With the release of Ship Of Theseus, we are not only debating its merit (here and here) but another conversation has started on social media – about ticket prices. Why is it so expensive? Should indie tickets be less expensive? Is it even possible? Well, we do believe that if a film is great, it’s worth the ticket price. But if you are still bothered about the price, here’s Shiladitya Bora on why it isn’t so easy to control ticket prices.
To be brutally honest, no one (and that includes me as well) genuinely knows what is the best way to distribute an Indian Indie in India. The revival of Indian Independent film industry has just started and it is currently in a very nascent stage. We all are experimenting and trying to identify the best case scenario factoring all the constraints (read quality of the film, limited appeal, limited marketing budget and resources etc). There is no one single formula applicable for all Indies and each film requires a customized plan. While owning theatres/ screens (like in case of PVR) helps a bit to screen indie content; other distributor(non cinema owners) mostly rely on relationships built over years with programmers and cinema chains to be able to screen indies.
Whenever an indie releases we see people starting endless debates on the social media platforms with respect to shows, show-timings, ticket prices etc. In order to make the most out of these debates it is of pivotal importance to first have our basics right.
1. So who actually decides how many shows to be allocated to an indie and in which theatres?
For an indie releasing on a Friday, on the preceding Monday the distributor send show requests (wish list in terms of cities, theatres, number of shows, show timings) to the programming teams of various cinema chains. The concerned programming teams then works out a tentative showcasing plan based on factors like the number of films releasing on that particular Friday, performance of last week releases, expected target audience of the film, past performance of similar indies etc. This tentative schedule is then shared with Cinema Operations Team for final approval.
Cinema Operations – Each theatre is managed by a cinema manager who has a target to achieve in terms of number of admits, ATP (average ticket price), SPH (sales per head) – a daily target, weekly target, monthly target, quarterly target and annual target. The career of a cinema manager is directly proportional to these targets and hence all his/her efforts are focused on optimizing the same.
Statistics show that the performance of Indian Indies is abysmally poor in all the three parameters – admits, ATP and SPH and hence not many cinema managers are keen on showcasing Indies at his/her property. So if we want Indies to be released in as many theatres as possible, we need to make the people who run the cinemas confident about the product and this is possible only when a few Indies start performing.
So we come to the next big question on ticket pricing.
2. How is ticket pricing decided?
Every cinema has to operate within price bands pre-approved by the government and no theatre can sell tickets below the lowest price band. The best thing an indie distributor can do is to request the respective cinemas to run the film on the lowest price band and it’s at the discretion of the individual cinemas/ Operations to agree to the request or not.
In addition to the above there is a regular pricing and a blockbuster pricing. Blockbuster pricing is applicable during weeks of tentpole/ big releases and in case an indie is releasing in a week with a tentpole film, blockbuster pricing is applicable to the indie as well in most cases.
We are trying to work out a special discounted price band for Indies released through Director’s Rare.
Another solution can be government waiving off the E.Tax for Indies but for that we need clear cut guidelines to define a film as an independent film.
3. At PVR Director’s Cut, Vasant Kunj, Delhi, the ticket price of an Indie is above Rs. 1000. Why?
First of all I would like to clarify that PVR Director’s Cut and PVR Director’s Rare are 2 different things. PVR Director’s Cut is a super luxury premium theatre located at Vasant Kunj, New Delhi where as PVR Director’s Rare is a banner for theatrical distribution/ showcasing of niche content.
Director’s Cut being a premium theatre, not only Indies but every film is at a premium price. This is like the Business class of an airline and we have a dedicated clientele for this property.
Now the question is if Director’s Cut is a premium property, what is the point of releasing an Indie there?
There are a few reasons for the same.
First it has always been a struggle to get screens for an Indie in Delhi as most of the multiplexes in Delhi have 3-5 screens which is not enough when compared to the number of films releasing in a particular week unlike that in Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune etc.
In PVR Director’s Cut, there is one dedicated auditorium for showing alternate content and hence we always get a show there. And I have always believed that it is better to release the film in Director’s Cut rather than not releasing the film in Delhi at all. In most of the cases we release the film simultaneously in PVR MGF Mall/ PVR Ambience Mall etc, which are regular priced cinemas.
Also if we analyze the total box office earnings of an indie in most cases (not all), a major percentage of the collections is from PVR Director’s Cut. This is because the producer’s earnings on a ticket of Director’s Cut after tax are almost 3-4 times as compared to a regular cinema.
4. In Delhi, the spread of theatres for Indies are mostly limited to South Delhi. Why is this so?
We have to understand one thing that when a film is released, there is a cost attached to it. For releasing a film in one show in one theatre, the total expense on content comes to around INR 18000 per property per week ( INR 14000 Virtual print fee + 12.3% tax + INR 2000 for cloning and cargo). For a producer to recover this cost on content, we need net box office sale of close to INR 40-45000 for that particular property. So as of now it is really not a very good decision to release such niche content in theatres other than in South Delhi. May be in future once the market matures, we will be able to spread the reach all over Delhi NCR.
All said and done we must rejoice on the fact that this is perhaps one of the best phases to be in for an Indian Indie filmmaker and the future will be better.
A few observations/ suggestions which may be useful for aspiring Independent filmmakers.
Make a kickass Indie. There is no substitute to that. No amount of support, gyaan, strategy, patronizing, social media buzz can save a bad/mediocre indie. Do not compare with Rowdy Rathores of the world because that industry works on a completely different dynamics.
When you are planning an indie, in case you do not have access to marketing and distribution budget of around INR 1.5-2 crores, the production cost of your indie should not exceed a few lakhs at any cost. But is it possible to make a good film with such minimal amount? Read about Karan Gour’s KSHAY, which I consider as a classic case study of a successful Indian Indie.
Do not try to do everything yourself. Not every one of us is a Robert Rodriguez. I know we have budget constraints but it is always better to rope in professionals wherever possible and do pay them a fee (whatever best you can afford). Know your weak spots. For e.g if you are not very good at writing, it is always advisable to hire a screen writer to write the screenplay for you. You will find many talented screenwriters willing to help you out. Roping in professionals will definitely help in raising the quality of the final output.
Once you have made a good film, invest some money in hiring a good intelligent publicist who will help with creating the much required aura around the film. Rope in a good designer and get some good artwork ready. Invest in a professional promo editor. These are few small things but if done properly will go a long way in packaging the film well which in turn may yield better results during distribution phase.
(Shiladitaya Bora manages PVR Director’s Rare and has been actively involved with the theatrical distribution of more than 30 independent films)