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Guild-Edged Partnership

A new collaboration between the Producers Guilds of India and the US heralds a new age of cooperation between the two markets in all kinds of media. This two-way street gives filmmakers reason to cheer

The Producers Guild of India (PGI) and Producers Guild of America (PGA) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ‘formalize their long-standing association and to commit to building a strong collaborative system of mutual exchange, assistance and cooperation between the film, television and new media sector of India and United States of America.’ To find out more about what this collaboration entails, Nitin Tej Ahuja exchanged notes with Kayvan Mashayekh, Co-Chair, International Committee, Producers Guild of America, and Siddharth Roy Kapur, President, Producers Guild of India. Excerpts from the interaction:

 What are the key objectives of the recently announced alliance and how do each of you see this relationship helping your respective sets of members?

Kayvan Mashayekh (KM): The objective is to set into motion relationships that will eventually bear fruit for the membership of both organisations. 

Siddharth Roy Kapur (SRK): The primary objective of this alliance is to work together with the PGA to create an ecosystem that can provide a platform for the production and creative fraternities in both the countries, to share ideas, expertise and best practices. I will be delighted if this alliance can help members of the PGA and PGI explore new avenues for creative and business collaborations.

 With the MoU now in place, what happens next? Is there a road map of activities/events that will follow?

KM: Since the document has just been signed, we are looking forward to discussing the next steps. Hopefully, I will be having a series of meetings during the Cannes Film Festival, to see where the ‘low hanging fruit’ synergies are that we can build on effectively, step by step.
SRK: To my mind, the next step is to create opportunities for members to have a constructive dialogue directly or through both the Guilds. At the same time, in order to make the alliance achieve the desired results, the Guild representatives in India and USA should be encouraged to formally participate in various industry initiatives organised by PGA and PGI.

 Does encouraging and facilitating Indo-American co-productions fall under the ambit of your new partnership?

KM: Encouraging, most definitely. Facilitating is an overly broad term, but if there’s an opportunity amongst our members to help our colleagues, we certainly hope so.
SRK: Formal co-productions are usually covered under an official co-production treaty signed between the Governments of the two countries. In the absence of an official co-production treaty between USA and India, this alliance can surely help cultivate a conducive, structured mechanism to facilitate new partnerships between producers and the creative talent of both the industries.

To the extent that both industries also compete with local productions in each other’s markets, could that lead to any obstacles/hesitation in sharing information and best practices with each other?  

KM: If you’re referring to the hesitation to share film practices and information, we always welcome efficiency in our business. Technology has streamlined many aspects of our industry and we are always keen on sharing those with our membership while learning from others. Also, there is no overly intrusive government regulation. However, on the labour front, the other guilds with collective bargaining power, such as SAG/AFTRA or WGA, have their own strict rules regarding engagement for their members and it’s always best to be aware and respectful of them before starting any project in the US.

Regarding obstacles with regard to competition, it is worth noting that in the US, TV and film is a mature, hyper competitive free market and your audience will let you know quickly whether your content has legs or not. Fortunately, in our platform-agnostic world today, something that is forgotten in one medium can find life via streaming long after it was initially introduced. Monetisation of that content for the creators is the greatest challenge along with the battle against piracy. It’s also worth mentioning that if your product is theatrical, you had better have deep pockets for a P&A campaign to kick off your waterfall downstream, but that may be going too far from your question, from my understanding.

SRK: I don’t see any kind of competition by collaborating with one another. In fact, this will create a healthy business production environment by understanding each other’s markets with less hindrances and sharing expertise and best practices would only help build strong business benefitting both industries.  USA is one of the most mature content industries and there is a lot for our industry to learn from. We can not only adopt best practices from each other but also work together on many areas of partnerships involving creativity, productions and technology and support each other in protecting content and building monetisation capabilities.

Mr Kapur, as a leading and active Indian producer who previously headed the Indian operations of the world’s largest studio, Disney, you have a first-hand understanding of the way the film industry operates here in India vis-a-vis the film making culture/process in Hollywood. In your opinion, how do the two industries differ and in what ways are they similar?

SRK: The economics of filmmaking in Hollywood are very different from that of the Indian film industry. The films are bigger in scale, and they are made with a focus on a global audience. The result is that these films find resonance with movie-goers across the world and shape mainstream popular culture. This has not been our approach in Indian cinema thus far as we have been focused on catering to our own audiences, but the performance of some of our films in non-diaspora markets – like Dangal in China and The Lunchbox in Europe and the US – shows that over time, our stories will also travel wider. 

At the heart of the movie-making process is storytelling, which works across boundaries, languages and formats. In both the US and the Indian film industries, the singular dedication towards the filmmaking craft and the creative processes are similar. The passion and energy with which the film fraternity – be it actors, producers, directors or technicians – cherish the work they do, makes these diverse communities ultimately the same.

Mr Mashayekh, how is the Indian film industry viewed in America, assuming it is on the radar at all?

KM: I must admit, from my point of view, I have always been a huge fan of Yash Raj Films’ distribution strategy since they are phenomenal in focusing their content for their tailored audience in smaller markets in the US. On a larger national scale, there is still room to grow.

Recently, we have seen some pretty high-profile Indian talents – Deepika Padukone, Irrfan, Priyanka Chopra, to name a few – appear in American productions, be it films or TV. What role, if any, can such creative collaborations play in bringing together the two industries?

KM: Despite how the US is sometimes portrayed in the media negatively, whether self-inflicted or not, it is still a nation of immigrants. It is a quilt of ethnicities that constantly evolves. As an Iranian American, who was born in Iran and raised in the US and now chairing the International Committee of the Producers Guild of America, it should be crystal clear that we embrace the concept of Diversity and Inclusion of under-represented communities.

In that vein, Indian culture has always contributed vastly in many areas to the growth of the US as evinced in the areas of science, technology, medicine and many others. So, it is also natural that creative talent will flow from that to the screen and be fully integrated in films and TV shows that necessitate authenticity in character and storylines. 

SRK: The success and appreciation of the Indian talent over the years in many international markets including America is extremely encouraging for us. On top of it, this alliance would further help many other creative and technical professionals and services from both countries to collaborate much more to work on exciting content together for the mainstream markets across the globe. The audio-visual industry has always been a major force behind promoting culture and tourism through showcasing stories and locations. The opportunities are endless and to encash them, we require global partnerships, which this alliance can bring in.

The press release announcing the collaboration made a very specific reference to new media in addition to films and television. What role do you see the likes of Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video – who are investing heavily in Indian content and audiences – in contributing to the goals of your alliance? 

KM: Netflix and Amazon are game-changers in our industry and should be applauded for putting so many producers to work, not just from our membership, but producers in other countries around the world. According to a recent study by Media Partners Asia reported in Hollywood Reporter, ‘India is arguably the hottest and most contested front in the battle among Netflix, The Walt Disney Co and Amazon for international streaming dominance — with the winner set to gain the upper hand in a television and digital video market projected to be worth roughly $18 billion by 2023.’ 

 The report goes on to say: ‘India’s online video audience reached 225 million in 2018, a figure that KPMG projects will double over the next five years to 550 million — a user base 67 percent larger than the entire population of the United States (where the number of online video users stands at 227.5 million).’

Anyway, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize the opportunities for collaboration on some level despite any challenges that may come about. Thankfully, producers thrive in that environment of finding solutions in ecosystems where opportunity meets challenges. This is why I was keen in doing my part to push this initiative forward for our guild with members of our committee.

SRK: The new media industry is already making a huge impact the world over, including in India, and providing enormous opportunities for content creators at every level. The focus on India by Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video is an example of the potential India has not only as a consumption market but also of the talent we possess. The strong emergence of Indian players in the new media business such as Jio, Eros Now, Zee5, ALT Balaji and others is truly remarkable with a clear objective to address the mass Indian market.

These are exciting times for content makers to create ground-breaking content on OTT platforms catering to audiences from niche to mass segments. We expect that the alliance with PGA would indeed help Indian content makers to work together with their US partners to innovate better and distribute globally.

India is already a busy back-office/outsourced facility for a lot of American entertainment productions in the technical/VFX domain. Is growing this activity something that you are looking at under the new collaboration? 

 KM: We certainly hope so. One of our main sponsors of the International Committee’s activities worldwide is powerhouse VFX firm, Pixomondo. Their belief in our organization by helping us create networking activities and opportunities for our membership is a testament to how we help each other move forward.

SRK: There are many Indian VFX, animation and technology companies working with global partners and producers. At the same time, many large Indian productions are engaging international talent and technological facilities including America. I am extremely hopeful that this collaboration with PGA will proliferate further growth in the technical/VFX sphere between both the sides. 

Finally, to what extent is the PGI-PGA alliance aided/influenced by the larger and increasing confluence/overlap of US-India relations on a geopolitical and economic level? 

KM: I don’t believe it has been aided/influenced on any geopolitical level. Personally speaking (and this is my opinion only and not necessarily the PGA’s), MoUs and any other written agreement is not worth the paper they are written on unless the relationship is there. You cannot have collaboration in a vacuum. It is based on trust and delivery of mutual promises of the individuals who believe in the long-term goal of creating, nurturing and maintaining relationships built on achieving something where both parties win. Only then can the true measure of these initiatives be measured in the long run. I’m certainly optimistic from our end.

SRK: This alliance with PGA is purely based on the need to create newer opportunities and at the same time to build on the existing interests and relationships in both the countries. The major US studios have a significant presence in India across the media and entertainment industry by focusing on Hollywood content as well as investing in local Indian content production across languages. At the same time, North America is among the most significant international consumption markets for Indian content with a strong Indian diaspora population. With so many existing interests between both the industries and the possible opportunities in new media and technology, I see this alliance as a natural progression to build this further.

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