Dhaka has done it thrice. Australia, a couple of times more than Dhaka, and Japan is a regular. But, it took India five years to break into that so-far-elusive bracket. This is about cracking the code of Adfest's Fabulous Four.
On January 26, 2015, late in the evening, when I was informed by Adfest that my short film script 'Watermelon' had been chosen as one of the Fabulous Four scripts, I was elated. But, unlike any other creative or film award shows where the win is the wind-up of all the hard work, here the real job begins once you are a winner. When your script is selected as one of the Fab 4, you are supposed to make a film and submit it to Adfest to claim your title. So, after the initial euphoria subsided, and when I started browsing about the fabulous four awards, it really came as a shock to me that, so far, no Indian director has been named in the fabulous four! It was a shock, as we have a lot of fresh talent here looking for that one opportunity to prove their mettle, but still we had no presence in Asia's biggest novice filmmakers' platform!
Are we not desirable enough to make it to the final four? I suspect.
When I can make it to the final four, any good director can do it, as I'm not even a full time director! Advertising pays my bills and direction is just another outlet to vent out, when daily humdrum of advertising takes a toll on the creative flow.
But soon, the question vanished when I got busy in pre and post-production of the film. The film was made on a minuscule budget with a lot of favours from a lot of people. It got a loud applause at Adfest and was awarded a Fabulous Four Mention with a New Director lotus.
Now, I'm back from Pattaya and thinking, 'what could be the reasons why no Indian director has so far made it to the Fabulous Four?'
It can't just be the lack of desire. Because, once you are a Fabulous Four, you not only get a chance to have a great film under your belt, but you are also treated like a mini-celebrity at Adfest! Seats are reserved for you; you're always escorted by the crew and not to mention all those interviews by international journalists! Apart from the fact that it's an all-expenses-paid trip, you get a chance to showcase your work in front of audiences from the world. You network with people and it opens up windows - you can even have the opportunity to work with foreign production houses as a director on project basis. Keeping all these pay-offs in mind, it seems like more than the lack of will, it is the lack of understanding that restricts us from making the cut.
Right from writing the script to getting selected, producing and finally premiering 'Watermelon' at Adfest, I got some understanding about the festival. I call them the formulas to cracking the code - Fabulous Four.
Fabulous Four: The Good. The Bad. And the Badass.
The Good: The good part of Fabulous Four, apart from all those laurels, free flying-staying-drinking for five days in Pattaya, is that it is judged impartially and anonymously. Any great script stands a fair chance to be one of the final four. The only criterion is that it should be fresh, innovative and based on the overall theme of the festival. The plus part here is that you are not burdened with any product or a client telling you to make his logo bigger. This frees the storyteller inside you from the shackles of traditional advertising and you can go wild. I myself have done it with my film 'Watermelon' and have seen my fellow directors doing that. One of the films in this year's Fabulous Four is from Tokyo called 'Sweets Gang'. It is one of the wildest short films I have ever seen in my life. You have to see it to believe how beautifully the director has pushed the idea. Here, just keep one thing in mind - the jury is only looking for a great story, told in a refreshing way.
BTW, 'jury' reminded me of 'The Bad'.
The Bad: No, the jury is not 'The Bad' here. Bad part is that they are from different countries, cultural backgrounds and sensibilities. You can stand a chance ONLY when your script appeals to everyone in the room. Here, the plus part that I mentioned in 'The Good' becomes the minus. When there is no product, no communication objective or no advertising strategy, the judging is not that structured as it is in advertising. Though there must be some guardrails laid down by Adfest, the truth is that the process is more subjective. Here, the job becomes tougher but not impossible. While writing the script for Fabulous Four, you just need to keep these two things in mind.
1: Always remember, you are not writing for self-satisfaction, but for the jury. So, try to keep the main emotion/storyline of your film universal. Because, the moment you write something specific to your local culture, it has a very bright chance of getting lost in translation. If you see all the four films in this year's Fabulous Four- 'Watermelon', 'Home Discipline', 'Sweets Gang' and 'My 2014 Neighbour' - all use a universal emotion/storyline. These films don't use anything that's specific to any culture, either in Tokyo, Manila or Mumbai, from where their directors belong.
'Home Discipline' is about the relation of a father-son, 'My 2014 Neighbour' is a story of friendship, 'Sweets Gang' is a fantasy and 'Watermelon' is a thriller.
All the emotions and stories are such that they appeal to everyone. You don't need to understand the cultural nuances of India, Japan or Philippines to get the story.
2: Focus on the theme of the festival. This year's theme, 'Be Bad', was potent enough for all the four films to showcase it in their own unique way. The theme of the festival is the only tangible criterion for the jury to judge your film. And, it's a great filter when it comes to defining what's in and what's out. So make sure whatever script you write - good, bad or badass, stick to the theme. The first priority for you is to be in the 'in list' of the jury. And always remember (as per the entry rules), this is going to be one of the first seven directorial works that you are showcasing at the international forum, in front of eminent advertising professionals and filmmakers. So, this has to have good (if not great) production values, to say the least.
And now comes 'The Badass'.
The Badass: Production. This has the power to spoil your dream of being on the stage of Adfest as one of the Fabulous Four.
The easiest part is writing the script and getting selected. Real story begins when it comes to producing it. Adfest doesn't reimburse or financially support the production of the film (they are already doing enough, so don't even expect), and you have to do it on your own. If you are a director on-board of a production house, then things may be a little easier for you (you just need to convince the executive producer to put in those lakhs in production by making him see how his production house's name will be displayed all over the media). But, if you are a freelance director (like me), then you must have a lot of friends in the industry - DOP, a music director, actors and, most importantly, a producer. I produced my film with the help of these friends and the way it was received at Adfest by the jury and the audience, it was overwhelming. All the credit goes to all those selfless people who worked for free for my moment of glory.
But, the more important thing to note here is that while writing the script, in the fit of emotions, you should not write something that you would never be able to produce (even with the help of friends). If your film demands heavy CGI, multiple locations, lots of actors, you need decent budgets that will either come from your own pocket (if it is deep enough) or from your dad's pocket (if you are successful in making him understand what the hell Fabulous Four is and what a great thing you have done by being one!).
The formula here is to keep it simple and easy to produce. Work harder on the script, so that if you are selected you can work easy on the production.
Production is the badass in the path of your glory, keep it in check.
The three-tier formula that we can derive from the three equations above is:
Tier 1: Let you imagination fly. Write that great script you always wanted to.
Tier 2: Keep the theme/story/emotion universal. Keep an eye on festival theme.
Tier 3: Keep the production in check - something that you are confident of producing with a lot of help and less money.
These are my learnings from the process of becoming one of the Fabulous Four, and I hope this will give budding directors and assistant directors an insight into cracking the code and repeating the success in the following years.
You just need to give a month (24x7) of your life to Fabulous Four and, believe me, when you go on stage, talk about your film, present it in front of a packed auditorium and when the film gets played on a larger-than-life screen, all the hard work, blood and sweat, seems worthwhile.
You feel Fabulous.
(The author is Group Creative Director, Linen Lintas and a freelance director)