How much does it cost to send an Indian film to the Oscars?
New Delhi: The box office earnings of Rajkummar Rao-starrer Newton may have been bolstered by news of its selection to the Academy Awards of 2018 as India’s official entry, but the journey for the film to Los Angeles and the heart of Hollywood is still likely to be tough.
The Rs15 crore film that minted about Rs11.83 crore in domestic box office collections at last count, will compete with nearly 80 movie submissions from different countries.
But merit is not the only criterion to make it to the final list of five nominations. While Newton producer Manish Mundra remained unavailable to comment on the team’s actual plans, industry experts said only a strong marketing and promotional campaign is going to help.
“It’s not very different from a theatrical release in the sense that you need to create a buzz and make sure that the message of this being the country’s official submission, is out there,” said Chaitanya Tamhane, director of 2015 submission, Court. He said there are many different ways to go about the campaign and in terms of money, it is pretty much a “bottomless pit”.
The costs, according to many industry experts, could range from Rs15-20 lakh to several crores.
“You basically have to go camp in LA with your team as early as October and possibly stay there up to February when the ceremony happens,” said filmmaker Kumar Raj, who has submitted movies like Tara: The Journey of Love and Passion independently to the Academy. This, he added, would include things as fundamental as renting an apartment close to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and possibly hiring auditoriums in the headquarter to hold screenings.
The second-most important step is to hire the right publicity team. While individual agents are willing to negotiate depending on exactly how long you need their services and how far ahead you make it in the race, a top publicist may even end up with as much as Rs10 crore, Raj said.
“It helps if you get yourself an expert who knows the press circuit there and is used to running movie campaigns the whole year, in fact there are many people who specialize in foreign language movies,” said a studio executive who has worked on Oscar campaigns, on the condition of anonymity. “It’s important for the film to be discovered, because not only are there multiple submissions but Indian filmmaking grammar is quite different. For example, for a film like Newton, it would be important to talk about how it’s gone to Berlin and New York and that it’s about Indian democracy and elections.”
The third step would be to get featured on all, or most, important media outlets-print, radio, television and digital, as part of a promotional campaign that ideally, should result in a full-fledged theatrical release in at least some parts of the US. Raj pointed out that a campaign like that could cost another Rs10 crore, and would be bolstered by the presence of an American distributor that knows the workings of the country.
However, it’s not all about the money.
Till date, the most important aspect of running the Oscar foreign film race is making sure the entire jury watches your film. Considering the norm has been for the jury to split up and divide movies among themselves, that is a challenge.
“Ever jury member doesn’t have time to watch all the 90 odd movies. So you have to make sure you catch their attention,” said Raj. “You have to organize screenings and convince them to come and see your movie. If you reach even 50% of the jury, you have a chance of making it to the top ten.”
Another option is sending DVDs of the film to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organization of journalists and photographers that reports on the entertainment industry in the US.
“The process of getting people aware of the movies there is different. These are often not big studio movies and you have to undertake a full campaign to tell them why your film is special,” the studio executive said. “Spending money is not the answer. It’s more about getting a good person who’ll support your film and doing screenings.”