Devise an Alternative Distribution Model for Independent Cinema in India

Posted in Operations & IT Articles, Total Reads: 2219 , Published on 20 February 2015

“The future leaders in business will be connectors, not directors” says, Gerd Leonhard. With this futuristic thought in mind, I further wish to discuss and “devise an alternative distribution model for independent cinema in India”.

We are now in an era where the old ways of bringing films to the market are fast fading. Now is the time to rediscover and reinvent the realms of film making and making business from the same. The usual path followed by a film is usually that someone has an idea for a movie; which is then neatly outlined and promoted to generate interest in the public via trailers and posters. While this is done, one from the public emerges as a potential studio or independent investor we call the distributor who may decide to purchase rights of the film. Further, the screenwriters, producers, director, cast, crew are the people who come together, make the film, send it to the film studio that would make a licensing agreement with the distribution company. Although it is said in the film industry that content is king; the reality is often seen to be altered.

It is the distribution company that decides the fate of the movies; determining the number of copies of the film to be made, handling the screening to sell to prospective buyers of theater owners. There is negotiation between the two for the leasing agreement and finally the prints are sent when the deal is made. At the end of the engagement, the print is sent back along with the payment to the distribution company.

So far so good, we see that the process is well outlined and managed; then why the need for an alternative? This is because, amidst all the above discussed the very own idea that had first emerged out of a writers mind is lost by the end the movie is delivered to the end consumers. The writer first goes to a big star, discusses the story. The actor approves of acting in the film if certain changes are made as per his/her wishes. The changes may include certain number of songs in the film, some kind of sequences etc. Confirming the star on the board, next is seeking for a producer. The producer has his own ideas to be incorporated; it may be an item number somewhere in the film or anything else that he feels may work for the Indian audience; so this is the second level of change that needs to be taken into consideration for a film to release. With everyone’s consent the film is made; the last say however lies with the distributor. The distributor is the one who decides if the film will work or not; if he feels the film is not going to click with the audience he would not buy the movie and so the bottom line is, the film is only considered a hit when the initially idea is completely trapped, turned and twisted through the process of this hierarchy.

So, what is the solution to this? What is an alternative to the independent cinema in India? India is in flux. This needs to be supported, the attitudes and tastes of the Indian audience are fast changing. We have films like Pk and OMG that are considered a taboo today; however, this may not be in the coming times. The biggest advantage that our Indian Indie film world has is the privilege to document and film our diverse society. The fact that we are what are, how we do not know how to deal with such stuff, and build that connect by spurring stories in the form of films. This is what will be a true reflection of the idea and for what people will be lining up to watch them as well.

However, the question is how would the distribution companies build and sustain this in our ecosystem. By ecosystem I mean the financers, the film-makers, audience etc. We need uncompromising tastemakers, curators, festivals, and gurus who can influence the Indian audience to broaden their loopy definition of the independent cinema. We need a personal connection to our stories to spur our hearts, we need those producers who can navigate our desi stories to reach the international markets. We need a framework that allows for audience building initiatives and a landscape that facilitates visionaries and disruptors. We need the distribution companies to shift their focus from selling copies of films to selling access.

The alternative is to create networks of devoted fans around their brand, to develop customized experiences. Basically, sell something that cannot be copied. This would mean that we would fist need to cultivate our community of those who would approve of savvy marketers and such disruptive development.

As far as revenue generating is concern, splitting distribution rights will work. While in the old distribution model all rights were given to a sole company, the new model would enable rights to be split more finely and effectively. How this will be possible is that the filmmakers would be able to retain their direct sales rights including right to sell DVDs from their websites and at screenings, and the right to sell downloads and rentals from their sites. This can further be extended to television, retail DVDs, and iTunes can be licensed separately. This would mean, no middle man, therefore more profits and faster payments. In a nutshell, this would mean maximization of direct revenues as well as growth and nurture of existing and new audience.

With the huge influx of cinema like home theatres; and internet access ever being augmented, the solution could be to focus on digitization that would reduce the costs and add value to the industry in terms of long term growth. This advent of digitization will reduce the entry barriers for a film to be released and distributed and the original ideas will reach the audiences. This is how the future leaders in business will be connectors, not directors!

This article has been authored by Nehal Rajguru from IIM Kashipur







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