This year was a year of extremes at our ad-film advisory and analytics vertical. Not only was the number of projects 50 per cent higher than previous years but, more importantly, we handled lots of varied requests that, perhaps, showcased where the industry is heading. On one hand, many clients were seeking international Directors and DOPs (Director of Photography) while there were many others that asked us for a list of local hotshops.
At one end were those who wanted to work with international production houses and ended up making ad films with multi-crore budgets and then there were others who asked us to optimise their cost of production bringing many aspects in-house. I am sharing a few key trends that we witnessed which might be of interest to you, in case you are looking at producing your next ad-film.
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International Directors and DOPs
There's been a surfeit of International Directors and DOPs in Indian TV commercials. The likes of Mark Toia, Dean Freeman, Jonathan Hyde, and the Salto Brothers are shooting films regularly for Indian brands and the list keeps growing, much to the chagrin of Indian directors and DOPs. The cumulative costs, including their fees, coterie and travel constitutes a major chunk of the total budget but clients and production houses want them nevertheless, for their technical finesse and professionalism. While India has its own share of talent and technical capabilities, if clients have budgets, they would rather go with an international name.
A contrary point of view was expressed by a line producer, "I really wonder if there is any dearth of talent or equipment in our country. Many a time, foreign Directors don't even understand the local cultural sensibilities. But the plus point of having a foreigner Director is that they are comparatively more organised in terms of prep. Plus, there are better budgets and timelines."
A related trend is distributed film production. An Ad film today can have an international director and DOP but an Indian post-production house, music director etc. or the other way round. A team is curated across the globe, depending on the script and budgets.
Celebrity Feature Film Directors
Another trend we see is a string of Indian film Directors who have shot to fame owing to Bollywood. Amit Masurkar (director of Newton, India's Oscar nomination), Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari (Filmfare winner for best Director for Bareilly ki Barfi) Amit Sharma (Badhaai Ho), Amit Tiwari, Abhinay Deo, Vikramaditya Motwane and many such names are the toast of the ad world. An ad film turned feature film Director shares an opinion, "Most of the celebrities are more comfortable working on an ad film with us as they are sure of the final outcome since it is handled by a pro".
While the ad film is a good source of income for these directors in their 'fallow period', the added allure of feature films increases their equity and they are sought out by clients and agencies. Their storytelling techniques, characterisation and grip over the medium give them an edge over others. Feature film directors who have their films rooted in the middle class milieu and who create interesting, relatable middle-class characters, with their quirks and idiosyncrasies, are sought out to create similar characters for ad films.
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Boutique agencies and Content Start-ups
Several agency heads have left top jobs and launched boutiques taking with them a client or two. With low operational costs, many clients see great value in what they offer. Content start-ups, on the other hand, began with OTT platforms and soon started offering a slurry of long commercials and short films woven around the brand story. This makes for great digital content to be consumed on the move for the fast-paced consumer.
A client at a leading FMCG, who recently asked us to provide him with the list of the best creative hotshops, had this to say, "The creative agency, over a period of time, gets complacent and the outcome is stereotypical and clichéd. Young hotshops break the mould and bring in much-needed freshness." Boutiques and content start-ups are nibbling close to 15-20 per cent share of projects at the cost of large creative agencies.
Another new trend is bundling up costs for multiple films across domains where brands are integrated according to common intersecting domains. Three TVC scripts, five digital films and two still-shoots thrown in, now constitute one project. While done purely to save costs, the jury is still out on whether these kinds of bargains affect creativity.
To sum up, what one is seeing is some sense is polarisation (of sorts) for the ad film industry. While there is opulence at one end, there is cost cognisance in equal measure at the other. However, one thing remains constant: our clients know filmmaking is an art, all they want to know is what is the 'right price for that art'.
(The author is Vice President, Films Production Advisory and Analytics, Spatial Access, a media audit and advisory firm.)
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