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Making money on the move
Remember the recent Road, Movie? You're forgiven if you don't remember anything other than its ridiculous name. One that it's really lived up to. Having been to Toronto, Sundance and Berlin to promote its business interests, the film is one of the most widely travelled movies in recent times. "Festivals are great platforms for business tie-ups, " says Sandeep Bhargava of Indian Films, the producers of Road, Movie. "At each major festival that we screened the film, we found a business partner who is, today, extremely crucial in recovering costs. All major global distribution firms have a keen eye on Indian content. Right now, it's very hot in international markets, " he adds.
Indian filmmakers have smartened up to the potential of international film festivals. Prestigious festivals across the globe are not just a source of recognition and acclaim, but have started being consequential to the business model of a certain kind of cinema. Aamir Khan Productions' Peepli Live, a humorous take on the plight of a farmer, has benefited from platforms like the Berlin film fest. Road, Movie has been picked up by Robert De Niro's Tribeca Films for a mainstream US release. The film has also found mainstream distributors in Australia, New Zealand and Germany. Even though this film collected only about Rs 1. 5 crore from its Indian release, these mainstream releases (which it secured through festivals) ensured the movie recovered its costs and more. "After Slumdog Millionaire, international sales agents and distribution houses are keenly looking at Indian content at festivals, " says Bhargava. "Slumdog created a stir at Toronto, where it was released. Fox picked the film up from there and the rest is history, " he adds.
Another commercial benefit of festivals is the royalty that they pay for the screening of a film. While this sum may not be much when compared to the budget of the film, collected over several festival platforms, it can contribute substantially to recovery for a low budget film. While big film festivals don't pay royalty, the smaller and upcoming ones do pay the producer a fee for screening a film. The festival also sponsors the travel and lodging of the cast and crew, often a substantial amount.
Over the years, filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap have been travelling to film festivals, trying to create a market for his kind of films. "I've managed to penetrate the non-Indian diaspora market, " he says. Kashyap's film Udaan (directed by Vikram Motwane) is the only Indian film to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival. "Within a day of that announcement, sales agents and distributors from Europe contacted us, " says Kashyap. "Vikram and I wrote the film back in 2005, when we were working on Gulaal. Nobody believed in the idea and we finally had to do everything ourselves, with help and finance from my builder friend Sanjay Singh, who is also co-producer. Udaan is a lowcost film and the Cannes selection means we should be able to make great sales and open up a non-diaspora European market that is otherwise non-existent for Indian films, " he adds. Kashyap's That Girl in Yellow Boots might also recover its monies before it sees an India release. "The idea is that when these films release in India, the monies to be recovered on them should be zero, " he explains. "That way anything we collect will be counted as profit."
Of course this revenue model gives the movie maker the freedom to experiment, push more boundaries and make the films they want to. "Not what the likes of trade dinosaurs (who should be extinct by now) dictate and talk of, " says Kashyap
Taking your film to a festival is not easy, rues producer-actor GK Desai. "International film festival curators visit India on a regular basis to watch films and pick them up, " he says, adding that in most cases, films that are picked up are hard-hitting, gritty and dark. "My film Gaali was picked by Cecillia Cossio of the Venice Film Festival at the NFDC, " says Desai. Another of his films, called A Dog (starring Harsh Chhaya), was shortlisted at Cannes. Though not in the final selection, the movie is already generating interest.
Desai agrees that smaller films can recover their cost at a festival. "My first short film, The Opportunist, was screened at the short film corner at Cannes. It was also the first Indian short film to be released in Tokyo theatres by the Media Plaza Inc, distributors who picked up the film through the Con-Can Film Festival in Tokyo.
I had an agreement with the distributors and recovered my investment over a period of two years, " he says. The biggest advantage one can get from a film festival, says Desai, is the Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Venice or Locarno festival stamp on the DVD cover. "That stamp gives you the cutting edge advantage over other movies. It also brings your film onto the radar of real movie enthusiasts, " he says.
Meanwhile, even the big players have caught on to the festival film bandwagon. IM Global, a well known name for sales and distribution of films on the festival circuit, has been taken over by Reliance and will be selling both Raavan and Kites in the overseas market. "There's a lot of interest in both films and we plan to market them in nontraditional markets, including Latin America, Scandinavia and Europe, " Stuart Ford, CEO of IM Global told TOI-Crest from Cannes. "The terrific sales on Kites, including a number of big territories with minimal Bollywood track record, confirm our feelings that the films being produced in India today are ready to take their place on the worldwide stage, " Ford told an international film magazine.
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