Television

'India can be an outsourcing hub and create original global animation content' : Kurt Inderbitzin - Whistling Woods International Ltd dean

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Noted filmmaker Subhash Ghai had a 20-year dream: to set up an international film and media institute in Mumbai. Whistling Woods International Ltd (WWIL) came up in Film City on an investment of Rs 500 million.

But that wasn't enough: Ghai needed an international personality who would take charge of the institute and bring a global flavour to the creative curries dished out from the land of Bollywood. He found that in the US-born filmmaker-producer and media business professional Kurt Inderbitzin who has joined as the dean of WWIL.

Inderbitzin has 12 years of experience in developing, writing, directing, editing and producing movies and shows for major studios, cable companies and the networks, including CBS, ABC, Lifetime, NBC, TBS, TNT, HBO and Warner Brothers Network, in all formats, High-Definition, digital video and 35 mm film.

He was president of Abandon Pictures for eight years, producing films such as Sundance Film Festival Favorite Scotland, P.A, Oxygen (starring Oscar winner Adrian Brody) as well as Off the Lip, Pros and Cons, Glory Days, Project Greenlight, Dimensions of Fear, Time Shifters and The Brink.

As vice president of Orly Adelson Productions for three years, he developed and sold 21 television films. Additionally he has directed Brian Gina Nick and Welcome to the Neighborhood, and written and produced many others.

In an exclusive chat with Indiantelevision.com's Sibabrata Das and Bijoy A K, Inderbitzin discusses the dynamic changes taking place in the area of animation, the global television scenario, and the business of filmmaking.

Excerpts:

Will India stay hung on animation as a pure outsourcing model or is there potential to move up the value chain?

There is unlimited potential to do both. India has a huge population to draw talent from. Computer sophistication is widely prevalent and the country is sitting on historical children's tales and fables and many generations of content-rich literature that are not exploited yet. There is opportunity to become a major global player in the animation arena, even as original content creators.

But isn't the business dominated by big investment requirements, branding and marketing promotions?

For the US animation majors, 60 per cent of the revenues comes from overseas. India needs to exploit this global market. There is scope to make the change and gain access to the same markets as the US companies have. Labour costs are lower here. High-level animation skills can be built up; the other skills are in place. Storytelling can come from here; original content creators can be produced.

Isn't there too much focus on creating animators than building as it were a superstructure of original creators?

Education is certainly a problem area that needs to be tackled. One of our goals is to contribute to original content creation. Students will be taught literature and storytelling. If India is to direct and produce animation movies of global stature, the entire process has to be overseen. We have to create a knowledge system like the US, which has a factory and assembly line structure; the ability to understand the entire production chain is a must.

How does local talent get international exposure, which is crucial to the progression of the industry?

Major outfits like Pixar, Walt Disney and DreamWorks are hungry for hiring animators from India. They have already visited our institute.

Do you see an export market for Bollywood films as well?

Bollywood has focussed on musicals for over so many years and it has thrived in the local market with its brand of filmmaking. That is not going to be suddenly exportable. But there are certain positive changes sweeping the industry. Multiplexes, for instance, are bringing about a culture shift. Nobody would have imagined making Iqbal, a movie on an underdog sports aspirant. Once you produce more varied forms of movies, some part of that content can be exportable.

'If Bollywood doesn't create varied content, Hollywood will gobble up'

What will make Bollywood experiment with different forms when it has such a strong and protected domestic market?

India has a choice. With the economy growing at such a frenetic pace, the growing middle class will change their lives fundamentally in two ways. They will spend more on education and consumption on leisure will go up. The demand for media content will change as consumer tastes alter.

If India doesn't create that varied content, Hollywood will gobble up. That is how American culture has spread; Hollywood has taken away the film industries in other countries. For Bollywood to stand up, it has to create different kinds of content. That will also open up the global market for Bollywood. Even though the subjects could be India-centric, there are chances that some kind of this content may be acceptable in other markets. Indian film industry has to grow and expand. It is important for India to participate in the globalisation of media.

Sony and Viacom have announced their plans to produce local movies from here. Do you see co-production setting the trend for the studio majors?

The Hollywood studios are looking at India for talented technicians and filmmakers. Co-production is a trend as studios want to enlarge their product portfolio and spread out their risks. Money for a film can come from somewhere, shooting can be done elsewhere, and post production in a different country. India can learn to occupy a place somewhere in this diversified stream.

The average cost of marketing a picture from the studios is estimated to have gone up from $34 million to $36 million in 2005. Is this marketing blitz going to see the end of independent producers?

The conglomerates are putting their muscles behind marketing. Even if they don't produce a film (costs for filmmaking are dropping), they are needed for marketing support. Theatrical releases worldwide take away a lot of capital and require specialist knowledge of distribution in these markets. The marketing spend ranges between 20-40 per cent of the budget, depending on the kind of movies. So the nature of the power is changing. Studios are getting less involved in the production processes of the film and more engaged in lavish spends on marketing.

How will Whistling Woods create an international talent among aspirant filmmakers in India?

We will have a very comprehensive and complex course where directors will even have to learn about acting and actors about editing. Everybody should know everything about filmmaking. We will start the programme this way and later break into specialization and sophistication in skills. We will also focus on screen writing as good scripts are essential for successful movies.

You have produced shows for networks in the US. Do the needs for content vary from network to network?

Yes, there is a difference in approach. Each network is pursuing different demographics. CBS historically caters to an older audience more dramatic pieces. When I made content for TBS, which catered to males, they wanted action movies. Fox, on the other hand, targets younger audiences. While NBC has a more sophisticated demographics, ABC was looking at women jeopardy films when I was providing content for them. But networks shift their demographics from time to time.

There is this theory going around in India that the reality show genre is killing narrative television. How do you look at it?

It is a phenomenon which swings back and forth. The hit gameshow Who Wants to be a Millionaire brought the reality and gameshow genre back on television. Simultaneously Kaun Banega Crorepati did extremely well in India also. In the West, now narrative television is back on track. Same thing can happen in India also. It all depends on the taste of audiences and there is no fixed formula as such when it comes to television programming.

How do you see IPTV and pay-per-view models upsetting these networks?

Audiences will want to view programming when they want to. Networks have already lost a major share of their market to cable. They are now losing to internet. Advertisers will also find it hard to reach video media. Internet can play mass and niche episodes. That is why media companies are busy buying Internet properties.

How will this help in their business models?

As I see it, studios will tend to release movies on theatres more as a marketing and branding exercise. They will then depend on DVD sales for their revenues. The same logic will apply to networks. They will air the shows more for branding and initial exposure. They can then license their products for pay-per-view models.

You have taught television news. How do you see the changes in news coverage in the US where you see channels like Fox going more right wing and others aggressively aping them?

These things will swing like a pendulum. Right now, they are swinging to a biased kind of reporting in the US. But the future is for niche news - finance, international, etc. You will pay a la carte for the news that you want to watch. The market is evolving towards that. The pay-per-news service will be somewhat similar to the pay-per-show concept.

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