Expert speakers of Production Conference-I at AFM discussed in length about how Covid protocols have increased film production costs and what makes a film investment-worthy
With Covid disrupting all fields, entertainment sector is no exception. Covid protocols can be anywhere from 8 to 20% of your budget and the pandemic certainly has caused the budgets to increase because of the necessary requirements, said speakers at Production Conference-I at AFM.
While Jeremy Kay, Americas Editor, Screen Daily, was the moderator of the session, the panelists were Brian Beckmann, CFO, Arclight Films; Michael Heimler, Head of Production and Finance, Black Bear Pictures; and Kent Sanderson, Acquisitions and Ancillary Distribution, Bleecker Street.
A lot of money is solely earmarked for Covid, Covid testing, protocols and procedures, insurance, said Beckmann, adding that it certainly has caused the budgets to increase because of the necessary requirements whether it’s on state level, government level, financing level, bond level.
“There’s also a lot of microbudget films that aren’t getting the Covid coverage or aren’t going with a bond which is a guerilla type of filmmaking…which can be risky,” he said.
Echoing the same, Heimler said the reality is today there are Covid costs that are a necessary line you need to be prepared for from a variety of perspectives and a variety of reasons- to protect your production, making sure everything you do makes sense creatively, financially, logistically. “I think that’s the biggest change over the last 18 months. Covid protocols can be anywhere from 8 to 20% of your budget,” Heimler added.
Talking about what are they looking for in the elements of a script, Heimler said, “We try and look for things that are unique within whatever genre that it’s in. We don’t look for one specific thing since we’ve made horror films, romantic comedies, dramas, but try and do things that you haven’t necessarily seen before. Ideally our motivation is where you find that cross section of quality and also commercial.”
Speaking about the same, Beckmann said, “It’s really about the uniqueness and originality of the script. Even if it’s a product type script we’ve seen before, having that unique flavor to it really gives it something else to compete with.”
Presenting another view, Sanderson said, “Bleecker is primarily and an acquisitions company but that doesn’t mean that we don’t come on early. 50-60% of our slate we come onto during something resembling the package stage and the financing stage. 4 out of 6 of the films coming out next year – we came onto when there was maybe one or two actors committed a director and a script and a production plan.”
Throwing light on co-financing, Heimler said, “We may not go out and bring on a co-financier, but the way we might mitigate some of our risk would be to pre-sell international or in the US or world and to know that we have a backstop value in certain territories and understand what level of risk we have that’s open against the US or certain territories. That really comes down to at the point that we’re introducing a project to the market, what kind of package do we have and how good of a sense our international partners and buyers are going to have on what the project is going to be based on the package we’re presenting to them.”
On the rise of streamers and shrinking theatrical window, Sandeer said, more than ever, we are having to consider what makes a film that will travel well on VOD, because the specialty market has not come back for theatrical, it’s nowhere close.
“So, the way we’ve approached it is we look at theatrical as one tool on a Swiss army knife. We’ve released 14-15 movies since COVID began and…there’s probably been 7-8 windowing strategies, VOD price points, length of theatrical windows, and everything varies. So, it becomes a much more extensive calculation.”
Last, but not the least, talking about content, Heimler said content is doing well in many other revenue places, not just theatrically, for their specialty type of projects, that those audiences are still consuming those, but in different ways than they did previously. “So I think that’s the biggest adaptation that’s going on now, where the different segments of the audience are watching different genres.”
At the end of the day, people still want to see great, unique content with actors and filmmakers that they know and love and want to see more of.
With the absence of pandemic insurance adding complexities, expense and risk to most productions, financiers and producers discussed strategies that can get films made, what projects are side-lined by the insurance gap, and how to know which are ultimately worth taking the risk
The continued lack of pandemic insurance has added to the difficulties of filmmakers. Speakers at AFM’s Finance Conference-I felt that while commercial banks don’t want to take risks, it is really tough to say whether it would become more expensive to make a film post Covid-19.
The meet saw stakeholders discussing strategies to get funds for films. While Jill Goldsmith, Co-Business Editor, Deadline is the moderator, the panelists were Steve Hays, Founder & Managing Member, 120dB Films; Peter A. Marshall, Managing Principal, Media Insurance Services, Epic Insurance Brokers; and Nick Spicer, Partner, XYZ Films.
In March 2020, they halted all of their pre-production activity, started off Nick Spicer, adding: “We all thought it was going to go on pause for a couple of months. No one really had a sense of how long this was going to last but it wasn’t until September that we actually went into production on another movie. The traditional independent financing model was impossible because of the gaps in the insurance policies and completion bonds so the traditional bank financing wasn’t available which meant we all had to find different ways of doing things.”
Spicer said that at XYZ, they do a lot of international production typically, probably half of theirslate is comprised on international productions. “So, in Q4 of 2020 we went into production on films in Finaland, Norway, Mexico, we started prep on films in Canada and the UK and that’s where we really focused on the places where it felt safer and the risks were mitigated, like Scandinavia, and places that had government backstops that we didn’t have in the U.S. which enabled us to get bank financing or to sit as a security net underneath a completion bond that did have an exclusion for Covid. We transitioned into more creative financing models leaning on equity, private lenders, bridge loans to get through production and parsing out the cash management to mitigate the actual cash risk. Financing became a lot more work intensive than it was the year before.”
For Peter Marshall, there were months of dealing with these terrible shutdowns and the chaos, the claims ensued, and the insurance companies were thrown into a situation they had never seen before – they’re no longer underwriting, they are only responding to claims, there is no new business, there is only loss. Immediately, the reinsurance world disappeared like a puff of smoke…So, there was no new business being created….It was a loss like the industry had never seen a full scale and wholesale loss scenario like this. Not from terrorist attacks, not from anything.
He added: “A company like Nick’s [XYZ] that is just incredibly nimble and creative in terms of financial and content, just pivoted…The industry should be very proud of itself for developing protocols very quickly…we knew right away three things were going to happen, movies were going to be more expensive, more of a pain in the neck, and take longer. None of those three things are good but the Independents are incredibly scrappy, and a lot of films and TV got made event in the teeth of the first wave of Covid.”
On how do they see things right now with vaccinations, Spicer said, “I actually don’t know if it’s something you can require. We have not required it but most of our sets have been almost entirely vaccinated if not entirely vaccinated. The best practices tend to follow the union rules. Delta, from my standpoint, seemed to have screwed everything up…the insurance companies, from my conversations, were starting to get a little more open minded. The bond companies were starting to go in the right direction because the vaccination rates were increasing and then Delta punched a giant hole in it because all of the sudden there were breakthrough cases and a vaccination was not full proof so it went in the opposite direction.”
Marshal stated that it’s an A-symmetric phenomenon, it comes and goes at will – that’s what science tells us. It’s not going to hopefully be as harsh as it has been. The direction seems to be going the right way but the path of public health, which thank goodness is improving, is not necessarily the path of the insurance industry which is not really improving so much. So, unfortunately there’s a split in those two roads right now and I think it will continue for years. That is the harsh news.
He also said that the insurance industry is not going to rebound from this quickly. This is worse than asbestos was for the insurance industry. They don’t have the ability to backstop for catastrophic loss and risk. “We’re going to have to be more inventive and nimbler and I think different ways in transferring risk are going to emerge and have already emerged. They’re tricky because they are often done in the heat of battle and they’re tested as they’re being used for the first time and get modified.”
On banks slowly coming back, Marshall said, “I’m hopeful but commercial banks don’t necessarily want to take risks. That’s why [finance] companies like Steve’s [120dB Films] are so important. Sometimes their ability to reach out to capital markets is going to be part of the solution…self-insurance I think will be where the most opportunity will be. Private insurance companies that are set up by institutions that have the wherewithal to do that may be the future…or a small part of it.”
Will filmmaking be expensive in the near future? To this, Spicer said, “It’s really tough to say – so many of them are different. It depends on where we are shooting. It varies country to country and there’s just the physical covid production costs of testing, the extra days that we need to schedule, the additional cost of insurance and a bond if you get one without an exclusion – so as low as 8-10% increase up to 20% depending on the size of the budget, how the financing looks, where you’re shooting, if there’s a government backstop. There is a baseline no matter what just to follow the covid guidelines and have a reasonable reserve in case something happens.”
On international backstop programs, Spicer said, “They are not liberal in their interpretation of what a covid event is. Most of the ones we have used have been for co-productions [the UK, Ireland and Canadian funds]. We are doing something in Australia next year that we’re just getting started on and I believe that one is a little more liberal in how it’s defined and who can have access to it.
In Finland, there was no government backstop. When we went there it was specifically because it was a safe place to shoot and then we came up with a unique financial structure – we self finance a lot of our movies as an independent studio – so we equity financed production alongside we used a lender called Bondit to create a bridge through production with no bond…Especially early on with travel restrictions and quarantine periods, it was really hard to schedule actors. We had to work really hard to find locations that would be amenable to the schedules that we needed to shoot at.
In his speech, Hays said, “Anyone who is using a government program should be certain of two things – 1. No insurance company can compete with a sovereign government that can print money for price. They will always be the best price on the way in. The other thing is they’re [governments] not an insurance company so when you have a claim they’re not going to behave like an insurance company, they’re going to behave like a government…I think when you read the fine print of the Australian, the Canadian, the UK programs, there’s a lot of things that they take on that are really admirable and fantastic but there’s a lot of things they don’t take on that we take for granted. Read them very carefully. “
He added that there are certain expectations of production that insurance companies know because they’ve been insuring us for decades, but government’s have not. They don’t know about certain things we have to do when we shut down. “They don’t understand that travel incurs and sometimes location changes happen, people fall out…read the backstop very carefully and you’ll find out some of the things you’ll run into won’t be covered.”
Industry leaders took the stage to discuss what it means to be Independent today, the state of the industry and how their companies are working to shape the future of independent film.
Consolidation seems to be the way forward for entertainment industry, if one is to go by what experts spoke at the opening session of AFM ‘The Independent Film Ecosphere – Present and Future’.
While Stephen Galloway, Dean, Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, was the moderator, Liesl Copland, EVP, Content and Platform Strategy, Participant; Jonathan Kier, Co-President, Upgrade Productions; Brian O’Shea, CEO, The Exchange; and Julia Weber, Head of International Sales and Acquisitions, Global Screen – A Telepool Brand were the panelists.
Talking about the biggest change in the past couple years and biggest change they see coming up in the next few years, Liesl Copland said, “I think consolidation, where the studios all have their platforms and know their audience and have ad-supported and have subscription…honestly, we’re post the impact of Amazon, Netflix, and so-forth…Apple TV and everything…but the consolidation I think makes every one of us in this [business] need to specialize, and at the same time as do everything.”
Liesl Copland, while sharing opinion on whether the big streamers would be spending this much on content in five years, said, “Well it depends on their subscriber base! Will HBO Max and will Peacock and will Paramount Plus (be spending this much) I hope so! Will Netflix? No. You know, I think they’ll pay for the big shiny stuff and the tentpoles in their own universe, then I think, just by nature of running a good business, and not to criticize, I think they will and already are spending less on sort of the programmers and the things that we expect to see when we stay in their system.”
According to Brian O’Shea, “There’s been a complete and utter disruption, where there’s opportunity in it…AVOD is becoming…basically what basic cable was – and through the process of new technology, you’ve liquidated or completely eradicated a big revenue stream for filmmakers, and for distributors and financiers…but in that becomes opportunity. We see growth by being flexible in the types of projects that we get involved with…we are diving head first into development and creation, and I think that is the backstop strategy for us in regards to maintaining relevance. Because as this disruption happens, both historically but also looking forward, the control center becomes closer and closer to the creators, and we want to be closer and closer to them, and complement their business, but with us ourselves becoming creators as well.”
Julia Weber said, “For me, this really feels like now we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and now we can really feel how this is shifting and changing all former setups. And for me, really so massive – I mean we’ve always been talking about that in other industries, if you look at automotive or whatever, but now it’s really happening in our business and that, I think, is a major opportunity. We don’t need to be afraid of it, and we won’t be able to stop it anyhow, so we need to adapt quickly and soon, and figure out our ways in between – and yes, we’ve never been so flexible and open-minded than we are and have to be now.”
Discussing on ‘What is going to happen in a few years to windows – are we going to go back to proper windows, are they going to disappear altogether?’, Liesl Copland said, “I do think that we’ll wake up from COVID and the windows will have forever been changed.”
Julia Weber stated, “Theatrical business in Europe is being highly protected – they’ve really tried to prevent any kind of shortening of these windows, and I think we have to try, at least in a situation like we have right now, to keep it as long as possible in a way to give the theaters a chance. People who would like to go to the movies are desperate to go to the movies – and they do not only go for the tentpoles (they do enjoy James Bond and such of course) but they also love the big scale pictures that you can only enjoy that in the theater. People want to make sure that the time and money that they spend for this evening needs to have a certain value to it.”
According to Stephen Galloway, “I suspect that we’re witnessing the end of the Hollywood era. We’ve all seen in the theatrical business, a business that fifty years ago was 30% international is now 70-75% international, would some say there’s a tipping point? Right now, the creative heart is centered here, but at some point, when you’ve got the technology and the manpower overseas, the art develops too. I can easily imagine a huge shift – again, look at Squid Game! For decades, foreign language film was less than 1% of the US theatrical business – now, Ted Sarandos was telling me, the biggest explosion they’ve seen is Korean language content.”
Throwing light on the globalization of content, Kier said, “The rise of nationalism does affect the culture, and the culture all over the world – what the audience is saying is that they want to see their own stories on screen. They don’t want to see American actors doing accents much, and the market in the US – my mother is obsessed with Turkish soap operas and my brother is watching German series – these are things that were not available two years ago. This all goes back to data – as it turns out, there is an audience there – and a lot of the sort of traditional gatekeepers, which were broadcasters around d the world, who would say to me and Brian and Julia ‘No, we don’t want this film, we don’t want this project,’ they were wrong, it turns out. The audience is there. That’s why I think this is creating a lot of opportunity.”
AFM will feature over 150 speakers and again taking advantage of its online market to showcase voices from around the world that can’t always be present in Santa Monica
The American Film Market (AFM) has announced new speakers and sessions along with its full programming lineup set for AFM 2021 Online, which will run for five days, November 1 to 5.
AFM 2021 Online will commence with the opening session – The Independent Film Ecosphere – Present and Future, featuring Liesl Copland, EVP, Content and Platform Strategy, Participant, Jonathan Kier, Co-President, Upgrade Productions, Brian O’Shea, CEO, The Exchange, Julia Weber, Head of International Sales & Acquisitions, Global Screen – A Telepool Brand, and moderated by Stephen Galloway, Dean of Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. The first Finance Conference of the market, bridging the production insurance gap, will follow with speakers Steve Hays, Founder and Managing Member, 120dB Films, Peter A. Marshall, Managing Principal, Media Insurance, Epic Insurance Brokers, Nick Spicer, Partner, XYZ Films, and moderator Jill Goldsmith, Co-Business Editor, Deadline.
While the AFM doesn’t officially start until Monday, November 1, four buildings on the AFM Campus – the On Demand Theatre, Industry Offices, LocationEXPO, and MyAFM – are now open for pre-market screenings, project previews and scheduling meetings.
AFM will feature over 150 speakers and again taking advantage of its online market to showcase voices from around the world that can’t always be present in Santa Monica. Additional sessions and speakers joining AFM’s two online stages and previously announced conferences, panels, workshops, podcasts and presentations. Some of the highlights are follows.
AFM’s Pitch Conference will feature Producer & Agent, Cassian Elwes (Mudbound, Dallas Buyers Club), Elevated Film Sales, Jeffrey Greenstein, President, Millennium Media, Monica Levinson, Independent Producer, (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Captain Fantastic, Brian Banks, Wander Darkly), and Lee Jessup, Screenwriting Career Consultant & Coach
Black Filmmakers at the Crossroads to Success (presented in partnership with AAFCA) will feature Cassandra Butcher, CMO and Co-Creative Director, BRON Studios, Anikah McLaren, EVP, Narrative Film, Participant, Samantha Racanelli, SVP, Film Development & Production, Endeavor Content, and Gil L. Robertson IV, Co-Founder, African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA).
Changing the Narrative: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Film (presented in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media Studies) with Iram Parveen Bilal, Filmmaker, Madeline Di Nonno, President & CEO, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Christopher Kahunahana, Producer, Writer, Director, and Alysia Reiner, Actor, Creator, Producer.
Demystifying the SPLATAM Market (presented in partnership with NALIP) featuring Liliana Espinoza, Projects Director, NALIP, Sonia Gambaro, Vice President of Television, 3Pas Studios, Georgina Gonzalez, Director of Development in the SPLATAM team, Gaumont Television, and Frida Torresblanco, Braven Films.
Global Streaming & the Future of Entertainment in Asia with Rick Ambros, International Media and Entertainment Consultant & Producer, Rohit Jain, Managing Director South Asia & Networks – Emerging Markets Asia, Lionsgate, Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment India, William Pfeiffer, Executive Chairman, Globalgate Entertainment.
How Streamers Approach Independent Content with Adam Koehler, Manager of Acquisitions, IFC Films, Brent Lang, Executive Editor Film & Media, New York Bureau Chief, Variety, Berry Meyerowitz, President, Quiver, Brian Stevenson, CEO and Founder, The Chromata Consulting Group, and Jennifer Vaux, Head of Content Acquisition, Roku.
How to Profit with Micro-Budget Features featuring Tim Molloy, Editor-in-Chief, MovieMaker Magazine, Matt Grady, Founder, Factory 25, Matt Miller, President, Vanishing Angle, and Deon Taylor, Founder, Hidden Empire Film Group
In the Market for Authentic Transgender Films (presented in partnership with GLAAD) with Alex Schmider, Associate Director of Transgender Representation, GLAAD and Tre’vell Anderson, Journalist.
International Film Market: Consumption of Black Culture, Rejection of Black Stories (presented in partnership with the NAACP) featuring Mo Abudu, CEO, EbonyLife Group, Kyle Bowser, SVP Hollywood Bureau, NAACP, Darnell Hunt, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, UCLA, Johnny Jones, Executive Director of Worldwide Marketing Content, Warner Bros. Pictures, Gabriel Lerman, Board Member, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and Tirrell Whittley, CEO, Liquid Soul
Limited Budget Features with Huge Profit Potential featuring Brian Beckmann, CFO,Arclight Films, Luane Gauer, Head of Acquisitions, Protagonist Pictures, Michael Heimler, Head of Production and Finance, Black Bear Pictures, Jeremy Kay, Americas Editor, Screen Daily, and Kent Sanderson, Acquisitions and Ancillary Distribution, Bleecker Street
New Perspectives on Horror featuring Darren Lynn Bousman, Director, (Spiral, Death of Me, Saw II/III/IV), Patrick Ewald, CEO, Epic Pictures, Jordan Fields, Vice President of Acquisitions, Shout! Factory, Jasmine Johnson, SVP, Development, Crypt TV, and Annick Mahnert, Manager, Acquisitions, Raven Banner Entertainment
Producing Movies for Networks and Platforms featuring Charles Cooper, President/Producer, Front Street Pictures, Gene George, President, Tesera Entertainment, Larry Grimaldi, SVP, Development and Production, MarVista Entertainment, Brad Krevoy, CEO, Motion Picture Corporation of America, and Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, President, American Cinema International
Producing Standout Documentary Features featuring Kevin Iwashina, Head of Documentary, Endeavor Content, Anna Godas, CEO, DogWoof, Ross Dinerstein, Founder and CEO, Campfire Studios, Dan O’Meara, EVP of Nonfiction, NEON and Co-Head, Super LTD, and Helen Huang, Acquisitions Consultant
The Casting Effect: How Talent Choices Impact Every Phase of Production featuring Milan Chakraborty, Head of Film, Marginal MediaWorks, Jennifer Kawaja, President, English Scripted, Sienna Films – a Sphere Media Company, Nat McCormick, EVP, Worldwide Distribution, The Exchange, Renee Tab, Founder and President, Sentient Entertainment, and Richard Botto, Founder and CEO, Stage 32
The Export Success of Black Cast Films from Africa featuring Pascal Schmitz, Head of Development, AAA Entertainment, Tracey-Lee Rainers, Story Consultant, Stiletto Entertainment, Sunni Faba, Script Writer, Nnegest Likké, Writer/Director, Mayenzeke Baza, Head of Distribution, AAA Entertainment
IndiaJoy and Esports Platform MPL to present one of the biggest virtual digital entertainment festival from 16 to 19 November 2021
Digital entertainment festival IndiaJoy ( https://www.indiajoy.in ) is the ‘largest congregation of Gaming, Animation, VFX, E-Sports and Entertainment events in India’. It is an aggregator platform, bringing together prestigious international events in one place to unfold opportunities for Investors, Corporations, Studios, Content Developers, Delegates, Consumers, Hardware manufacturers and students, through series of Networking, Trade Exhibitions, Product Launches, B2B and B2C events.
Since its inaugural edition, IndiaJoy enjoyed a record-high number of visitors to attract more than 30,000 participants including visitors and global delegates, attracting investments of USD10 million for the past 3 years and catalysing the emergence of startups. IndiaJoy attracted exhibitors from across the globe, including Adobe, Netflix, Sony, British Columbia, Moiba, Gametion, Australian Trade Commission, Victoria Trade, Unity Epic, and Homa Games in its last few editions.
This digital festival will be held this year virtually from 16 to 19 November. Mobile Premier League (MPL), Asia’s largest esports and skill gaming platform has become the presenting sponsor of IndiaJoy 2021. The annual event is hosted by Telangana Virtual Animation and Gaming Association (TVAGA) and supported by the Government of Telangana.
K T Rama Rao, Minister for Municipal Admin & Urban Dev, Industry & Commerce, ITE&C, Government of Telangana, said, “In the past three editions, IndiaJoy has played a significant role in boosting the AVGC sector in Asia. It has also helped shine a spotlight on the city of Hyderabad as one of the important hubs in the global digital entertainment industry. The Media & Entertainment sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.7% to reach Rs 2.23 trillion (US$30.6 billion) by 2023. Telangana Government has been at the forefront of harnessing the new digital entertainment revolution that requires a state to promote the use, adoption, and adaptation of cutting-edge technologies. We have, and continue to build a robust ecosystem, infrastructure base to promote leading-edge technologies which is a must for success. Initiatives such as Image Towers and hosting global scale events like IndiaJoy which encompass Animation, VFX, OTT, and Gaming have catalysed the growth of the sector both in Hyderabad and in India. Our vision is to make IndiaJoy an event that the world looks forward to every year.”
The Organizers of the event, TVAGA Core committee members – Rajiv Chilaka – President, Sridhar Muppidi – Vice-President, Madhava Reddy – General Secretary, played a crucial role in bringing their experience, and passion to make IndiaJoy a platform that boosts the fame and advancements of Indian AVGC industry at international level.
In its fourth edition, the festival is bringing together businesses, business leaders, content creators, professionals across gaming, animation, digital media, and entertainment sectors, and will feature VFX, OTT Pulse, Influencer Conference, and DesiToons.
A Global Scale VFX Summit made its debut in IndiaJoy 2019 in Hyderabad. The purpose of the event is to facilitate B2B virtual networking, Exposition, Expert Speaks about top-of-the-line visual effects that are in great demand. TV shows that seek cutting edge VFX work ensuring the industry to flourish in recent times and a lot more knowledge sharing is expected during this VFX summit.
One of the industry leaders Biren Ghose, Chairman, CII National Committee for AVGC & Country Head – Technicolor, India said, “India’s trajectory in the digital media world is exponential and is now a globally acknowledged force to reckon with. The creative technology innovations in AVGC are also note of import to adjacent sectors like education, R&D design, etc. Telengana has shown strong strategic intent in partnering industry and academia with enabling policy and infrastructure support to take the games, VFX and animation industries to new levels of performance. IndiaJoy is the forum that celebrates the milestones and acts as a torchbearer for the state. Connections & collaborations is what I hope to see flourish at this year’s event.”
This year, VFX summit will witness participation from VFX giants from across the globe, with a lineup of conferences, panel discussions, Networking sessions. Attendees at the summit include some of the biggest studios, VFX Specialists, Broadcasts, students, Brands, Agencies and Creative professionals from the industry.
Combination of low-cost mobile data, affordable smartphones, fresh content, and lockdown induced boredom changed the game for OTT industry. The way in which audiences consume content has changed dramatically during the pandemic, with the number of people turning to OTT taking a sharp rise, driven by both the pandemic and the proliferation of streaming services.
With the rise of massive entertainers like Netflix Inc.’s runaway hit Squid Game came like a bolt from the blue for viewers around the world. Our own India’s famous Chota Bheem, had made many glued to OTT platforms in India. The pandemic pushed big budget movies and the smaller ones equally to be streamed in these platforms.
The content viewing in OTT platforms grew multifold, according to a recent CII-BCG report, the number of paid OTT subscriptions was up by 55-60% to 100-125 million in 2020 from 49 million subscriptions in 2018.
IndiaJoy’s OTT Pulse will see content creators, industry experts, senior media executives and leading digital platforms showcase and discuss their opportunities, challenges, and strategies in partnership with Green Gold Animation, OTT Pulse will delve into the world of creating and distributing truly personalized content. “As we welcome the 4th edition of IndiaJoy, it gives me great pleasure that Green Gold Studios has contributed to bringing the best creators, producers, broadcasters, business and creative heads onto a single platform. IndiaJoy was established to celebrate the success of the industry, exhibit the talent within it and provide a space for the leaders of the AVCGI to deliberate the way forward. We have accomplished all that in our previous editions, and we look to continue building the event to encompass more ideas, individuals and technology.” said Rajiv Chilaka, Founder & MD, Green Gold Studios who is the man behind Chota Bheem.
OTT Pulse will be a part of inaugural event on this 16 November will have multiple panels and keynotes which will include representation from the leading digital platforms, such as NetFlix, Amazon Prime Video, Viu, VOOT, Aaha and ZEE5 among others.
‘India’s largest influencer convention’ that provides a platform for aspirants to connect with celebrity influencers and industry experts. Influencer Conference facilitates participants to meet, connect and showcase the best of the talents to national and international stakeholders of the industry. It is where production houses, motivational speakers, young aspiring artists gather to make a unified talent show where people can enjoy and get a chance to learn and inspire.
Al platform for animation content creators, studio executives, animators and students to gain insights from the leaders in creation, broadcasting and distribution. The animation sector is witnessing rapid growth, the congregation will see industry leaders, ace content creators and broadcasters from the Indian Animation industry sharing their insights into how to succeed in today’s dynamic and disruptive times.
The Indian Media and Entertainment industry is witnessing a new era of game-changing development and IndiaJoy will see pioneers from the sector sharing their insights. This edition of IndiaJoy is expecting international participants from more than 50+ countries and globally recognised, prominent AVGC and many tech giants are set to share advancements in new and emerging technologies.
The India Game Developer Conference (IGDC), an event for game developers is a major catalyst in enabling the growth of the Indian gaming ecosystem and sees enthusiastic participation from game developers, publishers, and investors each year. Its goal is to support and empower game developers with insights, upskilling, and networking opportunities in the presence of industry leaders and investors.
The event is expected to see attendance from around 10,000 people, 120+ industry experts, 100+ e-stalls, 30 publishers, and 30 investors. Unreal Engine will be the presenting sponsor and MPL and AWS will be the gold sponsors for the event.
The film and entertainment markets in Asia has always been top in the radar of AFM all these years and it is interesting to find two prominent Indian entertainment executives lead the discussion
India’s Sameer Nair (CEO, Applause Entertainment) and Rohit Jain (MD, South Asia and Networks, Emerging Markets Asia, Lionsgate) are set to share their vision on ‘Global Streaming and The Future of Entertainment in Asia’ at the American Film Market 2021 Online edition.
AFM runs from November 1-5, 2021 at the four buildings on the AFM Campus – the On Demand Theatre, Industry Offices, LocationEXPO, and MyAFM – which are now open for pre-market screenings, project previews and scheduling meetings.
AFM On-Demand platform will be open for recorded conference session views and market screenings till the end of the year.
The film and entertainment markets in Asia has always been top in the radar of AFM all these years and it is interesting to find two prominent Indian entertainment executives lead the discussion on the content creation and streaming platforms. More than 50 streaming apps are jostling for attention and the market is dominated by MX Player, Disney Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, ZEE5, SonyLiv among others.
American consultancy firm Bain & Company has estimated Long-form video (LFV) in India is poised to grow to 650 million users by 2025. India’s online video user base is now estimated above 350 million people.
India’s video streaming market is likely to touch USD 12.5 billion by 2030 from about USD 1.5 billion in 2021 on the back of access to better networks, digital connectivity and smartphones, according to a report by RBSA Advisors. The streaming market is estimated at $4 billion in 2025.
This panel discussion on Global Streaming and The Future of Entertainment in Asia at AFM Online 2021 is presented in partnership with the Asian World Film Festival. (3 November 9 to 10.30 AM PST. 9.30 PM to 11 PM IST)
Media and Entertainment veteran Sameer Nair, CEO Applause Entertainment (Aditya Birla Group) is an icon and Applause Entertainment has already created a dominant position in the India’s storytelling ecosystem with premium original digital drama series and international formats.
Rohit Jain who spearheaded the India launch of streaming platform Lionsgate Play is confident that India will be among the top five markets for Lionsgate in the next five years. Lionsgate Play is backed by Starz, a premium global streaming platform and is currently available in 56 countries.
Global streaming has changed the consumption, distribution, financing, and production of entertainment across the globe, and in particular in Asia, where international OTTs are scrambling to tap into hundreds of millions of potential new customers. As international and local language content increasingly travels the world, digital media companies from the US, China, India and pan-Asia will take center stage. This pointed blurb on the discussion is likely to generate interest and pointed tips on where entertainment in Asia is headed.
Applause Entertainment has over two-dozen digital drama series lined up in 2021. Applause’s array of shows include Criminal Justice, City of Dreams, Hostages and The Office on Disney Hotstar, Mind the Malhotras and Rasbhari on Amazon Prime Video, Hello Mini, Mannphodganj Ki Binny and Bhaukaal on MX Player, Scam 1992, Iru Dhuruvam, Your Honor, Undekhi and Avrodh on Sony LIV and Hasmukh on Netflix.
India, land of beautiful locales and great talents, has reopened its doors for filming in India for global producers and studios. Film Facilitation Office (FFO), set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), is currently accepting online applications for foreign producers to shoot in India
At the recent India Global Week 2020 address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India is laying a red carpet for all global companies to come and establish their presence here. Very few countries will offer the kind of opportunities that India does today. India has opened doors for filming in the country, easing the permission process, a single film visa and facilitate single window clearance systems.
India is committed to welcome the global film community to come and do business in the country and work closely with the domestic media and entertainment industry.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting views cinema as the ‘soft power’ of India, and is working towards making India as film shooting and film friendly destination for the audiovisual sector.
“Our Film Facilitation Office has facilitated over 80 foreign film shootings. Now, it will function as a single window for all Central and State government permissions. I appeal to the global film fraternity, to come invest and shoot in India,” said Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar in a recent interactive session.
At the recent India Global Week 2020 address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India is laying a red carpet for all global companies to come and establish their presence here. Very few countries will offer the kind of opportunities that India does today. India has opened doors for filming in the country, easing the permission process, a single film visa and facilitate single window clearance systems.
The M&E industry is one of the champion sectors, enabling the vision of the Prime Minister to achieve a $5 trillion economy. India has enabled digital transformation by increasing economic freedom for the traditional M&E business.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Indian film locales have captured the attention of global producers and viewers.
Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ (Produced by Warner Bros’) for filming portions of the movie in Mumbai. Mira Nair’s TV series ‘A Suitable Boy’, a six-episode, 349-minute long series, adapted from Vikram Seth’s classic novel, was extensively shot in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, India. It is currently streamed on Netflix across the world and BBC One (in UK and Ireland). Netlflix’s action thriller ‘Extraction’ starring Chris Hemsworth was filmed in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Netflix has revealed that ‘Extraction’ tops the list in its 10 most-watched original movies of all time, as of today.
Now that the Government of India has opened business visas for overseas companies to travel into the country, global film producers and studios with Film Visa are exploring options to come and film in India. The aviation restrictions have been lifted for foreign business travellers and companies into India.
Already, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has announced guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for film shooting and media production in the country. Various State governments have also issued SOPs for film shooting in their respective States detailing dos and don’ts aligning with prevailing local Covid conditions.
Italian filmmaker and producer Sergio Scapagnini is soon set to shoot in India for the new India-Italy co-produced film directed by Goutham Ghose. UK-based Collin Burrows of Film Treats Production is looking to film in India for forthcoming project. Late last year, Paramount Pictures had announced producing web series ‘The Bear’ for Apple TV to be shot in Madhya Pradesh. The Hollywood project was based on a bestseller novel by Gregory David Roberts ‘Shantaram’.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Indian film locales have captured the attention of global producers and viewers.
“Opportunities exist for great visuals, well written scripts and award worthy acting, but what the Internet has taught us is that consumers want every type of story. The government has allowed hundred per cent foreign direct investment in the filmic content productions. This sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs including opportunities for the unskilled and semi skilled workforce. The incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open not only to film shooting, but also for TV web series filming and foreign filming,” said TCA Kalyani, Joint Secretary (Films), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, participating in a recent interactive session.
“I’m very fond of saying that my country has as diverse locations, whatever you want to see in a film, whether it is the mountain, the river, the sea, the island, the desert the crowds and post production facilities, you name it, we have it and you need only one visa to see it all for tourism and one visa for shooting.” said Kalyani.
Speaking about the internet revolutionising the entertainment sector, Kalyani said that India has enabled digital transformation by increasing economic freedom for the traditional Media and Entertainment businesses to operate. They are also nudging the industry for a better quality of service. The best example for this is that the OTT segment has grown phenomenally during the pandemic, she added.
The Media and Entertainment sector through innovation consistently has the potential to create jobs, especially in new areas of animation, gaming, etc. “The government has allowed 100 per cent FDI in film content productions. This sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs including opportunities for the skilled and semiskilled workers,” she said.
In the aftermath of Covid-19, India has announced Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for media production and film and TV shooting.
Soon, incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open to films, TV and web series filming. The guidelines are currently being finalised by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
Film Facilitation Office (FFO), set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, acts as a single point of contact for filmmakers to get all the relevant information about India’s film industry ecosystem, and help them navigate through filming guidelines of key Central government Ministries and State governments.
To bring more transparency, coherence and convenience, FFO’s web portal www.ffo.gov.in equips filmmakers to submit their applications online.
FFO acts as a facilitation point for the foreign producers and production companies along with their Indian Producer/Line Producer in assisting them to get requisite permissions, disseminate information on shooting locations and the facilities available with the Indian film Industry for production/post production. FFO also works closely with State governments in assisting them set up similar facilities. Visa facilitation is available in over 120 Indian Embassies and Consulates across the world.
Global producers and crews with Film Visa can get to shoot in India and this Visa facilitation is available in over 120 Indian Embassies and Consulates across the world
FFO is currently accepting online applications for foreign producers to shoot in India. FFO which was set up with a view to promote and facilitate film shootings by foreign filmmakers in India has also been extended to Indian filmmakers as well.
Alan McAlex of Jar Pictures and Production Scope, whose services started off with A Suitable Boy, a BBC mini-series adapted from author Vikram Seth’s eponymous book, directed by Mira Nair, says, “India now offers an entire ecosystem for foreign productions. India’s diversity allows a filmmaker to tell both India focused and global stories from here. We are able to recreate say a rural South African exterior, or urban London office interior right here.”
According to Pravesh Sahni, Co-founder of 25-year-old ITOP Film Productions Pvt Ltd and worked on projects including the sensational Extraction, “We have amazing locations in India, with professional technical crew to meet up with International Standards. The cost of shooting is far cheaper here than other countries like the US, the UK and Europe.”
Dileep Singh Rathore, CEO and Co-founder of On The Road Production, says when he got in touch with the FFO office for scouting filming locations in India, they were very happy to help him in connecting with a lot of people. He said they are making a coordinated effort to ensure that everybody is together on the same page.
Rathore, India’s most successful Line Producer for leading Hollywood Studios and European filmmakers, confirmed to Pickle that global producers are “expediting the process” to film in India in the new scenario of opening business to overseas companies.
Rathore’s On the Road India was the line producer for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (produced by Warner Bros) for filming portions of the movie in Mumbai.
“We are constantly getting calls over the last some days on filming in India,” says Rathore. “Interest to film in India is top in the radar of global producers. I am very optimistic that foreign film projects which were stalled in the beginning of the year will soon get activated.”
Another leading line producer stated that in recent times Film Visas have streamlined foreign film shooting in India. “Quick visa clearances for the foreign crew is one of the reasons why more foreign filmmakers are coming to shoot in India. For shooting in India, foreign filmmakers have to get clearance from the I&B Ministry. The Ministry officials coordinate with the Indian embassies abroad, and help in getting visa clearances faster.”
Over 118 international films have been shot in the last four years and the FFO has been offering all support to filmmakers to shoot in India. The country is now all set to emerge the favourite destination of foreign filmmakers post Covid.
Soon, incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open to films, TV and web series filming and post production services. The guidelines are currently being finalised by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India
India is sending right signals to foreign filmmakers. As a result, the country is witnessing warmth from Hollywood studios. Christopher Nolan’s experience in filming in India for Tenet has grabbed global attention. Dilip Singh Rathore, CEO and Co-founder of On The Road India was incharge of production services for Tenet in India. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office is currently wooing international studios and incentive package is on cards. Rathore says India is prepared for post-COVID shooting and expects a flurry of new projects. Excerpts from Rathore’s chat with Vivek Ratnakar
Pickle congratulates you on the completion of 25 years of On The Road India, which has undertaken many reputed international projects to keep us all entertained. Please tell us about your journey. It’s a good thing that we have now completed 25 years or more in the film production and production services and made many films with international filmmakers. Our journey started very differently. Back then it was a much different industry and production services were looked at in a very different way. I happen to be from a very popular filming destination State called Rajasthan. I was very fortunate to become a part of the productions coming to the State 25 years back. I worked with Mr Shashi Kapoor in the film Ajooba which was shot in India and Russia, among other projects. Eventually I decided to start On The Road India, and it has taken 25 years to reach where we are today. When we were starting, the production was quite different and government’s outlook towards production services and international filmmakers was quite different. Today, the things are much easier with government support. So it has been a long journey.
Founded by veteran producer Dileep Singh Rathore, since 1996, the work ethic and service of On The Road India has earned the trust of Hollywood studios, international filmmakers and production companies. Its team is based between Mumbai, Jaipur, Los Angeles, Sydney and Rome. This enables the firm to better understand project requirements and to deliver the best location and budgetary solutions for production in India.
On The Road India understands the challenges and risks of shooting abroad and the added complexity and diversity of shooting in India and South Asia. While there is no question India offers a wealth of opportunities to filmmakers, the challenges that face productions can prove daunting, even to the most experienced producer. On The Road India will help mitigate many of these challenges with honesty, integrity and transparency.
Do you think India’s outlook has changed vis-a-vis foreign productions in recent times?
Some of the major changes include the ways the government supports the industry. There has been a significant change in the government mindset
and now they are more forthcoming in inviting international filmmakers to come and shoot in India. Earlier, government officials were quiet
skeptical and used to be very critical about film productions. Even the Information and Broadcasting Ministry permissions used to take
anywhere between 6 to 14 weeks and we had to make many rounds to Delhi. But now the production process has really eased off with the
government taking it very positively. Also, earlier we used to bring a lot of crew from abroad as the local crew was not very efficient. But now any
international company brings only the key members while the rest of the crew is sourced from India itself. Also, they used to come with a lot of equipment. There used to be a ‘J-Visa’ for filmakers and crew that was complicated and confusing because the J-Visa was mainly for journalistic work in India. Also, the visa process was time consuming. Now the government has introduced a new category of visa called Film Visa which is very easy to get and the process is quite transparent. On The Road India has executed some of the finest executive productions for Hollywood Studios including
Tenet and The Dark Knight. Tell us about your experience of working on the Tenet in Mumbai India.
How did it feel to be working with Christopher Nolan?
Interestingly, I have also worked with Mr Nolan’s brother. So I had a very long relationship with them. The Dark Knight was shot in Jodhpur and the film required a very different kind of location. So we had to prepare the backdrop of Mehrangarh because of the filming requirements. To shoot the film, we had to completely shut down the entire Fort. We had to make a special arrangement with the royal family of Jodhpur. We would shoot the film during day and open the fort for the public during night. We shot there for 6 to 7 days and then achieved what Mr Nolan wanted to.
Similarly, for Tenet it was very challenging to shoot here in Mumbai. Without the support of the Maharashtra government we could not have achieved what we did. The government got us all the permits for shooting at a landmark location like Gateway of India. We had a huge crew of over 1,500 people and a part of the Gateway of India was frozen. We cordoned off the area with the help of the transport department that diverted the traffic
and we finished the shooting without any issue. The building where we were shooting was a high rise and to light around 40 buildings around
for a fortnight to shoot an action sequence was a mammoth task that was accomplished with the help of the State government, local crew and
our international technicians. Mr Nolan left India on a very positive note.
Has filming in India eased after the formation of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office?
The government set up the Film Facilitation Office as an example to give foreign filmmakers confidence that they can come and shoot in India. The role of Film Facilitation Office has been very important as they did all the heavy lifting and worked as hard as us when we were shooting for Tenet. The FFO helped us get all the permissions, whether it was from the Aviation Ministry, Defence Ministry or Information and Broadcasting Ministry. They were working very closely with us shoulder to shoulder. They also played a key role in making all the right introductions and coordinated
with the State government to get all the clearances.
Could you list out some of the challenges that you faced?
The message has to be transmitted efficiently to the very local level when it comes to allowing film shootings. Tenet was a big project and an
important film. But if you don’t take any project seriously it brings bad publicity to the country. There has to be a total transparency between the agencies which are involved in the commissioning so that all the permissions granted in Delhi are also transmitted at the local level. A lot of people do not understand the urgency of the filmmakers to complete the shooting in a limited number of days. Anybody coming from abroad does not have an infinite time. He might be coming for a month or a few days and he needs to do the preparation and shoot within a tight schedule. All the agencies need to go an extra mile to make things happen at the right pace. If that doesn’t happen filmmakers will keep on going to other countries or they may
not choose India as there shooting destination. Any permission that needs to be granted should be given within a fixed timeline as filmmakers
are ready to pay for that.
What according to you are the three things that attract global productions to look at India now?
The first is story, the second is locations and the third most important thing is the dollar value, as the skill set in India is a lot cheaper than many other countries. We can build a lot of sets at cheaper rates. The day India becomes as expensive as any other place, fewer people would come to shoot here. They will only come if the story is related with India or for an interesting location.
The government is planning to incentivize filming in India as well for co-production treaties? Will this be an advantage?
The incentive plan is not there yet but talks are going on. A lot of states like UP, Gujarat and Goa are doing it at the local level but major Incentive from the Government of India is talked about and yet to be finalized.
How are various State agencies coordinating with the Centre to promote film shooting in their respective States?
Every State now is connected to the FFO office in Delhi, which has placed nodal officer in every State. I think they are all coordinating. Recently, I got in touch with the FFO office for scouting filming locations and they were very happy to help me in connecting with a lot of people. They are making a coordinated effort to ensure that everybody is together on the same page.
Popular filming destinations in India are Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat. Some States are not that popular due to information gap as very few filmmakers know about their filming policies. There are also infrastructure and connectivity issues, and little awareness about how to reach those States.
What impact has the COVID-19 lockdown had on the industry, especially for people who were on ground?
The pandemic has put everybody one or two years behind their growth targets. It has been very tough for the industry not only in India but across the world. The sectors that have been most affected are entertainment, aviation and tourism. Filmmaking is a collective effort and the crew needs to be together to pull off a project, but the pandemic has prohibited them to do so. The governments have opened film shootings but people are still skeptical. Besides, there are a lot of protocols to follow which is not easy. The people are afraid, cautious, and they are not very comfortable which has made a huge negative impact on the industry.
Now that India has given permission to shooting (to those who have film visas), what kind of calls you are getting? Are the safety protocols in line with global practices?
It is very early to say that things have improved. Although India has opened up, ours is mainly international film production. America has the highest
number of cases and the Europe has been shut down again. We were supposed to do 2-3 projects but they have all been put on hold. We are just waiting for the world to get rid of the disease. People are talking about going back to work but everybody is very cautious. Hopefully things may change in the next couple of months and some vaccine comes out. The safety protocols are good as we are required to keep a safe distance from each other, wear a mask and carry out periodic sanitization of sets and crew. A couple of my friends who are shooting in Germany have said that it had been very difficult to shoot with all these protocols in place, but people are still doing it. They are following it and it has been successful so far.
How do you explain the on ground situation in India as we speak now to a potential global producer looking to film in India?
There are different ways of doing things now. We have to do most of the work online as the number of people travelling has reduced drastically. We are still waiting and watching. There have been a lot of talks that happened in the last 4-5 months, and now we are scouting and sending pictures of locations and also looking for some scripts.
Earlier, we would do location scouting and the key filming crew from abroad would come to India for a physical visit. But now we are doing local scouting with the help of movie cameras and Go-pro to give a virtual tour of the location. We upload the 3D shots online so that the director and producers can have a look at it. I want to get back into action and I know that people are dying to get back on the location. But even if we start working on a certain project the shooting will happen only next year. So, people are working on script level or location level. So it’s looking very positive and I hope situation remains under control. I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything moves in the right direction.
What are the new facilities that you have added to your production services especially in pandemic times? What safety measures are being undertaken by your production?
We conduct more virtual discussions rather than physical interactions. For example, I was supposed to be in the US but I have not travelled for the last nine months. We are working from home and computers have become our important assets. We spend a lot more time in conducting virtual scouting. We have opted to use just one person for scouting as it is easier to manage that one person with gloves, proper mask and sanitizer. Our crew would never leave without taking proper safety measures.
Are you thrilled to going back to work?
I can’t wait to resume work. Like I said I have not been on the set and have not travelled in the last nine months, not making a film is the biggest depression for me. So I am looking forward to get back on the set again.
India now offers a high quality, end to end solution to foreign productions. An entire ecosystem awaits foreign productions in India, thanks to proactive measures by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India. India’s diversity allows a filmmaker to tell both India focused and global stories from here. A rural South African exterior or urban London office interior can be recreated right here with equal expertise and ease. Alan McAlex of Production Scope shares his experience of filming Mira Nair’s Suitable Boy. He chats with Pickle and wants nothing but to go back to making movies
In visualization to match the script, Suitable Boy transports us to fifties of India. What are the behind the scene experiences?
It is great to know every single shot of Mira Nair’s TV series was filmed in India… That’s right; every single shot was filmed in India on location. We didn’t create any period sets in studios. That was Mira’s vision- she wanted the look to be as authentic as possible, depicting post-independence India in the series. As a co-producer, I strive to ensure that the Director’s vision is implemented on screen. For A Suitable Boy, we scouted every nook and corner of the historic cities of Lucknow, Kanpur and Maheshwar. We also shot in smaller towns and villages in and around these cities such as Kakori, Mahmudabad etc. It was amazing to experience the rich heritage of India while shooting at these locations. We shot in several interesting places – tanneries in Kanpur, palaces in Lucknow, forts in Maheshwar. I was quite mesmerized by the beauty of these locations. Every location we shot in had such an interesting history and story attached to it.
With diverse experience in film production, Alan McAlex formed Jar Pictures in 2011 with Ajay G Rai. Together they have been producing commercial and arthouse films. Killa, that opened at the 64th Berlinale in 2015, winning the Crystal Bear; Liar’s Dice, that opened at Sundance and was India’s official submission to the 87th Academy Awards in 2015; and Moothon that opened at TIFF in 2019, are a few titles from their oeuvre. As a part of Alan’s several individual projects as an Executive Producer, he has worked on Dangal, which was the highest grossing Indian film, as well as the Amazon series Made in Heaven. In 2019, Alan initiated Production Scope, a company focusing only on production services that started off with A Suitable Boy, a BBC mini-series adapted from author Vikram Seth’s eponymous book, directed by Mira Nair, for which Alan was the co-producer.
Lucknow also had a rich collection of vintage cars that were an extremely important part of creating the 1950s’ visual experience on screen. We didn’t realize it at first, but these cars were very popular. On days when we shot with the cars, we had huge crowds gather just to see these cars. Our crew also enjoyed posing with these cars when they weren’t filming.
How has India and its outlook changed vis-a-vis foreign productions in recent times?
In recent times, when foreign producers look at India, they see much more than a country where they shoot one offs such as a Gandhi or a Slumdog Millionaire, in which the script requires a film to be shot here. India now offers an entire ecosystem for foreign productions. India’s diversity allows a filmmaker to tell both India focused and global stories from here. We are able to recreate say a rural South African exterior, or urban London office interior right here.
Productions are also more attracted to India because the overall risk of filming here has gone down significantly. With the formation of the FFO, we have a one-stop-shop to obtain clearances and support. We’ve always been a cost-effective destination for production and now there’s an abundance of talent and skilled professionals in our industry as well. We also have superb postproduction and VFX capabilities.
India now offers a high quality, end to end solution to foreign productions. Over the last one decade, the diversity of films that you have (co-produced/executive produced) is amazing. Some of the Indian films have travelled globally and won awards. What fascinates you in an Indian location?
Yes, over the last decade, we were lucky to find the right scripts and work with amazing filmmakers. Our films went on to garner critical acclaim, Killa that went on to open at the 64th Berlinale in 2015 won the Crystal Bear, Liar’s Dice which opened at Sundance and was India’s official submission to the 87th Academy Awards in 2015 and Moothon that opened at TIFF and MAMI in 2019, would be to name a few from our oeuvre.
Do you see Advantage India in the aftermath of pandemic for filming? What’s possible and what’s not?
In terms of the number of cases, unfortunately, we’ve been one of the worst affected countries in the world and this is likely due to our sizeable population. Efforts of the government and vigilance of the people have helped keep fatality rate relatively low. Productions in India have slowly
restarted with extreme precautions and strict health and safety protocols on sets. Some had to shut down again if a crew member tested positive but
overall there’s definitely progress. Things will slowly but surely get back to pre-pandemic levels. As long as we’re vigilant and keep flattening
the curve, filmmakers will be more confident about shooting in India. We have a cost advantage which definitely gives us an upper hand in these difficult financial times. In the long term, India will certainly be back as one of the top destinations of choice for filmmakers.
Now that India has opened up shooting (to those who have film visas) and business for overseas businesses do you see positive momentum? Are the safety protocols in line with global practices?
Yes, there’s definitely positive momentum. We’re already planning several projects, for next year and beyond. These are a mix of international and domestic projects. There are several companies that offer COVID safety protocols that are at par or even exceed global practices. It’s quite amazing to see the market react such quickly to offer these solutions.
Your reflections on how tough it has been during the lockdown times…
The pandemic has been personally, professionally and financially devastating for everyone and there’s no question that the people on the ground have been the hardest hit. It was very unfortunate to see so many productions come to a grinding halt due to which the livelihood of so many people, especially the daily wagers were several affected.
What are the lessons learned during lockdown?
The biggest lesson has definitely been that we’re all in this together. This pandemic has touched everyone’s lives, irrespective of boundaries. And we need to be cautious together to fight the spread of the virus to protect everyone around us. Another lesson we’ve learnt is that we need to be better prepared for downturns. When an industry such as ours is growing, one doesn’t expect such a bad thing to happen and that too so quickly. But, this
pandemic has taught us that black swan events can happen, so we need to be better equipped to manage them. Ultimately, tough times teach us to be more resilient and stronger for the future.
Do you see visible changes after the formation of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office? Is filming in India eased now for facilitation?
When it comes to international productions helmed by companies here in India, the onus to deliver all expectations smoothly is on us and that includes visas for the foreign crew, shoot permissions, initial project clearance formalities with Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to name a few. FFO has been the singular point for all these crucial parts and speed up the process, right from liaising with the visa office to sanctioning permissions for filming in desired regions of the country. Once we have these clearances we can seek local authorities’ permissions for the respective locations.
The government plans to incentivize filming in India as well for co-production Treaties? Will this be advantage India?
Co-production treaties are extremely helpful in creating the right incentives for filmmakers to shoot in India. Having foreign films made in India helps promote the local economy and tourism in the country. It’s a win-win situation. We already have treaties with 15 countries, but it would be nicer to
have more, because nowadays, film making is an exceedingly global endeavor. As an example, Canada has treaties with over 50 countries. In addition to co-productions, production services is also an area that the government can look at for incentivization. In my experience, sometimes the incentives, especially the State/local ones, are limited to feature films. With the advent of digital platforms, there is an opportunity to expand those incentives to web series as well. All in all, we’re on the right track and I am confident we’ll get better and it will definitely be advantage India!
What are the new facilities that you have added to your production especially in pandemic times? What are the best practices followed by Production Scope?
Even before COVID, safety of our cast and crew was of utmost importance to our productions. We followed international safety protocols and standards during the shoot of A Suitable Boy. An ambulance and a doctor were on standby on every shoot day for emergencies. Fire safety is also very important – we had several scenes in which we depicted props being set on fire. So, we had a Fire Brigade on standby at all times. We also had a dedicated safety officer on set that assessed safety risks prior to shooting at any new location. We were pro-active in addressing any safety concerns. In fact, we were ready to stop shoot if we thought that there was risk to the safety or wellbeing of our crew. The lessons we learnt during A Suitable Boy, we’ve incorporated in our Indian shoots as well. These are now a part of our standard operating procedures of our new exclusive Production Services company – Production Scope. Specifically for COVID, our productions have added additional safety measures such as masks, shields, UV tunnels, sanitizers for all crew members. We also have a task force that ensures social distancing protocols are followed at all times on set. We monitor, track and record compliance to all safety protocols as well.
How thrilled are you to going back to shoot…
It’s been almost a year since we finished shooting A Suitable Boy. I’m honestly quite eager to get back to shoot. But COVID is still a risk and we have to be cautious. I am hopeful that things are improving, and that we’ll be back to doing what we love most – making movies!
Films / Series produced by Alan McAlex
A Suitable Boy (TV Series) (coproducer – 6 episodes) 2020
Children of the Sun (producer) 2019
The Elder One (producer) 2019
Made in Heaven (TV Series) (supervising producer – 9 episodes) 2019
Pravesh Sahni Co-founder of 25-year-old ITOP Film Productions Pvt Ltd has executed production services for Oscar winners like Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and Lion in India. ITOP did production services in India for Netflix’s action thriller Extraction . In a chat with Pickle, Pravesh Sahni expects 2021 to be great year for filming in India
The year 2020 marks the silver jubilee celebration for India Take One Productions. It is a landmark occasion. Congratulations from Pickle. How has been the journey?
Yes indeed, we have accomplished 25 successful years of Foreign Line Service Production in India and we would mark many more milestones. In our journey of film production we have worked with top studios globally. We have been extremely proud of the fact that our company handled the production of Oscar nominated films like Slumdog Millionaire, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pie , Lion, and many more which were well acclaimed and
well rewarded. I being the co- founder of this company appreciate the hard work of each member of our team who work 24×7 to streamline and
make the impossible possible for us. This is 100% teamwork and I would like to thank each member who has contributed to help us achieve this.
India Take One Productions comes with experience and professionalism. It helps its clients plan entire production process and execute it with ‘full perfection’. Since the company’s inception, it has been working on fulfilling its clients pre-production and production needs which include arranging a skillful crew, finding the best locations, obtaining permissions, constructing magnificent movie sets and overcoming all sorts of governmental restrictions.
With offices in Los Angeles, New Delhi and Bombay, it is a one-stop shop for all production needs before the crucial “Lights, Camera, Action!” is called.
Has India and its outlook changed vis-a-vis foreign productions in recent times?
In our journey of film production one has seen a complete change in production. It has no doubt improved tremendously from shooting on film and then processing to the world of digital and special effects and the fun of post production.
It’s fantastic that India Take One has accomplished some of the finest executive productions for global productions including four Oscar winning films (Slumdog…, Life of Pi, Lion that we’re shot in India)… Thank you so much. Things actually changed after Slumdog Millionaire, when the world cinema realised that we in India could deliver the finest production services as our professional technical crew is as competent and efficient and at par
with the international crew.
Tell us about the Extraction shooting in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. It is now the all-time number one movie in Netflix?
Extraction was one of the first international films, full of stunts and action. The Gujarat government helped us to a great extent and made Netflix USA and our director Sam Hargrave’s dream come true. We are thankful to Netflix US in trusting us with their first project in India. It is only because we could deliver and make things happen that they trusted us for facilitating the production of their next film called White Tiger which is due for release in December 2020.
Are you able to see visible changes after the formation of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s Film Facilitation Office? Is filming in India eased now for facilitation?
Yes, things have really changed a lot. FFO, housed in NFDC is a big support and backs the Indian producers. We now have a government organization
which understands the problems we face, we have solved a many problems but honestly a lot needs to be still done to a goal we want to achieve.
What according to you are the three things that attract global productions to look at India now?
We have amazing locations in India, with professional technical crew to meet up with International Standards. The cost of shooting is far cheaper here than other countries like US, UK and Europe. If we have an Incentive in place we would be even more competitive.
Will the government’s plans to incentivize filming in the country as well for coproduction treaties be an advantage to India?
We have been waiting for the incentive scheme for very long. I have been a key member in helping draft this policy with the government and hope this can come out soon as we will need this incentive to get productions rolling smoothly. This is needed to compete with other countries. All the productions have been hit with COVID, this will help boost the Indian industry 100 per cent.
Do you see positive intent among various State governments in India for film shooting in their respective States?
All States will have to observe strict safety protocols to ensure safe shooting. All States are taking out rules and regulations, we at ITOP would have to follow the guidelines of the foreign studios which are far more strict. The success will lie only if we ensure all the rules and regulations are maintained for the safety of the crew, which will give other producers the comfort to come and shoot in India.
What has been impact of COVID-19?
We were in the phase of handling two projects parallel with each other. We were doing production of the TV Series The Bear based on the novel Shantaram which we closed on 14 March and Tarus which we shut down on 22 March. Because of the lockdown, India like the entire world has been also affected due to COVID. We were hoping that things get better in India in a few months and we would have been on the floor by September, but things got worse. Today we are positive that foreign production houses will resume production in India like pre-COVID times in mid of 2021.
Now that India is allowing shootings, do you see positive momentum? Are the safety protocols in line with global practices?
We are all hopeful that by March 2021, we will be in a better frame to handle things. Our company has always taken the health and safety of our team and the foreign crew as a priority. We want to ensure that we can create a bubble for our team and provide safety for all. We may lose a job or two to other countries which is beyond our control but we are 100 per cent sure that things will be streamlined and we will do our best to make things happen like before.
Tell us some of the few positives and some challenges for overseas people to shoot…
The number count in India may be high but our mortality rate is much lesser. So sure enough like Bollywood has resumed its production gradually, our production team is working on various ways to ensure safety to keep the crew confident that they are safe in India. We will bounce back like pre-COVID times and handle 2 to 3 big productions starting mid-2021. This is our goal and we are positive that we will achieve it.
How do you explain the on ground situation in India as we speak now to a potential global producer looking to film in India?
For International Producers we are advising to start Pre-Production in the summer and shoot in winter. Hopefully we will have a vaccine by then and a full safety guide line to follow to give all a comfort to all. We are in touch with three production houses with these time lines.
What are the safety measures undertaken by your production house?
We have always had an ambulance and doctor on our sets even in pre- COVID times. Now we plan to set up a full COVID testing lab on our set in one of the vanity vans, and see that all crew is tested twice a week, maintain three rings of crew on set with colored bands, sanitize the set before use and also during all breaks and see all the crew members maintain proper distancing possible and sanitize at regular intervals. No one will be spared from main cast to crew, drivers, spot boys. We have also planned to keep all crew in one hotel to maintain a bubble.
How thrilled are you to going back to shoot?
We are looking forward to get on the sets again. We all are passionate about filming and implementing our foreign producers’ vision to reality. For this we are planning a full plan to make our sets COVID free. On sets we plan to have enough infrastructure created to keep our members safe with tests at regular intervals. We will ensure all safety measures possible in our production. We have been known for our safety standards even before COVID. We would sanitise and disinfect the sets and all the offices on regular intervals. The list may seem complex in long but along with production we want to ensure the safety of each and every member. Our production house is ready to take the baton and charge on to implement everything very efficiently. Our key production team is already handling production in Indonesia and we would not leave any stone unturned to lift the curtain in India and generate the same kind of job opportunities and revenue for our country. COVID has come as an intermission but it is not the end of the film. The show has to go on, and will go on; we need to adjust our wings to sail through 2020 and fly even higher in 2021