Is Indie Film Distribution finally looking up in India?
Robert Rodriguez in his book ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ explains how he took on the responsibility single-handed to make and distribute his indie film El Mariachi in Mexico. Mexico, at that time, didn’t have as many theatres even as the domestic home video market was booming. Films made by Mexican filmmakers were being directly released on home video. These were vastly B-grade films and made with low production value. Film distribution was thus never an issue for Rodriguez – all he had to do to recover money was to make a film with comparatively better production value and make it saleable to the Mexican home video market. El Mariachi was a hit and became so popular that later Columbia Pictures bought the rights for its distribution in America.
Through the 70s and 80s, the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) supported parallel cinema in India. This period saw some of the finest Hindi movies being made in our country. Today, the parallel cinema movement has been replaced by the indie filmmaking movement. Thanks to the latest DSLR cameras, more and more people can now make movies on their own. But the big question still remains: How to distribute an indie film?
Film distribution was thus never an issue for Rodriguez – all he had to do to recover money was to make a film with comparatively better production value and make it saleable to the Mexican home video market. El Mariachi was a hit and became so popular that later Columbia Pictures bought the rights for its distribution in America.
An independent film is vastly thought to be something that defies conventions and addresses serious issues. According to several distributors in India, ‘The audience doesn’t want serious cinema; they are here to be entertained’. Here lies the problem: film distributors are deciding for the viewer thus filtering out good indie films even before they get a chance to reach its audience. One can’t even go the El Mariachi way and sell their film in the home video market because the Direct-to-DVD deal still seems a distant future proposition in India. On the other hand, even if you secure a distributor and manage to sell your film, you have to be careful and ask for the money upfront. The distributor, after all, is bound by no legal obligation to not attempt to secure a release for it. Without proper distribution, no matter how good your movie is, it will continue to languish on the shelves. So what does one do about it?
Here lies the problem: film distributors are deciding for the viewer thus filtering out good indie films even before they get a chance to reach its audience.
Get Your Script to a Screenwriters’ Lab: The first and the foremost trick is to enter your project in a film festival or a screen writers’ lab program. In India, the popular ones are NFDC Film Bazaar and Mumbai Mantra. Ritesh Batra’s first draft of The Lunchbox created waves at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Once NFDC took notice of it, production and distribution was no more a problem. Later, backed by powerful names like Karan Johar and good reviews at Cannes, it easily got distributors who facilitated its release on 400 screens across India. Similarly, Ship of Theseus was first screened at Toronto International Film Festival after which it went on to win various prestigious awards. Motivated by this, Disney UTV decided to distribute it in India. Anup Singh’s Irfan Khan starrer Qissa is on a similar track. After winning the Netpac prize at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, Canada’s distribution company Studio Film Group secured Qissa’s distribution in that country. It still awaits an Indian release though! Both these films were developed at Film Bazaar. So, if you are still at the pre-production stage, check out NFDC’s Film Bazaar and Mumbai Mantra.
Online Solutions: Last year’s Kannada film Lucia is a very good example of online distribution. Director Pawan Kumar used Distrify to reach his target audience. Distrify is a free service where you can upload your movie and the trailer. Once it’s done, Distrify starts featuring your film on every website your niche audience visits, where your audience can simply watch its trailer and click on ‘Rent’ or ‘Buy’ to watch it without even leaving that page. And yes, anyone from any country can use this service.
Amazon’s CreateSpace is another such online self-distribution solution. A free service, here all you have to do is upload the HD print of your movie along with the artwork for the DVD cover and poster. Post your submission, the movie is added to Amazon’s Video-on-Demand (VOD) service from where the audience can either stream it or order the DVD. Even the DVD publishing service is free here.
PVR Director’s Rare: In a bid to support indie films, PVR has come up with a model quite beneficial to new filmmakers looking for effective distribution channels. With no charges attached, they screen your trailers and put up your posters. Upon release, the revenue is divided 50:50 between the PVR Director’s Rare and the filmmakers.
With more and more online services and writers’ labs coming to India, the way for indie cinema is slowly but steadily being paved. What we need now is to push our films forward with more fervour than ever.
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