Festival Musings

07 Jan 2012

Last week of November, I was at Int’l Film Fest. of India (IFFI), Goa as curator of a package of animated feature films for the festival from around the world. Had a great time meeting up with key individuals, film-makers and animation producers from around the world. It was very interesting to know that till about 5 years ago a lot of Indian film makers and producers travelled overseas for part or full funding of their projects. Things are pretty different now. An equal number of overseas delegates now come to our country to seek funding from Indian producers and financiers. Heartening to witness a sea change in a short time, indeed the Indian success story seems to be getting better.

Saw producer friend Nishith Takia’s animated movie – Delhi Safari. Loved the story, humour and pace of the film. Great message on environment conservation. Technically, easily one of the best films to come out of India as well. Also was privileged to see Govind Nihalani’s sweet and simple animated feature film – Kamlu based on a camel which is the final stages of sound design. These 2 films are certainly worthy of taking Indian animation forward to the next level. Alas, our distributors have so little faith in our own animation content that the film’s release has been delayed repeatedly. Sad indeed, considering the film is far better than most live-action films that Bollywood churns out. But what’s more interesting to note is the market insights I gained out of my interactions with various people from the industry. Insights in emerging trends on Animated feature films and the way forward. Most of these insights came from people who market their projects at various festivals, visit Cannes and American Film Market (AFM) on a regular basis to pitch new projects or to sell specific territories of their already made films. So the basis of the inference is by collating the various streams of inputs and the conclusion is pretty solid. This is based on certain assumptions – a. Animated feature film projects which have a decent story with worldwide acceptability and appeal (Indian mythologies don’t qualify because they cater to a specific local audience primarily apart from small Indian diasporas worldwide) b. Reasonably good storytelling skills and c. Reasonably good production values being a given.

It gets clearer for me that the success story for Indian animation will not come only from Indian distribution and sales, but will be a combination of International sales and local marketing. By and large, many Indian animated films haven’t done well enough as we have relied heavily on theatrical sales or TV rights in India as the major source of revenue earner, without spreading our marketing dragnet far and wide. International sales have either been overlooked largely because we haven’t had many competent marketers who could position and sell our projects. But that is all changing rapidly.

I was surprised to conclude this. It seems to me that a $3.5mn. to $5mn. Animated feature film produced entirely in India can be done at a fairly good quality (that’s a very decent Rs. 15 to Rs. 25 cr. Budget in Indian rupee terms). Given the overall lacunae of our artistic capabilities, the pre-production and basic designing of characters and environments could be outsourced overseas. A project done at this price range is an almost de-risked model, as significant accruals can happen from seemingly obscure territories that we barely even care for like Russia, South Africa or Brazil (of course, let me reiterate the content has to be of good production values with a good story and fairly acceptable international appeal).

This has got me really excited as I my dormant animation side has suddenly sprung to life! Accessing markets worldwide has become much simpler with the convergence of all important buyers to the main festivals like Cannes, MIFA (Annecy Festival), MIPCOM/ MIPTV, AFM etc.

Of course, the journey is not going to be as easy as it looks as it involves identifying the right story or script with Indian connect and international relevance too. However I also do believe that if there is anything like a crossover film, then it is likely to be an animation film first due to the medium’s power to attract universal appeal.

Co-production models, which I once loathed, seem to be coming of age quickly. The first movers will definitely have an advantage. My additional advise to those who are embarking on this approach is also to get on board a script doctor from overseas (preferably American or European), to validate the story, screenplay and concept for sensibilities acceptable to the major markets in the world. Minor tweaks in the story at the onset will go a long way in ensure profitability of your film without compromising on the Indian identity and local emotional connect. And not to forget – find the right marketing team or Producer who can take your film to the world. I think we are the throes of seeing a significant movement ahead with this approach. Fingers crossed.

Article for Studio-Systems magazine column.

 
No Comments

Posted in Personal

 

Making India’s AVATAR

05 Nov 2011

19 out of the 20 all time top grossing movies worldwide are animation and VFX driven movies.

As Diwali approaches, there is a lot of buzz and excitement around one movie – RA-One. This movie is considered to be a watershed for Indian feature films. Not only because of its scale, budgets and the fact that it employed 11 Oscar winning visual effects artists from around the world, but also because of SRK’s own passion and commitment. Box office fate notwithstanding, the film has already created ripples in many ways, impacted and changed the animation and VFX industry in India.

I happened to view a very interesting interview by SRK in which he narrated an excerpt of his conversation with Hollywood actor Will Smith who happened to visit India about 2 years ago. Will Smith told SRK that he does 2 movies each year – one that he likes and one with a superstar. SRK was a little puzzled, after all wasn’t Will Smith a star himself? Will Smith elucidated further that by a “superstar” he meant VFX. Truly it’s only in Hollywood that VFX (apart from the story) is a superstar. It is evident from the fact that movies in Hollywood like the all time top grosser – AVATAR and many others made by Directors like Spielberg, Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, Cameron etc. the star attraction for the audience is the animation and Visual effects (apart from a great story). Not that Hollywood doesn’t have its share of stars. But by and large, the Director’s reputation and the project’s intrinsic creativity and scope determines the budgets, scale and marketing/distribution, not the actor’s Box Office worth. The director and his storytelling which usually employs a lot of animation and visual effects are a sell and not the star himself.

In India, the biggest illness that Bollywood suffers from is its own creation – the “Star system”. If you have a “saleable star” (there are only about 6-7 of them who are touted to command an initial / first weekend Box office draw) then your film will see excellent marketing, publicity, distribution irrespective of the content or quality of the film. But because there are only that many saleable stars, everyone in the industry wants to work with them to de-risk their projects to ensure good marketing / distribution. Therefore, as a result of the adverse demand – supply ratio, the stars pretty much quote any fee that they deem right, increasing cost of production, subsequently its recoveries and profitability become highly risky. While almost all of Bollywood’s producers to reckon with complain about sky-rocketing fees of A-list actors as unrealistic, they do also admit in private that they’ve been part of the system which has been fed by them, vitiated and subsequently made unviable due to over-bidding.

This is a vicious circle that Hollywood has outgrown in a sensible way, a large part of it owing to VFX as a draw as a film’s USP. In fact, the entertainment industry especially the movie business has grown exponentially over the past 2 decades or so largely due to enhanced storytelling possibilities due to availability of new technologies for VFX, animation and digital.

I wouldn’t hazard to surmise that sooner or later, no matter how star struck our nation looks, in a less than a decade Bollywood too will move into the direction where the right casting, storytelling and VFX will determine the entertainment quotient of any film and not the “saleable” actors. This change is imperative for the industry’s survival and growth as we have to ensure that more films succeed and the pie expands.

And its not like India doesn’t have star directors. But only a small part of the movie-going audience here craves to see a movie made by a certain director, rather than make a choice according to the cast. Why is that? SRK again has a very interesting take on this. In one of his interviews SRK declared he abhorred the star system (yes, he actually said that!). He concluded that in the west A-List Directors have consistently delivered films of a certain quality and bettered themselves with each project, they built their personal equity over years. Conversely in India, most A-List directors have faltered over a period of time and cashed-out on their equity, producing duds and lethargic looking films occasionally. This broke their winning streak and they lost part of their personal reputation along the way. Hmm… when I look around, SRK’s conclusion is very, very true.

To sum it up, there is no doubt that Ra-One will expedite the opening up a completely new form of film genre in India if it succeeds. People from the animation and VFX industry are awaiting this threshold. We have to keep investing in our talent, our techniques and the story rather than look at star-power to draw the audience. That is the only way to go in the long term – make India’s AVATAR without any saleable actors and make it the biggest success of all times.

Best of luck SRK! He may grant G-One to the entire industry.

 

Published in STUDIO SYSTEMS magazine Sept.-Oct. 2011 issue.

 

Indian Animation Globalisation

29 Aug 2011

Don’t know whether to categorise it as Indian or International news, here’s some interesting bits of items I would like to share that would have been highly implausible 5 years ago.

Oscar-winner AR Rahman, Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges are coming together for director Kevin Lima’s Bollywood-style animated musical adventure titled Monkeys of Mumbai. Lima, who directed Disney’s animated Tarzan (1999) before turning to live-action hits like 102 Dalmations (2000) and Enchanted (2007), has signed on to helm DreamWorks Animation’s new project, whose story is somewhat similar to the Indian epic, Ramayana. The movie revolves around a man whose wife is kidnapped by a demon king. Lima will approach the story through the point of view of two common monkeys, who become unlikely heroes. “Ever since Enchanted, I’ve been looking for a musical. When DreamWorks Animation approached me with the prospect of doing a Bollywood musical with such renowned collaborators, I knew this was the one,” said Lima. Chadha and Berges, who penned Bride & Prejudice (2004) and Bend It Like Beckham (2002), are writing the script. Rahman, who bagged two Oscars for his music in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), is the composer while Stephen Schwartz is working on the lyrics.

It’s official and its coming straight from DreamWorks SKG co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg. A frequent visitor, Katzenberg declared to the media in Cannes this year “DreamWorks is very much looking at doing business in India. India is a very exciting place and has potential for great animation. We’ve been very impressed with the Indian animation community’s enthusiasm to master the constantly changing tools of CG animation.” The good news is that Dreamworks foray into India would not be in the form of outsourcing. “It will be definitely more than that.” Sources close to Jeffrey reveal that Dreamworks’ subsequent films will be mostly executed in their Bangalore unit. DreamWorks Animation produces two movies per year.

American film stars Vanessa Williams and Jason Alexander have lent their voices to the forthcoming 3D Indian animation film Delhi Safari. This is the first time that Hollywood stars have done the work of voiceover for an Indian movie. American stand-up comedian Brad Garrett and comic actress Jane Lynch, Christopher Lloyd, English actor Cary Elwes have dubbed for Delhi Safari as well. Akshaye Khanna, Govinda, Urmila Matondkar, Boman Irani, Suniel Shetty and Swini Khare given the voices for the animals in the Hindi version of this film. The film traces the journey of four animals and birds from Mumbai to Delhi. The film release late 2011 and will be showcased at the prestigious IFFI (Int’l Film Festival of India) Festival, Goa.

Crest Communications’ CEO A.K. Madhavan is buoyed by the success of his film Alpha and Omega “This is the first time a Hollywood animation film has been produced by an Indian company and got this close to the Oscars. It is the first time we have used 3D stereoscopic animation. It is a first for us to have a co-production with a Hollywood studio and a first too that it has a Hollywood distributor (both Lionsgate Inc). The best part of it is when we see the title which reads Crest Animation and Lionsgate presents “Alpha & Omega” and the rolling credits with the name of each and every animator in my team. That’s 250 names! None of the Hollywood animation films has done this before.” It took three years from script to screen and the design was done by Crest’s LA office while the entire production was done in India. Made at a cost of USD20mn. the film grossed 25mn. on the opening weekend itself making it a commercial success. Crest now has a three-film deal with Lionsgate of which “Alpha & Omega” was the first.

Despite rising infrastructure costs, higher salary expenses meaning narrowing of wage arbitrage margins, India pre-eminence in the field of animation is clearly on the rise. As a service provider, India has become the hub for 2D to 3D conversions of movies. What started off as an outsourcing model is slowly moving up the value chain and studios definitely want to co-create IP, be a partner in profits and a piece of the global action. With a stable political environment and high growth rate of economy India is becoming a preferred partner in the animation business already. And the lines between Indian and International animation content is blurring fast. Amen.

Article published in Studio-Systems Magazine column.

 

TOONPUR.. the final verdict

24 Jan 2011

Toonpur Ka Superrhero marked a paradigm shift in the integration of Animation with Live-action cinema and did so successfully. The film was resilient, stood on its own against one of the biggest releases, confounded skeptics that animation doesn’t work in India, Ajay & Kajol endeared the young audience through their superlative and endearing performances. The film run successfully across the country for 4 weeks, marked by solid gross ticket sales, favourable critics’ reviews especially for the performances and the technical feat of the seamless blend with great animation and outstanding audience reactions across the board! As we had targeted, with this film we managed to cut across age groups – adults and children alike adored the film, a precursor of good things to come and an opening for different, family oriented ideas.

Toonpur.. is etched in history as India’s first live-action & 3D animation combination film and I am glad that it will have the tag of a successful movie venture to go with this honour. Cheers!

 

Toonpur.. finally reaches its destination… Releases today!

24 Dec 2010

As we reach the final milestone of our film- it’s release, the buzz is apparent, the critics have reacted very well and most importantly, the film initial audience response has been great! Am sure the film the film will endear all audiences and will emerge as the winner.

A lot has been written about the movie, a few enveloped with controversies. But team Toonpur has managed to put up a great marketing show in the last 2 weeks of its promotions. The cast and crew has promoted the film wholeheartedly, hopping from one city to another enjoying the rapturous response of the young audience in each of these cities. Ajay Devgn, Kajol & the Devtoons have had a great response on TV. Anu Malik has used his personal charisma and fan following to drum up support, besides having personally having hand held me through the trips. This has been ably supported by the marketing teams at Big Screen & Eros Entertainment, Dharmendra Sharma (for cranking out wonderful promos last minute), my Associate director – Anshul Vijayvargiya who has been a strong ground support & Debparna Banerjee for her contribution and success of the school activation. Hope all the effort translates into BO success which we are all praying for. Go watch the film – its a thorough entertainer.

Ajay, Kajol and the Toons of TOONPUR wish u Merry Christmas!

Here’s wishing you all Merry Christmas and a very happy new year from TEAM TOONPUR! We shall prevail… and ROCK! Cheers!

 

Toonpur on the home stretch!

30 Nov 2010

Too much is happening – offline/online marketing, PR, promos being cut, making of… DI (Colour correction), Sound effects, pre-mix, Ajay-Kajol dub. And there is too little time! But I am enjoying burning the midnight oil as the film finally pieces together.

Response to the promos has been excellent! Thank you Dharmendra Sharma for all the hardwork and toil you have put in to make Toonpur’s promos look great! Music Launch for Toonpur is slated for the 4th tentatively, but its a big event and a different one too! As the thrust is moving towards Promos and marketing, Ajay Devgn himself has jump into the fray and is promoting Toonpur. Team Toonpur is on an overdrive for the 24th Dec D-Day!

Thanks to Shreenivas of PIXION along with the amiable Nirmal Jani (DOP) and Yunus Bukhari (VFX Supervisor) for putting in the long hours and tolerating my vacillating, creatively iterative changes to make Toonpur look so much better! Toonpur owes sooo much to them  too. More later… gotta rush for Ajay Devgn’s dub now. Cheers!

 

Mahagiri (1995)

21 Nov 2010

This animated short film is based on a folk-tale from Kerela about a gentle elephant called Mahagiri. This short film has a curious anecdote to it. 1973, when I was six, Dad (Bhimsain) started working on this short film for which he needed a kids’ naive looking drawings. I was roped into the film for the drawings of the elephant and the characters which were subsequently used in the film. However the film never got completed due to inexplicable reasons.

In 1994, when I came back from Sheridan College after my film-making course, I stumbled upon the incomplete film’s negative in the office. I took on the task of finishing the residual sequences, deleting some sequences and adding a couple of them. The music and voice over of Tabassum was added and the film looked endearing. As part of my reward to complete the film, I usurped the title of the director of the film from dad (actually he gave it gladly while keeping the Producer title for himself). The film went on to win the President’s National Award in 1995 and the certificate of Merit at the Mumbai International Film Festival, besides being part of the prestigious Indian animation retrospective package which travelled worldwide.

 

“O” – The beginning and end of all our exploration…

16 Nov 2010

I consider my short film “O” to be closest to my heart. In 1994, I was in the 3rd and last year of my film-making program at Sheridan College, Canada. As part of our 3rd yr. assignment, the students were required to work on their diploma films. Significantly under the influence of philosopher J. Krishnamurthy at that time, I was immersed in his books, insights into life and how knowledge and learning can become an anchor, deterring the individual from exploring the ever-changing truth. “O” (the title of the film is a circle symbol, the purest and simplest form of existence without any ending) was born out of that thought. I revelled and enjoyed myself, a sort of a self-exploratory journey into understanding myself.

The short film took a year to finish. When the film got done, my friends at Sheridan told me that the character in the film uncannily resembled me. That was not intended, but I guess because of my emotional involvement in the film somewhere it had percolated into the psyche of the character. The film went on to win the President’s National award for Best Director and Best animator for me in 1996 besides picking up an award in Austria and Japan. Even if it hadn’t it would’ve still been close to my heart.

“O” is me. :)

 

Max Howard & Shelley Page visit.

04 Nov 2010

Climb Media was graced today by animation vetrans Max Howard (Producer of classic live-action/animation combo movies “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (WFFR), “Space Jam” and many others) and Shelley Page, head of Dreamworks India and a dear friend. The office was reverberating with a positive vibe. It was great to have them around and show them our work. Glad that Max was happy to see all the good stuff on TOONPUR and really appreciated the quality. When he spoke about WFRR, I could identify with it as TOONPUR’s journey has also been similar so far.

Also met with Ajay Devgn after a gap of few months to discuss the promotion of Toonpur. He is quite excited and positive about the film, willing to give it all. Hope things work out as planned, fingers crossed. What a wonderful way to usher in Diwali and the New year. Wish you all a very happy Diwali and an animated new year ahead! Cheers.

 

Posters, Official Site & Theatrical Promo online

19 Oct 2010

Theatrical promo for Toonpur Ka Superrhero. Enjoy!

Official site is up!! Visit

http://www.toonpurkasuperrhero.com

Join up the official Facebook Page @ http://www.facebook.com/toonpur where you can also see the posters of TOONPUR.

More later. Cheers!