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Filmmakers review projects to cut costs

The biographical drama Shakuntala Devi, which was released directly on Amazon Prime Video last July, has taught the film’s co-producer Abundantia Entertainment several lessons. They have put the lessons to good use in their latest projects—Vidya Balan-starrer Sherni and a horror film titled Chhori.

The editing and post-production of Shakuntala Devi had been done remotely, with the director, the producer and the editor locked up in three different parts of the world. It proved that the film business relied far too much on physical interaction. Except for shooting, which requires actors and directors to be physically present on location, the Shakuntala Devi experience showed that several hidden costs could be circumvented.

“The pandemic has been a wake-up call for all film-makers to look at smarter and cost-effective ways of creating content,” Vikram Malhotra, founder and chief executive officer at Abundantia said. These changes require studios and producers to go back to the drawing board and take a relook at the way scripts are written. “We all have to start building in production efficiency, and that means a massive relook at cost structures,” Malhotra added.

To be sure, like Abundantia, several Bollywood companies are reworking cost structures and trying to eliminate extraneous expenses for future film projects. These projects would include budgets for covid-safety protocols. Also, many feel that bigger commercial films may be required to bring audiences back to theatres, and that would cost money.

From curtailing the number of people required on sets, to reducing the need for physical space, such as offices or editing suites for work that can be done remotely, to remodelling marketing campaigns and reducing promotional spends on certain media, these changes are being brought in at a pre-production level. Basic things such as avoiding large crowds will now be factored in at the scripting stage.

“A lot of costs have risen since production has been stalled, we have to ensure medical support and sanitization, we can’t shoot with crowds so VFX work has increased. It requires much pre-planning and takes longer, plus we’re working with smaller crews so we can’t achieve the same output over the same period of time,” Shibasish Sarkar, group chief executive officer at Reliance Entertainment said.

Marketing and promotional campaigns will return in a completely new avatar— there will be no multiple city tours, big events, large physical interactions between stars and the media and TV spending, too, will be drastically lower, Sarkar added.

Studios are also trying to negotiate with digital service providers to reduce VPF (virtual print fee) costs. VPF is a cost borne by producers to show their films using digital projectors and technology. This fee is paid to digital service providers (DSPs) such as UFO Moviez, and comes at a price of between 12,000 and 15,000 per screen, per show.

“In fact, we may start questioning if all films we make are meant for theatres and the number of movies we make each year for cinemas may come down,” Sarkar said, and added that far more offerings may be made for streaming platforms, thereby cutting down on publicity and advertising expenses. In fact, web content will be crucial to company strategies now, Malhotra said.

Larger-than-life, commercial films, be they drama, comedy, horror or thriller, or any kind of high-scale content will find more takers, even among OTT platforms that have now begun to seek mass-market content, said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films.

Many of these require big, saleable stars that would previously command an unreasonably high fee. Producers such as Malhotra and Sarkar said several stars are far more understanding of how the economics stack up now, given the clogged project pipeline and theatrical shutdown, and the fact that the financial risk needs to be distributed better for films to get made in the first place.

“Everyone sees themselves as a brand now and is willing to come on board, have a greater creative say and take a share in equity (instead of an upfront fee),” Kumar added. Live Mint

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