Sep 6, 2008

Business - BIG Pictures & Big Plans

Big Pictures, the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group company, with a presence in film entertainment, broadcasting and new media ventures, is busy exploring tie-ups with regional directors, whether mainstream or ?arty? because, it feels, ?every director has a certain viability.?In the Hindi film space, two co-productions are on the anvil — Daddy Cool with Maruti Pictures and Do Not Disturb with David Dhawan and Vasu Bhagnani. Big Pictures has a rights acquisition deal with Excel Entertainment for Luck By Choice and is working on its own production, Sikander, which is being directed by Piyush Jha. All four films will release from January 2009 onwards. The company is investing over Rs 1,000 crore over the one-and-a-half years in films. Mahesh Ramanathan, COO, Big Pictures, shares the company?s plans with Madhumita Mookerji of DNA Money. Excerpts:Has corporatisation helped improve efficiencies in the film industry? First, fundamentally, there is now a lot more focus on marketing and distribution. Films today are reaching far deeper. Secondly, a more organised approach is being adopted in film-making — the schedules are more well-planned, scripts are getting locked well in advance. Earlier, scripts used to be written during shoots. There is now more collaboration between the studio, which markets and distributes the film, and the creator. Earlier, directors made films out of passion. Now business is at the forefront. Making a film is important, but making it a success is more important. Previously, films were being funded by individuals… now clean money from organised sources have entered film production which is making it easier for the creative people to experiment. Rock On and Singh is Kinng have been big successes. How has the revenue mix been? Has more money come from abroad or India? There is a trend of growing overseas collections. This is mainly because, one, we have got a very good distribution system. Secondly, we are very big in the exhibition space. Under Adlabs, we own 250 screens in the US and 50 screens combined in Malaysia and Singapore. We plan to add more screens in the US. There are 18,000 screens in the US. Compared with that, there are 12,000 screens in India. However, that is inadequate in terms of the population. About 1,000 films are produced in 17 languages per annum in our country against say 225 films produced per annum in the US. How much of a role does distribution play in the success of a film? Has the distribution chain changed with the entry of corporates? With the exhibition space growing, more distributors are entering this area. However, the role of the distributor will have to evolve, because, now production companies have the ability to go to the theatres and book directly. So far, distributors took the risk by paying a guarantee. This risk can now be taken by the production companies themselves. But, traditional distributors will not go out of business because they have local knowledge of the market and the ability to reach remote areas. How is the Indian film industry doing? It is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 18% over the last five years. Now that?s double India?s GDP growth rate. Can this growth be sustained? Yes, of course. The Indian box office is the largest in terms of admissions or ticket sales, at 3.5 billion per annum. In the US, admissions are at 1.5 billion per annum. But, in value terms, the Indian film industry falls much behind the US. We enjoy just 1.5% share of the global film industry. But that is where the opportunity for growth lies. You have signed deals with several Hollywood talents. What is the plan? We have signed development deals with Nicolas Cage?s Saturn Productions, Jim Carrey?s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney?s Smokehouse Productions, Brad Pitts?s Plan B Entertainment and Jay Roache?s Everyman Pictures. Now we will take these partnerships to the next level — we will greenlight some of the scripts. Will these be joint productions? We will decide on that later. Our overall plan is to have a development fund of $1 billion in these partnerships. What sort of a growth blueprint has Big Pictures envisaged? We are in the process of creating a very different motion picture slate, which will be pan-India in character. We are the only studio actively producing films in nine languages. We plan to work with the best creative talent and make good quality films. We are working with Shaaji Karun in a Malayalam film, Cheran in a Tamil Nadu film and M S Sathyu in Kannada. With Amol Palekar, we are working on a Marathi film and Govind Bhai Patel for a Gujrati movie. In Bengal, it?s Rituparno Ghosh and Buddhadev Dasgupta. For the Indian film slate, we have earmarked in excess of Rs 1,000 crore over the next one-and-half years. What is the trick to make movies that give good returns? A lot needs to be done at the script level. Scripts are the key to success. To invest in a good script, we need to work with the best directorial talent. We also need to have an organisation that can connect with consumer preferences, track viewership on genres and give feedback to the creative team which can be worked on for developing concepts. Is India moving towards production efficiencies found in big Hollywood studios? We have set up a production service team under Adlabs, which will invest in production infrastructure and production services. We have acquired a majority stake in the Nitin Desai Studio at Karjat. We are also building studio facilities in Goregaon ( in Mumbai) with shooting floors etc. The lab infrastructure is already in place. We?ll establish one of the finest post-production services under Adlabs with a 4K digital intermediate facility for colour corrections etc. Can Indian IT talent be leveraged for special effects? Yes. In fact, at Adlabs, we are setting up one of the world?s best special effects facilities. It?s in the process of being implemented and will take a year to be operational. Plans are afoot to have an integrated studio set-up.

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