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Behind the scenes of an ad film.

October 17, 2006

Are they all extravaganza’s?

The ingredients: an exotic locale, some visual razzmatazz, a catchy tune, a fascinating script, and a bunch of celebs. The duration: 30 to 60 seconds. The cost: nothing short of seven digits.

That’s the reigning ad film-making formula. But figures that range from Rs 25 and Rs 45 lakh a minute? Are advertising costs for real? Yes, and that’s the common slab for most ad films being made these days. The really indulgent ones even have budgets running into a crore a minute. On a minute-to-minute comparisons, a three-hour feature film would cost nowhere as much. Industry professionals believe that’s a small price to pay for the building of multi-crore brands. Even if it means shooting in Europe, important heavy-duty machinery, or zipping off to say, Singapore, for post-production.

Ad folk argue that when it comes to costs, it’s unfair to compare an ad film with a feature film. As Devan Khote, film director at UTV says, ‘The objectives are different and if you get value for money the film is not exorbitant.’ After all, brands aim to last a lifetime while  a feature film’s appeal would last at most, for a couple of years.

The Indian Ad industry is on the cutting edge of technolgy

Unlike the west, in India, it’s the domestic ad industry that’s on the cutting edge of technology, not the film industry. It’s the ad industy that splurges and innovates, whether it means attempting a new technique in make-up, cinematography or computer graphics. ‘The Indian feature film industry is not as interested in visual quality as much as the ad industry,’ says Subir Chatterjee of Whitelight Moving Picture Company. And the drive to create differently very often means sinking in pots of money.

Take computer graphics. The technology used in the Sushmita Sen endorsed Lux Shampoo film has Sen’s face superimposed on another woman’s body. Levers wanted to create a scene from a fashion pageant that actually took place in Paris, which it had used in an earlier film. However, taking the entire production team to Paris would have meant pushing up the film’s cost. Instead, film-maker Shyam Ramanna of Crest Communications used the sophisticated Quantel Hal Express to ‘composite’ Sen’s face on another body.

Shooting locales

Another no-compromise area is organising outdoor shoots. The Four Square ‘director’ film (executed by Highlight Films) is an example. The filmmakers wanted to capture ‘the essence of a snow-capped peak complete with it’s inherent dangers. And they settled on Mammoth mountains, California, for the purpose. While India does have it’s share of mighty mountains, what it doesn’t have is the necessary infrastructure. Elaborates the film’s producer Srila Chatterjee, ‘Here we don’t have the vehicles to carry equipment up to 10000 feet at the required angle,’ A vehicle called Snowcat was used to haul everything up. The proximity of the location to Hollywood had easy access to technical assistance, equipment and manpower. Eventually, just seven people from the Indian until needed to go for the shoot, which took five days to wrap up.

Generally, sets are more expensive than real life locations, but it’s the set that producers prefer. Even if it’s a scene as uncomplicated as say, a meal at a dhaba (roadside restaurant). Hiring one costs almost nothing, but what about the nitty-gritties like the right amount of smoke coming out of the choolah, the people in the background wearing the right clothes, the paan shop in the corner, the broken-down shed with auto parts, the food being cooked, the trucks, drivers, and the khatiyas? Putting together all these minute details takes a lot of time and bother. Besides there are a whole lot of uncontrollables to contend with. ‘You may never get the desered effect in a real dhaba,’ says Piyush Panjuani, owner, Equus (a production house). Money too is a consideration. ‘ I have to pay for everything from lights to camera to props on a daily basis.’ Typically, a cameraman charges anything upwards Rs 25,000/- for a day’s services. So, just constructing a perfect dhaba set could cost a couple of lakh.

You don’t see what you get

The complexity of shooting is not obvious to the eventual audience and nor should it be. The Shell Remula 60 seconder for example needed to have the backdrop of a rainy night. The ad was shot in a jungle at Film City, and the rain had to be created artificially over a large surface area. Not only was it expensive, creating in the dark meant spending a lot of time detailing.

The Equus created MRF commercials are another interesting case. While the shots were simple enough (car parts shot against a while background) one of the films required picking up a satin cloth off the product with a flourish. It took the film makers one and a half days of hard work to get the shot right, to make the cloth fly just right.

As in the case with all films, a large portion of the film shot is edited. Just about 5 per cent is retained, and some admen feel that’s on the higher side!

How does one cut costs?

Ofcourse there are ways to cut costs. Avoiding the use of celebrities is a sure-shot way of doing it. Films stars like Shah Rukh, Sachin and the Big B take upwards of a crore as payment. Cutting back on foreign shoots or doing the post-production aboard is another way to reduce costs. Mitali Kakar of Offspring Productions gives the example of the Pepsi Cricket film which was shot on a set. ‘The client wanted the Lords Stadium look and had we insisted, the film would have actually been shot there,’ says she. Offspring created a set with lush green lawns and the ‘the Lords look’ right here, and instead of the entire unit flying to London, umpire Dickie Bird was brought here.

Even when it comes to post-production, the best facilities are available in India now, believes Kakar. Chatterjee disagrees to an extent. She believes that to find a good combination of technician and artist in one person is not easy.

Ultimately, what drives film costs is the market. Marketers, lets not forget, are hard-nosed businessmen. Didn’t Macintosh spend a million dollars on advertisements that changed the complexion of the PC market forever?        

(This article was published in the Advertising and Marketing Magazine (A&M). This was some years ago but I have made certain changes to make it up to date.)

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