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My dream project is to bring Ramayana and Mahabharata to life with the combination of animation and live action – Arjun Chatterjee

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Arjun Chatterjee who ditched a job in Accenture to follow his heart and pursue his passion – animation. Read on to know more about this upcoming prominent filmmaker.

Tell us about your life journey in brief?

I’m a Navy brat. Growing up, I travelled all across India as my dad was posted to new places. I went to several schools and met several people. The one thing that stayed constant was my incredible love for cartoons. I could watch the same show over and over again and love it every time. After school, I had no idea what I wanted to be in life. So like every self-respecting Indian, I decided to be an engineer. I studied IT and wasn’t exactly fantastic at it. But one day, during a random multimedia class, I was introduced to Photoshop and instantly fell in love. Soon after, I started a graphic design firm and later, ditched a placement at Accenture to study animation at New York University. I did my Masters in Animation and Digital Media from Tisch School of the Arts, Asia and it’s been a crazy roller coaster since then.

What was your parents’ reaction when you opted out of your placement?

They were very supportive. They had realized that I would never excel at anything I wasn’t passionate about so they pushed me towards whatever made me happy. It helped that they both enjoy art and films as well. My dad is a rotring and charcoal artist himself.

What prompted you to become a filmmaker?

Stories. Ever since I was very little I’ve loved stories. I could stare at a science textbook for hours (and I mean hours) and not a word would go in. But I could lap up a good 500 page novel in a day. The worlds that incredible writers like Dumas, Verne, Wilde, Rowling, Tolkien, Colfer and so many more built consumed my life. Most recently, I fell deeply in love with Ashok Bankers rendition of Ramayana. It was the most incredible read I’d had in a long time. The idea of seeing these stories come to life made me giddy. I remember how happy I was when the first Harry Potter movie released and my dad got me the VCD as a surprise. From here on out, my love for film only grew as I was exposed to Disney, Miyazaki, Kon, Ray, Scorsese, Fincher, Tarantino and so many more geniuses. I wanted to be a part of this world I suppose. Big or small, didn’t matter. Just to be someone who could be up close and personal with bringing stories to life. Hence, film.

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Tell us about your team, if you have?

I’m a Director at Big 3 Productions, a production house in Singapore. The team I lead here comprises mainly of one producer and one editor. We are called ‘French Toast Mafia’. My Producer, Ziggy, is an incredibly efficient, super ambitious and very well informed dude. He has set a very high standard for me of what to expect from a producer. My Editor, Mark, is a ‘fun perfectionist’ which means he’s incredibly fun all the time but a complete perfectionist when it comes to edits. We often argue about what a transition should look like, or why the camera is where it is. But at the end of the day, he always gives me a phenomenal edit. Other than that we also work with a very talented group of DPs and Animators. It’s a very inspiring environment to work in and pushes you to achieve more every day. I love it to bits.

For the Kolkata shoot, I was asked by Commonfloor.com to direct the film. It was an immense opportunity and I was extremely grateful since I was yet to shoot anything in India. The first person I went to was my partner Rohini Joseph. An incredible writer and constant inspiration, she helped me put together a wonderful concept and wrote the most amazing script I could dare to hope for. It was heart-wrenching, nostalgic, and magical all at once. But I needed a crew. My buddy from college, Shreyom, a filmmaker and producer himself, had lived and worked in Kolkata for a large part of his life so I asked him to produce for me. But I needed a DP who could capture my ridiculous vision. Shreyom suggested Manish Singh Baghel and man, did he deliver. Manish captured the most incredible shots, and worked insanely hard to bring my vision to life. My assistant director was also a close friend, Ishaan Kumar, also an animator and on second cam, we got Vaibhav Munjal, a budding filmmaker with a constant stream of ideas and insatiable enthusiasm. For the voiceovers, I approached my family and friends because certain emotions cannot be conveyed by regular voice over artists. Not to forget Rohini’s friend Sagnik, who shot an extra shot for us when we were panicking during the edit back in Singapore. Some of the voices featured include the voices of my mum, my dad, my grand mum, my grand uncle, and Ishaan’s sister Ishika. It was edited and coloured of course by Mark, back in Singapore.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have these guys in my crew and as friends. Nothing would be possible without them all.

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Do you have plans to start your own production house?

Everybody dreams of having their own studio some day. I do too. But I have far from enough experience at the moment. Luckily, at NYU and at the production house I work at now, I am surrounded by very experienced mentors and extremely gifted peers. I learn something new every day and if I am ever able to start my own studio, it will be because of these guys.

How many/ What kind of movies you have made?

Not as many as I would have liked. I am most proud of ‘Home’, an animated short film I made during my tenure at NYU. Most recently, I worked on a film about Kolkata for an Indian company Commonfloor.com and though that was my first film in India, I was very taken aback by the response it has received so far. The film has over 40,000 views on YouTube and its only been 3 days since the release.

How did you get the idea of making movie ‘HOME’ at NYU?
‘Home’ was my thesis film at NYU. It was 4 minutes long, and took a little under a year to complete.The idea for the film was one of several I came up with when I was initially deciding on the story. The other ideas were outrageously different. I was mentored through the films production by well known New York based animator and now good friend, Patrick Smith. He taught me to break the story down into simple bullet points and take a look at how I could make it simpler. Since I had chosen hand-drawn animation as my technique, I needed a compelling story with a simple aesthetic to make it work. It took a while and the story changed a little as I wrote it, a little more as I storyboarded it, and a bit more as I animated it. That’s just how filmmaking works I suppose. But I learnt that story is integral to any film and I still apply the bullet point method while coming up with ideas, concepts, and scripts now.

What kind of movies do you like to make?

I am inspired by many people including Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Disney, Glenn Keane, Scorsese, Fincher, Kubrick, Wes Anderson, PTA and more. I don’t lean towards any particular genre. ‘Home’ was a comedy, I am currently working on a satire animated gag series, as well as playing around with an idea for a sci-fi drama. I love fantasy and have recently developed an interest in dark comedies. A dream project would probably be to recreate The Ramayana and Mahabharata epics as features and do them the justice they deserve.

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What are your future plans?

For now, it’s pretty much to make at least one film a year. Eventually, I want to direct for animated features.

What difficulties you face as an independent filmmaker?

1) Remembering random ideas.

2) Completing one film before moving on to another.

Any fun/ memorable incident?

When me and my crew risked life and limb to make our way through possibly the most run-down area of Kolkata, with thousands of drunk, angry hooligans eyes on us and sneaked onto the terrace of what looked like the hideout of a smuggling ring, being led by a man with bloodshot eyes who kept muttering colloquialisms to himself, all so I could get the perfect shot of Howrah Bridge, just to realise we had left the camera batteries in the car.

What advice you’d like to give to someone who is interested/newbee in filmmaking?

The best way to learn filmmaking is to make films. Simple as this may sound, it is true. Theoretical knowledge is integral but you learn the nitty gritty stuff only when you get down and dirty. I learnt a lot about animation while I was at NYU thanks to my wonderful teachers. But I only realised what it means to make a film when I actually started animating ‘Home’. The same goes for live-action films. When I joined as a Director at Big 3, I was thrown into the fray and made tons of mistakes with the live-action stuff and even with some of the animation stuff. You should also hang tough, stay humble, never be afraid to ask questions, experiment, and always give story the most importance.

 

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