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Austerity drive turns the screw on independent film-makers

Austerity drive turns the screw on independent film-makers
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First Published: Mon, Feb 23 2009. 12 27 AM IST

No takers: Stills from the movies ‘Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss’ (left) starring Nana Patekar and Rimi Sen and ‘Har Pall’ starring Preity Zinta.
No takers: Stills from the movies ‘Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss’ (left) starring Nana Patekar and Rimi Sen and ‘Har Pall’ starring Preity Zinta.
Updated: Mon, Feb 23 2009. 12 27 AM IST
Mumbai: Up to one-third of all films made this year will not be released in cinemas, as a run on film financing and a renewed focus on accountability squeeze marketing budgets.
Har Pall, directed by the acclaimed Assamese director Jahnu Barua and starring Preity Zinta, which tells the story of two neighbours who fall in love, is one of the latest films to come under pressure from the austerity drive.
No takers: Stills from the movies ‘Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss’ (left) starring Nana Patekar and Rimi Sen and ‘Har Pall’ starring Preity Zinta.
Industry executives caution that independent film-makers will be hardest hit by the cost-cutting measures. “Smaller films are generally backed by independent producers and they are finding it hard to raise funds,” said Kamal Gianchandani, head of distribution at BIG Pictures, the film production arm of Reliance BIG Entertainment. “There are no takers in the market. Even if the film is green-lighted, they need the funds to release, so the films that have not shaped up will fall by.”
“Now, because of the money lost last year, distributors are being cautious and we will see a decrease in marketing budgets,” added Gianchandani. “The budgets were not making sense last year. For a small film, the marketing budget can be as high as 100% of the cost of making the film but you don’t have to sell a big budget film so much because the stars drive it.”
The move by production houses to adopt a more rigorous approach to vetting films comes amid a slowdown in the sector, with film studios feeling the pinch as funding lines dry up. Also among the completed films understood to have failed to find studio backing is Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss, directed by Rakesh Sarang, and starring Nana Patekar and Rimi Sen.
The release of Har Pall, also starring Isha Koppikar, was originally planned for December but has been pushed back to “hopefully April or May” this year, said Barua, who confirmed that he is in ongoing talks with studios to secure backing for the Rs10 crore-plus budget film, but declined to disclose further details.
“It is very confusing now, because one doesn’t know how the market is moving,” said Barua. “Every day the studios seem to have a new strategy.”
Explaining the dilemma facing independent film-makers, Preeti Sahani, senior vice-president of marketing, distribution and syndication at the Indian Film Co., which is promoted by Network 18, noted that smaller budget films would normally have a marketing budget equivalent to the cost of production of the film.
“You cannot compromise on spending on marketing for the release of a small budget film,” said Sahani. “They require more aggressive marketing than larger budget films.”
The comments come just days after Ronnie Screwvala, chairman of UTV Software Communications, told delegates at the annual FICCI Frames entertainment convention that “between 30% and 40%” of films made this year would fail to secure a cinematic release due to the crippling cost of selling it to audiences, which he said could amount to the cost of making the film. The prediction accompanies a broader correction being seen across the industry, as actors increasingly accept pay cuts and turn to revenue-sharing models in order to rationalize the cost of production of their films in the weak economic environment.
While the amount spent by studios on marketing has been increasing over the past couple of years, from broadly up to 25% of the cost of making a large budget film to up to 35% now, according to Sahani, greater competition and pressure to secure a good opening also make it more important for studios to market their films properly.
Describing marketing as an “integral” part of the film exploitation process today, Navin Shah, chief executive of production house Percept Picture Co., said the irony of film production is that unlike any other consumer product, the smaller the film, the greater the scale of marketing required. “Marketing has huge repercussions to the outcome of a movie,” says Shah. “If you don’t do the marketing, then you cannot dream of doing a release. And your marketing budget is a factor of total budgets and how wide your distribution is. However, during a reverse swing, like we are seeing now, revenue streams will shrink and then marketing budgets shrink and small film-makers get hit.”
One independent film-maker, who declined to be named, said that he had chosen to distribute his film himself after his overtures to various studios failed to garner the requisite interest.
“We were very disappointed to hear the responses from the distribution community,” said the film-maker, who is turning to innovative strategies such as viral marketing, short videos and a fashion show to promote his film. “There was a tremendous amount of sluggishness from them to respond. They don’t know what to do with a movie without stars. Self-distribution for a film-maker is not a good idea, but when there is a lack of interest from distributors then you have no choice. The chances of us failing are greater than studio-backed films as we don’t have the backing to push the film through.”
Producers and film-makers with a portfolio of large, medium and small budget films will, therefore, be best positioned to deal with tightened budgets in the current market, as they will be able to spread their costs, according to Biren Ghose, executive director of Eros International.
“It will be much more difficult to recoup monies on movies this year than it was last year, so people have to look at the costs of making it, as well as marketing and distribution,” said Ghose. “The process of green-lighting a film will now consider the story, the talent as well as the present market conditions. Producers will need to look at the viability of the film in the present conditions, and they should be confident that it is still going to make money before they green-light it.”
neelam.v@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Feb 23 2009. 12 27 AM IST