1. When I gave my friend Nischalakrishna Vittalanathan advice on what camera he should buy, I didn’t half expect him to not just buy the Sony HVR V1U (a HD camera that costs about $3000, a boon for indie filmmakers) but also demand that we now make a movie because he bought it. After my experience making a really low budget feature film That Four Letter Word for three and a half lakh rupees in 2006 (we had a limited commercial release in Chennai and Mumbai), I told him it’s not possible to make a film with just a camera unless it’s about three people in one house or two people talking on the phone. RGV had already done three people in a house and nobody would watch two people on the phone. Not even me. Though it started as a joke, we liked the sound of that challenge. What if we can write something that even we, who usually don’t watch talkie films, wouldn’t mind watching at all? Encouraged by the success of conversation films like Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, we decided that the film had to be one phone call and through that phone call, we should explore the life cycle of relationships and the dynamics of modern day romance. One of my most favourite films is a lesser-known Cameron Crowe film called Elizabethtown which has a six-minute long musical montage about two people on the phone talking away into the night. We hear only snatches and I have always wanted to write out that conversation we don’t hear because of all the music. K.Balachander, India’s own Billy Wilder, who made the careers of Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan, had done something similar in one of his films called Azhagan. Two people talk on the phone for an entire night during a song sequence and we don’t quite hear what they speak. My idol, Cameron Crowe worships Billy Wilder. So if I had to pay tribute to Crowe, I had to tip the hat towards Wilder too. So I spent the next two weeks catching up with all of Billy Wilder since I was attempting a talkie. Once I watched The Seven Year Itch, I was convinced that a talkie would work even today. There’s a scene in Some Like It Hot when Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis kiss after spending a night together on a yacht when he says: Good Night and she says: Good Morning. That sounded like a great title for an all-nighter. We had all been there and done that – that all night phone call.
2. We live in a world of clutter. There are always so many things happening around us that our attention span has become smaller and smaller. The mobile phone has become the extension of all things we want to keep track of. There’s always a mobile ringing somewhere around you. In a movie hall, in the middle of a date or meeting. When was the last time you sat to have an uninterrupted conversation without being interrupted? Ironically, that would have been over the phone. Young people are getting to know each other through phones. The way relationships are forged may have changed but romance has always been the same. So we decided to keep the film in black and white to capture the old world charm of the talkie and romance but set it in today’s mobile, technology-driven world that’s finding it hard to let go of baggage. Almost everyone today is the product of a failed relationship. And many don’t realise the importance of letting go of the old to embrace the new. After night comes morning. Always.
3. Having decided that the actual phone call in the film can’t be more than an hour or so, we decided to break this phone call into stages every relationship goes through. And we arrived at this thesis: 1. The Ice-Breaker 2. The Honeymoon 3. The Reality Check 4. The Break Up 5. The Patch Up 6. The Confiding 7. The Great Friendship 8. The Killing Confusion. You want it but there are always the ghosts of the mistakes you’ve made in the past together.
4. After fleshing out these stages of romance with Shilpa Rathnam and Nischalakrishna Vittalanathan, we decided we now had to break the structure we built the film on because if there’s one thing about a phone call, it shouldn’t sound structured. I made six of my friends call six strangers, had them record one hour of the phone call and send me the audio file to understand patterns of topics discussed between strangers and how the jumps happen. It was a study of randomness.
5. Since we needed it to be authentic, we had to get US-based actors to get the accent right. Indian English films always suffer because the accent is always put on. We sent the script to Manu Narayan (Bombay Dreams, The Love Guru) who a common friend knew and he loved it. Seema Rahmani (Loins of Punjab, Sins) who hadn’t even sent me her phone number because she preferred to read the script before talking more called me in less than 48 hours. She said she was in tears and said had smoked three cigarettes since she read it. She didn’t care what the deal was, whether she would be paid or not. She just wanted to do it. Manu and Seema came in as Executive Producers since we couldn’t pay them. Both of them had spent most of their lives in the US and were terrific actors. Getting two committed actors was half the film done.
6. Though it was a phone call, I didn’t want it to look low budget. That’s the curse of independent films. Indie films always look tacky. So we had to shoot without any compromises, even if it meant we had to go all the way to places we had written about – like to that quaint little town called New Hope in between New York and Philadelphia or to New York to shoot Times Square on New Year’s eve on what turned out to be the coldest night of the year and we hadn’t even seen snow all our lives until that moment we were shooting it. Since I was the producer as well, I had to put in all my life savings, take a personal loan, and max out all three credit cards and borrow from my best friend. 13 out of the 25 lakhs I spent on the film is still debt being paid off slowly as EMIs.
7. We had to shoot split screen. So we shot all of Seema as Manu read out his lines over a phone to her. And then edited all of Seema’s portions so that Manu could then recreate that conversation exactly as he had when we were shooting with Seema. This meant he would have no idea when Seema’s next line would begin. Just like how it happens during a phone call. This lent the credibility that I needed for people to believe that they were actually eavesdropping into a phone call and they were having the additional advantage of not only knowing everything these strangers knew about each other through what they spoke but also about what they were not telling each other through their body language.
8. Of course, it helped that our Production Designer Arvind Caulagi storyboarded the whole film. See the video below and you may be able to see the story though it is a conversation driven film. Again, I wanted people to figure out what was going on even if they weren’t listening to the conversation. How do we create intimacy and demonstrate how they got closer to each other over a course of a phone call? How do we establish that they are actually geographically drifting apart and yet getting emotionally closer? We couldn’t have shot this without storyboarding.
9. We used techniques used in the fifties to shoot phone calls and outdoor sequences though we had been to New York and Philadelphia and all those places shown in the film to add to the authentic look and feel of the era we were trying to pay homage to. So we used split screens, reverse projection to show road trips, jazz music and black and white but retained some elements of today so that the film captures the timelessness of romance.The film has music from musicians from three different continents. UK-based composer Ray Guntrip gave us his jazzy ‘Out of the Blue’ performed by Tina May for the opening credits, New York based Gregory Generet provided two immensely romantic jazz numbers ‘Moondance’ and ‘Once You’ve Been in Love’ while Manu Narayan and his music partner Radovan Jovicevic (together they form Darunam) composed a song called ‘Fire’ for the film and also gave us ‘All That’s Beautiful Must Die’ while India-based Sudeep and Jerry did a live cover version of ‘Strangers in the night’.
10. Given the unconventional nature of the film, we decided that the best way to create buzz would be through festival screenings and get the word of mouth going. It did help because we got some great reviews from critics and movie buffs post our screenings at the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), 2010, South Asian International Film Festival, New York, 2010, Goa Film Alliance-IFFI 2010, Chennai International Film Festival, 2010, Habitat Film Festival, 2011 and Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj, Romania in June 2011 where 86 voters from the audience rated the film 3.97 on 5 (slightly better than the Oscar nominated Winter’s Bone and Venice-winning Somewhere). Good Night Good Morning will now play at the International Film Festival of Delhi and at the Noordelijk Film Festival in the Netherlands back to back in November. The film has been selected for exclusive release through PVR’s new banner called Director’s Rare and will hit the screens later this year.
The Production Stills can be viewed on the Good Night | Good Morning Facebook Page.