Filmmaker Karthik Muthukumar recently won best student cinematography at India's National Student Film Awards for his film SKYLAB IS FALLING. Here's what Muthukumar told InCamera:
Tell us the one thing about yourself connected to the craft of filmmaking
I think filmmaking is a process of discovering oneself. It helped me to know the world better. It changed the way I see the world. It opened up wide space and it gave me the insight to think beyond what I am. It is also a never-ending process with no rules and limitation; you can play the game in n-number of ways. I think now that I am addicted to it so I want to pursue it all through my life and I also want to play fearlessly.
Give us a brief background of yourself
I completed my schooling at Maharishi Vidya Mandir in Chennai in year 2007 and I did my Undergraduate in Visual Communication from Loyola College. Post which I completed my PG diploma in cinematography with a gold medal from LV Prasad Film and television Institute in 2012.
Who are the people you draw your film making inspiration from?
It all started off from the Tamil film industry masters like K. Balachander, Balu mahendra and Mahendran. During my undergraduate the first film that I got to see was Pather Panchali and then I found the kind of cinema which I wanted to make as I was moved by the film. I kept myself updated with all the movies of Satyajit Ray and from then on my film viewing habit rapidly increased and I was fascinated and mesmerized by many other filmmaker’s works. To name a few Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wong Kar-wai , Abbas Kiarostami, Robert Bresson, Ritwik Ghatak, Mani Kaul.
The idea behind SKYLAB IS FALLING
I think it is a very distinctive film, which definitely took us a lot of time to think about the complex narrative treatment and the visual style. The idea behind the film was to treat it like a fable, kind of a bedtime story which has many different characters with different mood, styles and fantasies.
What type of cinematography and lighting conditions did SKYLAB IS FALLING demand?
Shooting the film was like creating your own imaginary world whose rules and regulations existed and only you know that and you got to handle that with precision and care to bring out the element live and interesting to the viewer. I discussed with my director Manoj Leonal Jahson about the aspect ratio, as I did not want it to be usual one. I wanted an aspect ratio such that it strikes the viewer at the first point to think that they are not watching a normal film and that they are not going to see the usual stuff, hence we came up with 4:3 with a round edge in the corners i.e using the entire film as such it helped a lot and it gave a new platform to work on my composition in an unusual way.
The colors were our main property to the film and every color we had in every scene had different stories to tell and it played with the mood and created the world, which we wanted, and it gave an all-new dimension and an exotic look to the film.
The composition and the camera movements and the choice of lenses were the key aspects which we strictly followed with discipline to bring in the linearity within the film and to make the rules more vital and also to make the viewer believe that the world in the film existed in the way we shot.
I wanted to play with the natural light and atmosphere what it creates and decided to go with the nature, the wind, the movements in the cloud and the changing climatic conditions, color temperature of light and all of these elements helped the film and gave its blessing.
Indoors were more of a personal choice and I always think simulating source lighting had nothing to do with the mood of the scene so I completely took that from my mind and placed lights on a position which will give me a ambience of the cinematic world which we had in mind and I followed it completely in the same way.
What film stock, camera and lenses were used to shoot?
We used Kodak 50D, 250D, 200T and 500T all vision 3 series. We shot with an ARRI 3 remodeled to s35mm camera body with Carl Zesis lenses.
Was any additional technical input required to shoot SKYLAB IS FALLING
We wanted greater depth of field through out the film and we could active it because we shot in film.
What makes the Film so unique that led to winning the best cinematography the NSFA?
We forced ourselves in all boundaries to make it not look like a students film and took measures to spend where it has to be spent and took care with all the departments to make it professional in every aspect and experimented in all areas to bring out something unique and also interesting and new to the viewer and I think the effort paid off.
Your reaction to the winning?
I was very happy that the efforts what we made had a recognition in the country and also it made me feel more responsible.
What is your cinematography style?
I don’t think I will go with a particular cinematography style. I think a cinematographer shouldn’t have a particular style then it would be like an actor having particular gesture, which he does in all the films with every role he plays. I think cinematography for every film should be different and unique and it should stand for the script and the director.
Is this the first film you shot?
I have already shot two short films on Kodak Color Negative Film and both in 16mm. This is my first film on 35mm.
Why did you choose film for this project and did film do justice?
Shooting in Film was one thing that made me join in a film school. When I wanted to join a film school the first criteria that I looked was whether the film school’s final projects were done in film. So film was one choice, which was already decided before even thinking about shooting this film, and without film I think we would have had a huge difficulty in order to create the world we wanted. Film gave us freedom and made our job simpler and greater. Film gave greater dynamic range, great depth of field, extra ordinary color reproduction and brilliant skin tones, which could have been very difficult for me if I would have not had film in my hand.
What shots were the best shots of SKYLAB IS FALLING OnFilm ?
I like all the shots in the film because every single shot is close to my heart and everything in a shot was made with greater care and love towards it.
Do you think Shooting Film Matters … explain why?
Shooting film matters because only film can tell you how world looked looks and will look. When I first used a digital camera I found the difference between our earlier family photographs, which were in film. I found that pictures taken in film were different from digital and started analyzing it and questioning it and reasoning it and found that photographs taken in film had all the details on it and looked exactly the way I could remember the scene and it took me to the place were we took the image and image gave the nostalgic effect and it triggered so many feelings of the scene in my mind and that was the point I realized film is not just a medium but is something more than that. Today when I see films made in film I envy the older cinematographers and I always wished I should have born 25 years before so that I would have had more chance to shoot in film and I would have enjoyed it and benefited from it more. But I am positive and having my hands crossed for film and I want to shoot as number of films in film possible before I die.
Do you plan shooting film in the future, what kind of stories would you like to shoot on film?
Film can tell any story in a better way and it can bring in life to it. I will never miss if I get a chance to shoot in film in future.