Indian film producers hungry for B.C. content creation

Studio boss aims to launch storytelling incubator to tap local industry talent pool
With box-office revenue for the Indian film industry set to grow to US$3.7 billion by 2020, Indian film producers are seeking partnerships with B.C. companies to develop content | Nopkamon Tanayakorn, Shutterstock

If the global film industry is a gourmet restaurant, Los Angeles is no doubt the flashy dining room where everyone is dressed up, the end product is ready for consumption and patrons have cash to spend.

“[Film producers] do the pre-production back in L.A. or somewhere else, and they come here only to use the kitchen,” Subhadarshi Tripathy, senior vice-president of Zee Studios International, told a crowd attending the B.C.-India Partnership Summit in Vancouver on September 19. “The biggest missing point that I’ve found in Vancouver so far is that they need writers.”

Zee announced September 21 that it’s opening a production company in Vancouver, the first Indian broadcaster to do so in Canada.

Tripathy is overseeing the Vancouver office and facilitating all of Zee’s productions aimed at international markets.

“One of the first things that we’re doing up here is trying to set up an incubation centre where you can encourage children, youth, anybody who can come in and do storytelling. And we’re looking at potentially finding formats, ideas to make global content,” Tripathy said during an expert panel featuring other Indian producers.

Creative BC CEO Prem Gill told Business in Vancouver that a storyteller incubator would be “fantastic” for the local industry.

“The more people there are, the more things that will come out of it and the more opportunities will rise to the top. Maybe we have 1,000 people enter something and 30 of them then go on to pursue something bigger and 10 of them are the next Aziz Ansaris,” she said, referring to the American comedian of South Asian descent who won an Emmy award for writing earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Gill said the film industry hasn’t leveraged the diaspora of Indian-Canadians enough. “When you have opportunities like the potential of an incubator, it could be massive,” said Gill, whose provincial agency is responsible for promoting the film and TV sectors.

The Indian film industry’s box-office revenue is set to grow from US$2.1 billion in 2016 to US$3.7 billion by 2020, according to Deloitte’s Indywood 2016 report.

While the domestic box office accounted for 74% of revenue in 2016, the report estimated online/digital revenue and cable/satellite revenue are each expected to grow 15% between 2015 and 2020.

Increased smartphone penetration and a growing market for video on demand are the main reasons behind the growth, according to Deloitte. The infrastructure is there to distribute new content, but Reliance Big Animation chief financial officer Tejonidhi Bhandare told the Vancouver audience that Indian producers don’t have easy access to the talent needed to make more content. He said Indian producers have relied too long on stories based on Indian mythology because the characters were already widely known to audiences. This has led to a “copy-paste culture” in the Indian animation industry, Bhandare said, which is why more producers are examining jurisdictions like B.C. for partnerships.

“Tax credits would come No. 2, but talent is what we’re looking at,” he said. “The talent in B.C. [and] Canada can help them [Indian animators] open up their minds to become global leaders and create content on a global platform.”

Tripathy echoed Bhandare’s concerns over access to talent, noting that for every 300 open seats at an Indian animation institute, schools can get as many as 150,000 applications.

Meanwhile, the pair is lobbying for the creation of a “platform” that would allow producers and government agencies in India and B.C. to meet up and pitch ideas for co-productions.

“We have a sizable amount of funding available to get into a co-production,” Tripathy said. “The problem is content.”


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