Multi-prone career in Digital Video Productions: a person with many hats to wear – Sagara Lakmal de Mel

“Sagara Lakmal de Mel is a person with many hats to wear. He is a producer, director of television programmes, graphic artist and a still photographer.

Armed with knowledge and technical know-how, Sagara offers a portrait of a truly professional with a proven track record of excellence. Besides a highly successful professional, Sagara Lakmal de Mel is also a young academic in the novel field of Digital Video Production.”

“Sagara’s career is synonymous with landmark productions such as ‘Oshin’ and flagship productions such ‘Ayubovan’, ‘Manohari’, ‘leaping loop’. Though he made a proposal for the production of program titled ‘Sound of Music’ featuring classical, Jazz and fashion music for the SLRC, it had not been materialized.”

“His productions are marked by their superiority in the application of technology, creativity and sheer mastery in photography and cinematography.

It was this quality which won the universal admiration and led him to make many productions at prestigious venues such as Sydney Opera House and studios in UK, USA and Germany.”

Q: You have many hats to wear. As a visiting lecturer in Digital Video Production, at the University of Colombo and the University of Moratuwa, you have embarked on the different path. However, you are also known as a photographer, artist and producer of programmes for television. How do you perceive the course in Digital Video Production which you introduced, for the first time, in the University of Moratuwa, in terms of infusing professionalism into Digital Video Productions?

A: Currently I work as a visiting lecturer in Digital Video Production. A batch of hundred students in the Faculty of Engineering from the University of Moratuwa, follow the course in Digital Video Production. The course covers the areas from the introduction to making a Studio production, outdoor broadcasting production, live production, Electronic News Gathering (ENG) production or EFP ( Electronic Field Production ); tele-drama, TV commercial and documentary ( single -camera production) and multi-camera production. Normally multi-camera production may involve 16, 20 or 40 cameras. At preset, multi-camera production in Sri Lanka may involve 15 cameras.

I had the fortune of directing the live multi-camera coverage of the launch of *Derana* television channel. Tough I did not work for *Derana*, I did the multi-camera production with 10 cameras with Indian crew. For fifteen years, I have been directing programmes for Rupavahini.

I also had the fortune to work at international level and I try to impart experience gathered over the years.

I think, I am the first Sri Lankan who directed a multi-camera production in Sydney Opera House. When I did the production at Sydney Opera House, we were given training and I also worked at UNIESCO theatre in France as a lighting director for Channa-Upuli Performing Arts Foundation. I had the opportunity of filming different episodes ensued in USA, U.K, India, Germany, Canada and France with foreign crews. When I teach the students the latest technology in the field, it becomes a novel experience for them to learn the application of state-of-art technology in television production.

On completion of the course of study, students themselves selected the best Tele-drama, best News and best studio production.

The Course in Digital Video Production was initiated, in the University of Moratuwa in 2007. On the invitation extended to me by Dr. Chatura de Silva of the University of Moratuwa, I agreed to conduct the course. I am extremely delighted to find an abundant creativity of the students in the Faculty of Engineering. Their productions are far more superior to the productions telecast.

Q: In retrospection of your multi-disciplinary career, there would have been several editors in your life and surely the school education that you received would lay a foundation for enhancing you creativity. How do look back on the beaten track?

A: I commenced my school education at Verapuranappu primary school and then attended Prince of Wales College in Moratuwa. My joining the college troupe was a turning point in my education. The college boasted of having one of the finest troupes. It was because of the master in charge of Art, Tissa Gunawardene; we learnt the basics of drama and theatre as well as drawing.

In essence, we learnt what art was; how to draw a line, how to stand on a stage. In a way, I was fortunate to be the third director of Music of the college drama ensemble. I took part in art competitions, played trumpet, guitar, piano and flute in the oriental and Western bands. Kanthi Hittatiya is the teacher who moulded me to be a good citizen. I consider her like a surrogate mother. I came to know Rupavahini Corporation through Mutuhara children’s Society.

I should be thankful to Madam Lalitha Siribaddana. I played guitar for Mutuhara Lama Samajaya and commenced my career at Rupavahini as a Dubbing Assistant in the Unit headed by Titus Totawatte. At the time, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) commenced telecasting Japanese teledrama ‘Oshin’ which was dubbed into Sinhala. I assisted in coordinating the production of Oshin. Here I should be grateful to Athula Ransirilal.

I learnt qualities of punctuality and proper organization, dedication to work and taking up responsibilities from Titus Totawatte. Thereafter I joined Special Unit of the SLRC where I made my contribution to popular programmes like “Ayubowan”, “Nugasevana” and speeches delivered during Presidential Elections. At the time, titles for the programes were handwritten as there were no computers at Rupavahini. However, after introduction of computer graphics, I drew titles for programmes and I became famous as a computer graphic designer. Then I shifted myself to Music section of Rupavahini where I directed popular programmes like “Manohari”, “Nadun Uyana” and “Sarasavi Perahera” as an Assistant Director. At the time, there was no Western Music Section in Rupavahini. By working with Ravindra Munasinghe in “Manohari”, I gathered a lot of technical know how. I followed piano lessons and sat for examinations of the Royal College of Music and Trinity College of Music and I mastered classical guitar under the tutelage of Navy Band master Jude Peiris. I learnt guitar from Anil Hettiarachchi, teacher at Prince of Wales College.

Lucian Bulathsinghala and Bandula Withanage, who were my heads of Department, understood my Western music background. Lucian Bulathsinghala asked me to produce the Japanese Opera organized by the Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka. The opera was by a Japanese ballerina.

That became a success and thereafter I directed all programmes sponsored by embassies in Sri Lanka. They have mentioned my name as preferred director. Corporate giants like Unilevers, Coca-Cola and Munche and Elephant House specifically asked for me for their programmes.

Q: I suppose your entry into multi-camera productions would have been another milestone in your career and would also be a challenging task at the time. How do you perceive it as director and producer of programmes for Rupavahini?

The next phase of my career in television production is marked by my entry into multi-camera productions. In fact, I loved the Outdoor Broadcasting Van at SLRC and multi-cameras. Soon clients identified me as a person specialized in multi-camera productions. I received many accolades and commendation for productions by way of letters and telephone calls.

When then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa contested for Presidential Election, it was not a morally acceptable to take up the challenge of producing a live programme on ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’. Then Dallas Allahaperuma called me to Temple Trees and asked me to do the production privately. I directed the “Mahinda Chintanaya” programme at the launch of manifesto at BMICH. This was a historical event as I did the production privately and telecast it over Rupavahini. It was for the first time that Rupavahini telecast a programme produced by an outsider (Though I was an employee of Rupavahini at the time). Thereafter I directed large number of television commercials for Presidential Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. I also directed popular programmes for Rupavahini including “Ridirayak”, “Malaniye” and Bhathiya-Santhush’s semi-plug concert.

Q: Following your successful career in Rupavahini, you have turned a new leaf in your professional life in venturing into setting up your own production house **and earned a name in the commercial sector. How did that come about?

A: On the invitation of Channa Wijewardena, I joined Channa Wijewardena’s mega concert held in France and UK as light director, Video director and still photographer. This was the first time that I directed an international event. Then on wards, I frequently visited many countries to direct programmes for Channa Wijewardena, Sri Lanka Airlines and Mihin Lanka Official Photographer, Tourist Board and Lion’s Club and Foreign Ministry. I was the Video director for Rohana Weerasinghe’s two concerts held in Sydney Opera House and at Monash University in Australia. One of the other important

Programme was the videoed production of violin concert by Stephan Milankovitch and Rohan de Silva. It was a multi-camera production with six cameras and it turned out to be a professionally highly successful programme. Stephan himself considered it the best video production of his concerto. Then I also video directed concert by Vienna Boys which is the world’s best choir. I covered the entire tour. When channel I commenced, I produced a programme titled ‘Leaping loope’ and it became very popular with teenagers. It should be mentioned here that title of the programme was by Arun Dias Bandaranaike. It was not only a request show but also one which gave background information including web-links of the singers featured. In order to popularize internet among rural areas, I produced a series of 64 programmes titled “Antharjalaya Obeynivasata” (Internet to Home). A panel of resource personnel consisting Prof. V.K Samaranayake, Prof. Rohan Samarajeeva and Senior Lecturer in the University of Colombo, Nandasara was involved in the programme. T.M.G Chandrasekara was the presenter. Workshops on the application of internet at Kotmale and Mihintale. I also considered the multi-camera production of Kabdi at the South Asian Federation Games as a challenge. After 15 year’s service, I set up “Media Ambassador” a production house which undertakes professional photography and professional video productions and my cliental included Mihin Lanka, Sri Lankan Airlines and Channa-Upuli Performing Arts Foundation , Sri Lanka Tourist Board and Fun Time event management company.

Q: As a person who uses state -of -art technology in your productions. How do you position Sri Lanka in terms of technological adaptability?

A: I was always creative in selecting colours for lighting and vision mixing in multi-camera productions. Today there are television programme on music with no rhythmic footages and I believe that vision mixer in such a programme should be knowledgeable of the subject and instruments. Most of the cameramen are ignorant of music instruments.In shooting ‘Sagara Gamana’ which was produced to mark the 25th Anniversary of Navy, I made use of knowledge I acquired through extensive reading on the subject. Therefore, I believe that professional should always update his or her knowledge. It should be mentioned here that Sri Lanka is still lagging behind in adapting new technologies such as latest soft wares and technologies like HD Cam technology, digital Beta Cam technology and blue rays. World of technologies has changed but Sri Lanka still uses rather primitive technologies. In order to compete with international competitors, we have to go for these technologies. What is to be done is to educate technical officer, television producers on these technological advances. Unfortunately artists contemplate only on turning a novel into a teledrama totally neglecting vast changes that had been taken place in technologies. Still we use the technology we used in 1980s when television was introduced to Sri Lanka.

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