At the very outset I’d like to begin this write-up by admitting that I am no expert on movie marketing or film distribution, far from it in fact. However these are indeed subjects close to my heart and I am happy that I’m in a position to continuously learn and improve in the same. While I’m partly a media professional as I write for MAM and elsewhere on cinema, I am very transparent in admitting that I’ve always wanted to work in films directly as well. Over the last few years ever since I quit the comfort of a secure corporate career, I’ve tried various routes to break in via both the conventional and unconventional routes. While the prospect of working with a good studio/production house always excited me, considering that the brand in question and the projects associated thereby would help me improve my learning, I realized that it is not easy to break in to that space.
This is one industry which doesn’t bother about your professional background, your pedigree in the form of an excellent academic track record and the kind of brands you have worked with doesn’t really matter. However if your background includes a connection with the industry, if you perhaps are well connected to someone important in the industry then voila, there are a whole lot of avenues which open up for you. Hence over a period of time I’ve been stopped talking of the B.School I went to, the companies I worked with in the past, as hardly anyone is interested and it’s no big deal actually. Sure things are changing and I personally know of a lot of IIM, XLRI grads who are now in the industry and trying to make a mark for themselves. Anyways that’s a totally different story; maybe it needs to be addressed separately. In the interim period I’ve tried my hands at working with a few indie filmmakers, also trying to help set up projects for a studio. But none of these really were creatively or strategically all that satisfying as they didn’t enable me to achieve an end to end experience.
I’ve unfortunately also been going through a rough patch in my personal life for a while now and while all this was going on I wouldn’t be lying if I admit that I have asked myself often if I was doing the right thing by still trying to make a mark for myself in this industry. While all this was happening I was aware of Oorvazi Irani’s film “The Path of Zarathustra”, knew of the film going on the floors, getting completed and thus a fair idea of her journey with the film. Oorvazi being one of the authors on MAM; I’ve had the privilege of interacting with her quite regularly on & off and knew that she comes from a distinguished background herself. While the film was in the making we obviously didn’t speak much but once it was ready we started speaking more often. Oorvazi and the film’s producer, her father Mr.Sorab Irani wanted the film to get the right kind of exposure, hence tried doing the festival route as well, but that somehow wasn’t really happening. After all when you don’t really have the right kind of backing for your film, it isn’t easy to crack the big festivals anyways.
Part of the film was financed in house (SBI Impresario Pvt.Ltd. being the production company run by Mr.Irani and Oorvazi) and the rest of it was funded by 13 entities, most of them from the Parsi community. Hence the funders started also realizing that the film was taking too much time to meet the target audience, it was time to get into action and bring the film out. Thus Oorvazi and Mr.Irani decided it was time to explore the theatrical release in India and being a friend and a fellow industry professional Oorvazi started to discuss the plans for the film’s theatrical release with me. As a friend and a well-wisher I saw no harm in providing any inputs that could be of use for the film. But after a few weeks of conversation I was pleasantly surprised when Oorvazi asked me one day as to what I’m up to these days and if I’d like to come on board officially and help in releasing the film.
Well I was quite honest, I did have some time on my hands as whatever I was to get involved with in terms of a film project had got delayed. More over this seemed to be a remarkable opportunity for me to do something that I had always want to do, get a film released and ensure that the corresponding activities happen to the best of the limits and resources available. I started off by wanting to watch the film, as I believed that a true distribution and marketing person should know his product (the film) well. Also it would have been unfair on my part to make my preliminary plan for the release without being sure of what the film demands. Oorvazi was more than happy in having me watch the film and once I had seen the film I finally sat down with Mr.Irani and the basic essentials were discussed. I did have an apprehension in mind, I wasn’t too sure if Oorvazi and Mr.Irani would be fine with my release strategy, but I decided to address that straight away.
Having seen the film, understood its merits and concern areas, I felt that the film indeed had a scope for theatrical release. However I felt that the film needed a compact 5 city sort of a release, with not more than 10 screens across these cities. The idea was very clear, the theatrical release wouldn’t serve the purpose of returning the investment on the film (the cost of production + P&A), however it would serve as the right means to reach out to the target audience and open up other avenues as well later. Thankfully my viewpoint was respected and also accepted by them, personally that set things in motion as it would be difficult to work on a film project if the makers have a vision that’s way too different from what you have. Considering that PVR Director’s Rare has been a tried and tested platform for releasing such independent films, obviously the first thought that I had was to try and see if they could come on board as the distributor for the film. The platform may not be perfect but it has indeed been a boon of sorts for many indie filmmakers and I’ve admired the way Shildatiya Bora, the former head of PVR Director’s Rare (and currently CEO of Drishyam Films) had nurtured the brand.
I also reached out to Ranjan Singh of Phantom Films, someone I have always looked up to as a mentor in the industry. Ranjan has been one of the few people genuinely helpful for folks like me who enter the industry and struggle without a foot anywhere inside. I reached out to Ranjan for 2 reasons, he has the experience of releasing many such small films and hence I thought he could give me some inputs. Also while I knew I could reach out to PVR myself I wanted to seek his help in giving me a headstart over there, needless to say he did both and I am extremely grateful to him for the help. The next step was to reach out to PVR and fit in the distribution deal, what helped in this respect was not only the fact that I knew the people concerned (I am avoiding names here for obvious reasons) but also that my expectations were realistic, I wasn’t expecting a wide release and hence PVR knew I was serious. For the release of any film locking the release date is important and for an indie film it only becomes even more important. Having studied the release calendar for the rest of the year I narrowed down upon 4th September as the tentative date and kept 2 other reserve dates, 28th August and 11th September.
PVR was fine with the same and thus I went ahead trying to get the right kind of P.R Agency and Social Media/Online Marketing Agency on board, let me tell you that these are 2 essential resources which you definitely need to ensure that you are well equipped for the rest of the journey. After a few days of deliberation I was happy to bring on board the kind of people I wanted. Then came another challenge, the trailer of the film originally was one of 153 seconds and had no dialogues, it had a lyrical voice over instead. Feedback from everyone including PVR suggested that we cut a new trailer and while Oorvazi was a little hesitant I had to push her to do it and while this did take time, the result was a taut 90 second trailer which was appreciated by everyone. Everything else happened in a dizzy; budgets were made, altered and worked upon. Endorsement videos were shot (well at least a few), marketing collaterals were discussed and locked; all this while the MOU with PVR was locked thankfully well in time.
We also decided to have a premiere each in Mumbai and Delhi, there were also a lot of Parsi groups interested in having special screenings or do block bookings in advance, but the problem was I couldn’t get a confirmation of show timings or costing till a week or so before the release. This was how the system works and I couldn’t do anything about it, however we tried working around it to the best of our possibilities. In Delhi we had the good fortune of having Dr.Najma Heptulla, Union Minister for Minority Affairs attend the screening, all thanks to the efforts of Oorvazi and Mr. Irani and some of their well wishers. While all this was going on there were small but crucial elements to be put in place, like coordination with Scrabble and PVR for the smooth release of the film, ensuring that the digital content is reaching on time everywhere, that no payments are held up etc. I must appreciate Oorvazi and Mr.Irani for their efforts in ensuring that everyone got their stipulated payments on time. In this industry this is a rarity actually.
Less than a week before the film’s release, i.e on 29th August we got a scare as we got to know that the theatres in Mumbai which were to play our film’s trailer weren’t able to do so as they had no content. Oorvazi and I had to go around visiting the multiplexes and getting the trailer uploaded manually, quite a testing time indeed. There were some more testing moments right till the very end, one of our important release centres was INOX –Nariman Point but for some reason right till the day of release we found no trace of the film’s release there. Finally we realized it was only an online glitch and the film did release there, the online glitch was also taken care of a few hours before the film opened. But that was enough to drive us all crazy. Oorvazi showed great resilience by doing so many things on her own that even I pushed myself into doing things which I otherwise might have shied away from to be honest.
Eventually after all the drama the film released in 5 cities- Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Bangalore in a total of 8 screens. I had the possibility of getting a few more screens, but we decided not to do so and focus only on the relevant cinemas. The film managed to enter its 2nd week in 2 screens, one each in Mumbai and Pune, further proof of the film’s merit and acceptance. There were occasions when probably Oorvazi and I had different viewpoints on a topic, but then those discussions only helped in bringing in more clarity and getting the output better. As I look back and reflect over the last few months and think of the entire process, I must admit that it was an enriching experience for me. Incidentally the film ends its regular theatrical run in India today, I am sure it’s just the start of a lot more to happen for me and everyone associated with the film. But the effort was totally worth it and that’s what matters at the end of the day anyways.
Note- The Path of Zarathustra released via PVR Director’s Rare on 4th September 2015 and is still playing in its 2nd week. I was the distribution and marketing consultant for the film.