Movies

Theatres seek govt aid for re-opening; film producers observe global footfall trends

Film producers expect government support especially in GST and power tariff for at least one year.

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MUMBAI: Social distancing might continue to be the norm even when lockdowns are lifted completely. Theatre owners around the country are in planning mode to resume business as soon as the government gives permission. While Multiplex Association of India (MAI) has expressed displeasure over cinema halls not getting a place in the Unlock 2.0 phase. Producers, theatres owners, distributors and exhibitors are positive that movie theatres will be part of the unlock 3.0 phase which might happen in August.

In FICCI’s E-Frames virtual event, experts from the cinema industry discussed various topics ranging from how are exhibitors preparing for the new viewing experience? What are the changes and impact on distribution economics by virtue of an anticipated lower occupancy across halls, lack of content and challenges for OTT?

The panellists included Telugu film producer, distributor, exhibitor and studio owner Sureshbabu Daggubati, Inox Leisure Limited CEO Alok Tandon, Cinepolis India CEO Devang Sampat, Reliance Entertainment content, digital and gaming group CEO and CEO Shibashish Sarkar, Rathi Cinema film exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi. The session was moderated by UFO Moviez joint MD Kapil Agarwal.

While speaking about the action plan and different planning methods, Sampat mentioned that Cinepolis is rigorously disinfecting auditoriums and washrooms and has completely stopped using paper tickets. Apart from that, it is working on contactless payment methods and QR codes. Cinepolis India has partnered with a company named Vista to create a software for social distancing within the auditorium.

He added, “Nearly 25 major cities in the world have started operating cinemas. Exhibition space is unlike any other retailer industry. We have different stakeholders with the government. Firstly, we will have to convince the government that we will not do anything that will harm us. We have also presented a detailed SOP document to the government which has been approved by the health ministry itself. We are just waiting for their nod to resume operations. I strongly see that cinema will be part of Unlock 3.0 which might happen in August.”

Considering the infrastructure of cinema, high cost and zero revenue from sale of ticket, food and beverage, advertising, the question arises that will this impact the liability of cinema industry?

Tandon said that due to the pandemic, all revenues have come to a grinding halt, whether it is the sale of tickets, food and beverage or even advertising. “The times are difficult, but the short aberration will not change the viability of the cinema business. All the challenges that cinema has faced in 100 years of existence we have come back smarter. It is a battle between apprehension and passion for cinema. I personally see the resurgence happening from Q3 onwards and apprehensions will settle, release dates will be back on track,” he said.

Another challenge before the exhibition industry is to grapple with the issue of less content. This might not be immediate, but this issue will arise when things resume as new production and postproduction are not happening. While the TV industry has resumed shooting, the film industry hasn’t.

According to Sureshbabu Daggubatti, both Hyderabad and Telangana government gave permission to resume shooting but full-fledged shoots didn’t happen because the crew and technicians are scared to come back on the set. He said that while the creativity quotient is removed from the films and people are scared about SOP measures it is difficult to come out with creative products. Film shooting involves a lot of conversation and discussion with actors, dancers and crew which will not be possible with the rule of 50 people and social distancing measures. He believes that there is no point in starting a film with just two actors in a scene or not doing a dance sequence or crowd scene. Due to this, the people who have started shooting also stopped it.

“After all the scenarios, even if I finish the film, when do I take it to the cinema? The government might talk about the reduced capacity in the auditorium. The question arises that will enough people come to the cinema hall? Will producers be able to recover the cost of the film? Will the actors and financiers take a financial cut when the film is released? If I am going to get a hit of 20 or 30 per cent on theatrical revenue, will I be able to take that burden? We are also waiting to see what other films will do when they come in July and August. Will they get 50 per cent of what they expected or where they will stand? All of this will take a lot of courage. We have to see if the curve is going up or down. South Korea is the country where the curve has flattened and people in Japan and Korea are disciplined, but Americans are not that disciplined. America is a very good case study; it is similar to India. So, are the collections going to be good or average that will help me to make the call whether I should release the film or not,” he further explained.

He also mentioned that the post-production work can only start a few months before people really decide to do the shooting. He is also of the opinion that even if good VFX work and dubbing is happening it will not give the end product. Daggubati suggests waiting for three months so that shooting can happen comfortably. Post this, movie theatres can open when there is good availability of content.

Daggubati quipped, “More scripts are getting ready, better planning is happening now. In the long run, I am very confident cinema will be back on track. If you go theatrical and then OTT, then the value of OTT falls drastically. So, this economic calculation is there in every producer’s mind. The government also needs to help. Wherever theatres have opened there is a reduction in VAT, GST and benefit from the government. They have to support us, especially in GST and power tariff for at least one year."

Rathi also said that there are a lot of things that will change post Covid2019 such as vendor-buyer relationships and collaborative work. He said, “To bring things together from talent, production, distribution and exhibitor we will have to demolish the linguistic barrier existing in the cinema.”

Shibashish concluded, “After South Korea, German cinemas opened up and according to the poll conducted 87 per cent of the people are satisfied by SOP measures. If cinema opens and we are able to strictly adhere to all rules and regulations people will get the confidence to come back to theatres. Because 60 to 70 per cent revenue of films come from theatres.”

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