Director's Cut, aka Director's Keeda

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | August 27, 2013
As an industry, we may be years away from boasting of special 'viral film-making' skills, but that doesn't mean digital consumption of ads hasn't brought some welcome changes for our directors.

Everyone hates dead ends, both, literal and figurative. Speaking of the latter kind, there's nothing that makes a reporter doubt her journalistic abilities more than a story idea that hits a wall after being thoroughly researched. Take my example.

Prasoon Joshi

Last week, I raised what (only) I thought was a brilliant question: Do ad film-makers shoot commercials any differently now that they know their films are being consumed across media channels and devices, not just on TV?

The premise: Knowing that their ads are going to be viewed online and on handheld devices of different shapes and screen sizes, film-makers are probably introducing specific changes in the way they shoot. Perhaps they use fewer panoramic shots or faster-moving visuals... bring on the jargon!

The plan: To do an article on a new breed of film-makers that comes equipped with a unique skill-set required to shoot ads for a digital audience.

The outcome: After disturbing more than 10 directors in the middle of their respective shoots, I discovered that there's no such thing!

Fact: A director does not factor in the medium or device of consumption, while creating ads.

However: (And this is my favourite part). From a film-maker's perspective, the main difference between TV and online ads is that the latter affords the luxury of length to tell the story, something television notoriously refuses to do. Just imagine the kind of bargaining that must've transpired between broadcasters and media buyers for Tata Sky's three-minute Prison Break TVC!

But there's more to it than just length and cost. A digital film offers directors room for their artistic quirks. Directors today, by their own admission, take a few extra shots over and above the mandated film, because they now have an outlet for the 'full' version of the ad. The outlet goes by different names. YouTube. Facebook, sometimes.

Besides being great fodder for their show reels, this gives film makers the pleasure of indulging the inner child, the one that steered them towards direction in the first place. This version of the ad is called the 'Director's Cut'. The word 'cut' implies the difference between TV and viral versions of an ad lies not at the 'manufacturing' or shooting stage but at the editing stage.

This version has all the highly 'stylised', idiosyncratic, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes graphic shots that are magically beyond the reach of ASCI-like bodies. As Hindi slang would have it, it's a God-sent for directors with the 'keeda' (insatiable itch is the best translation I can manage!) to do something extra. And, it's not like the Director's Cut didn't exist before digital came around as a medium of film consumption. It's just that now, directors have a viable platform to showcase it (sorry, but those show reel CDs sent out by production houses don't count). It's a bit like a scorned feature writer putting up the 'original' version of her story on her blog after her editor chops off a third of it for the magazine (cough).

The takeaway: The question raised by me at the start of this assignment is several years premature. Ad film-making is still very much a TV-driven craft in India. As internet penetration grows, maybe things will change.

Maybe I can revisit this story idea in a few years. By then, who knows, maybe all ads will be directed as viral videos and TV will serve as a reminder medium. For now, let's sit back and enjoy some ads of the Director's Cut variety.