has reached the heights it is at today on its own. I feel that it is leading me. I am not doing anything. I want to maintain that energy and see where it will take me. I am so curious to know what this film's fate will have in store.
SFF: After your success with The Fox (Lomad) can you tell us a little about your next project?
HT: I am ready with two scripts. They are both crime drama thrillers. The process has already started.
SFF: Are there any actors or filmmakers you would like to work with next?
HT: Yes, I want to work with Amitabh Bachchan, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alejandro Inarritu, Quentin Tarantino, Jacques Audiard, Majid Majidi, Martin Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Kathryn Bigelow, Steven Spielberg, Anurag Kashyap, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sujoy Ghosh, Shoojit Sircar, Neeraj Pandey. The list is endless, but for now I am happy with these names.