A Young Film Maker Talks with JMM

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>

http://meeraproductions.com/?portfolio=strum-for-hope

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 on location with the actress Sophie Heath-Taylor

Meera on location with the actress Sophie Heath-Taylor

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:

http://meeraproductions.com/?portfolio=reality

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.

Cam has just been let go. His future is uncertain.

Cam has just been let go. His future is uncertain.

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.

Cam looks at the engagement ring, as yet not given, and contemplates how to break or give his fiance the news

Cam looks at the engagement ring, as yet not given, and contemplates how to break or give his fiance the news

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.

Sorry Cam, we've lost 40% of ur turnover. I've no option in this, so I'll cut to the chase. I'm going to let you go...

Sorry Cam, we’ve lost 40% of our turnover. I’ve no option in this, so I’ll cut to the chase. I’m going to let you go…

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:

http://meeraproductions.com/?portfolio=struggle-with-life-race-against-time

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.

Grandfather arrives/ Meera and her sister are just about to enter the frame to greet him.

Grandfather arrives. Meera and her sister are just about to enter the frame to greet him.

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.

Director Meera Darji instructs her actress, Sophie Heath-Taylor about her movements in the shot.

Director Meera Darji instructs her actress, Sophie Heath-Taylor about her movements in the shot.

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:

http://meeraproductions.com/?portfolio=in-the-life-of-manilal-kataria

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.

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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.

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3 thoughts on “A Young Film Maker Talks with JMM

  1. Meera’s work is technically impressive. I particularly like the music and the way her films sound. But, she seems to be trying to tell people’s life stories through spoken narration instead of using the camera to visually bring these stories to life. This may be due to time and budgetary constraints or it may be that she loves words even more than pictures.I’d prefer she show more life and tell us less about life.

    I hope she gets the opportunity to make the fantasy feature length film she is currently writing. I’d like to see her have more time and money to create the kind of magical movies she loved as a child. Revealing her imagination might take her films beyond her current point of view.

  2. Reblogged this on Meera Darji and commented:
    Here’s an article by JustMeMike who watched my Films and asked me a few questions regarding my aspirations. Thank you very much Mike for this wonderful opportunity and post!

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