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.