With every independent film release, we hear the same questions again and again – why are the tickets priced so high? Why there are no shows in my city? Why there’s no show at my time of preference? It’s always the story from our side. So here’s Shiladitya Bora of PVR Director’s Rare telling us the story from the other side. And the bigger question – why haven’t we seen a breakout indie in a long time? Are we just making indies and not the good ones? (Maybe we need to learn it from the French on how to do this. More here). Over to him.
I earn my livelihood by handpicking independent films for theatrical release.
As a part of my job, I receive, on an average, 3-4 independent feature film submissions/requests every week. Out of these 12-16 films we receive every month, about 90-95% films are very bad and do not even deserve a release on DVD-release, forget theatrical release.
With the advent of digital technology, making an independent film has almost become child’s play. So this 90-95% films that I refer to, are mostly experiments by amateurs in the digital medium. They record footage that is more than 60 minutes in length and feel they have made a feature, and a theatrical release is their birth right.
If every man with a video camera is Steven Spielberg, then I am surely Harvey Weinstein. But, then, I am not.
The remaining 5% of indies that make the cut, they get a small theatrical window in the form of a limited release in selected cities.
Now, an indie getting a limited release does not imply that it is the next best thing to happen after Citizen Kane, all it means that…
1. It is one of the better ones of what is available
2. There is a little bit of awareness of the film
3. It simply got lucky
4. It is backed with very strong recommendation. This may sound unfair but this is how the world functions. Otherwise, how do you think some of the disastrous films make it to the prestigious festivals?
And then, there are some genuinely good indie films that are unlucky.
What I consider my biggest failure was not being able to get a show for Kshay at a regular multiplex in Delhi during its theatrical run.
If Good Night Good Morning was made with Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, it would have been a super-hit. This doesn’t mean that Seema Rahmani and Manu Narayan are any less talented but this is how things are.
In addition to the above, there is one more type of indie films in our country.
These are made by people who started their careers as members of the crew/technicians and finally graduated into directing. Such indies mostly have known cast, technically and quality wise also are superior to the first timers, and when it comes to release, they generally get more number of shows than the others.
Now the big question is ..
How many shows per day a multiplex should give to an independent film?
If we go by the thumb rule of any business – that profit making should be the primary objective of the business – indies should NOT get a single show in multiplexes.
A mainstream film will any day earn more than an indie programmed at the same slot. Then why do multiplexes take initiatives to showcase indie cinema even by incurring losses?
The answer is corporate Social Responsibility. It’s a way of saying thanks to your ecosystem. It’s a goodwill gesture. Most of the independent filmmakers whom I have interacted with, they all loathe the mainstream, but one thing we all fail to realize is that indies can even think of getting a theatrical release only because multiplexes earn their revenues from the mainstream.
Now, let’s have a look of the costs involved in running one show at a multiplex in Mumbai irrespective of whether one person is sitting inside or a houseful show.
1. Mall Rental Charges
2. CAM – Common Area Maintenance charges
3. Electricity Charges
4. Xenon Lamp charges – this is calculated on the average life of the projector lamp
5. Human resource costs
6. Miscellaneous costs – this may include the huge volume of complimentary tickets that needs to be given to law enforcing agencies every month for running a multiplex.
In addition to the above we should also note the 31.03% applicable tax (Mumbai) on Gross Box Office (45% of Net Box Office receipts).
As per the data available, the occupancy percentage for the best performing/well-known indie films is not more than 25%, making screening of indies a direct loss making proposition for multiplexes.
The setting up of a multiplex is a highly CAPEX driven business and tax rebate/holiday is given as in the case of other infrastructure based industries.
The main idea is to attract investors/foster entrepreneurship and I am not very sure how much valid a reason it is to demand a dedicated auditorium showing indie cinema only.
Initiatives to support the cottage film industry of the country should be voluntary decisions and demanding it from corporates who are already doing their bit, seems unfair. I am sure we do not want reservations in our highly talent-driven film industry.
The next big question : Is there a scope of dedicated theatres screening independent films only?
To be honest, I do not have an answer to the same right now. The answer lies in finding the latent demand for indies. Instead of emotionally supporting anything that sounds like a rebel, sometimes without a cause, we need figures to arrive at an answer.
How many DVDs of independent films actually sell? How many legal and torrent downloads? How many actual tickets sell when these films get a limited theatrical release?
What needs to be our primary focus is how to make good/great indies. This is where we are lacking the most. Films that breakout through important international festivals, win awards and accolades which will automatically lead to buyers in other countries too. Crack that code and we will survive here too. Still in doubt? Scroll up and read the French link again.
Shiladitya Bora manages Director’s Rare, a PVR initiative to promote Independent Cinema.
Pic Courtesy – Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009