A bit more than a week ago, at the IIFA (International India Film Awards) in nearby Tampa, I watched 2 short films made by a brother and a sister, Arosh and Sabreena Sarkian. I think they went to a film school in LA. They were students and they wrote, produced, and directed two films that were shown at this important event.
That got me interested in more short films. I found an outfit called Meera Productions. Meera Darji is a second year student at Coventry University in the UK. She’s enrolled in the Media Production Honours course at the school. She writes, produces, directs, and edits her own films under the banner of Meera Productions. She also works as a cinematographer, and has manned the cameras for other folks. I’ve watched a number of her short films, and I like what I see. I like the way she frames a shot – a technique that can be taught but I believe is mostly instinctual. One isn’t born knowing how to use a camera, or frame a shot, but someone can be far better at it – even without training – than others.
There’s a second component to film making that is also invaluable, and that is the editing. Knowing when to cut, to change the perspective or angle, to choose a one shot then pull back for a two shot, is very important in keeping a viewer’s interest. A stationary camera conveys information that is endlessly repeated, but a moving camera, whether it be the camera that is in motion, or a series by edits, simply heightens the amount of information that is offered to a viewer. Each change edit offers a fresh perspective. New information is delivered, and the eyes are attracted again and again. I think Meera excels in camera positioning, locations, and the framing of the subjects. And when you factor in the editing – that’s where it really gets interesting.
To kick off this post, please have a look at Meera’s showreel:
So my subject for this post is the young film maker Meera Darji. I’ve asked some questions and I found her answers to be compelling, insightful, honest, and most worthy of your consideration. Some of the films in the showreel will be discussed. Wasn’t Meera’s showreel quite exciting? So without further preamble let’s get started.
JMM : Welcome, and thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my questions.Was there a particular film, or a specific film actor/actress that sparked your interest in movies?
Meera: You are very welcome. My interest for Film began when I was in school, studying Media Studies for my GCSE’s. I think it was the best choice I made of choosing Media as one of my options, as I never really knew where it would take me. I learnt about various different areas and my interest immediately grew.
In terms of films, my childhood was filled with predominantly adventure, fantasy films whereby the notion of reality and imagination became distinctive. Films such as Matilda, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, and Flubber became a huge part of my childhood, where I loved the magic that movies created and wanted to make my own.
JMM: At a point in time, you decided to make film making a career choice -‐ what options did you have with regard to schools, and what was the deciding factor in you choosing to become a film maker
Meera: As I mentioned above, choosing Media at school and then through to college, I learnt about the mass areas it involved. This allowed me to gain experience and knowledge in Radio broadcast, TV production, Writing, theory, Film, etc. Thus, when it came to analyzing films and actually producing my own media, I felt hugely enthusiastic, as I passionately enjoyed the process. After researching the roles I could potentially grow into the film industry, I became more aware of my goals. Since then, my aim was to always become a Filmmaker.
JMM: What kinds of equipment do you use?
Meera: For my films, I always try to use my own equipment to shoot. I own a Canon 500D complimented with various wide and macro lenses including the 70-‐200mm lens. I recently invested in further equipment, including a sound recorder, dolly/track, camera shoulder mount etc. At the moment, my aim is to build up my equipment, providing me the freedom to shoot any time. Having said that, my University does offer equipment which we can be freely loaned out for our shoots.
JMM: The first film I’ve opted for our discussion is called Strum For Hope. The link below will take you to the trailer>
JMM: Meera describes the film: Brooke is homeless. An unexpected situation, she never imagined to be part of. Losing her mother when she was young, her father remarried. Few years later her father left and Brooke became trapped with her horrible step mum; Jill. With no support and lack of confidence, Brooke lost her hope to strive towards her goal. Brooke decides to leave home for good, where she believes the world out there is a better place to live in. Expressing her thoughts and feelings poetically, we see her explore the world seeking for hope and aiming save money for college.
JMM: Strum for Hope -‐ is this fiction or fact?
Meera: Strum for Hope is a mixture of fiction and fact. Before, this film I researched the levels of young homelessness where I found a huge increase in the factor. This was shocking as well as inspiring, where I wanted to spread the message of the young and homeless increasing, anchored with the fact that there needs to be a spreading of hope and gratitude, from the local public to the precious victim.
JMM: Did you audition actresses for the roles?
Meera: I cast this film mainly through the casting website, Starnow, where I received several applications for the role of Brooke. After shortlisting, I had the opportunity to take forward a few auditions, where Sophie Heath-Taylor stood out. She was very close to the character I wrote, it was like the role was made for her! On set, she was comfortable and with this being her first film she took away great knowledge of the filmmaking process and enhanced her confidence skills.
JMM: How much video did you shoot (footage or minutes) before editing it down to its 13:34 running time ?
Meera: The scenes were spread out to different shooting dates. However, I managed to complete all the shots in less than two weeks, which involved locations such as: the library, house, city centre, park etc.
Originally the film was planned to be under ten minutes, however when editing the first cut it turned out to be around 15 minutes, which was far too long. Therefore, I cut it down to around 13 minutes, which I was happy with.
JMM: The second film under discussion is called Reality. Take particular notice of the variation of the shots and the the pacing of the edits. You can watch this film at the link below:
JMM: Reality - This is the story of the man who lost his job, car, home and fiancée. Is this based on something that happened to some one you know? Or is this a complete work of fiction?
Meera: Reality was my very first film, which I shot on a small handy cam. The story was inspired by one of my close relatives, whom lost his job and became redundant due to the economic crisis.
Meera: I wanted to perpetuate that difficult moment in a life when everything falls apart at the same time. Thus, it was released at a stressful period where a ‘happy ending’ didn’t seem necessary yet was relatable.
JMM: Is the woman who interviews him and decides against hiring Cam a sibling or relative of yours?
Meera: The woman who interviewed the main character was a family friend. Likewise, the ‘boss’ was my uncle.
Meera: Due to this being my first film, I wasn’t hugely confident in professionally casting, thus I used people I knew for my cast.
JMM: Up next is Struggle for Life & Race Against Time which is a personal film about the immigrant experience, karma, and hope. Below is the link to watch this film:
JMM: Struggle for Life & Race Against Time -‐ your grandfather’s story.
JMM: While this film was the most personal, it was the least interesting visually. I realize your were working with old photos and such but I am wondering if you considered having an actor, or using a voice over rather than subtitles?
Meera: For Struggle with Life & Race against Time, I wanted to capture my Grandfather’s story for who he was, without using an actor or voice over. My aim was to thoroughly portray his words coming directly from within, thus regardless of the visuals, his journey, his story felt real and inspiring. Along with the Gujarati language, it added to the culture and Indian background.
Meera: My Grandfather portrays a humble yet strong persona where young people can look up to him as a role model. He explains life in simple terms and tells us the truth of karma. Encouraging people to follow their dreams no matter what and defining how we all have a gift, a purpose.
He is originally from India, and came over to UK (my house) to shoot the film. Thus, the majority of the moving visuals are of England.
JMM: I was also impressed with the use of the Ganesha in the living room where your grandfather was sitting and talking. Since Ganesh, aka Ganesha is the God of Fortune, prosperity, and success, as well as being the remover of obstacles, was this a prop or was this God statue really in the home?
Meera: However, the interview scenes were set up very simply, where naturally in the house we have deities of various Gods. Ganesha was really in the home, and embraced the frame relating to his journey of overcoming tough obstacles.
JMM: I really admire your editing techniques and your camera placements. Can you give me an idea of how you go about doing this. What are your thought processes in selecting a camera placement? Is it a matter of training or is it instinctual?
Meera: Since a young age whenever I watched films I always tend to focus on how the film is made. I closely pay attention to the camera shots, angles and techniques, which I find very interesting and insightful. I believe its important to have that special eye where I usually try to frame shots vigorously, giving the audience something new, or a different perspective.
Meera: I am very fond of cinematography, thus I may agree that this is instinctual, where I visually play the scene in my head and aim to capture a variety of shots from different angles. It’s like a puzzle, putting all the pieces together to create a whole clean picture.
JMM: Given the ongoing news emanating from India, especially the horrific news concerning the violence against women within the last year, Meera wrote a poem, and then adapted it into a short film. Below is the film/poem on youtube:
JMM: The Poem and the filmed poem -‐ Are you the speaker?
Meera: The poem and voice over film was part of my University module called ‘My Poetic Eyes’.
My inspiration was from the recent horrific rape case of a young girl, Dhamini based in India. I never really imagined myself writing poetry, yet since that first poem being published in a book, it has encouraged me to keep on writing.
JMM: Have you considered doing a feature length screenplay about such a victim?
Meera: The poem is very precious yet powerful, where I have thought about adopting it into a feature film, which could either work as a dramatized documentary. Though, this is something which I am hoping to be working on in the future, due to the importance of facts and research.
JMM: Our last film from Meera for this discussion is called In The Life of Manilal Kataria. Below is a link for the film:
JMM: In The Life of Manilal Kataria -‐ what was the inspiration for this film?
Meera: In the Life of Manilal Kataria is so far one of my strongest films both visually and narratively. It was initially part of my Documentary module for my second year of University.
JMM: Is Manilal an actor or is this cinema-‐verite?
Meera: Indeed it is a form of cinema-‐verite, where Manilal’s story is nothing but the truth. All of the shots are realistically of him at work, where his voice over tells us the story of his everyday life. Learning about Manila’s daily routine was mesmerizing due to the amount of jobs he completed in the course of a single day. Within my film, I wanted to capture the endless jobs he happily did, together with how he continues his life with his head held high.
Meera: He’s not ashamed of what he does. He’s proud of his job. I wanted people to not empathize towards him, but as he feels proud, they would begin to appreciate the amount of hard work he puts into his job. Today we all have machines to accomplish our work; dish washers, washing machines etc. Yet Manilal believes in completing his work with his bare hands. A completely different lifestyle compared to how the majority. It makes us think about how we take advantage of these machines. And maybe in fact we should appreciate them more.
Travelling to India was the best part of this project. With family based there, I felt part of the culture and explored various cities I had never been to before. The busy city and animals walking on the roads was just so natural for them. Yet something I wanted to compose within my work. I wanted to give people a taste of India through the bold and warm colours.
I believe in creating films which leave the audience moved and hopefully allow them to feel inspired and hopefully a moral to take home with them. Thus, Manilal’s story provided an insight onto a real human lifestyle. Not the glamour, nor the slums, just a simple yet effective everyday life of a person.
I have been entering this film into various local and international Film Festivals, this where it was officially selected at NFFTY [National Film Festival for Talented Youth] in Seattle, USA, which was showcasing limited films from the best Film Directors aged under 22. It also recently took home ‘Best Documentary’ at the BoVi [Boise International Student Film Festival] in Idaho, USA. Likewise, was screened at, the International Broke Student Film Festival (Southfield, Michigan, USA), Ratma [River Aire Ten Minute Amateur International Film Festival (Keighley, UK) and will be screening this June at the Tabor International Film Festival (Croatia).
JMM: Meera, good luck and best wishes for the exhibition of your film at Tabor. As we approach summer, what are your plans?
Meera: In terms of my current and upcoming projects, I have been working on various short films as well as writing a feature length screenplay for a future film. My aim is to continue to keep on making films, growing my portfolio and to gain as much experience as I can in a field I want a career in.
Meera: I will be working on a short film ‘Unconditional’ which is based on a true story of a dog and her owner. I am working alongside an actress who played Jill in Strum for Hope. The story is based on a character going through dark, lonely times, where a big black dog is there for her every day in every way. While the character is falling apart and everything is uncertain she gives her joy and you can see the connection between them. It highlights the simple joy of walking and sharing, of a face that is always pleased to see you and is faithful to the end. However, losing her dog, this character somewhat becomes part of the journey of delusion, where she has a mental breakdown.
Though I do not want to say more, but all I can say is that this is a powerful short film which I am currently co-‐writing and will be Directing. It will be a new experience and genre for me to work with dogs and a real-‐life relationship.
JMM: I’m intrigued. Working with a dog will be a challenge for sure. Anything else?
Meera: I’m also hoping to shoot a short poignant film called ‘Lifeless’ which is story balanced between the past, present and future, focusing on the unstable life of 28 year old Molly. The script is almost done, to the point that I have begun to storyboard and explore a potential cast.
In my spare time, I have been working on a fantasy/adventure feature film, though I would like not to say much about this project, however will say that it will be made in the far future due to the high budget and production value. It is my first feature which I am writing, thus the process is a huge learning curve and much of a ‘work’ in progress.
I have begun writing stories which have helped me visually create projects which I am now more confident in adapting to screenplays. Again, these are all current projects which I am working on and hopefully will be able to turn into films soon.
Meera: As well as undertaking projects, productions, writing and photography in summer, I am also hoping to gain industrial experience through various production companies. This of which my aim is to build upon my professional portfolio and gain vast experience and knowledge. I believe practice makes perfect and what’s a better way to keep on making and keep on trying.
JMM: Thank you so much Meera. It has been my distinct pleasure in talking with you.
Meera Darji: Once again thank you very much for your kind words. It has been a pleasure sharing my journey and I hope people enjoy reading the article.
There you have it readers. A film maker whose career path is still uncharted and awaits her steps. While her career is a work in progress, and her future is a story whose ending cannot be foretold, her energy and creativity are inspiring and admirable. If you would like to learn more about Meera Darji, she has her own website: www.meeraproductions.com and the About Page and Portfolio pages are paramount. We have only the best wishes and highest regard for Meera.