A writer tries to write. The wind rages and waves ring out. ‘Under the Precipice Rolls the Sea’ is my first foray into filmmaking, and it was a long winding path that brought me here.
This short was my film school, made with the help of the internet, and a lot of helpful people on the internet— all of whom are really a saving grace when shooting as a two person crew! I had pretty much never touched a camera before, and ended up working with a lot of makeshift equipment I put together at home. Shuttling between work and endless articles, swallowing some Chaucer and Putnam and squeezing in the twentieth video on exposure and lighting: it’s a project during which I’ve learnt a lot about what I can do, and what I can’t (and when it’s okay to ask for help).
At times it can get daunting, especially when you’re walking the tightrope with one too many hats on and everything around seems ready to crumble at the slightest threat of a wind. ‘Under the Precipice’ came about as a project I started fleshing out for an anthology called “Refractions”. It was put together by a couple of us who met on online film communities and decided to create something in the midst of the pandemic when everything was a stagnating mess. In part, a commitment to this was what kept me going through all the little and big problems, not least of which were sudden re-impositions of the lockdown in my city and covid scares which brought production to a halt more times than my sanity could handle.
When you’re working with a zero budget project, you have to rely on a lot of things outside of your control to capture a frame that tells the story you want it to tell, how you want it to. It’s certainly challenging, but rather than being constraints, they draw the line for what options you have at your disposal and narrow down the things you have to focus on. Having a simple plot without dialogue or a moving camera was logistically helpful but it also enabled me to come up with something that was minimal but made narrative sense. The silences and still frames became a means to organically channel the feeling of isolation. It’s a style of working that has suited me well as I’m trying to chart out my future projects taking one strand of a narrative and tracing its meandering ways to weave together something of my own.
It’s funny because film was, you could say, the last medium of art I got acquainted with. Of course, I grew up watching all the Khans and Kapoors and the 2010 Christopher Nolan film Inception— but I engaged with whatever I consumed merely as a manner of routine, like dropping by the grocery store on the weekend to buy a packet of soup. Going to the theatre mostly meant getting to eat the very best cheap cheese popcorn (in the days when there was no INOX, that is), or celebrating the end of a round of exams. These multitudes of odysseys and dramas were all just there, something dispensable and detachable. The world of films was distant, populated with stars whose names I never could remember, woods with roots reaching out to our towns, shooting up like hot springs in sparse screens. I didn’t feel any significant connection to anything I watched—until my high school years where I encountered new kinds of films which opened up a way of experience I hadn’t quite known before. Thinking through them, talking about them, I have been centered and sent whirling in a hundred different directions, till my head spins with the sights I’ve seen and I regurgitate a ten thousand frames to catch the light.
I have always liked working with my hands, but growing up came at the cost of time and there’s less space for picking something up and making it your own. The dancing, the singing, the painting, it all stops as math and science tutoring stand sentinel upon the hours of day…and suddenly you’re too old to pick it up again. But I read by night, gorging upon every word till I could wield their power enough to write. And it was writing that ultimately brought me closer to film, bringing it down to the earth so I could move about in these worlds and theorize existence through them, warming up to newer, more expansive forms. As an impressionable teenager, after I watched my first Bergman, I didn’t know how to breathe, wobbly-legged thoughts swum around and collapsed in my head— I now have three pieces on that film.
A still from the film
It was a step closer but there’s more to go. Beyond the glitter of Bollywood and the sterility of Hollywood, the likes of Chantal Akerman and Cecilia Condit opened up for me what a woman could do with a camera, how static frames could twist one’s heart and digital media could morph into something beautiful, something horrifying and something palpable. They grounded filmmaking for me. For the longest time I’d thought that filmmakers could only be those who grow up with a camera, as I did with books, or those who could spare a small fortune to go to film school. The experimental, the avant garde, whatever you call it, laid out a path from fathoming to creating, finding the ability to show another what I see.
The world of big budget productions is alienating, one of constant power tussles and clashing egos. The kindness of others (most of them strangers) helped realize my vision, not the vain chasing down of copyright licenses from companies for whom we fall through the cracks down the bylanes of institutional apathy. In the meantime, while everyone’s busy arguing over whether Marvel is “cinema” and coming up with new ways of gatekeeping accessibility to art, I hope independent creators can find a place to thrive and create expansively.
When she is not busy crocheting to radio broadcasts from the quaint little town of Night Vale, Tanisha A is writing about films and playing the local recluse.
Picture Credits: Poster of the film designed by artist Ameya Menon
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