Inside Netflix India's growing post-production infrastructure

The post-production team pushes for minimum ten per cent of below the line budget

Vijay Venkataramanan

MUMBAI: Netflix has always shown supremacy in content quality. After entering the Indian market in 2016, the Reed Hastings-led streaming service has created several high-quality originals including Sacred Games, Bard of Blood, Leila, Delhi Crime and Lust Stories. While emphasising on writing, direction, production, Netflix is not overlooking the oft-ignored segment in the industry - post-production. Currently, the over-the-top (OTT) platform is in the process of expanding its post-production team and growing the infrastructure.

“There have been some very big shifts in the industry and how we look at post-production. In the film days it was that transition going from black and white to colour. After that, we went digital from film. That was the next big shift. Now we are completely almost 99 per cent in the digital space. And that next big shift is the change in discipline going from feature films to episodic series of higher production value,” Netflix India post-production director Vijay Venkataramanan said in a recent interaction with Indiantelevision.com.

Talking about the big shift, Venkataramanan said that earlier people spent about a year or higher time making a feature film but with the series it needs to be delivered at an even better quality at the same time. Moreover, in contrast to typical feature films which typically would have one director, one editor and one visual effects facility, some shows have three directors, multiple editors and multiple visual effects teams working in parallel to meet timelines.

He also added that Netflix has an extensive deliverables list because the platform future-proofs its content to stand the test of time. The platform archives everything carefully so it can remaster and update it whenever the technology changes. Venkataramanan added that to be able to get that, the process has to start even before the script is written, putting a plan together of the workflow needed to be followed and how to budget.

“It’s not about how much time you get, it’s about how you use the time. Often we might get the same amount of time as a film, but then if you are structuring your crew better, hiring more people and hiring specialists for each genre, if you are not trying to economise by eliminating specialists or having one person to do the job of three persons, having dedicated specialist for each genre, you can use that time better. We get the same start date or delivery date but what we change is the factors in-between,” he also pointed out.

“In India, the post-production team is growing fast. We are nine people now. But if you look at the support teams of our operations, we have QC teams, our visual effects management team and then we have production technology support. So, we are close to 14. We are in the process of expanding the team because for us it’s important to have sufficient support within Netflix and it’s important to hire leaders in the industry,” he added further.

Notably, Netflix recently organised its first-of-a-kind workshop on post-production in Mumbai to train industry professionals on international standards and practices. It has brought in trainers from APostLab, Netflix professionals from the US and Korea and industry experts from India. The training was aimed at enhancing creative digital skills for the internet entertainment industry.

Venkataramanan said that while Netflix is a platform with the ability to stream content in 4K high dynamic range and Dolby Atmos in homes, the next step for the international streaming giant is to implement that same technology and finish its Indian content at that standard, format and specification. According to him, post-production is 50 per cent technical, 50 per cent creativity.

“Typically what we push for the budget is a minimum ten per cent of below the line budget for post-production. But this does not include visual effects cost because visual effect budgets change depending on the creative of the show. There is a huge difference in the scope of visual effect in a Bard of Blood and Bahubali. So the budget of visual effects is significantly high in Bahubali than Blood of Bard. That will also not include the budget for in-licensed music that you are taking. You can’t put pressure on post-production budget,” he added.

“When you are talking about post-production, you are specifically talking about those functions that tie into post-production and all the crew that are connected to post-production. But these are people who start operating even before you go into production. How do you set up editors, multiple teams of editors, having proper edit facilities, not a stadalone iMAC in the corner of production office but properly set editing rooms, budgeting for the DIT, sound mix, come under that ten per cent,” he added.

He also added that they keep working with the partners to make sure that money is spent wisely. But when there are savings, they don’t allow that money to go back to production, they put that money back into post-production to create a better product. He also gave an example of a feature film that they are working on for which they had a lot of savings. Instead of taking back that money, they used that money for the highest quality of delivery possible including going to 4K HDR from initially planned 4K SDR.

“Right now our post-production infrastructure is growing. One year ago, we had only two to three facilities that were capable of delivering to Netflix. After we engaged with the industry and gave them confidence that we will pay fairly and you can fearlessly go and invest in creating your pipeline and we are here to making this content, today we have 11 facilities across India that can deliver to us. It's growing even faster and the industry is responding to the content we are making. Our philosophy towards post-production is different and when people see that, the iwAndustry gets confident and then they partner,” he commented.

According to him, the challenge is not in terms of technology but how you are planning and budgeting for it. “The technical staff we can teach, our technicians are great. We have people who go to facilities and work with Technical staff and the entire team dedicated to facilities and helping guide them on how to upgrade their infrastructure. We have all these resources but it's important how we manage it efficiently. That’s the culture shift and we are making producers aware of how to use post-production properly respecting their skill set and making them aware of various stages of post-production,” he signed off. 

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