From ads to feature films: The Big Rush

By Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | January 15, 2013
Agency creatives are making it big in all spheres of the film industry - writing, direction and music. Ad professionals turned movie-makers share their experience on the balancing act.

The big rush

Gauri Shinde, who recently achieved fame for directing the movie, English Vinglish, is the newest name from the ad world to have turned into a feature filmmaker. She is part of a long and distinguished queue that has built up over the years.

From the likes of Satyajit Ray to Shyam Benegal and the more recent successes like Pradeep Sarkar, Dibakar Banerjee, Abhinay Deo, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Rajkumar Hirani have all added to the magnetism of 70 mm. And it's not just the ad filmmakers who have started directing feature films - people from varied advertising backgrounds have worked on different aspects of feature filmmaking. The list is quite long. Even Shinde's husband R Balakrishnan, better known as Balki, is comfortable riding on two boats as head of an agency and a feature film director.

And now comes news of Vinil Mathew making a directorial debut in an yet unnamed film by Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar. The venture stars Sidharth and Parineeti Chopra. Mathew, a director with Footcandles Film, has directed commercials for a wide range of brands including Cadbury, Airtel, Surf Excel and Titan.

Though, the two worlds - advertising and feature films - may have different approach towards storytelling, there are immense similarities as well. afaqs! Reporter discovers the common points between the ad world and the feature films, while they still try to stand apart.

The first step

Advertising creatives mostly follow a different style of storytelling and those nuances also influence their filmmaking when they enter the world of movies.
It's a fact that both advertising and features require equal amounts of passion, craftsmanship and a good understanding of the audience to make a project successful. However, what differentiates the two is that advertising is far more structured. It tends to discipline people because there are so many levels in the hierarchy.

Working on a 30-seconder also forces a filmmaker to have an eye for details. An ad filmmaker is habituated to thinking in terms of frames. He tends to do more minute work. In advertising, every dialogue, every movement, every hand gesture is important. "When you see Delhi Belly, you will realise that there are a lot of small things hidden. You realise it only when you see it for the second or third time," says Abhinay Deo, noted ad filmmaker and the director of the movies Delhi Belly and Game.

"A non-ad man wouldn't worry about 30 seconds in a two-hour long feature," Deo states. "When an ad filmmaker directs a movie, it ends up looking much better," he insists.

Limited Imagination

In ad films, all processes are driven by the client's requirement. This limits the thought process. Most ad filmmakers can be found complaining about this. Ad filmmaker, Sabal Shekhawat recalls how a client rejected a film on the basis of strategy even after the film was shot.

Gauri Shinde

But when they enter the feature film world, they find the freedom liberating. This new world is like a large white canvas, which they can fill with their own colours of imagination, not governed by someone else's need.

As Rensil D'Silva, ex-executive creative director, Meridian Communications, who has written screenplays for several movies and has directed the Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor starrer Kurbaan, comments, "Movies are a form of self-expression. They are purely from the point of view of a writer and the director. Ad filmmaking, on the other hand, is a democratic process. People have to agree on the story being told."

However, many are wary of this as well. According to Pradeep Sarkar, director, Apocalypso Filmsworks and a noted ad filmmaker who has also held senior positions at Contract, the presence of the agency acts as a filter for the ad filmmaker and finally, helps get a better finished product. The marketing and the research teams also try to fill in any lacuna. These filters are often missed by the feature filmmakers.

Sarkar, who directed the widely acclaimed and awarded movie Parineeta, claims that he was lucky to have had Vidhu Vinod Chopra as the producer of the movie.

Ram Madhvani

Ram Madhvani, the veteran ad filmmaker says that in the feature filmmaking process, an ex-advertising person as a colleague may not have all the answers but will definitely point out the flaws.

It's not just the limited arena of thoughts, even to come up with an idea within the deadline is a thorn in the eye for many. Creative people often find it limiting when they have to think of an idea in the limited time of 24 hours to a week.

Nitesh Tiwari

Nitesh Tiwari, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett India, who co-directed the children's film Chillar Party, shares his experience on writing the movie. He says, "We wrote 12 drafts before the film went on the floor. Unfortunately that can't be a reality in advertising for reasons that are understood and accepted by all of us. In advertising, a timeline of even 15 days is considered a luxury."

Gauri Shinde is of a similar opinion. Interestingly, Shinde too, had her crew from advertising for English Vinglish, including the cameraman. "This was a huge advantage as I did not have to depend on my producer to make the choices for me. Otherwise, being a first time director, you need to depend on the producer to make the choices for you."

Features not a cakewalk, either

The longer duration of the film allows the storyteller to develop characters better and improve the pace of the film. For instance, one could talk about a span of a few years in the movie Gangs of Wasseypur. "The same can be achieved in an ad film as well, but in a restrictive manner," says Deo.

Shinde makes an interesting observation on this. "You want to make every frame count in advertising, whereas you want every scene to count in features. At the same time, you don't want to lag and have unnecessary scenes that don't make sense," says Shinde.

Juhi Chaturvedi

Feature films also have their own set of challenges. The 150-odd minutes in feature films may provide a larger canvas to narrate the story at leisure. But, there is also the pressure of holding on to the audience for that time. Bates India's ECD, Juhi Chaturvedi, the script writer for the Hindi movie Vicky Donor, says, "It isn't easy to write a two-and-a-half-hour script. People have the option of walking out of the theatre if they don't like the first 15 minutes of your film."

The new gen

One reason why ad filmmakers have experienced better acceptability from the audience of late is that the audience itself has changed. As R Balakrishnan, chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas India and director of the movies Cheeni Kum and Paa, says, "Today's movie audience have become more receptive to new ideas, concepts and stories."

Many feel advertising itself has evolved because the audience for advertising has evolved. "Advertising has to move very quickly - whether it is styling, acting, colours, shocking dialogues or sound effect," says Deo. In ad films, an idea or a concept can work only twice or thrice. In the fourth attempt, it is most likely to turn into a blind spot. Whereas in feature films the same formula can be used for years.

Lessons to learn

Ad filmmakers come loaded with experience when they turn towards feature films. The advantages are many but one also needs to be cautious about not making the age-old mistakes.

It is said that freedom comes at a price and this holds true in this situation as well. For instance, in the case of ad films, budgets are frozen before production commences and one is also not playing around with huge amounts.

Many ad filmmakers go overboard with budgets in feature films to achieve a high level of creative satisfaction. For features, too, one needs to keep a tight budget. "There should be some method in the madness. That is where producers and line producers keep a check on the director," says Sarkar.

The other common trend among ad people entering the feature film arena is the desire to make a different kind of film. Says Deo, "To succeed, one needs to be obtuse and yet have a sense of commercialism."

Abhinay Deo

Deo feels that finance depends upon the script and casting, while cast depends upon the script and who the director is. "If you have a good cast, you get good money. If you don't get good money, you can't make a good film. If you don't make a good film, how will you get a good cast? It is all interlinked."

As mentioned earlier, ad filmmaking is a disciplined affair but this discipline also has its disadvantages. As Deo puts it, "In an ad film, a film director is used to shoot a 30-second film in two days. But the same doesn't apply in feature films. For instance, if a 100-minute feature film is shot at the same pace as an ad film, it would take 400 days to complete the film. In fact, in feature films, the director has to shoot around four scenes in a day, which many ad filmmakers find excessive."

The movement from ad films to features continues to strengthen. In the past, an ad person working on a feature film was a matter of surprise. No longer. They are accepted today as natural migrants. Agrees Sarkar, who made his first feature film after he crossed 50. "The success of many have influenced many more."

The list of these names is already long but there is an even larger number of ad folks who have their stories ready and approaching the feature film business. They are either writing the stories on their own or taking help from others in the film industry.

'Filmmaking' as a profession was looked down on by many Indian families, says Balki, who himself got into advertising with an intention to do features, but continues to do both.

The differences between the two exist, and the line between 70 mm and advertising is getting closer by the 'mm' with each passing day.

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