Getting a script approved is big. After months of going through rubbish suggestions by earnest lackeys, misplaced intellectualism from pretentious CEOs, valuable comments from their buxom secretaries, arbitrary dipshit data compiled by research agencies, hackneyed presentations by failed planners turned doomsday marketing consultants, second thoughts of spineless brand managers and many a half-boiled creative input from the chairman’s wife, a script is born.
It is but obvious, that by now the writer of this above-mentioned script is in some state of delusion. The sense of pride and achievement at having passed this long ordeal could often distract him. And what he might not realise is that with every passing round of changes and requests for dumbing down, his script is now limp, ragged and a far-removed version of what it originally was.
And then we start looking for production houses.
There are many different types of production houses. The big ones. The erstwhile-big ones. The fast-rising medium ones. The ambitious smaller ones. The fly-by-night ones. The confused ones. The arrogant ones. The selective ones. The evolved-from-A/V-ones. The ones that call you incessantly all the time. The ones that openly offer you money. The list is endless.
And each one comes with their own sense of strengths and weaknesses. The big ones, if they see potential in your script (or sniff a big client), will agree to meet. That is big, considering how prima donna-ish these creatures can get. Once you meet, they will ask you numerous questions. The director will appear distracted as if he doesn’t really need these films. And then, when you are done fielding them, will ask you simply, “Can we change the script?” Yes or no aside, these guys make films at phenomenally high costs. And yet all the while the negotiations happen, the director will continue to seem uninterested. He will call you a couple of times with ideas to show you that he is really into the script. He will not talk about money. Money is a bad thing. If less than 2.5 crores i.e.
Apart from the big ones, who will come with their own version, every production house will love your script. Ok. Did I mention love? This will happen each and every time and without exception. In fact, if you are a writer and going through a particularly bad phase, it makes sense to set up a few meetings with production houses to give your ego and self-esteem a boost. Use a faux script and ask them for their opinion. Works better than the drugs. They will Ooh and Aah and tell you it is fantastic! They will jump up and down while smiling at you and nodding their heads in disbelief as if they have discovered plutonium. Be careful: You are bound to be affected by all this. Your pupils will be dilated. And you will be tempted to ask for a raise that very day. Wait for a few minutes after they have gone before you do anything stupid.
The medium ones will re-schedule meetings a couple of times. It is just to give you an impression of how busy they are and that they are going places. The producer and director play out the clichéd good cop, bad cop routine. They will attempt to confuse you with their arrogance and humility. The director will have some ideas but will also be quickly accommodating. They will often talk about their other projects and how they created magic. The director will bombard you with ideas. The producer will wait for you to fall for the act and then send you a quote that is way higher than what you anticipated. Do not be fooled. You have better negotiating power than you think. What’s more, if selected carefully, these guys can be better bets than the so-called big ones.
The smaller ones will land up immediately. In fact, they appear so fast that you almost think they were hanging around in the parking lot. Struggling to get that one good film out, these guys will do anything. And though that is not a bad thing, tread with caution. They can overpromise or just blow your mind.
As fun as it sounds and as interesting they might all seem, it is a tiresome process. Most of the big ones come with tremendous attitudes and costs. They will fill up the estimate with vague heads and make money off everything as if it is their right. They will take the script from the agency, your intellectual copyright, paid by your client and treat it like they created it. And in our attempts to be safe, I have seen agencies and clients quietly pay up. That’s also because we are not willing to experiment or perhaps are just too scared to go without an established name.
But then again, the flipside to this is that there are hardly talented people around. Most production houses are here to make a quick buck. And you can smell them. Take a cursory glance through some of the small production house reels and you will find most of them share the same director’s work being showcased.
And the ones to complain about the mess are often the ones to blame as well. The hungry creative director/agency is as much at fault. Tales of agencies built on serious padding of estimates from films have always been conversation around water coolers. Film departments of big agencies are no strangers to kickbacks either. And no questions are asked when a certain creative director only uses one production house for all his films. It is all because of comfort levels, it is said.
What remains is that as a creative person with a decent script, I never look forward to this process. I have seen directors who were so hot just a few years ago, vanish into oblivion or desperately calling me for business. I have been gypped and conned too many times. I have been promised the moon and then on the project, I have been surprised by the lack of any respect towards the agency or the client.
So I use a simple rule of thumb.
The humble show reel. The DVD with the imaginative name printed on it. The Dancing Monkeys or the Ribald Romeos. The quick fix adjective with a common noun at the end. The Laughing Cows and the Abominable Snowmen. And all I look for is the quality of work over the last six months. And that’s enough for me to take a call.
Trilokjit Sengupta is the creative director and one of the founder members of Metal. He has spent almost ten years in advertising and currently moonlights as a photographer.