The prevailing situation provides an opportunity to re-examine the processes and systems that determine how the film industry operates. Here’s how the trade can take the next step
Amar Butala, COO, Salman Khan Films
These are interesting times for the industry. The business is undergoing a transformation and studios are in ‘slow down’ mode. This will certainly be a period of correction.
For producers, it is imperative that we bring down the cost of production. The fees for actors and technicians have been inflated for long, and with the current slowdown, it will mean producers will carry a larger risk as fewer films get underwritten by studios.
Moving forward, we will need to structure more backend participation for talent. So if the film works they get additional fees, but big fees upfront will soon be a thing of the past. Another cost which continues to escalate is the marketing cost; in some cases, the cost of marketing a film is higher than the actual cost of production.
Since the dependence on revenue from the first week is so high, producers are being forced to spend money across media without any real post-release analysis on whether the spends are justified. Do the large spends on city visits convert to ticket sales?
TV is still a big cost centre but there’s little discussion on channel mix for different films. Instead, we have vanilla TV plans which we follow. Digital is still underused, while dependence on print continues, with huge spends on impact ads and listing ads.
There have been discussions to replicate the model of Tamil films, which have a limited window to market films, and the budget is agreed on – producers in Mumbai still haven’t been able to do this. With the slowdown of the studios, producers will need more influence in the marketing and distribution of their films. It’s only when we have more control will there be more transparency in distribution and syndication.
The bundling of rights isn’t going to work, the priority would be to slice our rights further for evolving platforms and to create premium windows we can monetise. The lack of screens continues to hurt. Our film Bajrangi Bhaijaan did a little over Rs.320 crore but the footfalls were around 3.5 crore. So 2015’s biggest film barely reached the population, and the reason is poor screen penetration.
We’ve reached a tipping point on ticket prices. So if we have to go past the Rs.400 crore and Rs.500 crore mark, we will need more screens. It’s the only way our films can reach a large population and generate more revenue.
If screen count doesn’t grow, film piracy will. We’re already seeing zero growth in footfalls in cinemas; only deeper screen penetration will ensure BO growth. Another casualty of this is when two films release on a big holiday weekend, they’re cannibalising each other and because the screens existing currently just aren’t enough, neither film is actually getting
Moving forward, we will see more and more films clash on the big holidays and it will mean smaller returns at the box office. This is further complicated in the exhibition space. With only three or four multiplex chains exerting clout, it will be interesting to see how discussions on producer shares evolve.
Dependancy on week 1 revenues is overwhelming. The challenges are even bigger with mid-size and small films, which struggle to get showcasing, and these films will find the going tougher than before.
For the creative part, we continue to struggle with scripts, and the script-writing process. Unlike in the West, where writers write and directors direct, in our industry, directors want to write their own films. This means a filmmaker will spend a disproportionate amount of time working on a single script, which might not actually get made, when instead he could be listening to a dozen pitches every month. Also, not all directors make good writers, and writers, who are actually the starting point of a film, aren’t given the respect they deserve, and they continue to be appendages of the director.
Hollywood and its magnificent ways are always a talking point with directors in India. It would be great if, like Hollywood, we could also learn to separate writing from directing – it would be a solid step to getting more quality scripts.