- A voice for the voiceless and giving credit where credit is due
Sri Lankan film received a boon last week when veteran filmmaker, arguable national treasure and invaluable film industry member Chandran Rutnam launched his new book, ‘Chandran Rutnam and the Rat Pack’ – a chronicle of the first 25 years of his film production company Asian Film Location Services.
Founded in 1979, Asian Film Location Services has provided full support services for the production and/or supervision of international motion pictures throughout Asia and has been a premier location and equipment service company in the region since its inception. It first began when the American media company MGM Studios came to Sri Lanka to shoot John and Bo Derek’s ‘Tarzan the Ape Man’.
Speaking about ‘Chandran Rutnam and the Rat Pack,’ which was launched on 10 June at the National Film Corporation, Asian Film Location Services Founder and Chairman Chandran Rutnam said: “It’s a very unusual book because of what it is – an exposé.” The official synopsis of the book is as follows: “An exposé. A true story of conspiracy, greed and betrayal during the first 25 years of the foremost film location service company that brought over 60 foreign films to a location shoot in Sri Lanka.”
We have to agree with Rutnam about the unusual nature of the book’s concept alone – an exposé is almost an oxymoron in the Sri Lankan context, considering how much we like to keep things under wraps as a society. Lankans prefer that important things happen behind closed doors with nothing being discussed publicly, so to see someone naming names and being brutally honest about the nature of an industry that has famously been plagued with shameless clout chasing and disproportionate appreciation of true talent, means this book has already veered from the ordinary. According to Rutnam, the book exposes three important elements in the process of filmmaking: “Usurping the credits that are due to others’ talents and artistic works, advertising credits of films made by others to promote companies on their websites and providing misinformation in one’s biographies.”
As one would expect, it really is ‘the good, the bad and the ugly,’ and Rutnam shared that much of the book was about affording credit where credit was due, as there were far too few acknowledged for their true contributions in this industry, noting that the silliest of reasons had been put forward for excluding people from being credited for their work. “It could be that they could not speak English, or maybe it was because they were poor, or it could even be because they didn’t have recognisable or palatable names!” he said.
“I want to make the point that there are great artisans in Sri Lanka. Especially in our art departments, there are production designers who never get the recognition nor at times the accurate pay they deserve,” Rutnam added, noting: “In this book I mention all the people who should have got credit and even those who shouldn’t have but still did.”
Giving credit where credit is due, especially in fields like filmmaking where it takes so many people working together to make something truly great, is of vital importance and Rutnam shared that as a society and a nation, it was time for Sri Lanka to take a stand against allowing talented people to be taken advantage of. “Sometimes in the film industry, you will find that credit is given to people who never had anything to do with the picture. They give credit to their friends and their relatives. Taking someone’s credit is absolutely unconscionable,” he said, sharing that there were many artists in Sri Lanka, and young directors far superior to himself and many others in the industry who never got the chance to shine because they were not afforded the due credit for their contributions, causing them to lose their opportunity to grow.
Rutnam shared a brief story, the entirety of which audiences can find in the book – a snippet of what he means when it comes to giving credit where it’s due. He shared an instance where he and his team had gone to film in the Philippines as a part of a film titled ‘Robo Warriors’. While on site, there had been a requirement to design and construct a ‘robo’ as the film calls it – a kind of giant war machine. However, the foreign designer had been unable to handle the task and had also been far too ill to go ahead with the work, so it had come down to the Lankan team to construct this set piece.
“Our boys, they did such a marvellous job – the designer didn’t even end up coming on set. But despite my Sri Lankan crew having done such a wonderful job, in the end, who got the credit? This has got to stop. If we don’t speak out it will just continue to happen, so there is a purpose for this book,” said Rutnam.
Rutnam also emphasised that Sri Lanka had an abundance of talent. “Sri Lankans are incredibly talented, and we can do anything. I have worked with many directors, and Hollywood directors have said that it was just like filming in Hollywood when they filmed in Sri Lanka or Asia – the budget is simply lower,” he said. Rutnam highlighted that the lack of industry push can be a major obstacle when it comes to fostering young talent. He shared that he had dedicated parts of his own book to talents who have been underappreciated and those whom he believed to be the future of this industry.
Referencing one young Lankan creator whom he believed to be a genius and a young prodigy, Rutnam stated that such individuals needed to be given the space and the right platform to showcase their “genius” and to be appreciated for those contributions. He noted that in an industry like the filmmaking industry, which was possibly the most collaborative art form that existed – with so many cogs in a machine having to come together, it was unacceptable that for the longest time people have continued to remain silent. Accordingly, he wishes to give a voice to the voiceless.
With ‘Chandran Rutnam and the Rat Pack,’ covering so many years of filmmaking and so many stories besides, Rutnam explained that he hoped his book would be an inspiration to others in the industry to empower themselves to stand up and make some noise – to demand credit and recognition when it is being taken away from them, especially those who form the backbone of any production – the technical support, art directors, set designers, and the entire village of manpower that goes into putting a film together – those who often get overlooked, when it fact there would be no cinema without these all these elements coming together.
Acknowledging that it was oftentimes difficult to speak up, and that even someone such as himself who had relative influence in the industry still found himself in situations where he too felt he had no voice, Rutnam stressed that unless there was a change made on both sides – those doing the work and those giving credit for said work – this tendency to ignore the accomplishments of deserving and talented people would continue.
Rutnam also spoke of a fundamental to making movies that needed to be changed: the director should not be afforded all the credit. “The director is the visionary but he cannot do it alone,” Rutnam said. “He must surround himself with very talented people to enhance his vision. He is only the captain of a ship, there are many others who keep it afloat. You can be the greatest director in the world, but if you do not edit your film right it can be a complete flop, and you must have a great cameraman to capture your shots as you envisioned them. These are the things that come together to create a successful and well-received end result.”
If you are a filmmaker in Sri Lanka or are looking to enter the film industry, a peek at Rutnam’s book could do wonders in showing you the hidden side of filmmaking in Sri Lanka. While it is a significant piece of literature for those in the industry, the book is also an interesting read, being a tale of Rutnam and his merry men on an exciting, glamorous journey of filmmaking in Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Maldives. ‘Chandran Rutnam and the Rat Pack’ is the chance to follow an industry veteran and legend as he recounts the many adventures he has had in his lifetime of film.