Shan Mohammed is a film editor who has worked on Hindi, Tamil and Telugu language films. Originally from Kerala, Shan studied film editing from FTII, Pune. Shan’s portfolio includes The Great Indian Butterfly (2007), Frozen (2007), Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na (2008), Wake Up Sid (2009), Jhootha Hi Sahi (2010), My Friend Pinto (2011), recently released Gurgaon (2017 ) and the upcoming Saif Ali Khan starrer “Kaalakaandi“.
Shan is my batchmate from FTII and he is incredibly inspiring. His wisdom on continuing creative work is something almost anyone can relate to. He currently lives in Mumbai, with his wife, and their two children.
1. Tell us a bit about your path to becoming a film editor and what you did before?
I was always interested in creating tales. Had a close school friend who would draw panels for the stories. We would spend hours and hours, in the school making up new stories…
One of our favourites was about a small tadpole called Maakri. And his adventures.
We would also look at the small pocket sized poster cards of Hindi films and work out what the stories could be about.
These were the small mental escapes during school life.
2. What are the films you have edited?
Around 20 of them and counting…
Started with The Great Indian Butterfly, that fell into my lap because the makers had already shot and were looking for an editor to work for very little money. I was at FTII, and had just finished my Second-year final exercises. I just jumped at the opportunity.
That led to another called Frozen, that I started around a year later. That then led to ‘Jaane tu ya Jaane na’. That led to Wake up Sid. And on and on and on…
And now Gurgaon, and Kaalakaandi, coming out in Aug 2017 and Sept 2017.
3. Tell us about the process of editing a film – how do you prepare and what are the
criteria you follow while editing a film?
There is no fixed preparation as such.
I start watching the rushes and making points on the computer or on paper. Then afterward, I watch the rushes all over again in a scene-wise collection.
Of course, I have already read the script multiple times, made my own notes, discussed with the director about his/her take on it, on a scene to scene basis ideally.
Once I start watching the rushes, I barely refer to the script. I already know the subject and the perspective.
What I need to know is whether the shots can help support a better narrative than what was originally envisioned.
Then I start figuring out my ideas and how to string the whole film like beads in a necklace. And start carving.
4. What are some of the challenges that you’ve been facing over the past year and how did you overcome them?
I was doing a film that had a very sweeping saga with a linear timeline.
The first two cuts were good versions of the script. But then for some reason, in my mind, I began spinning the tale on it’s head.
We had taken a break from the post-production. It being an independent film, had limited resources. During this time, I came up with some new narrative ideas that would change this linearity and make it into a sort of thriller… a noir.
I bounced it off the director and found him receptive to it. He being an old friend, had
complete faith in what I was doing. And that brought more confidence in me to delve deeper into taking apart and resetting the overall narrative structure of the film.
The final film is very different from what we all set out to make. And it is something we all are proud to put our names to.
Just another day in my life as a professional.
5. When editing, are there any periods where things don’t go as expected or as planned? How do you mentally pull yourself out of that situation and get your back on track?
There are times like this, both on a micro level as well as a whole.
Maybe some scenes don’t work out when edited. Then the approach needs to be changed to get what is required from that scene for the overall story to hold up.
Then there are times when my vision and the director’s (vision), does not coincide. I try my best to convince him and he, vice versa… but it’s really about faith at the end of the day.
If the director trusts that where I’m coming from and where he is, leads to one and the same, then a solution is found that works for both of us and the film.
Personally, I’ve never had much trouble pulling myself back up in my professional capacity.
There are enough will-power and discipline to re-look at the same set of rushes till a solution is found.
6. Define creativity
To me it’s creation.
A new and engaging story to tell one’s kids, to read a recipe off the net and improvise, to figuring out how to stop a leaking umbrella using nothing, to be able to sell your confidence to that next producer and director, to wrap a blanket in such a manner that it fits that small place in the cupboard, etc etc.
Creativity is not exclusive to certain activities. Each one of us chooses to apply it in whatever we may want to solve a problem, or for enrichment.
7. Do you have any specific processes or routines that you go through to accomplish all things you need to do in a given week or day?
I know that I need to progress a certain way with the work… but there are no hard and fast rules to finishing that… so long as it is in time.
It’s not a 9-5 job for me, but neither is it an all-nighter. When the need arises, I manage both situations with equal ease.
But I also need time away from the work to bring more to it. And that I do not compromise on.
8. Choose one film director/editor ( living or dead ), that you would like to have dinner with?
Kamal Haasan. But then I’ve already had the privilege of having many lunches with him.
9. One non-tech thing you can’t live without?
10. What message would you put on a billboard for millions to see?
Do things that make you indispensable.