Film & TV

Finding the Story

Mira Nair

Lesson time 14:13 min

Mira teaches the importance of tapping into culture and politics to inspire your story. Learn how tenacity, collaboration, and feedback are key elements in developing a story into a script.

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Mira Nair
Teaches Independent Filmmaking
The Oscar-nominated director teaches her methods for directing powerful performances, maximizing budgets, and bringing authentic stories to life.
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The only way to find a story that possesses you and doesn't let you go is by engaging with life, is by arming yourself with curiosity and education. Read, engage, get involved with your street. Get involved with the issues of the day. Organize, you know, feel a part of a community that is asking for something or that is correcting something. It doesn't work to just sit at home and suck it out of your thumb in a kind of highly technological culture, where you are just seeing what other people are doing and wanting to be like them. It works for some people, if you want to join that, kind of, the lemmings of the mainstream. But it doesn't work for me. But if your films come out of other people's films only, there is a lot of room for getting inspired by other people's work. And one must, because there are no hugely new ways to tell a story. You've got to know what the great people are before you have done, you know, to get the juice, to understand everything-- the vocabulary, everything. And even to understand what the rest of the world might look like and how actually common it might be and how unusual it might be for where you stand. But that is key, you know, to remain curious but to constantly be engaged, because there's only so much that you can get from borrowed places. In terms of ideas, I have always loved, devoured, needed books to survive. You know, I have loved the written word. I have loved-- especially, you know, subcontinental writing in English across this world. I mean, it was such a boon to me as I grew up, you know, because we grew up on Enid Blyton. We grew up on English books. Everybody was Tom, Dick, or bloody Harry. There was no Ajay or Rita or Geeta or Meeta or, you know, there were no names that meant anything to us. I remember the early years of reading Ved Mehta, or , or Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal-- these were authors that just opened my mind like you can't imagine when I was a teenager, because they were writing of my world. They were writing of a world in which I mattered, you know. And that is what affected my cinema later hugely, because actually nothing is more powerful than seeing your own language, your own color, your own people, your own dramas on screen. And that is why I say this. We have a film school here and in Kampala, in . And that is why I always say, you know, if we don't tell our own stories, no one else will. You've got to make us matter. This is where the story is-- right here. Oftentimes, the beginnings of my ideas for stories come out of the politics of what is going on today, you know. Like I am thinking of a story nowadays of the depth of racism in Indian society. And the reason I'm thinking about it is because last year, there were actual lynchings or burnings of African students in India. Now, people don't know this, but entire generations of many African leaders and in several countries across this continent have been educated in India. There's a l...


Harness the power of your roots

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair approaches directing with the “heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant,” spurred by rejection and fighting to bring uncompromising stories to film. In the Golden Lion-winning director’s MasterClass, learn to make a big impact on a small budget in film production, evoke the best from actors and nonactors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Thank you Mira Nair for share your passion and inspirational vision on film-making A to Z. What an incredible Artist. I will carry many of your lessons in my professional life.

Nice little insights about her film sets. Seeing her doing her work on the set. Interesting stories from how she started and what has changed since then. Very interesting and inspiring – well done.

It was nice learning from an Asian filmmaker which I could relate to.

Mira Nair imparts invaluable wisdom about the essence of independent filmmaking. This class is a wonderful exploration of the ever important WHY of storytelling combined with the HOW. As a budding filmmaker, I found this Masterclass inspiring and enlightening. Thank you!


Comments

Frank B.

attn. John Sidoti Hi John, Thanks for your speedy reply. It works like a charm now. Kind regards, Frank

Frank B.

The PDF download seems to have an error... As this is a superb Masterclass I love to be able to download the PDFs.

EK T.

The stories that seem to appeal to me are the ones that I tend to want to escape to. The events that happen in real life are too painful for me and the people in my life.

Ify M.

Got so much value from this lesson. While I was listening to you Mira, the depth of my story just flashed through my eyes and I wrote it down. Will expand on it as I go. Thank you for sharing these golden nuggets with us. Kind Regards, Ify.

Phil S.

I just want to write every word she says down and re-read it over and over again.

Karmen B.

Brilliant advise awakening inner desires to demand acknowledgement of one's own roots. Thank you, Mira for paving the way with your craft, wisdom and compassion.

Smeeta H.

I am blown away with this class. So much sensibilities I want to take in... and sit with. Loving it so far! I wish she would have a hands on class with South Asian diaspora focus similar to what she is doing with Maisha Film Lab. Wonder if anyone knows if she is doing anything like this outside of Africa.

Mia S.

"If today I was pitching 'Monsoon Wedding' as three languages in one sentence, people would say, 'Please Mira, don't do that - you can't do that., in fact. Let them speak English and we'll subtitle it,' which is nonsense - we created it and it worked, because somehow when you skip in and out of languages like we do commonly in India, people relate to the honesty of it, I think, I'm not sure - and also the humor of it, ubt also the particularity of it. It doesn't matter, because all you need is a little bit of a subtitle. The other thing I do is, especially because I make films that are about the multiplicity of worlds, is once the script is done, the screenplay is done, I see what what can be removed - how many words can be just taken out of it so that it becomes much more a visual thing of drama rather than words that I am putting onto everything. You must, as you know, show and not tell - reveal and not lecture. You must never sink into the didacticism of, 'Here I am from this country, and the red dot in the center of my forehead means this.' Do not put me to sleep. Once we have a screenplay, I distribute it to three or four people that I trust, who have a take not just on dramatic writing and narrative, but also people who are not so deeply involved in the technical nature of the game, just to read as a story. I get their feedback, which clearly shows me where the confusion may lie. The only question when I hand out the script to my inner circle of friends and colleagues is basically, 'Tell me what you think. Where do you get confused, bored? Where do you not understand? And what do you understand?' Because also with making tales that might be considered foreign, people might just get the wrong idea for something which is not intended to be like that. Always it's, for me, to find the answer so that I may not pander, so that I may be clear but not tell you that we are these weird people on the other side that you need to understand everything about us - not that, but to go into being truthful about who that character is, but to find a way that you could feel it, that character's pain or story or joy, without overt explanation - without something that might objectify my character; I never do that."

Mia S.

"Once you have an idea, do any research that needs to happen for you to really inhabit yourself with that idea. For me, life is infinitely stranger than fiction, and being a student of that life - whether it be the exiled life of a Ugandan Asian in the Deep South or vice versa, coming to Uganda and wondering what it was like - once I arm myself with that actual research, of smelling that land, knowing it, getting involved with it, meeting people who've gone through it, reading the books that came out of the expulsion - then my writer and I begin to form what could be our story, and we do that together and then the writer writes the story. I'm shepherding, I'm around it, and then constantly with her, vetting, shaping the story as best as we both want it to be. As you're writing your story, do not shrink from being as specific as possible. Whether your uncle or aunt speaks in three languages or in a pidgin-something or a patois, trust that - write it in that way, so long as the principles of your story and your characters, their conflict and their crossings, are clear in a form of drama. We all know that it's conflict, really, that makes drama happen - not just a slice of life that you're doing. So honor that, go do it. Do not be afraid of being as specific as possible. But then, test yourself, test your story - are you writing something that still has confusion within it? It is confusion that distracts from it becoming universal. The specificity helps you to relate to that uncle because you might have an uncle like that in your family. But if you distract us with certain things that we would just never understand, it will keep me from feeling that sense of alliance with your story. So test yourself with rigor, and also cultivate stamina - because stamina and rigor are huge principles for a filmmaker to abide by, because it never comes easy, the struggle is always going to happen in some way or another. But do not think a first draft or even a second draft will ever be enough, because it's - the more you hone your story, the more rigorous you are with it, actually the more specific you can be about it."

Mia S.

"Oftentimes, the beginnings of my ideas for stories come out of the politics of what is going on today. I am thinking of a story nowadays of the depth of racism in Indian society. And the reason I'm thinking about it is because last year, there were actual lynchings or burnings or African students in India. People don't know this, but entire generations of many African leaders and in several countries across this continent have been educated in India. There's a long tradition of this. Yet, when you look at - you scratch the surface in India, it is really a separate universe. It is not something that works. And to go from that place where I go here to meet some ministers and they've been educated in Chandigarh in Panjab or something, and I think of what's really going on now in India and how violent it is and how unfair and sick it is in this newly right-wing India. That is a story that interests me; I want to go into it. And now I'm going into it, and I'm finding all kinds of unexpected, wild humor and wild collisions of cultures that are not only heavy and terrible but also poignant and actually emotion connections that are very interesting. So that's a story I'm interested in - that's not a story I've seen before, that's also not a story that I may see ever before, because not many people would be interested in that dimension that I'm interested in. I trust that, because it's not a commonplace thing. The writer is possibly the most important collaborator with the director. With the writer, I must share a sensibility - a visual sensibility, but I also really must share a sense of humor, a love and knowledge or the terrain that we are going to go into with our story. My best friend from college, who had never really written a screenplay but had written several short stories, I just loved her facility with language but also really loved her sense of humor. An extraordinary stills photographer - has shows now all over the world with her work. So she brings that complete visual knowledge and way of seeing a scene visually that helps me enormously. Those are our affinities that made me leap into the idea of, 'Let's do something together!' in the beginning. Now she of course has written several screenplays. The knowledge of the place that the story comes from is vital to share with the screenwriter. I worked with Bill Wheeler on 'Queen of Katwe,' not just because he wrote 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' before, but because he was a chess aficionado, and he was a real chess champ - how do you tell a tale about chess dramatically and almost like a chess match with someone who does not know chess? It's different things like that, but most of all I love writers who don't see things didactically, who don't just say it like it is, but who find a duality, sometimes even more than a duality, in a scene."