THE STORYTELLING BOOM AND HOW THE FILM BUSINESS SHOULD EMBRACE IT
2016 and 2017 have been a dramatic two years for cinema all over the world. Traditional studios have seen a small, but significant challenge – it’s getting harder and harder to get people into theatres. At the same time, the tradition of storytelling has seen a boom and we see storytellers all around us. There is fictionalized storytelling – in all shapes and sizes – with films, television, digital OTT platforms. Then there is semi- -fictionalized storytelling – what you see on broadcast news, social media platforms, even newspapers. The audience does not have any dearth of compelling narratives to follow. With these omnipresent wide- – ranging choices, all kinds of content creators are in a challenging position today.
In the theatrical experience, we are taking away two valuable resources from the audience member – Money and Time. The viewer is sometimes forgiving of the money taken away from them, but she is quite intolerant about wasted time. The viewing environment in the theatre is focused and allows no distractions. The viewer is essentially a captive – this is unique to cinema amongst all these storytelling environments.
Watching a film is an entirely emotional experience for the viewer. So it seems fairly logical that creating a film would be driven by the emotional connection to the story. Emotions cover a wide range of course and Indian cinema has always been driven by trying to give the audience everything on one plate – the masala film genre.
The last two years have seen the dramatic decline of the masala film genre. In addition, there is a substantial decline in the audience’s “suspension of disbelief” meter. This is mainly due to the large volume of stories that the audience is exposed to. Anything unbelievable or filmy is rejected by the audience quickly. What seems to matter more is real emotions and a logical (and highly entertaining) unfolding of the story. The love for this genre has undergone a sea-‐change over the last couple of years and we had almost written it off but then a masala film comes along and changes that hypothesis! It is almost impossible to figure what the audience will embrace at any given time in today’s scenario.
Today, the mean age of the Indian audience is 27, which means that the large part of the audience was born after 1990. The landmark Indian films of this period are Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Munnabhai MBBS, 3 Idiots, Paan Singh Tomar, Gangs of Wasseypur, Barfi, PK, Neerja, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Baahubali, Dangal. Young India has not been exposed to the masala genre the way previous generations have. They have been exposed to meaningful stories, even among digital platforms.
At studios, we have the advantage of control from sourcing stories to consumption. The business of cinema is a wide-‐ranging and often unpredictable beast. But storytelling and consuming is a purely personal experience. So a substantial part of the Creative’s work in a studio is finding a writer/ director who is willing to express themselves as honestly as possible. To make something emotionally authentic is the hardest thing to do in an art form that is also highly collaborative.
The studio Creative is in search of directors and writers with strong ideas that can travel – that resonate with the pulse of a rapidly changing audience. The effort is to pin down the most universal nuance of that idea, that cuts across today’s India. And then the hard part -‐ travelling with that idea from conception to making to marketing to distribution. This is
imperative to the thinking process at the studio. While the studio Creative might not be executing some of the processes down the line, the fundamental task is to find the answer to the question – “What is this story about?” or “Why is this story important to tell?” – and then find the strongest possible thread to the narrative from writing to final product.
I use the word “product” very deliberately, the “business” end of the journey begins here. While Creatives are encouraged to see a film as a product, I strongly feel it cannot be viewed as one during the making process. The hits and misses of the last two years are the best evidence of this. The studio Creative therefore has to protect the film during the film-‐ making process. It stays a creative process in the making and it cannot be treated as a product. Creative has been pushing the envelope in terms of content over the last few years (we have seen the evidence of this at the box office). The next few years will see how much Marketing and Distribution can push the envelope while taking the films to the audience.
Finally -‐ in the earlier days movies had to stand the test of the Weekend audience and now they have to stand the test of the Monday audience. This is truly an exciting position for the studio Creative to be in – after all, she was once the very same excited Weekend and Monday viewer – willing to be blown away by the theatrical experience.
Rucha Pathak Chief Creative Officer Fox Star Studios