Its been 5 months since I decided my future is going to be in films. Its like those fb quotes that you don’t post thinking either its inappropriate or i am not big enough to post it yet but safely store it in a corner in your notepad which surfaces in fb after some time :) You really can’t run away from your innermost calling. So here I am. making films! 

I have been writing all these years but always thought I will save them for now. I would just write synopsis. But before I quit, I had written a full length feature script. But I can’t approach anyone with it so decided I am going to make short films to prove that I can tell a story. For a person in formative years, reaching wider audiences is crucial to gauge popular feedback. Honestly, the critics will always have something to fault. here’s an illustration – adapted from the aesop’s fable ”The Miller, his son and their donkey”.

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Adapt, adapt and adapt. Finally what you have is so NOT you. How do I defeat this? 

  1. Have a clear guideline. For example, say your films will (1) be realistic (2) be simple to understand — no elitism (3) communicate in layers i.e. readily understood but when peeled convey profound meanings/feelings. (4) Whatever… just know your ambit. Adapt within these guidelines. Guess what, Adaptation is the Beauty and Curse of all living beings. So leverage it for the good. 
  2. Try and have reference points which your team can relate. Guidelines are ambiguous. For example, say you want your films to be like Balu Mahendra’s films, Bala’s films, K Balachander’s films etc or Film X, Y, Z etc. 
  3. Try and target a wider audience to gauge popular feedback. For example, I formulated what I call a “bus theorem” or lets say “motel theorem“. The motel theorem goes like “What percentage of people in this motel will understand and pay to watch this movie.” Why motel? Because it has people from all walks in right proportion. You have govt buses, omni buses, you have fewer people in personal vehicles like car, you have workers, you have women, you have children. This sample would closely reflect the population. 

Here comes the problem for today’s independent(indie) film makers. 1 and 2 is well within the film-makers control but how does he reach sufficient people in various walks of life. That there is very limited, practically no, avenue for revenue from short films is well documented. While this is also linked to the absence of a distribution system, more importantly, offline distribution is even more crucial for “popular feedback”. The problem with online is that 1. you generally reach only the literate. 2. you get feedback that is regurgitated after seeing – this is no way equal to say 50 people watching it live. You can check the pulse for every dialogue and scene. Obviously, the avenue that is working as of now offline is small screen competitions. But it can accommodate only a handful. If one is selected though he will have to quit his job! So it isn’t covering Indie’s really. 

Recently my friend and college junior Selvakumar Vinaiooki had posted about “one reel movement” an arrangement by which 10 minute shorts were shown in theaters before movies. This was in 2008. But I learnt later that this flopped because it was an authoritarian initiative – a production house made films and screened in their cinemas (which showed mainstream films) but didn’t survive for long. Perhaps they started too early. 

While I was pondering over this, my friend Rajavel Subramanian, invited me to a play in the city. I was expecting a well established theatre or the typical places I have seen plays in Chennai in the past. I was mildly surprised at “Spaces” near Besant Nagar Beach, Chennai. It was quite spacious and had the awesome aura to the place – natural, contemporary, artistic. We saw a street play! Pretty cool!. The only rule is that you can not charge entry and you get the space free! You are allowed to keep a donation box. 

There came my Eureka moment. 

IDEA: 

Why can’t we, film-makers, leverage such facilities across cities in a co-operative society model. Hire same location weekly and same time. Say Spaces, Friday 7pm.  For Spaces, rent is nil and can host 100 people easily. We just need projector and screen. We can rent or one of the members can lend. The operational cost is peanuts. We can market in FB initially. Audience should know if I go Friday 7 pm, I can check out some short films. One hour every week, 3 shorts. This way we could get footfall from the offline population. We can utilize some offline marketing later. Of the 3 shorts we could keep one international and two from community. We need a team to select and screen every week. The three 3 shorts besides giving an avenue for distribution will also help widen our own horizon as film-makers. 

For other cities…I wonder, wouldn’t film schools have such arrangements for their young alumni? Can’t we talk to them to take our films as well? Can’t we talk to college cultural groups for screening in their auditorium. VisComm departments could spearhead such initiatives. It’s educational for them as well! 

We need a name. What if we became huge offline distributors :) Just kidding.. but for brand sake and what we stand for – offline distribution of independent cinema we need a name. StreetCinema? GulliCinema? RoadieMovies?

If you want to contribute/participate join the fb pages Indian Underground Cinema and Film buffs rendezvous.  Folks there have been debating for a while. Will we make it? Hope so. For now, let’s focus on what’s in our control – the path, the team and our commitment. 

Its fairly clear for Chennai. What we need is a few thousand bucks for renting projectors [ or a projector donor :) ] , a line-up of movies and the show is on. I am on and will need some volunteers. 

Whoever you are, you can help us. Spread the word. Come to see our films. Shape our distribution model – share your thoughts here.

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