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The recent Screen Writers Conference discussed issues faced by writers and how things can change for the better for these industry professionals

It was an eclectic gathering of industry professionals, some stalwarts, others novices, but mostly screen writers looking to hone their craft. The occasion was the fourth edition of the annual Screen Writers Conference organised by the Film Writers Association (FWA) at the St Andrew’s Auditorium in Bandra, Mumbai.

The theme of the conference this year was ‘So Near, So Far: Do Our Stories Reflect India’s Reality?’ Some of the subjects discussed were Changing Gender Equation In Film; Writers & Producers: Partners or Adversaries?; Writers’ Rights: Are Agents And Lawyers The Answer? and The Business of TV Writing – Making of the Writer.

The panel discussion was instrumental in getting filmmakers and writers together, helping them understand each other’s perspectives and giving them an opportunity to air their differences. One of the most anticipated panel discussions was Changing Gender Equation In Film moderated by Sanyukta Chawla. The panel had writers Juhi Chaturvedi, Tushar Hiranandani and Sudip Sharma, who discussed why the industry needs more women writers.

Kamlesh Pandey, General Secretary of FWA, said, “We are making good films but the quantity is still very less. I believe the ‘70s was the year of writers; they were real authors. Now we need quality work in Indian cinema. That was the era when the actual India was shown in cinema and we still don’t forget those films. Every time we watch them, we can’t stop praising them. That’s how cinema should be.” Pandey also stressed the importance of writing more about rural India.

There was also a session with television writers, where the discussion centred on the importance of quality control. The participants also felt that the number of days of daily soaps should be cut down.

Anjum Rajabali, the man behind films like China Gate, Raajneeti, Ghulam and Pukar, moderated a session with corporate honchos including Ronnie Screwvala, Siddharth Roy Kapur and Ritesh Sidhwani, where they discussed the topic, Writers And Producers: Partners or Adversaries?.

Screwvala, who is making a comeback to films after four years, said filmmaking is a passion and team work, where the producer is the team leader and has to manage the entire team. “We are part of a team, when a writer approaches us with a film, we all are part of a team. A team leader’s job is to solve everybody’s problems and, in a collective sense, everyone needs to solve it together,” he said.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, MD and CEO of Disney India, agreed. He said, “I think the most important part is to get away from the preconceived notions of what each side needs to be doing. I think, over time, sure there have been issues that writers face and I am sure they still face them, about getting adequate credit, about being paid on time and about being treated in a certain way. On the other hand, producers face disciplinary problems, scripts not being submitted on time and with the quality of writing.”

On quality scripts, something the industry badly needs, Kapur said, “We should not look at people in view of their age. He/she might be young or old, inexperienced or experienced but we should look at the quality of work rather than judge them by how old they are. They might be very young but they might be very bright.”

Ritesh Sidhwani of Excel Entertainment said that at his production house, they meet new writers all the time and what they look for is outstanding story ideas. “As Siddharth correctly mentioned, preconceived notions should be set aside. I look at writers as people who give me the opportunity to go out and
do what I enjoy. So, the fact that I have fun while shooting is all because of writers. And we have always worked with new talent.”

The best example was offered by Screwvala, who said he meets the same kind of people when it comes to writers and start-ups. “It all starts with ‘I have an idea’ as is the case with someone who wants to become an entrepreneur and who too says ‘I have an idea’. That’s where the hunt for a director and production house begins for a writer or an investor looking for a start-up. The ecosystem is quite similar. So it’s very important for a writer to understand ‘where I am in the eco-system’.”

Rajabali pointed out that writers believe they are not always heard by producers compared to, say, a cinematographer. So the fight for rights will continue but getting everyone on board and discussing contentious issues and how things can change for the better was the primary motive behind this conference.

However, the most hotly debated topic of the evening focused in the gulf between writers and producers, with writers always feeling that they are not given due credit. While pointing out that these are issues film industries across the world face, Kapur pointed out, “I think today you are mostly entering into an equation in an adversarial manner. What happens is that writers have their own perception towards producers and vice versa. We need to break through that and look at each other as individuals. There has been a dramatic shift in the way each party has dealt with the other and that too in a positive direction.”

This was the fourth seminar held by the organisation and in the coming years they plan to go wider. As Pandey added, “We are airing the issues and trying to make writers prominent. Because this is all we can do as far as any action of remedy is concerned for writers. Also I am proud to say that this is the only conference where such issues are discussed with so much seriousness. And this year’s turnout proves that the industry wants to work for the betterment (of writers).”

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