City of Lakes: A Hybrid Production in India

“City of Lakes” was a project that first came to me in the form of a three-day destination wedding in Udaipur, India to be held in the fall of 2009. As planning developed, Chicago natives Melissa and Samir hoped to add something that we at Pacific Pictures have become known for: an original, scripted concept production, to premiere at their reception. Quickly realizing no concept I could write would rival their fairytale wedding, I pitched the idea to combine a concept with their wedding film to create a seamless “hybrid” film that would premiere at a later date. The result would be a rather unprecedented nine-day production that included a script, actors, a series of very temperamental locations, and the couples’ lavish, three-day real Hindu wedding celebration. The collaboration would include crew members Patrick Moreau, Joe Simon and Casey Warren. We could only hope that what we shot would cut together, appear entirely produced, and lend itself to an experience far more meaningful than a documentary or scripted film.

But this story begins around the time the couple gave the official greenlight, when I brought on our first outside crew member, Patrick Moreau, who joined me as Director of Photography. The two of us began considering the camera choices available to us at the time. Every option was considered, from HDV to Varicam to RED and even film, but none offered the image quality combined with the flexibility and form-factor of the new breed of D-SLRs, particularly the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 7D. As a skeptic, I began shooting with the EOS 5D Mk. II and liked the results, although the look of 24p was something I missed, as it was always part of my aesthetic sensibility (24p was not an available option at the time of production; it was later added as a firmware update). The production was looming, scheduled around the wedding in late September, when rumors of a new Canon D-SLR surfaced. It was just a few short weeks after our departure (of course) that the EOS 7D was released, but Canon graciously offered not one, but two coveted pre-production models to our production just in time.

Our production was never short on challenges. They were immediate, frequent, and often unbelievable. One thing that never failed us, however, were the D-SLRs. From the beginning, getting through customs was not an issue. Shooting quickly and unobtrusively in crowded areas, in the streets or in the middle of a massive festival was something very doable with our small crew; which often times meant we had to take a back-to-film-school approach. We could shoot multiple cameras simultaneously during live events and transition quickly to a scripted scene with ease. The Zoom H4N audio recorder proved critical for all sound recording, although slating was often a luxury. One particular challenge was strategically positioning our four 5D Mk. II cameras (shooting 30p) with our two 7D models shooting 24p on the live event days. Knowing we would need to apply a slow down to the 5D Mk. II footage in post, multiple camera shoots meant the 5Ds would be getting establishing shots on the perimeter, inserts of non-moving objects, or anything that a slow-down would have little or no negative effect on.

Canon L-series lenses would be our glass of choice. Our go-to lenses for the production were predominantly the EF 24mm f/1.4L, which proved critical for much of Patrick’s Steadicam work, and the work of my jib operator, Chris Geiger, effectively minimizing the “jello” effect for fast moving shots while providing a suitable range of focus at wider apertures. The EF 50mm f/1.2L and EF 85mm f/1.2L were also popular lens choices and often necessities among low-lit locations. The faster primes made it easy to shoot in the limited available light of the night exterior city scenes the script called for. Much of the film is actually made up of back-up locations that our local hire, miracle producer Pravin Thakur, was able to secure at the last minute (although we had done our diligence, security at our primary locations often balked at our larger than expected production).The back-up locations, however visually stunning, often came at the expense of limited or no power. One solution was to shoot a temple scene entirely by candlelight, which only became a possibility with the low-light sensitivity of the D-SLRs. For things that went according to plan, Tiffen provided all of our lighting, and Cinevate provided gear and sponsored a behind-the-scenes campaign chronicling this adventure, coming soon to their website.

It was an interesting experiment, attempting to combine a produced fiction film with a wedding central to the plot – one that just so happened to be real and live. The constant change and spontaneity associated with such a live event meant that we needed, more than a traditional production, to be adaptable to that spontaneity, to be open to constant script re-writes, and make that spark of spontaneity work for us; as there is nothing more authentic than reality. I could not think of a better crew to assemble than the talented live event filmmakers we had, who deal routinely in making the spontaneous appear staged with rather stunning results. Although each is his own all-hat-wearing-business-owner, keeping our traditional film crew roles & maintaining that discipline did not prove much of a challenge after the first day. Our actors were also consummate professionals. I can’t thank Anubhab Saha, Sharon Chawda and Rushad Rana enough for lending their talents, and not doubting us once for all the D-SLRs we had pointed at them.

Given the number of logistical challenges, our crew left India wondering if there would ever be a film. Ultimately, the film would be made and go on to screen for the first time at NAB 2010 in Las Vegas to rather good reviews. It’s not often a full length event film is shared among those who didn’t live it. But it’s with pride that we share Melissa and Samir’s hybrid concept film, “City of Lakes,” which is as much an exploration of what it means to return to the country of one’s ancestry as it is an exploration of faith, and the rituals of a Hindu marriage. We hope of all things the story is what captivates those in our film community, as well as the new possibilities genre experimentation can offer to indie and live event filmmakers alike.

Here is the finished product, “CITY OF LAKES” The Feature from PACIFIC PICTURES on Vimeo. Enjoy!

Pacific Pictures presents “CITY OF LAKES”
Starring Melissa Kumar, Samir Shah, Anubhab Saha, Sharon Chawda & Rushad Rana
Written & Directed by Kevin Shahinian
Produced by Kevin Shahinian & Patrick Moreau
Director of Photography Patrick Moreau

Next: a number of behind-the-scenes photos, on the following two pages…

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