Team Box Office India in conversation with team Fox Star Studios – Vijay Singh (CEO), Shriram Krishnan (CFO), Shikha Kapur (CMO), Aalif Surti (Chief Creative Officer), Rucha Pathak (Head Creative and Development), Rohit Sharma (Head International Sales and Distribution), Kumar Sundaresan (Head National Distribution) and Parth Arora (Head Productions)
Vijay Singh (VS): Let me start by introducing the whole team. Shikha (Kapur) is our Chief Marketing Officer; Kumar heads our entire distribution in India; Aalif is our Chief Creative Officer; Rucha heads Development and Creative; Rohit heads International Sales and Marketing; Parth heads production, Sriram is our CFO; and if you need an introduction to me then I think you are in the wrong office! (Laughs)
I have no doubt that we have the best team in the industry. The key message is that we want to position ourselves as a creative studio and our functioning will be all about the diversity of the portfolio that we put together. And the best testament to that are films like Finding Fanny, Bang Bang and Bombay Velvet. No other studio has a portfolio as diverse as this.
Secondly, the significant change that is already showing results is our focus on development. Going forward, it will be all about trying to generate our own scripts and putting together projects from a development point of view. The best example of this is Jolly LLB and Bang Bang, where we start with a script and then assemble the project. So we get a director on board and then we get the cast on board. We also have our own production capabilities to invest in it. Obviously, we won’t be able to do that for every project but the intent is to increasingly move in that direction.
The third thing comes from the earlier point I made about development. I don’t think acquiring films is the route, going forward. Today, it’s all about pushing the envelope. We would walk away from a project if we need to rather than doing a film where you know from day one that your best bet is to break even.
BOI: How will you scale up? Since your focus is on producing, won’t that affect volumes?
VS: An ideal portfolio is having seven to eight Hindi films, and three to four Tamil films. In an ideal space, we would like to give all eight scripts ourselves. Now that may not happen in the next six months and we may engage in co-productions because of our relationships.
BOI: What are the benefits of producing yourselves as opposed to co-productions or acquisitions, for that matter?
VS: Acquisitions is about paying the upside plus price and I don’t think we are in the business of just facilitating projects and not making money from them.
BOI: Aalif and Rucha, is there a mandate for the quantity of films you want to produce or is there any particular kind of cinema that Fox Star would like to be associated with?
Rucha Pathak (RP): That’s one of the good things about Fox Star, that there are no hard and fast rules about the kind of films we want to make since we want to make all kinds of movies – high concept films and full on masala commercial films. I think we have to work in a scenario where we have to figure out the satellite aspect of things and we have to figure out the Censor Board aspect too. But, ultimately, we will be making all kinds of movies and there will be no mandate to make certain kinds of films.
VS: To have a successful building block in place, we need competencies in every function. It’s not about being strong in one area. It’s very clear business sense. We have been around for six years and we have had a huge amount of learning and I think to get to where we have and given the pipeline we have, which I believe is one of the most exciting in the industry, and all this in just six years, is testimony to the route we have taken. We have learnt, we have fallen, we have gotten up again. We have put in a lot in the last 15 months. Rucha and Aalif are now working on projects which will release in 2016, because our pipeline for the next year is already all well-defined.
Every function has to be the best in town. So, whether it’s marketing or development, whether it’s sales, India and internationally, every link we have created, I do believe that it’s the best and if you don’t agree, well… (Laughs)
This is THE Fox Star team now. Any past connection is irrelevant. The fact that all these people are sitting in this room proves we are doing something right.
BOI: Since every function of the business is important, do things start rolling from day one? So, if a script is under consideration, would, let’s say, Rohit offer inputs on its international potential or would you talk about the marketability of the film, and so on?
VS: Absolutely, and this is a process we are going to implement more and more. That process has always existed. When you are a smaller company, one may not meet to discuss everything. So when a deadline rolls around, you re-group and work towards achieving it together. As our oragnisation continues to grow, we are formalising things a little more. Before we green-light any project, everyone offers their inputs. There is a creative input, a marketing input, spends and estimates, and a distribution input too. So we map a low minus and an upside plus so that we are able to see the range of estimates.
Aalif Surti (AS): I have never heard Vijay talk so much.
VS: (Laughs) And I have only just started!
BOI: Aalif, this is like a second innings for you at Fox Star. Can you tell us how things have changed over the last few years?
AS: I have to quote Sridevi here. ‘It’s not a second innings, I was always here.’ No, I was working as a consultant in between so I was still connected with Fox. It’s like home to me. How is it different the second time… The first time, it was like a start-up. It was a very small company, with people walking into each other’s cabins to discuss things. We were figuring out how the industry worked. We are not delusional to have assumed that we could change the industry and show how business should be done.
Over the years, we built up competency and we are now in our sixth-to-seven year. Now we are shifting into the next gear. I agree with Vijay that it’s a great team. Rucha (Pathak) has been a great addition in terms of putting together projects. She has very strong experience even in production design and stuff like that. I think, overall, the people who have been around like Sriram, Vijay, me, Kumar and Rohit, have grown with the company in terms of our competency and then we added a certain competency recently, which has added to the overall team. That’s why I agree with Vijay that we have the best team.
Internationally, whether it’s Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures or even Fox Star International… it’s never about one person but about having the best team. And they really believe it’s the team that makes for longevity. Vesting everything in one person is just too risky.
VS: (Cuts in) I can hear the music now.
Shriram Krishnan (SK): (Laughs) When we started, it was such a small team and planning was always a challenge. Earlier, when we were rooting for acquisitions, it was a challenge to gather information from the market. Once you’re familiar with the industry, things become easier, and putting together everything and understanding what works and what doesn’t is much easier now. To add to what Vijay said… we will be able to push for projects, which we identify as breakout films.
At the end of the day, a studio’s goal is to make maximum profits when it breaks out and when it works.
BOI: You guys have been fairly successful in the Tamil industry. What plans do you have in this space?
SK: We are doing three to four projects there and we get lot of support from our partner Vijay TV. This helps us assemble the project better and they have good access with the stars. Moreover, the value of the channel is very high. Again, we are not in a hurry to say that we want to do the biggest and maximum number of films there or only films with superstars. The focus is completely on scripts, unless we all fall in love with a script and really want to make that film.
AS: All our five films have been directed by first-time directors. That made it interesting while choosing the right scripts and casting these films without falling into the trap of whether the director was saleable or not. We just asked ourselves whether he was right for the film. That’s why these films did well.
BOI: In terms of marketing in the regional space, is there is a separate team dedicated to that?
Shikha Kapur (SK): Currently it’s centralised although we do use partners who are equipped with that sensibility. But, strategically, it’s centralised.
BOI: And in terms of creative decisions on scripts in the regional market, what role do you play?
AS: We do it along with the Vijay TV team.
AS: I am really excited about having access to remakes of Fox films, which you can see in Bang Bang and Fault In Our Stars. I am even more excited about having access to Fox’s unproduced scripts, which I think is an unimaginable concept that… to read scripts they might have written for Tom Cruise to do but didn’t make into films.
VS: (Cuts in) It’s not that they are bad scripts but they cannot do more than 20 scripts a year.
AS: Since they develop scripts over five-six years, they are really good quality scripts written by the best writers in the world. Fox produces films in 11 countries, so we have access to hit films from Brazil, Mexico and other countries. I am really excited about this. And, as Vijay pointed out, this is what we can bring to the Indian film industry, as our involvement in a film project. Besides remakes, this is something we are looking forward to and it is something no other studios can offer.
BOI: How does it work? They send you the texts of the script?
AS: We have the access and we also get the actual script. We have a really good equation with the Los Angeles office and the flow of information is smooth. They are always buying the rights to books, sometimes a year and a half before the book hits the market. So they have access to a lot of material. For instance, in the case of Bang Bang, if Sidharth Anand had bought the rights to the Hollywood film from another source, he would have had access only to the DVD of the film and the script that is available online. But because the film is an official remake of a Fox film, he had access to all the drafts of the script, which had characters that didn’t work for the Hollywood version but which might suit Indian sensibilities.
Bang Bang is quite different from the original film and we have included quite a few interesting elements because had access to a lot of material. So when we do an official remake with the studio, it can add plenty of value to the process.