g The Film Panel Notetaker: MIAAC Panel: Shooting in India - Nov. 8, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

MIAAC Panel: Shooting in India - Nov. 8, 2008

Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival
Notes from the Shooting in India Panel Discussion
Jazz at Lincoln Center
New York, NY
Saturday, November 8, 2008

(L to R: Parvez Sharma, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Apoorva Lakhia & Tracey Jackson.) Photo by Brian Geldin.

* Parvez Sharma, producer-director of A Jihad for Love

* Aanand Mahendroo, producer of Colours of Passion and Managing Director of Infinity Film Completion Services
* Lydia Dean Pilcher (Producer: The Darjeeling Limited, The Namesake), founder of Cine Mosaic
* Apoorva Lakhia, director of Shootout at Lokhandwala
* Tracey Jackson, producer (Lucky Ducks) and screenwriter (The Guru, The Ivy Chronicles)

I saw my first Bollywood film, Devdas, six years ago at the Cannes Film Festival. It was the world premiere, red carpet and all at the Palais. Quite a foray into the world of Indian cinema. Saturday’s panel enlightened me further offering a Shooting in India 101 of sorts where the panelists offered a taste of what it’s like to shoot in India whether from an insider’s or outsider’s perspective, how to get permissions from the government’s ministry and other local agencies, and how despite that, there could be some bribery involved to get things done, which should be factored into your budget. Even discussions of how to market films for the Indian audience versus the American audience of Indian films entered the equation, where language seemed to be the deciding factor on how some films seem to crossover more than others. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion.

On…Shooting in India from an Insider’s Perspective:

Lakhia said, “There’s a misconception that shooting in India is cheap. It’s really not. To get good services, you have to pay top dollar. Top actors and directors can range from $3 million to $10 million. I think the crew is the most important…film production is changing. You get the best assistant directors and cinematographers…do a lot of research…Don’t get scared to come to India and shoot…The most important thing is just be very patient. Obviously if you’ve grown up in the West, things are different. It takes longer. Not everything happens on time. That’s the way they are. They’re not going to change for you, so you might as well change for them because you are their guest for three months.”

Mehendroo said, “(Get) the right crew. Who to hire, who not to hire. Mostly what I notice is that people go to pretty standard cliché places in India to shoot…but there are many much cheaper, similar looking locations and fairly accessible with good infrastructure in terms of hotels and roads.”

On…Shooting in India from an Outsider’s Perspective:

Pilcher said, “The most important thing to do first if you’re someone who isn’t already based in India…is do a scout. Get a sense of the areas and places where you want to film and start to meet some of the production service companies and get a sense of who you would like to team up with. Finding the right partner is going to be important for any producer of filmmaker whose coming in from outside of India…It’s an incredibly complicated culture with many religions. Even though the caste system is legally not supposed to be in existence, I think there’s a myriad of classes that exist. Quite frankly, there’s quite clearly an intense mutual hatred amongst groups which makes for a lot of landmines when you’re doing business. There’s no way for a person who’s outside the culture to even begin to fathom the understanding of that…I love every experience that I’ve had in India. I shot in all different parts in the country. Calcutta was amazing because it had such a strong intellectual tradition. Fantastic theater, an amazing talent. Rajistan because these staggering gorgeous locations, the palaces…Bombay is exciting because the energy that exists there. I think everywhere I go there’s something very different. It’s a country that has so much to offer. It’s a very exciting place to work if you come in with the right approach…and break a coconut on your first day.”

Jackson said, “Nothing is as much fun as making a film there. Part of it I think is what attracts me personally to India. It’s the warmth of the people, the openness. It does take time…You do need patience. You have to go on a different clock and a different schedule…What you get back emotionally just in terms of your product, it’s just so rewarding…Nothing looks as beautiful on film as India…Have a good time. At the end of the day, it’s the entertainment business…You’re there to make something entertaining. The headaches are different headaches from here. I think they’re better headaches.”


Mehendroo said, “Location permissions is the most important thing. It’s not only the ministry permissions, but you have local permissions. If your permissions are in place, and there are many professionals there who can get you these permissions….(If you want to shoot in restaurants or bars)…You can approach location managers who can get you permissions. It depends where you want to shoot.”

Jackson said, “If you’re coming from the States, (get) the proper permits from the Indian government…a lot of people bystep that process, thinking they don’t have to. They think they can just go in and shoot…I know many people who have gone in and shot and they had their film confiscated, their cameras confiscated. There’s a lot of police. If you’re shooting a film and you can hand over a document that’s stamped by the government that you’re permitted to shoot in India, it’s a little extra ground work and paper work…it makes a huge difference when you get tapped on the shoulder by a policeman or an official when you’re in a crowd or a train station trying to get shots.”
Pilcher said, “One of the things you need to get early on is a permission from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting…It’s an overall filming permission. You need that every step of the way. Basically, you send them a script. If you are a little nervous about some of the things they might flag, you might think about that before you send the script in. Maybe you think about a version that would be acceptable. There are certain things that can really draw flags in terms of sexual content or language. Animal rights protection is huge. On The Darjeeling Limited, I don’t know if any of you have seen that, Wes Anderson directed it. We had a snake on a train…was one of the biggest deal that we dealt with the entire way and I couldn’t believe that at the end of the day, it held up the release in Bombay. I think there were filmmakers who were arrested for working with tigers in Rajistan a couple of years ago, so animal rights is something that is taken extremely seriously. They really are opposed to films using any kind of animals that are considered wildlife.”

Lakhia said, “We don’t have to go to the Ministry…The only thing is getting permission from the Army or shooting in areas that are near the border or on trains. In Bombay, there’s a huge deposit and I don’t know if the deposit comes back…when you’re coming in from abroad, I think when you want to shoot the most important thing is you should know the correct location manager and line producer…We kept 30,000 rupees a day as bribe money. 15,000 before lunch and 15,000 after… That should also be included in your budget. It shouldn’t be coming as a surprise to you…Be more flexible because you never know where it’s going to hit you from.”

On…Crossing Over:

Sharma: Slumdog Millionaire which has got a lot of acclaim and showing at this festival…it’s a foreign/non-Indian filmmaker who’s gone into India and created a remarkable film, but there’s a difference in lens and perspective. Everybody’s talking about going to India. Bollywood being the next big thing. What is going to be the next big crossover film? With Monsoon Wedding, people realized a film shot entirely in India and a film that had no reason to succeed as much as it did with audiences here, but there was some kind of crossover happening with a very Indian theme. I think Slumdog Millionaire is going to do the same thing…Most of the film is in English. That’s why a lot of people now think it will be nominated for an Academy Award. The language question is a very important one.”

Lakhia said, “I make commercial films in India. I’ll be very honest with you, we make films for the Indian audience. An Indian filmmaker making a crossover film is going to be very difficult. It has to be from an Indian coming from the outside to make a crossover film, because we make movies for an Indian audience. It has to be two hours long. It has to have the full songs. It has to have crying and there has to be an underdog, which eventually takes over the world. That’s what all our films are about…And we make films for the Indian audience that’s living abroad. You will not see our films go to a lot of festivals, because our distributors and our producers make it a point to…not to premiere it in festivals. It’s just the way it works…In India there’s two kinds of films and two kinds of filmmakers. The basic revenue comes from the masses and the classes. The classes means the metroplexes where the opening on Friday, Saturday and Sunday decide if the film is doing well or not. And then there’s the masses which are the cinemas that has 2,000 seats…in smaller towns where the place is very moderate. You have two kinds of balancing acts.”

Jackson said, “The Guru was a film that started in 1995, so it was really long before this crossover…Americans weren’t really making films about India in 1995. I was approached by Shekhar Kapur who was just on the scene. He was in pre-production on Elizabeth, so he had to become a part of the American dialogue. He had done Bandit Queen, which was a big hit in India, but hadn’t really done that much here. Shekhar's India perspective and my love of India and then my knowledge of American structure that we were hoping would be one of the first crossover films, which meant it had American structure, and then it had dancing, it had the underdog, it had all the moments of an Bollywood film, but with the structure of a typical American romantic comedy. It played really well in the UK…and it did horribly in America… it’s going to be very hard to get the American audience into the film to make it a huge hit….you need to come and make an Ocean’s 11…It’s hard to get small American films seen. It’s a struggle. I think it’s gotten better since we did The Guru.”

Pilcher said, “I think it’s all a new frontier. I’ll watch and see how it plays out. I have a (literary) agent at ICM who called me yesterday…he’s interested in selling books in the Indian market now…he wanted me to talk with him about it. That was a very interesting phone call because he is one of the most literary agents in Hollywood. The fact that he really wanted to explore that was indicative with what I think is happening. I also feel that…it seems like there’s a generation of younger directors coming up in India who are more influenced by Western media and movies and some of the style of the Bollywood film is shifting.”

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