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This course is a refreshing look at the art of making independent films. In it, Mira Nair shows you how to make an award-winning film without the need for a big budget. Anyone can take what they learn here and start to use the medium of film to tell their story.
Who is Mira Nair the independent filmmaker?
Before taking this course, I had never heard of Mira Nair. Yet, she is actually very accomplished and well known.
In 2001, her movie Monsoon Wedding won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe. Salaam Bombay! was nominated for an Oscar. Her films really do bridge the cultural gap with stars like Denzel Washington clamoring to work with her.
It is fair to say she is a successful movie maker. But, it is clear from this course that she is still very much an independent filmmaker. For example, for Monsoon Wedding, everyone turned up in their own clothes. Some of her actors, extras, and crew even bought their own props along.
This is the kind of innovative approach is typical of this Indian-American movie creator. It is insights, tips and tricks like this that make me recommend this course to anyone who is interested in making a film or video.
Set out to make truly unique films
Mira’s first piece of advice is to make your film unique. There is no point in simply copying what has gone before. Audiences across the world are crying out for something fresh and new. So, you need to provide it for them.
That means tapping into who you are. Your life experiences, culture, language, beliefs. In short, everything that makes you different from a significant percentage of the rest of the world.
This is easy to say. But, not so easy to do. In her masterclass, Mira shows you how to get past your reticence, find your voice and use it to make a memorable film that will still appeal to a significant audience.
Mira explains how to find your voice, come up with ideas and be brave enough to take the next step. Speak up and use the medium of film to share your take on the world with others.
Mira is very hands on. Active in her community, curious with a voracious appetite for learning from all kinds of people. She is not a fan of borrowing from other places, she is a doer, not an observer. During this course, you will learn how to be more curious and observant about what happens around you. A habit that will help you to create insightful films and reach a bigger audience with your work.
How to tell your story
Mira was born and raised in India but moved to America. Initially, to study at Harvard, but decided to stay. Today, she is based in New York. So,
the films Mira makes are mostly about Indian society. But, they are designed to be for a global audience.
She clearly understands how to bridge the gap between two very different cultures. How to make films that are familiar enough for all audiences to follow and understand.
But, she does not do this by mollycoddling her audience. For example, she does not try to weave an explanation of what the red spot in the middle of a Hindu’s forehead means, into her script. She understands that if it is not relevant to the story most viewers will not be want something like that explained.
Her audience is interested in that person’s story, who they are, how they are feeling and how they cope with the situation they find themselves in. Not cultural facts. They are attracted to the character on an emotional level. It is that which keeps them engaged and watching. Mira explains how to tap into the universality of being human, so your movies appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
Be sure to go take the time to watch video 11. In that video, she explains how she developed the story of her hit movie, Monsoon Wedding.
How to make a film on a small budget
Rejection spurs me on, it makes me feel I’m doing something right. So has dealing with limited budgets.Mira Nair – Independent Filmmaking Masterclass.com
Initially, I was frustrated by this section of the course. Mira’s approach was to tell lots of little stories about how she had saved money while shooting her movies. I guess I wanted some sort of tick list. But, by the end of the video, I realized Mira had actually taught me a lot about making a film on a budget.
It is all too easy to allow the fact that you are working with a tight budget to get in the way of your story. Mira adeptly explains how to avoid falling into this trap.
She demonstrates the benefit of careful planning. How to get the most out of each location and shoot. As well as how to make the difficult decisions about where the money is spent and the approach you need to take, do when things go wrong.
How to cast an independent film
Unfortunately, I struggled with this section of the course too. Casting is a big subject, so unsurprisingly Mira could not explain everything in a 16-minute video.
So, her advice was quite general. It was more of an insight into the way she thinks when looking for actors rather than the actual casting process.
If like me, you need a more step-by-step style of instruction, I suggest you consider taking Jodie Foster’s film-making course as well. I did, and the casting process became much clearer to me when I combined what I learned from both Mira and Jodie.
I had bought the all-access pass, which enables me to take every single one of the 50+ Masterclasses without paying anything extra. The cost is surprisingly low. For the same price you would pay if you bought just 2 masterclasses you get access to more than 50 courses.
How to work with those who are new to acting
There is one area that Mira excels at and that is working with people who are new to the industry. She regularly casts people who have never acted before in important roles and is not afraid of working with children. An approach that helps to give her films a fresh and honest feel.
If you want to know how to turn non-actors into stars, Mira is the person to learn from. None of the other film-making courses I have taken cover this subject. When you are working with a small budget not having to pay your cast a lot of money is a big plus. So, being able to get great performances out of non-actors is a great skill to have.
Learn how to direct actors the Mira Nair way
This section of the course also offers something a little extra. Partly because Mira illustrates many of her points with examples of how she has directed children or those who were new to acting. She takes a slightly different approach to her cast than most other directors. As a result, I think that even experienced filmmakers will be able to learn something from Mira.
How to make use of gestures in filmmaking
This is another section in which Nair provides a unique take on an aspect of filmmaking that is rarely talked about.
Gestures are powerful. They tell you a lot about a character, so can be used, in several ways, to enrich the story. It is impossible to explain how this Indian-American director does this just using the written word. So, to be able to benefit from Mira’s insights into how to use gestures and facial expressions to enhance your story, you will need to take the course.
Mira Nair’s scene workshops
This part of the course is also a bit different from the other film-making ones I have taken. It is great to see her physically working with her actors developing a scene. Explaining what she needs, how the character is feeling. Plus, when necessary, suggesting ways her actors can convey those feelings through what they say, tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, and other body language cues. It is truly fascinating and very informative.
This section of the course is divided into the following three sections:
- The read through and blocking process
- Rehearsing the scene
- The final take
Later, Mira explains the mechanics of directing on-set (video 13). I would suggest that after you complete the 3 workshop videos you skip forward and watch video 13. If you do that, things will make much more sense to you.
Getting the look of your movie right
Understanding the elements that contribute to the overall look and feel of your movie is essential. So, Mira shows you how to create a look book and provides you with several innovative ways to share your vision with your cast and crew.
Most of the points she makes are included in the workbook. But, you may be better off making a note of each suggestion as you go through this video. That will make it far easier for you to refer back and find what you need, at a later date.
I would also suggest that you do the exercise that is provided and create a simple look book for a story idea. This will teach you how to come up with ideas by looking at your movie from all angles. For example, thinking about the score enables you to select some specific pieces of music. This, in turn, will stimulate your thought processes, which will enable you to come up with more visual cues you can use to set the scene for your audience.
How to work with your cinematographer
This is yet another subject I have rarely seen covered in other courses – finding and working effectively with your cinematographer. In this section, Mira delves deeper into how to create a scene. She covers important subjects like the viewer’s perspective and lighting.
Here Mira shows you how to tap into all kinds of visual cues to touch your audience on an emotional level. Ways to convey what your character is thinking and feeling without having to always use words.
Understanding the editing process for an independent film
Regardless, of what type of film you are making, the editing process is critical. This is where your creation is crafted into its final form.
When you are working with a tight budget, editing is even more critical. Typically, you have far less footage to work with, so you have to be creative.
Mira looks for editors that have a good level of musical sensitivity. This sounds a bit weird, but when you go through this section of the course, you will quickly understand why this approach is actually genius.
Her juxtapose tips are also excellent. Whether you are writing or making a film blending two elements of the story together is a tricky skill to master. Following Mira’s advice will make this part of the creative process much easier.
Creating the soundtrack for your independent film
It is clear that the soundtrack is a key component of Mira’s films. She thinks about it right from the start of the movie-making process. In this section of the course she teaches you the following skills:
- How to use sound to direct the eye and heart
- How to balance silence with sound
- How to communicate the feeling you want to create to your sound designer and composer
The yin and yang of sound and silence, that is what really makes the music bloom.Mira Nair – Independent Filmmaking Masterclass – Sound and Music
Who is Mira Nair’s course for?
You can take several filmmaking courses on Masterclass. Amazing Oscar-winning directors like David Lynch, Jodie Foster, Spike Lee, Ron Howard, and others have all made Masterclasses.
I’ve taken several of them and can tell you that they are all fascinating, in their own way. Naturally, these courses are primarily designed with people who make films, in mind.
But, because these directors are so famous, a lot of people who have never thought of making a film have also enjoyed taking their courses. Gaining an insight into the minds and hearts of these famous directors and how they work is too hard to resist for their many fans.
This is not so much the case for Mira’s course. It is more factual and direct than the other film-making courses. I would say that it is a better fit for actual filmmakers than it is for people who are celebrity watchers.
Taking this course would also greatly benefit someone who is a writer or is interested in becoming one. You can learn a lot about creating a story and characters from Mira Nair.