Filming in India with director Howard J. Ford
Zombie horror film The Dead 2: India is Howard J Ford’s fourth feature as director. Produced and co-written by Ford and his brother Jon (who was also DoP), the film is the sequel to their 2010 film The Dead. Shooting on the first feature was predominantly in West Africa, and was beset by troubles, some of which were so dramatic that Howard wrote a book about the filming, Surviving The Dead, described by Irvine Welsh as an ‘astonishing story.’
The scale of the film
“I would describe the film as pretty epic, with helicopter shots, paragliding scenes, burning slums and scenes involving hundreds of extras. We had to keep the amount of crew to a minimum, so in total we flew 11 people out from the UK.
The whole film was shot on locations across India, mainly Rajasthan. We chose India as we felt it was the most beautiful country in the world and had a spirituality that we felt could work well as a theme within the film.
We shot in a variety of locations: from the hustle and bustle of the cities, where we had to be quite covert and even hide the camera and crew, to the vast rural planes with nothing but the wind farms in sight that pulsed eerily in the lonely vistas.
We also shot in and around some incredible forts. Some of these places were so breathtaking that even when standing right in front of them, they looked like a CGI creation.
The shoot itself
We were in India for a total of eight weeks. Two of these were separate recces weeks, followed by a six week production period - principal photography taking just over five weeks. We had to move incredibly fast as we were very rarely in one location for more than one day.
We used several local fixers and also hooked up with Barry John Acting Studio where we found a lot of our fantastic local cast plus a very talented art director. They also became helpful on the production in general. (The acting studio had previously trained Frieda Pinto [Slumdog Millionaire] as well as a big Bollywood star.)
We had a couple of great local fixers and one UK crew member had worked in India a few times before, so was clued up on the culture there. In the main cities, most people we encountered spoke English but translators were essential for the villages we shot in where there were no English speakers.
This wasn’t always easy when it came to directing the many background extras we cast on the spot but everybody tried their best and I appreciated that.
I was aware going into the shoot that we had to be out of certain areas of Rajasthan and the desert before it hit 40-50 degrees. So I had scheduled – albeit fairly loosely – all those scenes which had to be captured in the hotter areas and we gradually moved back to the cooler areas as they too increased in temperature.
We stayed in the desert for about ten days, where it was really too hot to be shooting between 12 and 2pm, but sometimes it just had to be done to stay on schedule.
There were some scenes involving an old car which had an engine so clunky it was impossible to drive it for real and to record dialogue at the same time. So we spent the day pushing it along in 40 degrees heat, which nearly killed us!
I must admit, there were a few cultural aspects that I had not encountered on other shoots before. We found in the villages that it was sometimes forbidden to hire women to work on the production. There were a lot of men who would hang around the rural properties all day smoking cow dung whilst the women worked all day in the fields before coming home to cook in the evenings.
We wanted a good balance of male and female extras but sadly the women could only work for the men in their family, so we often had to bring people in from the cities to balance it out.
There were a couple of threatening situations too. We were shooting a scene near the rail track just outside Osian, a beautiful landscape on the way to Jaisalmer when some ‘goons’, as they were described by the locals, physically pulled our cameras from our shoulders and threatened to stone us and our vehicles if we didn’t pay a certain sum of money.
They also apparently threatened sexual violence to some local female members of the crew; this was pretty shocking stuff for us and not a situation I’d been in before.
We were also swarmed on by hundreds of rowdy kids in a lovely looking village we had negotiated to shoot in - to the point where we had to leave and then return with security. The trouble is the security wouldn’t go into the village, as apparently we had picked the most dangerous village for miles around, and the last policeman to go in to calm down some village drunks had apparently had his ear cut off.
But we mustn’t dwell on the negative, as overall, it was an amazing experience.
Pros and cons of filming in India
It can be a fairly tough environment, and financial agreements need to be very clear from the outset. There is a lot of bureaucracy and it’s very political, plus the visa process isn’t much fun in my opinion.
I’d also say get your permit sorted well in advance and be aware that the authorities may have objections to certain creative elements in the script that you may have to change; it can take a lot longer than predicted.
We also had challenges getting equipment out of customs which delayed us a little, so knowing people locally who have good relationships is a must. That and being prepared to eat curry morning noon and night. I was dreading six weeks of curry but like so many surprises in India, the art of Indian food is so impressive I’m missing it even now…
India is an incredibly vibrant and fascinating place to visit and to shoot in and I would recommend that anyone should go there and experience it for themselves.”
We would like to thank Howard J Ford for his insight and expertise. Visit the website for The Dead 2: India here.
Howard began making short films aged 13 with his brother. He directed his first feature at 21, which was a good training ground. He went on to direct nearly 200 commercials and has experience shooting around the world in locations including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and now India. You can read more about his career here.