Whilst working as a Barrister, I never let go of my other works in, journalism, drama, and film. Moreover, I gradually learned how to integrate these into my legal practice which led me to what many call the sexy side of law, media law. Consequently, in the background, I continued my radio journalism, drama, and short film projects as I came from a journalism background having worked for the BBC on a freelance basis back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s. It was not until 2018 that I decided to go to bite the bullet and go to actual film school and embark on an MA in filmmaking. I carefully selected the film school I wanted to attend and ultimately decided to go to Sheffield Hallam University from where I ultimately qualified with a Distinction in Filmmaking. During the course, there was always one central theme in most of the lectures, projects, or seminars: legal responsibility. This often reminded me of my LL.M days in which I studied the legal aspects of journalism and reporting. In order to make a full feature-length documentary film, there were many issues that came up every step of the way. I will therefore be sharing my experiences in a series of articles however, in this article, I touch upon the broad legal issues I learnt about which I will elaborate upon in my series.
Choosing the topic for the film
Whilst I had shortlisted many topics I wanted to film, I ended up making my first documentary about a relatives wedding. There was a simple reason for this. Firstly, Indian weddings are always captivating, colourful, and chaotic, but secondly, most importantly, there were no sets or location shouts I had to source to get permission to film at. This was a wedding of a relative, and once I secured the families permission everyone was on board. The point I am making is that, choose a topic which enables easy filming without too many complications. I learned at film school, many people had dreams of filming the most obscure or distinguished topics, which involved a lot of planning and permission seeking. I am not criticising filmmakers, who wish to film complex topics, but us lawyers know how time- consuming and bureaucratic getting permission can become (not to mention the legal issues). Therefore, in short, choose your topic carefully and keep it simple.
Even though my filming was done at a wedding in Delhi, I did not fall short of the basic rules. I made sure signs were placed all around the family home so that people knew that a documentary film is being made. That way, people all knew they were going to be part of a documentary. In short, I made sure I adhered to the principles of crowd release.
Individual consent forms
Shooting at an Indian wedding is a bit like shooting at the Carnival in Rio. In other words, completely electric and chaotic in atmosphere, but also unpredictable. What this brought for me was several challenges on how to obtain the consent of people who randomly chose to speak into my camera. Whilst I got everyone’s consent who gave formal interviews, post the shoot, I realised, it was difficult to access many people because I was back in the UK, and they were in Delhi. Moreover, to source, these people would have meant time, cost, and a lot of hassle. It was no use having consent forms to hand either whilst shooting because it is not practical to be asking someone to fill out a form whilst they are giving a great interview amid a music-filled environment. Therefore, I will explain how I used technology to assist me in this process.
It was during this process that I learned most about what can and cannot be included. For example, I sourced footage from most of my trips around India. Each trip entailed people in the background. Furthermore, many scenes have incidental footage, which was inevitable if you shoot in the streets or public locations. However, the question was, how to manage this.
Balancing the exercise
Ultimately, I realised that the process of filmmaking is heavily law driven. As a lawyer, and a filmmaker, it has been a benefit to approach everything with caution and utilise my skills to know where to cut out red tape (if it can be avoided). Join me in the forthcoming series of articles where I will talk about filmmaking and the law around it.
About the film
To watch the trailer for my feature documentary realising this Diwali, please visit. www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyJPE_h9ATQ
The film will be releasing globally on 4 November 2021 onwards online on www.paus.tv with cast and crew screenings at Arc Cinema www.hucknall.arccinema.co.uk/