Covid has brought lot of distress to the film industry, but if you look at it as an optimist, it has brought in a new set of opportunities for independent filmmakers By O P Srivastava
In Chinese, the word ‘Crisis’ is made of two strokes- one represents ‘Danger’ and the other represents ‘Opportunity’.
Covid has brought lot of distress to the film industry, but, if you look at it as an optimist, it has brought in a new set of opportunities also.
It has ushered in an era of OTT platform based streaming, which is not only cutting across a number of layers between the filmmakers and the ultimate audience, but also making independent filmmaking a viable business proposition in India. Till now in order to make a film In India, one was required to collect ‘a bagful’ of money and then raise another bagful to promote the film and then beg borrow or steal another one to release the film. And even after going through this long ordeal, a filmmaker could not be sure of ‘what cash flows’ were going to come back to his or her kitty. It is a well-known fact that whereas the big production houses and star-producers manage to multiply their investments in their films multi fold, the small producers, in ninety nine per cent of cases, end up losing their capital also. But, post March 2020, things started changing-thanks to Covid.
The prolonged lockdown has induced not only a change in our lifestyle but it has also dented a shift in the consumption behavior including the digital consumption.
The long struggling OTT platforms have suddenly taken off !
In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix added a staggering 15.8 million paid subscribers as the locked-down audience turned to OTT platforms in the absence of PVRs of the world. According to reports, Netflix’ global total has reached 189 million with audience binging on shows like Love and Blind and Money Heist and Indian web series like Delhi Crime, Jamtara, Made in Heaven, Mirzapur, Special OPS etc. Amazon Prime, Hot Star and ZEE5 have reportedly seen 65 per cent increase in their consumption pattern during March- June 2020 quarter.
One of the most impacted sectors due to the lockdown has been the entertainment industry. Not only the production activity has come to a grinding halt, the theatrical distribution companies like PVR have also suffered a serious blow (Share price down form Rs. 1815 on December 2, 2019 to Rs 1037 on July 17, 2020). So much so that an Amitabh Bachhan starrer like Gulabo Sitabo found it viable to release on a digital platform. To my mind, this trend is also a manifestation of a fundamental change happening in the ‘financial model of filmmaking’ in India. First of all, it indicates an increasing share of revenue from digital release of a film and a decreasing share of cash flows coming from the theatrical releases. The resultant combination of these two major cash flows increases the ‘certainty quotient’ in the total revenue stream of a film thereby enhancing the predictability and the stability of monetization in the filmmaking business. A more predictable or measurable revenue stream of a film is a good sign from an investor’s point of view. It helps the investors or a financier or a banker to look at investment in ‘filmmaking’ much more favorably. Besides, logically the stuff made for OTT platforms may not be as extravagant or as expensive as the high budget films made for the big screen. The success of the recently streamed popular films/episodic web series content like Patallok, Panchayat, Chintu Ka Birthday etc on OTT platforms largely driven by non-stars/ first timers is also an indication that for a film to be commercially successful on an OTT platform, it need not depend on the hugely expensive stars or sets thus bringing down the cost of the film and thereby increasing the Return on Investment ( ROI) on a film project. The success of Netflix Original or Amazon Original is, in a way, indicative of a new business model shaping up in the film industry. Add to this, the fact that in the post-Covid scenario, due to the enhanced pressure on timelines and productivity, ‘digitization’ in the filmmaking is bound to increase. We are looking at a ‘picture’, which may be more viable financially speaking.
Yoodlee model of filmmaking
Three years back, when Yoodlee films started making small budget films based on the stories of a new crop of writers, there were many, who would have scoffed at their misadventure in the market dominated by the big budget star-studded films. But three years down the line, the tide has taken a U-turn with the explosion of viewership on the OTT streaming platforms, where even big blockbusters are getting forced to seek a release instead of waiting for cinema halls to open. Yoodlee films, with 13 small budget successful films like Chaman Bahar, Axone, Ajji etc. has not only proven that successful films can be made without big stars, big sets, high tech VFX, big promotions and of course big budgets, they have also opened doors for a new wave of filmmaking in India. What are the basics of this new model? Here it goes.
- Films are made with a focus on the audience in digital space only (essentially meaning that the films need not have the elements, which are required to pull the front benchers in cinema halls like the item songs etc. as an add- on in the film.)
- Films are produced in a small budget (rumored to be between 1-2 Cr) under strictly monitored execution process. An independent auditor, who is given a pre-approved budget with day-by-day break up of the expenses, continuously audits all expenses during the entire schedule.
- The choice of films is driven by the script and script only, having fresh perspective. All scriptwriters are reportedly paid on profit sharing basis.
- All films are produced on a tight time schedule, within nine months- no time overrun and no cost overruns.
- All films are shot on real locations-no artificial sets.
- The film crews unless they are extremely senior artists, take train to locations and expect no five star hospitality or vanity vans.
- Most of the investment is put into production.
- All films are less than 120 minutes.
- The direct sale to OTT platform eliminates the huge promotion and distribution cost enhancing the financial viability of the project.
- They just produce films, own the IP of the content and are creating a pool of quality films – a perfect business model for a Venture Capitalist to step in.
Yoodlee, the way to go!!
O P Srivastava, a banker turned filmmaker, started his filmography in 2015 by producing a fiction film, ‘Missed Call’, which won 4 International Awards including selection as the opening film at IFFI 2006, Best International Film at Israel 2008 and represented India at Cinema du Monde, Cannes in 2007. His first feature documentary, Life in Metaphors, won the National Award for Best Biopic in 2015.