Screenwriter Meg LeFauve, Music composer Vidjay Beerepoot, Licensing and Merchandising expert Jigy George, Advertising veteran Rahul daCunha & Writer, director & creative producer Vani Saraswathi Balgam are the five ‘masters’ for the Animation Masters Summit 2021 edition organised by Toonz Media Group
Masters of animation industry will share their thoughts and speak their mind out at the 2021 edition of Animation Masters Summit.
Screenwriter Meg LeFauve, Music composer Vidjay Beerepoot, Licensing and Merchandising expert Jigy George, Advertising veteran Rahul daCunha and Writer, director and creative producer Vani Saraswathi Balgam are the five ‘masters’ for the 2021 edition.
Oscar nominated, Annie Award-winning screenplay writer Meg LeFauve holds the writing credits for some of the most popular animation features of our times. Marvel’s blockbuster Captain Marvel, Pixar hits Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur to name just a few.
Meg began her film career as a producer and President of Egg Pictures, where she produced Emmy and Golden Globe nominated films. A storyteller par excellence, Meg has taught at the American Film Institute and served as co-chair of the Graduate Producers Program at University of California’s School of Film and Television, where she taught master level story and development classes for several years.
Vidjay Beerpoot is the man behind the soulful score of the new animation feature Ainbo and the edgy soundscape of Netflix’s The Little Vampire 3D.
Adopted from India and brought up in the Netherlands, Vidjay has gone through an interesting creative journey through different cultures all the way to Hollywood. Today, based in Los Angeles, he composes music for movies, TV shows and video games all over the world, including for Disney, Netflix, Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers, Sony and Nickelodeon.
Jiggy George began his career as a designer and then went on to work with some of the top media and entertainment brands, right from MTV and Pogo to Viacom and Times of India.
Throughout his career, Jiggy George deftly balanced the ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ of creativity and commerce, achieving what very few in the industry can boast of – an undying passion for creativity, coupled with a nuanced understanding of management. Today, Jiggy is a successful entrepreneur and founder of Dream Theatre, one of India’s leading brand management and licensing companies.
From award-winning commercials to the country’s longest running ad campaign, ad man Rahul daCunha’s portfolio is formidable, to say the least. Working with some of the biggest and oldest brands in India, Rahul mastered the art of snugly positioning brands in the public psyche through immensely relatable, riveting campaigns.
Most notable being the campaign for Amul, widely adored for its subtle, superbly-timed social commentary. But advertising is only one side of this creative genius. As a theatre artist, Rahul has worked on some avant-garde productions as a director and playwright. His plays have travelled across the world from Australia to USA.
Vani Saraswathi Balgam started associating with the animation industry at a time when the rest of us would have just started watching animation. Thanks to her dad, who started an independent 2D animation studio out of their home, Vani grew up in an exhilarating creative environment throughout her childhood.
Starting with painting, photography and amateur film-making as a teenager, she went on to establish a successful career in animation. She worked as the Head of Creative Management for DreamWorks Animation in Shanghai and as Executive Director of Rhythm & Hues studio in India. She managed the teams of artists and technicians that created the VFX and digital characters in Academy Award- winning movies like Life of Pi, The Golden Compass and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Organised by Toonz Media Group, the virtual Summit will be held from May 4 to 8, 2021, over the Zoom platform.
At the inaugural session, the welcome speech will be delivered by P Jayakumar, CEO, Toonz Media Group. This will be followed by a keynote address by filmmaker and founder of Whistling Woods Films Institute Subash Ghai.
Then comes the felicitation and AMS Awards declaration by Ashish Kulkarni, FICCI Chairman for Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming and Comic Forum.
Prof Nina Sabnani, winner of the Legend of Indian Animation Award at Animation Masters Summit 2021 and Ketan Mehta, winner of Special Contribution to Indian Animation Industry Award for his overall contributions to the industry, will deliver the acceptance speech.
On Day 2, the Ed Tech panel discussion to start at 10 am IST will have Ashish Kulkarni as moderator. The panelists are Dhimant Vyas, Chief Creative Director, Byjus, Dr M Srinivasan, Founder, GEAR Foundation, Prerna Jhunjhunwala, Founder, Little Paddington and Creative Galileo and Sasikumar Pillai, Executive Director, Toonz Education Services. From 11.30, there will be an in conversation session with Rahul daCunha.
While Day 3 will have an in conversation session with MegLeFauve and session by Jiggy George, Day 4 will have sessions by Vidjay Beerepoot and Vani Saraswathi Balgam.
On the last day of the summit, there will be an AWN panel discussion. Dan Sarto will be the moderator, and Monica Lago Kaytis, Co-Founder, Rise Up Animation, Bryan Dimas, LatinX in Animation, LXiA Co-Founder and Co-Director, Jinko Gotoh, Vice President, Women in Animation and Mansi Darbar-VP, Corporate Strategy and Development, IN10 Media will be the panelists. This will be followed by Ri8brain launch.
Animation Masters Summit (AMS) is an annual event celebrated by Toonz Media Group, a leading name in animation and Kids & Family Entertainment. Established in 1999 as the first ever animation event in India called “Week with the Masters”, it was recently renamed as Animation Masters Summit (AMS).
Animation Masters Summit celebrates the beautiful art of animation, bringing talents and experts from around the global animation Industry to interact with aspiring young talents. The event also offers a platform for masters to offer inspirations and insights on what it takes to create, connect and drive engaging content in this invigorating new entertainment era.
The 21st edition of Animation Masters Summit, loaded with multiple sessions attended by industry experts, also saw noted animation director Arnab Chaudhuri posthumously getting conferred with the Legend of Animation Award 2020
The five-day Animation Masters Summit (July 20-24) was organized by the Toonz Media Group. Speaking at the inaugural session, Anuradha Aggarwal, head of Infotainment and Kids, Star India, now owned by Disney, said three crucial aspects that could act as game-changers for the creative industry today are people, technology and quality.
“We strongly believe in the swirling interplay of art and technology. Young people today are creating fantastic content. If they also make use of the right technology, sky is the limit,” she said.
Noted animation director Arnab Chaudhuri was posthumously conferred with the Legend of Animation Award 2020 at the 21st edition of Animation Masters Summit.
The award was presented for his invaluable contribution to the animation and entertainment industry of India. Arnab Chaudhuri’s wife Ashima Chaudhuri and brother Sudeep Chaudhuri symbolically accepted the award at the inaugural session from Anuradha Aggarwal. The ‘Legend of Animation’ award was instituted by the Toonz Media Group (TMG) as part of the Animation Masters Summit (AMS) 2020.
Anuradha Aggarwal said, “I have the distinct honor of conferring The Legend of animation award to someone who is known for his creativity and storytelling. Arnab Chaudhuri was a beacon of the Indian animation industry. And while he may not be physically present with us today, he is someone who will live forever in our hearts. He has been very closely associated with us at Disney and was a favourite among his peers and his team. His directorial feature Arjun The Warrior Prince not only won accolades from the Indian audiences but gained recognition across the world. He was a creative genius, who was respected beyond measure for his impeccable talent, skill, and for the wonderful person that he was for his distinguished contribution to the animation and entertainment world. In India, it is my great privilege to confer this award posthumously to Arnab Chaudhuri . He will always be with us in spirit.”
Arnab, who passed away on December 25, 2019, was one of the pioneers of the Indian animation industry, and his animation movie ‘Arjun: The Warrior Prince’ is the only animation from India to date to be longlisted for Oscar awards. He was an alumnus of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, and has worked with leading entertainment organisations like Walt Disney, Turner, and Channel V. Arnab was a true genius who was always ahead of his time.
P Jayakumar, CEO, Toonz Media Group, hoped the summit would be a platform to connect, collaborate and start conversations on forging new ties and creating meaningful content. Toonz would also be soon launching an online learning platform dedicated to animation and creative arts in order to mould new talents in the field,
“Toonz has had an unwavering commitment towards the Art of Animation, and has relentlessly strived to further the growth of animation in India. It is as part of this mission that we conceptualized Animation Masters Summit. The first edition of this event was held 21 years back soon after the establishment of Toonz in 1999. Today, the event has grown and transformed itself into a major platform for not just animation, but for the entire entertainment industry to converge, celebrate and promote diverse art forms as well as artists.”
He added: “I’m happy to let you all know that Toonz is coming up with a new initiative to promote creative education and moulding new talents in this field. It is an online learning platform dedicated to animation, and creative arts. This platform is being launched by Toonz Academy in association with Bangalore based Native Puppets. Wisdom is basically our response to the changing ecosystem of education and entertainment around the world.”
Speaking on the occasion, Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India, said even amid current uncertainties, particularly the Covid-19 epidemic, a new narrative of the 21st century was evolving among young creators. “It will be a new language of powerful storytelling that represents our fight back as the human race inspiring the future with the power of young voices”
“Our computer graphics industry has this uncanny mix of creative people, technologists, investors, designers, scientists, and even inevitably, the finance and the business guys who try to make all of this stuff come together in a product or a service. These multiple specialties all contribute to this exciting field of animation,” added Biren Ghose.
Sach Chandaria from the promoter group of Toonz Media spoke at the session. The event was packed with sessions by masters from various fields in the media and entertainment industry across the world. This includes senior cinematographer Ravi K Chandran, who is famous for the works in movies like Virasat, Black, Dil Chahta Hai, and Kannathil Muthamittal, to name a few. National Award-winning composer Shantanu Moitra took another session.
In her inaugural address at the 21st edition of Animation Masters Summit organized by Toonz Animation Group, Anuradha Aggarwal, Head of Infotainment and Kids, Star India, spoke about the magic of Disney and why creativity matters the most
My family loves to watch movies together, it’s our time together. And we are animation fans, we really want to re-watch a lot of our old favorites. And this has given us the time to select Friday night, Saturday night movie together, bring on the popcorn, and enjoy old classics like the old Lion King and compare it to the new one. Watch the old Pixar Toy Story and remember the first time that we saw them, try and remember all the stories that hadn’t been seen. And of course, we’ve seen the new Mandalorian and you know bit about whether it fits into the large storytelling of all the Star Wars that people seen again and again. I’ve been watching all these stories and all these movies and loving them. But, I’ve been on the other side, and I know the process that goes behind creating a successful story.
MEMORIES IN MAKING
So, the actual animation, of course, is a very, very important part of storytelling, I believe there are other elements that come together in making a story lovable, timeless, and something that viewers will keep in their mind and hearts for a very long time. And I think these elements need to be appreciated, and acknowledged, and who best to do it with the audience, who is part of creating some of these amazing, wonderful pieces of storytelling. So I thought I’d like to discuss with you, share with you how Disney successfully fosters creativity, and how it’s been doing it over the years. And what I’ve learned are the key elements of bringing stories that people love, and people embrace across the world. So one of the key when the first and foremost thing I’ll say is people. Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, very rightly said, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, that’s good. If you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they’ll make it work.”
It has to be talent and not just good ideas. Because when you take big risks, they’re the ones who help you recover. Talent matters. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s not about hiring the best people. It’s about nurturing them and their creativity. It’s about supporting them. And you know, a lot of creativity at Disney is teamwork. People think of creativity as some mysterious solo act, but we believe that creativity involves a large number of people from multiple disciplines working effectively together. Because you cannot create the magic that Disney creates on the back of one person’s idea. It has to be a very large set of creative people, the best creative people working together in an environment that nurtures their creativity, trust them and respect the relationships that people develop amongst each other. And such a relationship and such an environment is what unleashes everyone’s creativity. The result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another. And of course, believe that they’re part of something extraordinary. And that’s something that creates extraordinary results.
The second thing I would say, is technology. In today’s world, I wouldn’t be able to do this without technology and a lot of you have realized the value of the technology, staying at home and working from home and actually producing really great results from home or remotely from where you are. Did you know that not a single Disney or Pixar movie is made with the same exact technology that was used in the last film? That’s the power of Walt Disney’s vision because he himself was firm believer in the evolution of technology. I mean, he knew that technology and art blend together to make magic happen. I mean, he did the first sound and animation, the first color, the first compositing of animation with live action, and the first applications of xerography and animal production. We continue to believe in this swirling interplay of art and technology.
I think we are constantly trying to produce breakthroughs and push the technological boundaries of animation, I would encourage you to do the same. Young people today are creating so much fantastic content. And if they apply their creativity, using new age technology, I think the sky’s the limit. So we have to embrace technology in today’s world to create real breakthroughs in storytelling. The third thing that I would like to mention is something that goes for everything that we do in life.
GOD IS IN DETAIL
For creating something extraordinary and timeless, I would say, quality and detail is a very, very important part of creating great stories. I mean, any piece of content, whether it’s a series or a movie, contains literally thousands of ideas. I mean, in every sentence, in the performance of every line, in the set design, the character, the background, the clothing, the end environment, the location, because the lighting, the pacing, everything can be done in 1000 different ways. And in every little aspect, Disney handles this with utmost care and clarity. Truly, the God is in the details. I mean one doesn’t take precedence over the other and one element will not be compromised for the sake of the other because we believe creativity must be present at every level in everything that we do.
ARTIST & TECHNICIAN
And every artist is a technician and every technician is an artist and must perform and deliver at the highest level of their art. Every content base at Disney is in development for like three or four years before we even decide to release it. We plan every element from storytelling, character development, technology design, every minute aspects go through a lot of detailed thinking and planning before it goes to even the final draft. And I would encourage all young people to adopt this eye for detail, and encourage the people you are training or the people who are working with you to make sure that you work with this highest standard or benchmark of quality. And when it all comes together, I mean, it would create magic, as I believe Disney has been creating for many, many years before us. And of course, I wouldn’t be here telling you the story if we don’t believe that. But what we also believe in, is what we call the Disney difference.
Every story we narrate with the timeless classic or a very relevant story in today’s world has a heart. And you may have heard me say this or we have heard earlier Disney spokespeople talk about it. The stories with a heart basically mean that everything that we do is heartwarming and everlasting, meaningful and formed emotional connections with our audiences from two to eight years. Our stories have continued to represent the present and inspire universally positive values. They continue to inspire people, they are relatable, but they push the boundaries of imagination in a manner that, that they stay timeless for a really long time.
So you can watch a Lion King, the first time when you’re a child and 20 years later in a different form, and still feel the tug. And Simba is born. And to the end, when he takes on as a kid. The emotional values are still the same. You know, who thought we would see the world through the eyes of bird toy, Toy Story, and fall in love with the story of talking animals in Zootopia. Even what we’ve done in India with using food as an analogy for friendships and relationships with our storytelling of simple samosa tells us that, it’s the stories that matter and characters which touch people’s hearts and when we get the right characters, the right stories, the ones which have a really deep emotional connection with the viewer. Those are the stories that are successful and they’re the ones which last for very long. And whether it’s the struggle of an everyday of a boy and everyday struggle of running to catch the bus, or it is about, a child who’s trying to keep up with other kids. The stories are real and very relatable.
Today when we think about it, the possibilities of creativity through stories are endless. And, there are no boundaries in today’s world. You can find inspiration from the art and craft of India. You can find it in comics, you can find it in anime, or you can find it in timeless graphic novels from the past. There are so many stories that we have access to. There are so many inspirations that we have access to. The potential is limitless. We’ve seen characters evolve and animation come alive through live action and new technology. We’ve seen stories that can be experienced through products, through Broadway, and at Disneyland. But you know, we haven’t lost sight of the key points that we’re speaking about. And the biggest one is every Disney experience is an experience with a heart. So this has helped us retain our creativity, our magic, and, you know, it’s helped me come here with conviction that more people adopting all of these points that I spoke about will lead to more magic being created together.
Having worked in the M&E industry for nearly two decades, Gaurav Banerjee, President (Hindi and English Entertainment), Star India, brings to the table his sharp journalistic acumen along with deep insights into business and creative processes to steer Star India network into a new era of programming where technology, and content with global appeal is set to be the new normal By Natarajan Vidyasagar and Vivek Ratnakar
Starting his career as a TV news journalist at Aaj Tak in 2000 and then moving to Star News where he covered the general elections and a budget show, Gaurav Banerjee, President (Hindi and English Entertainment), Star India, is among the league of extraordinary TV professionals who have redefined TV viewing experience for the masses in India. “Uday Shankar is one of my major influencer and transformative leader in my professional career,” says Gaurav.
A sincere and intelligent person with a penchant for research, his grip on his viewers has been remarkable. He has been successful in combining creativity with business with his choice of programs to help Star climb the ladder of success. It is, therefore, not surprising that in a career spanning nearly two decades, he has emerged as one of the major pillars of the Indian M&E industry with a lot of similarities with Uday Shankar, President of The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific, and Chairman of Star India and The Walt Disney Company India, who like him had an illustrious career at Aaj Tak and Star News and was greatly benefitted by the sharp acumen of a journalist combined with a keen sense of creativity and business and the ability to feel the pulse of millions of consumers. Gaurav was reporting to Sanjay Gupta, MD Star and Disney India.
Gaurav has worked with both Uday Shankar and Sanjay Gupta closely and is now charged with transforming the network in an era, where new technologies, platforms and shifting consumer choices are increasingly disrupting the M&E industry.
“It’s been a series of happy accidents,” says Gaurav in an exclusive interview with Pickle. “Personally, for me, it’s been a privilege to have been part of this team. And of course, I’ve learned a lot,” he adds.
“Sanjay was my boss for 10 years and I learned a lot from him. But I think the real strength of Star is our team as a whole. And Star has incredible number of very talented people. And I think the fact that we have the best talent in the industry and we have a culture and spirit that allows a lot of that talent to flourish has made us successful.”
Gaurav admits that good work “keeps me inspired and excited” and hopes to “do a few things which will set the framework for a healthier industry”.
The fact that he started his career in a news room has to do a lot with his unique perspective on what viewers want. “In the newsroom when you go in, you don’t really know how that day will shape up. So you just bring in your skills, your intelligence, some of the reading that you might have done. And then it’s about your reflexes, and about what can you add to a story that makes it truly come alive for your fans,” he says while reflecting on his career as a journalist.
He recalls that when 9/11, the world trade center attack in New York happened, he was in the newsroom and Uday Shankar was in the control room, trying to figure out what to do and what perspective to give. “It was really clear that we were witnessing something happening right before us, which is going to change the world forever. That was one real massive moment at the start of my career at Aaj Tak in particular.”
Underscoring his learnings from this incident, he says, “It might seem deeply naïve today, but I didn’t look at weekly rating numbers. And I think nobody actually did except for the senior leadership. But for the rank and file, we were so convinced that we were the best news channel that everything else kind of didn’t matter. I have no idea what the ratings were before that or what they became after that. I have to honestly say that it was an interesting learning.” Gaurav believes that over-thinking the results often undermines what is needed to be done.
Another memory he shares is that from 2005 when he was in the newsroom and Mumbai got more rain that night than Cherrapunji had ever recorded in the recorded history of rainfall in this country. “I was sitting on the ticker when this story flashed. I couldn’t really believe what I was reading.” Star News that day decided to “drop everything else, and just stay with the story. We decided that the agony and the spirit of Mumbai should come alive in our coverage. And I thought that one moment was truly the moment which became the making of Star News.”
However, there is a huge difference in the way stories are conceived in TV and a journalistic thinking of visualizing a story. “Uday Shankar had always been very deeply involved in the creative process at Star. And, we talked about how we could reflect India’s concerns all the time. And how do we show it in a manner that is very, very responsible that inspires people,” says Gaurav.
He adds that one of the big distinctions for Star was its tagline, “Inspiring a Billion Imaginations”, which “has led to some very different programming”.
“A few years ago, we did the show Satyamev Jayate and it was a very unconventional show for an entertainment network. But for Star it seemed like absolutely the right decision. The way we went about doing it, the scale of investments that we put in, the way the scheduling happened, and the way it was marketed put a very different stamp on what entertainment means,” he says proudly.
“We were so proud of the show. We wanted lots and lots of people to see it wherever they could.”
So, what’s next in programming that could prove to be a game-changer for the Indian Media & Entertainment industry? “If we see the current trend, you know, now it’s the documentary series that are becoming one of the trending elements globally,” he says.
Gaurav is also a trained documentary filmmaker, and he admits that “it’s a fascinating way to tell a story… but honestly, we have not done a lot of it. Though we did one interesting documentary last year but perhaps that was more of a one off. It’s something that I have some feeling for personally. Hopefully, when there is a right subject we can do something which is interesting, exciting and meaningful. I think documentaries is something that we can really open up a wide massive Canvas for. And that’s an opportunity that we haven’t really applied our minds to yet.”
On the evolving diversity of content viewing audience, Gaurav is clear that Star sees itself as a content company first. “We are about those stories we tell and the impact that those stories could have on viewers. And I think everything else sort of comes after that. So as far as I’m concerned, I see myself as a content guy first, deeply interested in shows, writers, in the physical worlds that we are creating, and trying to input it into making our stories richer, more diverse, and more contemporary.”
He also believes that everything else is about monetization, different brands and different distribution frameworks that are continuously evolving, “and we need to stay ahead of those curves”.
“We need to understand where our viewers are, we need to adapt as far as technology is concerned. While doing all that we want to be the place where the best writers come with their most exciting ideas. And hopefully we sort of become their partners in taking those ideas and making them very big. So personally for me, the width of brands is very exciting. But essentially it’s doing something similar across the board.” He cites the examples of Star Ananda and Star Jalsa, which he helped launch and he feels that “they’re very similar brands. One speaks in Bangla, the other in Hindi”.
Speaking on the importance of data, Gaurav believes that there are “some insights you can get from data, as a lot of us really like to speak to consumers. And, you pick up themes from there. I think Star is a very, very strong consumer company. And we can definitely leverage that. We are sometimes guided by that, but honestly, that’s rare. Usually it is, you know, your heart beats for a particular story, and in a way that someone is thinking about it or narrating it, and you hope that you’ve got it right. The nature of the business is that sometimes you do get it right and many times get it wrong. And then you have to humbly except and learn something, hopefully, and then move to trying something different.”
With English Channel programming added to his job profile, Gaurav has found an innovative way to address the new challenge of convergence in audiences in both language mediums. “it’s a recent development that has happened and I’m particularly excited about it. We just had the release of Avengers and Aladin. And both those movies did really, really well. The new thing that we have done is that we are putting these movies simultaneously across our network. So they come not just on Star Movies, but for example, in Hindi also on Star Gold. So that’s an innovation that has happened very recently, which is very exciting. It sort of allows the marketing to happen together. And the viewership that we got for Avengers was pretty phenomenal, which was very exciting. And I think there is much more to come, hopefully in the days ahead.”
“One of them I’m happy to share with you will be the premiere of The Lion King. And that was a really, really amazing movie. It did wonderfully well in India as well as globally. It has Shah Rukh Khan and his son doing the voiceover in Hindi. So hopefully there’s a lot that fans have to look forward to,” he adds.
However, there is also a fear in the industry that COVID-19 will have adverse impact in terms of broadcast and TV business. “Our hope, and our strategy is to really try and see that we can keep a big part of the viewership share. And I think if we can continue to do that, we will continue to be able to make big investments into content. Content investments are a strategic part of our business. We do not think about them as what will be right for one or two quarters. We’re taking the long view on this. We continue to remain deeply committed to being the company that is most invested in high quality storytelling and in curating the best possible stories. So I think, there a road bump or two along the way in the next quarter or two. But we’re here for the long haul, and we are deeply committed to content, which is our most critical resource and our biggest strength.”
Gaurav is also in the leadership team to Originals at Disney+Hotstar. With the rise of OTT platforms globally, an opportunity has presented itself for Indian content to move to other markets. However, this is still not happening at a pace the Indian M&E industry would like it to move. According to Gaurav for that to happen “we need to be more ambitious”.
“When we have a deeply local, authentic storytelling style, and bring in a universal insight it makes content travel. I think that’s something that we need to do. Those are the kind of scripts that people like me and others like to commission. But I also think that the challenge with a lot of content that we have done, if I were to be self critical, is that it’s only looking at the Indian market.”
“If we get the insight right, and it’s a universal insight, then it will work very well in India as well and be able to travel across the world,” says Gaurav citing the example of Slumdog Millionaire, an Indian story written by an Indian with the insight which is truly global.
He is hopeful that India can get into that space. “Say for example, in the next three, four or five years, we will be able to tell such stories. We are not the same India as what we were a few years back.”
However, he adds a caveat, that “if we cannot do that in the next five, then yes, we have let go of a massive opportunity. And we need to find a way around it.”
Q. What comes first, creativity or business? A. Creativity. Good creativity leads to great business.
Q. What do you binge watch? A. Haha, I like a wide range of shows and films. So I watch a lot.
Q. Do you read fiction? A. I’m not unfortunately a very big fiction reader, but I should read more. But I do read a lot of current affairs.
Q. Who has the major influence in your life? A. My father and my mother have massive influence on me. Both of them were teachers. And then my father became a public servant and a writer. So he’s always been a massive influence. I’ve had the great privilege of working with Uday Shankar for a very long time. And I’ve learned a lot from him. So he’s a absolute great influence as well. Also, I have a 14-year old son who also influences me to a great extent.
Q. Did you ever visualize when you were starting off that you will enjoy what you’re doing now? A. No, of course not. I always thought that I would probably spend my life in TV journalism
The 60th anniversart of Annecy, one of the world’s largest animation film festival and market (MIFA), will take place in virtual online format from June 15 to June 30, 2020. The festival and market will take place through its dedicated video platform from www.annecy.org. Major Hollywood studios and institutions have confirmed pariticpation for the online only event.
The festival accredidation is priced nominally at 15 Euros and market accredidation for professsionals at 110 Euros. The major part of the animation market MIFA (meetings, pitching sessions) will happen between June 16-19. The presentations and conversations will be limited to 1000 viewers and pre-recorded live sessions will remain in the Annecy online platform for two weeks till June 30. MIFA Market Pitches will be unveiled on May 5, the festival’s feature films and VR works selection on May 18.
Annecy’s film festival and MIFA Marketwhich has always collaborated with Cannes Film Market will synergise and take part and work with virtual Cannes Film Market edition from June 22-26, 2020.
The festival will allow access to the programs of films in competition, Work in Progress (Feature, Series, Special and XR), to animation masterclasses and to Making Of Sessions. The market focus will include MIFA Pitches, Territory Focus, MIFA Campus, Meet the Producers, MIFA Special Events and access to online video library until March 31, 2021.
Annecy’s festival and makret provides a platform for networking, pitch projects, scout for talent, and understand global markets, co-production opportunities and so on. Everyone connected with animation sector comes to Annecy every year.
All the top Hollywood animation studio majors participate at Annecy. Netflix launched their kids and family space at Annecy in 2018. Disney, Pixar, Warner Bros. Animation, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Nickelodeon are regulars at Annecy festival and market.
IMPORTANT DATES TO WATCH FOR
May 5: Announcement of the selection of Mifa Pitches
May 6: Opening of Mifa Online festival and market accreditations
May 18: Announcement of the selection of feature films and VR works
June 15 to 30: Annecy 2020 Online
March 31, 2021: Access to online video library for professionals
Curtains came down on the American Film Market (AFM) on a high note with participation of industry professionals from across the world. Pickle presents you thoughts and takeaways from the eight-day event
7,000 from 70 countries
The annual American Film Market (AFM) closed on Wednesday in the US city of Los Angeles with over 7,000 entertainment industry professionals from 70 countries and regions attending the eight-day event. The AFM is one of the world’s largest and most important transaction-based film markets, where an estimated one billion dollars in production and distribution deals are transacted each year.
Every genre and subject
Films of every genre and subject — highend period dramas, family fare, slasher thrillers, animated kid pics and more — all rub elbows in screening rooms that show up to 300 movies each year. Valinda Rothman, a book publisher and newly-minted film producer, arrived at the AFM to sell the IP rights to a trilogy of children’s fantasy books, ‘Alex and the Circus of Secrets’. Kids and family films are box office gold in every territory in the world and proven IP in those genres is on everybody’s Christmas list this year.
From well-dressed to naked
Some 400 production and distribution companies and thousands more independent filmmakers plied their wares in the rarefied atmosphere of Santa Monica’s beachfront hotel row, touting completed films, packaged projects and naked scripts (scripts with no talent or money attached) in search of financing, talent and distribution. Christopher Sean, an Asian American actor best known for his work in ‘Star Wars Resistance’ and ‘Hawaii 50’, hit the AFM with producing partner Paul Hanson to sell their latest film, ‘Stage Fright’. It’s a horror thriller that also promotes an awareness of mental health.
The Rise of AVOD
AFM wrapped its five-days of Conferences with the dedicated 90-minute session, The Rise of AVOD, with all the major players in the space and moderated by Bruce Eisen, President, Digital Advisors.
Jeff Shultz, Chief Business Officer, Pluto TV, said, “The counter-intuitive model of television is most people don’t know what they want to watch. They stumble upon our James Bond channel or on Unsolved Mysteries. We identify the catalogue, we turn it into a linear channel and immediately it [the James Bond channel] was one of the top 5 channels of our 200 channels. Who would have known?”
Live TV experience
Anthony Layser, Vice-President, Partnerships & Programming, Xumo, said, “We’re offering a live TV experience for the non-cable subscriber. Xumo is creating an AVOD substitute for cable. We are seeing certain channels coming over and performing well on a space that was previously only on MVPDs.”
The tech beneath
According to Adam Lewinson, Chief Content Officer, Tubi TV, “We are a technology based company. We have to talk about the tech beneath the VOD world and about discovery. What I love about our tech is machine learning… the more we have a viewer watching, the more we understand their viewing behavior, the easier it is for us to feed recommendations and that’s where discovery happens. On Tubi every single day when I look at our data or internal ratings I see tons of indie movies performing at an incredibly high level and sometimes that’s a higher level than the brand name TV show or big studio feature.”
Julian Franco, Senior Director, AVOD, Vudu, said, “Most people go for free over paid…if you offer 10,000 movies available for free, chances are that most people just want to watch something to relax and unwind with.” He added: “People go for the free stuff, but a lot of our partners like Disney and Warner Bros. do a great job of creating demand for big blockbuster tent poles as well as independent films. They’re still really smart about how they release them so they will day-and-date them on TVOD sometimes and we will come in and license an AVOD window exclusively so we’ll take it on day 91 after the Home Entertainment window. This is the first year that we’ve seen that more people are engaging with free over a transaction, but the transaction is still a much larger piece of the overall revenue.”
First ever TV conference
AFM’s first-ever Television Conference was a sold out event with more than 600 attendees and featured executives from Disney, Lifetime, The History Channel, MarVista, and more and featured two session
Clash for eyeballs
Lauren Kisilevsky, Vice President, Original Movies, said, “Relateability, optimism, wish fulfillment, and emotional impact are goals for a DCOM.” “In an increasingly cluttered marketplace, we are competing for eyeballs against streaming services.” He added: “Made for TV movies is a clash of two cultures. We need to make content that appeals to both ends of our demographics.” He also said: “We are looking to make 3x the amount of movies we have made in the past…There is a greater need for more content to remain competitive.”
Tia Maggini, Vice-President of Programming, Lifetime Original Movies, said, “Lifetime has been around for 35 years. We have a very strong brand. They know what they are going to get when they go to Lifetime…We are looking for appointment viewers. We are still measured by what we can bring in on Saturday nights.” “We are tasked with making up to 50 movies a year. Our target audience is women ages 25-54… they want to be inspired, they want to go deeper into the stories, they want to relate to the characters. They want to go on an emotional rollercoasters.”
Mike Stiller, VP, Development & Programming, The History Channel, said, “History Channel is 25 years old this year. It is a huge accomplishment in television. We originally started as a spin-off of A&E.” According to Stiller, “We have done research–our viewers see themselves as explorers…What History desires to be, is the little pop-outs you see in history textbooks.”
Brad Krevoy, Producer, A Christmas Prince franchise, said, “There is a reason why the Hallmark Channel has increased ratings. Because they have a brand, and their movies fit that brand.” “Because of the economics [in Canada] we can shoot more days at a time.” Krevoy added: “In the 80s it was Pay TV, and in the 90s, there was the DVD, and now we have the streaming services…As a filmmaker you should assess each one of the streamers and see what each is looking for.” “These 5 years are going to be boom time. We have been spending a large amount of time researching to figure out what each of these streamers want and that’s where you come in…”
Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, President, American Cinema International, said, “What we found as a niche…for Netflix is urban titles. They want thrillers. Those stories that were already made with white actors, now for black audiences.”
Netflix, Disney & Fox
Tony Vassiliadis, Chief Operating Officer, MarVista Entertainment, said, “8-12% of the content on Netflix is Disney or Fox. That content that is going to go to Disney+. So we’ve been thinking how we fill those slots, fill in the gaps that start existing when all the major start to take their content exclusively for their streaming platform.”
Pierre David, ReelOne/Lance Entertainment (major producer of movies for Lifetime), said, “The good news is – you know ahead a time exactly what your movie is going to bring back. So you know what you can spend. Then you go foreign. You have a very specific marketplace and you have to make it with a certain margin of profit.”
Diversity in projects
The AFM in partnership with ReFrame, gathered leading independent executives and producers Glen Basner, CEO, Film- Nation Entertainment, Zanne Devine, CEO, Pacific Northwest Pictures & President, Montana Pictures, producer Cassian Elwes, and Monica Levinson, President of Production, ShivHans Pictures, and Jane Fleming, Partner, Court Five Productions, moderated a candid conversation on bringing diverse projects to the marketplace and audiences, the ability to get these stories financed, produced, and distributed whether theatrically or with a streaming platform, as well as what each is doing in their own companies and productions to change unconscious bias.
Glen Basner kicked off the conversation saying, “the independent financing model has shrunk but within the newer smaller pool, this year in particular, it feels like it’s coming back and is quite vibrant but vibrant in a different way because the traditional ways that international distributors are analyzing films has really changed.”
Basner also talked about measures he’s taken within his own company, saying, “We’ve created a diversity committee at FilmNation to progress our company. We’ve had the entire company take on unconscious biased training…we have revamped our hiring process to address unconscious bias.”
Producer Cassian Elwes said, “In 2019, the fact that we’re still talking about whether we should make movies with women or people of color is embarrassing!” “The studios have dumped the most appalling garbage onto us as cinema goers…Disney, great they are doing a lot of television trying to be diverse. I don’t see that in their future business. And I certainly don’t see it in the future business of the other studios.” “Now we’re letting in all of these streaming companies coming into the marketplace and that’s positive on some level because of the amount of money they’re bringing to the table.”
More is good
Zanne Devine, CEO, Pacific Northwest Pictures & President, Montana Pictures, said, “I think the massive amount of content is good because there’s many ways to interpret a hit or miss. Filmmakers are more open to exploring different platforms and ways of releasing a film.”
Each of the panelists has signed on to ReFrame, a joint initiative of the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles. The ReFrame stamp is a mark of distinction for projects that have demonstrated success in genderbalanced films.
Effie Brown, Producer, Duly Noted, Inc, on what is important in a pitch, said, “Why you are the person to do this story. And what emotionally resonates with you which usually makes the other person care.” He added: “[when pitching], You have to know your audience.”
Cassian Elwes, Producer, ELEVATED, said, “Part of what you do at AFM is to go out and meet people. Make sure you not only talk, but also listen.” On being pitched a story, Elwes said, “it is great when somebody gives me a one-liner or a little bit to begin with so I understand the story they are trying to tell.”
Importance of script supervisor
Randi Feldman, Founder, Cinema Workshops, said, “The script supervisor has thought of where we’ve been [within the story], where we are going, and how we can get to where the film needs to be.” “A script supervisor has to have a strong relationship with the director, producers, and writers to understand what they want accomplished. We have to be flexible to carry out their vision.”
Future of film rights
Arjun Mendhi, MIT Technologist & CEO, MTonomy, said, “Every film that we make today will live forever.” He added: “Streaming penetration in China is at 6%. Let’s envision a future where media content can live and grow autonomously… forever.”
Animals in film
Mark Harden, Senior Trainer, Animals for Hollywood, said, “First thing I do when I read a script is ask myself what is the animal’s purpose. Why is the animal needed in the script?” “Animals are just as important in script as a costume, prop, or actor.” Stating that “Animal trainers become brand representatives for a film,” Harden added: “We recommend bringing animals and their trainers to production meetings to get comfortable with your staff. Do a show & tell when introducing your animal trainers & animals to your production!”
Scott Roxborough, European Bureau Chief, The Hollywood Reporter, said, “Never has there been another time when there’s been more production, demand and money.”
Partners to filmmakers
Aaron L. Gilbert, Chairman & CEO BRON Studios, said, “We want to be good partners to filmmakers…we’re in a wonderful place with creators and filmmakers…We’re really looking at this business on a global level.”
Ashley Levinson, Chief Strategy Officer, BRON Studios, said, “There are so many platforms to tell stories…to be able to support that is something we are excited about.” “We know there is an audience, it’s a matter of telling the kinds of stories that can be able to reach that audiences.”
3 things about making movies
Jeffrey Greenstein, President, Millennium Media, Inc, said, “Making movies is about 3 things…story, story, and story.” “Your director is like your quality assurance, you actors help you sell the film and will really make it great. So it is really about those stories.”
Alan Siegel, President & CEO, Alan Siegel Entertainment, said, “The market demands theatrical. I believe people still want to go to the cinema…the business is very cyclical. Right now streaming is king…I think at some point the field is going to be leveled…you want to see a great movie in a theatre.”
Amy Friedlander Hoffman, Investor & Former Head of Business Development & Experiential Marketing, Uber, said, “The expectations that we have change so rapidly…so how do you make a connection with your consumers?”
Tim League, Founder & CEO, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, said, “It’s interesting to talk through it because there is a great war going on. We are supporting Netflix releases. If it’s a winwin situation for us then we’ll do it… Breaking Bad made sense. That’s one we did a day-and-date release for. We look to the studios as partners, we look to the streamers as partners.”
Erik Feig, Founder & CEO, PICTURESTART, said, “We are truly platform agnostic. It’s all about finding the right model for the right project and what makes sense for your story and your audience.”
Make something amazing, simple
Christian Parkes, Chief Marketing Officer, NEON, said, “It’s really does start with the audience…you can have the greatest story in the world, but if you don’t have an audience, you have nothing. The beauty of cinema is that it brings people together.” “Make something amazing but make something simple.”
According to Aron Levitz, Head of Wattpad Studios, Wattpad Studios, “It’s about understanding audiences but it’s also about what is driving them.” “We have the ability to tell everyone who read the book the dates that it is coming out in their country but we also have the ability to tell those who like similar content.”
Submissions are now open for the third edition of the MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards 2019, organised by Reed MIDEM.
Dedicated to championing and promoting diverse and inclusive content that can make an impact on wide audiences, the MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards will be held on Monday 14 October 2019. The world’s entertainment content market, MIPCOM takes place in Cannes, France from 14-17 October 2019.
Reed MIDEM also aims to ensure that MIP Markets have an inclusive atmosphere and support initiatives from different groups, bring new content creators and create new opportunities for them in the business, and support diversity in executive ranks and writers’ rooms to empower new generations.
“As the global TV industry event, one of MIPCOM’s missions is to push the agenda to encourage equal and positive representation – both in front of and behind the camera. We are so delighted to launch the 3rd edition of the MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards, which has quickly become one of the main highlights of the event,” said Laurine Garaude, Director of the Television Division at Reed MIDEM, which organises MIPCOM.
To achieve these goals, Reed MIDEM relies on the support and guidance of the MIP Markets Diversity Advisory Board, comprised of: Bunmi Akintonwa, CEO, Little Black Book Company; Sahar Baghery, Head of Business Development, Amazon Prime Video; Sean Cohan, President, Wheelhouse Entertainment & Chief Business Officer, Wheelhouse Group; David Cornwall, Managing Director, Scorpion Television; David Ellender, President, Global Distribution & Co-productions, Sonar Entertainment; Sallyann Keizer, Managing Director, Sixth Sense Media; David Levine, GM, Disney Channels UK; and Nick Smith, EVP Formats, All3Media International.
This year’s Diversity and Inclusion programme will feature major personalities who are speaking out to create more opportunities and enhance visibility for talent from diverse backgrounds. It will also highlight experts demonstrating the positive impact of diversity, and support a series of networking events bringing together various communities.
A key part of the programme, the MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards ceremony is an invitation-only event for some 200 leading TV executives. The winning shows will be chosen by charitable organisations and specialised publications that campaign for equality and inclusion (names to be announced soon), who will reward positive programming across the year that embraces representation in worthy shows. The deadline for submissions is 22 July 2019.
To be eligible, programmes must provide a fair and accurate representation of BAME, LGBTQ+ and disabled communities, stand out for originality and excellence in terms of storytelling, casting and production values, challenge stereotypes, and show a positive impact.
Episodes submitted must have aired within the past year (between 1 September 2018 and 21 July 2019) on a linear and/or non-linear platform (first broadcast of any season).
Programmes can be entered in one category only:
MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Award for Representation of Race and Ethnicity . Scripted . Non-Scripted
MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Award for Representation of LGBTQ+ . Scripted . Non-Scripted
MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Award for Representation of Disability . Scripted . Non-Scripted
MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Award for kids’ programming, across all genres
All submitted programmes will be reviewed by members of the MIP Markets Diversity Advisory Board, along with a panel of TV experts to be announced soon and Reed MIDEM’s editorial team.
Reed MIDEM is pleased to welcome back Diversify TV as partner of this year’s MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards.