Saturday 15 December 2012


Circa 1995 and sitting in a class largely comprising of professional, semi and wannabe geeks, I was being shot in the head by words like ‘Derivatives, Forward contracts, Floating exchange rates, Hedging, Spot contracts’ and the like ... and though as always, I was sitting at the back of the class, I clearly felt the finance jargon bullets pierce through my cranium at close range.

The class was on Foreign Exchange and the preacher was a certain Mr. T. Mr. T used to work in treasury at a foreign bank and used to regularly inundate us with Forex Treasury paraphernalia.

I understood very little and it probably had to do with my long tested limited comprehension capabilities ... so though I was academically inclined enough to finish with a costing degree and a decent enough Business school seat ... beyond that my academic brilliance was genuinely suspect.

So as I sat there struggling with the knowledge I seldom grasped, wondering with, at a conservative estimate, the other 20% of the class, “What the F*** am I doing here?”

Cut to yesterday ... sitting in a cinema hall at Wadala and mesmerised by Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, for some strange reason ... Mr. T’s complex class on Finance whirled through my head.

Years back, I had read Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’. It was a single session read and that is generally my benchmark for a book I like ... I should also take the pain to mention that from reading two fiction novels a day, my reading habits have largely devolved to two books a decade ... or probably less. The rise of the internet has been inversely proportional to my reading habits ... there ...  I finally have a villain to blame for my cultural degeneration. Thanks Internet!

I clearly am a sucker for high concept stories and was impressed enough to list Pi as one of my all time favourite books. Earlier Manoj Shyamalan was to make a film on the same. Not having recovered from my dislike of the cinematic presentation of my other favourite, ‘The Ice Candy Man’ (Made as 1947 Earth), my immediate reaction was to disregard it as another one of Hollywood’s really bad ideas.

In my mind, Pi is a difficult book to film and primarily, a more difficult job to write an engrossing screenplay on. Most of the events take place in the middle of the sea with a tiger for company ... add to that ... no big time romantic interest, no gun fights and definitely no songs around trees.

To be fair, however, Hollywood has already done a pretty cool job with ‘Castaway’. ‘Castaway’ was also a difficult screenplay to write ... probably a more difficult job considering that Tom Hanks had only Bob, the football to keep him company. The difference being ‘Castaway’ has a far more believable element to it at an intrinsic story level.

‘Li of Pi’ is more fantasy and clearly a tale where one needs to suspend belief. Here, for most part of the film, one also needs to believe Pi’s incredible tale for the film to work.

It is also important to have fondness for the literature from which the film is derived. Most folks who have disliked the book have also disliked the film ... hence I would like to keep my post limited to the cinematic adaptation of the book.

Firstly, the choice of Director ... Ang Lee. There is something soulful about the way Ang Lee makes films. His more recent ‘Lust, Caution’ is an exercise in cinematic control. A similar film in Hollywood would have pounding drama, car chases and the works ... but ‘Lust, caution takes the more difficult path of slowly involving you in the story of the leads while gently nudging you towards the payoff. Other notable films by the Director include Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

As a Director, ‘Life of Pi’ is a more difficult book to adapt to film ... say as compared to ‘The Godfather’ ... no great lines ... no colourful characters ... nothing traditional to hook a lay audience ... except the tiger!

Somewhere Ang Lee must have realised that the only way to film the book was to give a novel cinematic experience. The 3D was probably conceived as a gimmick and a deliberate way of engaging and distracting the audience with a film tool.

The 3D is definitely awesome and one of the best that one has seen in films so far. Every little thing has been thought of including the awesome opening titles.

Actually speaking, there is very little to talk about beyond the visual appeal of the film. Life of Pi tries to engage the audience visually rather than at the script level ... which a ‘Castaway’ does better. Probably that is why I liked the film since while reading the book, I visualised far less.

To compare it with a classic like ‘The Godfather’ ... In ‘The Godfather’, there was so much more to look forward to ... how would key characters look? How would they say the lines? How would the mood of all those chilling scenes be created? Definitely, there was far more ... With ‘Life of Pi’, there was far less and yet it kept me glued to my seat ... if not anything else, a wonderful cinematic adaptation of a difficult book to film.

Largely, Pi seems to have found an audience. Why is that the film has been generally liked? My view is that Ang Lee kept things simple. More importantly, he tried to reach an audience who hadn’t read the book.

That brings me back to my days in the Foreign Exchange class at business school. The professor then kept throwing jargon at us. Most times, I didn’t understand jackshit. That, I believe, defeated the very purpose of having a professor in class.

Eventually, it did dawn upon me that all business transactions in Banks, stocks, marketing or even films  ... irrespective of the jargon used ... are based on the same underlying principle of profit ... that selling price has to be higher than buy rates ... basing it on as simple as the profit principle, all of Mr. T’s foreign exchange jargon suddenly fell into perspective. In business deals, jargonising simple concepts is simply a way of sounding more intelligent and generally a covert way of charging a higher premium. 

In all fairness, I do use a lot of jargon myself ... Jargon, if you know what it stands for, helps condense the use of multiple sentences. If you don’t, then you are just plain lost ... that is probably the lesson one learns from Masters like Ang  Lee ... to reach an audience who haven’t read the book.

Years later, after I started studying at film school, to make ends come closer (Alas! they still don’t meet), I used to teach maths at an MBA coaching centre. My single most endeavour was not to complicate the subject. Probably I succeeded ... probably I didn’t ... but my teaching efforts were largely guided by my complete incomprehension of those forex classes ... proves that everything in life has a payoff.

That probably has been my approach to the films I make. Not to complicate the simple ... and to simple out the complicated ...  if only I could apply this principle to my life ...

It definitely is easier to blog about than implement ... that bitch ... the Pi of Life.

Wednesday 24 October 2012


Wanted to and should have actually done this a long time back, can attribute the delay to sheer laziness. 

The short film is a very different animal from a feature. Unlike a feature film, where most variables are controlled by film production houses and distributors, marketing a short largely depends on the Producer and Director ... since generally ... they have no other choice but to shoulder that responsibility themselves

We finished making Rewind sometime in January 2007 and here is an attempt to graphically detail what we did since. Hope this blog helps some amongst you to market your short films better.

Blah blah blah blah ...

Beg, borrow, grovel, steal, murder ... Beg, borrow, grovel ...

Any film which is less than 40 minutes is technically a short film but it helps to keep short films short. Short films are bundled together and shown at film festivals. Most festivals prefer films which are less than 15 minutes, largely because it fits their programming requirement. Most sites which sell short films on the net (like an iTunes) generally do not have films more than 15 minutes in length. This is not to say that anything above 15 minutes is not selected or sold, but there is generally not more than one film more than 15 minutes in a 5 film programme in a festival. I guess it is more from a festival programming perspective and nothing else

The length requirement also changes from distributor to distributor. To quote an example :

Post the screening at the Locarno Film Festival, a short film programmer wanted to buy Rewind for screenings before feature films in Switzerland. He was very keen to select Rewind but it did not work out since they were looking for films with a maximum length of 5 minutes (while Rewind is hardly an 8 minute film).

We made Rewind in February 2007. I had roamed around a bit for the money, asking for a measly 1.5 lakhs to make a DV film but no one was interested. Ketan Gohil (the producer of Rewind) was a batchmate from my MBA days. Ketan had, time and again, said that he wanted to make a film. I was looking to make a showreel and he was looking to make that one film. He was not really looking for returns, so that helped. We finished the film in 30 days, on a budget far higher than the one mentioned above and with four 35 mm dolby digital prints.

One hears a lot about the festival circuit. From a selling perspective, it is highly overrated. Seldom do films get sold at festivals. Most times, one is spending more money to send films to festivals with no tangible returns. Technically speaking, one is just spending money to get one’s film seen, when it should be the other way round.

That is not to say that it does not have its advantages. Like films do get noticed and hit the bigger circuits. The original Saw, The Little Terrorist, District 9 are good examples of what a well noticed short film can achieve.

The following sites cover almost every film festival in the world and how to apply to them. Reelport, Shortfilmdepot and withoutabox are registration sites for festivals ... meaning that one can create a database just once and not have to fill up documents again and again and send the films directly to festivals subscribed to by these sites. Britfilms is probably the best database site for film festivals and details almost every film festival in the world.

We decided that we will first send the film only to a big six festival (Berlin, Cannes. Locarno, Venice, Toronto and Sundance). The reason why one waits for a big six festival is that if the film actually gets noticed then the film may hit the bigger circuit (like Sales, feature film deals, etc). Also, most big film festivals have a world premiere policy, so if you have already screened your film at a small festival, they generally do not consider the film in the competition section.

Cannes rejected Rewind. The rejection came through in March. The next big festival was Locarno in August. It was a long wait.

Here one has to talk about the Oscar short list. If you made a film in a format which suits a festival, you can just send the film. The festival, then selects or rejects a film. That, however, is not the case with the Oscars. To send a film to the Oscars, the film has to win a designated prize at one of the Oscar nominated festival.  If and only if a film wins at one of these festivals, then it qualifies for an entry to the Oscars. The complete list of the festivals which qualify for an Oscar entry are available on the site.

We decided to wait for Locarno. Since nothing had happened and nothing was going to happen for the next five months, Ketan was getting a bit impatient. If Locarno rejected the film too, should we wait for Venice? We decided not to but send the film to some Oscar nominated festivals. Luckily. Locarno selected the film. Around the same time, the film was selected at four other Oscar nominated film festivals (Palm Springs, Milano, Los Angeles and Montreal)

We went to Locarno with huge expectations expecting the film to be sold the moment we landed in Switzerland. We spent a good ten days and more money but nothing happened. We made a few friends, drank a few beers and came back.

Producer & Director showing off at Locarno
If the film has been sold, a lot of that credit goes to the producer Ketan Gohil. Ketan has this great theory, “Jo bhi USA mein badaa hotaa hain, duniya usko salaam kartee hain (if you become big in the USA, the world salutes you)”. Maybe he is right ... Well, Ketan has generally been right on Rewind.

Palm Springs and LA international film festivals are supposedly great markets for short films. That is what the net said. None of them were paying for the flight ticket but Ketan was convinced. He flew to the USA on his own money, had a meeting with Linda from Shorts International who liked the film and picked it up. The contract was signed in October 2007. We had finally managed to sell Rewind. It took us nine months to sell the film.

Shorts International is the biggest player in the short film market in the world. Their distribution network is unmatched. Rewind, for example, was bought by HBO Czechoslovakia. Sitting in India, how does one access a television network in East Europe? Shorts International gives you that access. You can read about them and send a film directly to them.

Indieflix, a company based in North America, is yet another big player in the short film market. Their business model is very similar to Shorts International. They sell films per download or unlimited monthly views for a certain fee. We were approached for ‘Rewind’ but couldn’t be a part because of internet exclusivity at that point. As we rummaged through the contract, we realised that the dvd rights were non-exclusive. Ketan signed the contract sometime last year and Rewind was launched as a part of a 4 film package under the ‘Adrenaline’ section under the series ‘Film Festival in a Box’ in North America.

The biggest obviously is Apple iTunes.  But most of their short film programming is done by Shorts International. However, not all short films selected by Shorts International end up on Apple iTunes. As a matter of fact, very few do. We were lucky. Maybe the fact that Rewind was in English helped. Currently, the film is available on Apple iTunes in the USA, UK, Australia and Germany.

Rewind in Theatres - An all India release ... thanks to PVR
A theatrical release for a short film is almost impossible. I had seen a short film being shown before a feature in Paris. A dear friend now, Umang Pahwa was then working for PVR. He had called to ask if I had a feature script. I suggested if they could show Rewind before a feature. 

Surprisingly, almost everybody at PVR (Ashish Saksena, Ranjan Singh, Rajendram   Akula, Sameep & Prakhar Joshi) was excited and even gave us a small part of the distributor’s share. It was just plain nice of them, since there is no real tangible return from showcasing a short film before a feature. Rewind had an all India theatrical release and was shown prior to the Michel Gondry film ‘Be Kind Rewind'

There are some avenues to sell short films in India. But except for Magic Lantern, I have no idea who else pays up for distributing short films in India.

We have/had a small non-exclusive deal with Palador. They have an Indie corner section on their dvds where they showcase short films. The deal was that they would pay us Rs. 5 per dvd sold. In India, Rewind is available as a bonus film with some Alfred Hitchcock feature films (Blackmail, The Skin Game, Rich & strange, The Manxman & Murder). Probably Palador no longer exists. Enlighten was also looking for films since they had contacted us a long time back. I have no other details on them or what they are looking for so I guess, Producers and Directors can still contact them and find out

They are probably the best and the most aggressive. They have more than 200 short films in their profile. They are trying their best to create a short film market in India. They also buy feature films. They also pay whatever they can. We can vouch since we do receive regular cheques from them. Actually, they are the only ones in India who we have received cheques from.

This is one other distributor in Canada who had approached us to distribute Rewind. Since we already have an exclusive deal with Shorts International (other than South Asia), we didn’t pursue the same. More recently, a friend of mine Vinoo Choliparambil had send his film ‘Vitthal’ to them and they were interested enough to send him a non-exclusive contract. Here is their website address


Shorts International wanted exclusive international rights for Rewind. Ketan fought and retained all rights for South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). So if anybody wants to buy these rights from us for these markets, they are still available.

Though the film is available on dvd in India, Ketan had been smart enough to give out only non exclusive rights. It makes perfect sense, since most distributors in India are looking for a free lunch. So if nobody is paying you, then you might as well get the film seen by more and more people.


You can see the complete film here :

Here is the YouTube Link :

Please feel free to add names if you know of any other genuine distributors for short films ... or any other information which helps to contribute to this blog. Hope this info helps in selling your shorts. 

All the best. 


-       Atul Taishete