Location Diaries: Hiding under the bed
Cinematographer Neil D’Cunha talks about his experiences working on the films Philips and The Monkey Pen, Jo and The Boy and Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho
The time was 9.15 pm. The producer of Philips and The Monkey Pen (2013) wanted the shoot to conclude by 9.30 pm. The scene was inside a bedroom at a house in Kochi. Four boys -- Sanoop Santhosh, Gaurav Menon, Aakhash Santhosh and Antony D'Silva -- were supposed to be in the scene. But the boys were nowhere to be found. “Crew members searched all the rooms of the house, as we waited in the bedroom,” says cinematographer Neil D'Cunha. “They went outside too, but the boys were missing.”
Time was running out. But, in the end, the boys were discovered hiding under the bed in the room where everybody was waiting. “We did not know whether to give them a spanking or box their ears,” says Neil with a laugh.
On another day, the shoot was at Varkala Beach, near Thiruvananthapuram. Sanoop had to sit on a log looking pensive. The camera was at the edge of a jib. The idea was to get a long shot from a height.
As the shoot progressed, a huge wave appeared suddenly and went over the jib. As a result, the camera fell into the water. “My heart jumped out of my mouth,” says Neil. It was the expensive Red Epic camera. But thankfully, because of the sand, there was a soft landing, and no major damage. “We took the camera apart, part by part, and laid the pieces out in the sun to dry,” says Neil.
After a pause, the shooting resumed. “But there were problems for the next two days,” says Neil. “The camera would over-heat. And we would lose about 40 minutes of shooting every day waiting for it to cool down.”
In the end, Neil got in touch with the US office of Red Epic. Soon, they upgraded the software online. “Thereafter, the camera started working fine,” says Neil.
When shooting for Jo and the Boy (2015), the crew faced problems of a different kind. The shoot was on a cliff at Kodaikanal. “It was an introduction scene,” says Neil. “The scene was being shot at 10.30 pm. But since it was December, it was extremely cold.”
Suddenly, a breeze began to blow. “It was so chilly that all of us began to shiver,” says Neil. “I could not hold the camera straight because I was shaking so much. And the Labrador Charlie who had to walk on to a table just would not come out of his bag.”
So, the shoot was put off for the next night. But the next night, the same thing happened. It was biting cold. Neil half-jokingly suggested to the director Rojin Thomas that maybe the scene could be re-written. But Rojin did not agree. In the end, a set was built at Navodaya Studio at Kakkanad, Kochi. “We did the shoot two weeks later, but you will not notice the difference,” says Neil.
For the film Kochavva Paulo Ayyappa Coelho (2016), Neil had a disappointing experience. During the shoot, Neil had acquired a Samsung S6. “I looked after it very carefully,” says Neil. “When I had to do a shoot, I would give it to my assistants and tell them not to put it in their trouser pockets, but in their bags.”
One day, Neil wore Bermuda shorts and put the phone in his pocket. Suddenly, he got a call from a colourist’s firm in Chennai. They said they liked the rushes. Neil felt happy and excited. Then he went to a pond, where a swimming sequence had to be shot.
“I placed the camera in the pond and stepped forward,” says Neil “And I forgot all about the phone in my pocket.” It got completely wet.
On Facebook, Neil had seen a video about placing a wet smartphone inside a bowl of rice grains in order to dry it out. He tried that, but the phone did not work. So, he sent it to the Samsung company. “They said the phone had been spoiled completely and nothing could be done about it,” says Neil. “Despite all the precautions I took, in the end, Rs 36,000 went down the drain.”