Goafest 2018, day two, when the Abby award ceremony was at its culminating stage, one organisation caught everyone's attention and that was Early Man Film. The presenters were paging them repeatedly, but no representative of the company seemed to be available to collect the beautiful and prestigious metal of honour. Immediately after the award ceremony, the entire five-star hotel in Goa was abuzz about who the Early Man Film company was. The next day (Day 3), the organisers made an announcement at the press conference that the founders of Early Man Film would be present. The ad film production company bagged 17 metals which include 5 Gold, 4 Silver and 7 Bronze and the one and only Grand Prix of the 2018 Abby's.
Early Man Film was started four years ago when Ayappa resigned from his day job at Viacom18's youth and music channel, MTV and partnered up with Anand Menon. "Anand was already running a production house called Foot Candles and when I joined him, we decided to change the name to Early Man Film," says Ayappa, co-founder of Early Man Film.
Ayappa and Anand believe that their needs and desires are similar to that of the early man and that is the reason behind the nomenclature. "We are happy with food and good work and that's our philosophy," says Ayappa.
Ayappa started his career as a Copywriter with Orchard in Bangalore and then moved to MTV where he was working with the On-Air Promotion team. A commerce graduate (B-Com) from Madras Christian College, he joined advertising to experiment and do something creative and that's where he was first exposed to the craft of filmmaking. "It was an accidental entry," is how he explains his existence in the industry today.
Early Man Film is based out of Mumbai and has about 25 employees working in the organisation. "We are a production house and we hire freelancers whenever we need; depending on the project we are working on," Ayappa explains. Early Man Film is a bootstrapped organisation and is already making profits. The founders, at this stage, are not looking for any funding either. "We do not believe that we need to hire 10 directors to become successful; so a 'scale up' for us means getting quality work and for the rest, we hire freelancers. We are a production house that can sustain itself," the Grand Prix man adds.
From the very beginning, for the production house, it was all about doing good work,; "Money is secondary...," says Ayappa, adding, "...we always wanted to do a lot of good work and not just make money making safe ads. Of course, everybody wants money, but we don't want it at the cost of creativity."
"Today there is so much competition and everybody is undercutting one another. See, it's not that clients do not have money, they do. So if you have a great product, then you pay. Quality work needs money; a good budget can get you better equipment and quality technicians that when combined, result in a great creative product," opines Ayappa.
'Great Khali breaking walls', that famous Ambuja Cement ad film was made by Early Man Film and received a lot of recognition, but it is nothing compared to their recent film - Let The Kaveri Flow. "What worked for us while doing the Kaveri Film is that we had a lot of freedom; the client came to us directly and asked us to make a film without interference. It was a very moving subject, so the entire team, most of who worked without any money, gave their best because you don't always get an opportunity to do this kind of work," says Ayappa.
He adds, "Also, just to make a great film was not all that we wanted to do; we wanted to ensure that the film brings in change. So after the film, the Karnataka government called off one of the two Railway projects that involved deforestation; so you can contribute to a social cause. And it was also a great script, so I don't deserve all the credit..."
This client-production house direct relationship is something Ayappa cherishes, yet he has no plans of making pitches directly to the client or turn into a creative agency and not remain just a production house. "We have thought about it and realised that you cannot bite the hand that feeds you. And there are some things which they are better at, like handling clients. It will be foolish of us to go and behave like an agency; whenever an agency starts its production house, we directors get upset; similarly, I assume that whenever the directors act like an agency, the agencies get upset. I also believe that one should do what he/ she is good at instead of putting fingers in different pies," says Ayappa.
Ayappa is happy with the recognition Early Man Film received at the Abby's, "Video craft, as a category, is very competitive because all the production houses entered, fairly unlike the advertising categories where 80 per cent of the agencies did not enter. So the win in the craft category is a little sweeter because there is genuine competition as opposed to the advertising categories where only two people landed up on the field," he says.
Early Man Film is also getting into the documentary space and will spread its wings to cover other forms of creative communication, this is what Ayappa assures. He also aspires to make a feature film one day, "Who doesn't," he quips; but he is in no hurry and is very happy making ad films. He believes ad films have bigger opportunities to experiment with as the budget is good for a small piece of content.
Ayappa feels that the competition is increasing and that budgets are getting slashed. He is of the opinion that people are slowly failing to see the importance of production money because it's cheaply available. "Execution is one aspect and the idea is a far bigger part. So the market reality is you only get this much of a budget and in that budget, you have to do quality work and that is the biggest challenge for us," he says.
"It is getting harder and harder to find quality work; most advertising still takes itself too seriously. People do not care, they want to be gripped and entertained. But here when you turn on TV, everything looks same and boring. That's something that's worrying," he concludes. "Our work today needs to keep pace with the madness and irreverence of the internet. That's the only way we can stay relevant as an industry.