Maya, Joker, Maanagaram, Theeran Adhigaram Ondru and now, the critically acclaimed Aruvi – the list of films Dream Warrior Pictures have chosen to back says a lot of the brand, and the people behind it. They have films with Suriya and SJ Suryah in the pipeline. Trade circles have begun to anoint them as the producers with the Midas touch. However their success did not happen by chance, it is backed by hard work, a shrewd sense of business and the desire to back good cinema. Excerpts from a tete-a-tete conversation with S.R.Prabhu from Dream Warrior Pictures.
Years back, you had candidly said that you believed there wasn’t much support for unconventional cinema. Later, you have admitted that the confidence is stronger now, thanks to the success of Maya, Joker and Maanagaram. But Aruvi was a project that was started way before these movies? What sealed the deal back then?
Good films don’t come to you all the time. Nobody would want to miss a good movie. We didn’t want to miss Aruvi due to financial reasons. Our main worry was collections: how big an audience do we have for films that extremely unconventional, like this one. We didn’t have an answer back then. There are cases where National-award winning films did not earn a lot of money at the theaters. The same movies earn a lot of acclaim when they come to Television or get watched through illegal sources. The producer of the artistes don’t benefit if the movie is appreciated after its time. That’s the reason why I said I wasn’t confident about our audience back then. But now that has definitely changed.
Marketing a film is very important as it has to reach the end user, the audience. How different is marketing for exploratory ventures like Aruvi?
The trend of pushing a film out too much has reduced these days. If you market a film inappropriately, it could act against the film’s success at the box office. We have such experiences. A film’s marketing strategy should evolve from its content. For example, our target audience for Aruvi was the kind of people who want cinema to be more than just entertainment; viewers who expect quality for the money they pay. So we started looking at ways to engage them, identify where their presence is; what kind of channels do our prospective viewers watch? It is all about taking the movie to where the audience is.
Now after a string of films, there is an image for Dream Warrior Pictures as a brand that supports unconventional ventures. Was this a consciously cultivated image or did you just pick films that you didn’t want to miss?
It is a conscious decision. If you create a brand, later that will give you a lot of value addition. When you start working on a particular type of content, the brand automatically gets created.
Tell us about your balance between small budget and big budget movies. In the same year, you have had Maanagaram and Theeran Adhigaram Ondru.
It has to be a mix and match. If you constantly produce small movies, you won’t be able to package them properly. Sometime it becomes necessary to use strategies that are like “Poonai vanginal, guthirai ilavasam” (Buy a cat, get a horse free). So having big budget movies in your kitty becomes an advantage then. There are times when people buy small films because the company has another big movie in the pipeline; not because of the content or the production company. Their idea is that the film will definitely release, even if it faces problems. Also if the small film doesn’t do well, they can ask for a better price in the upcoming bigger project. Business doesn’t support only content always, there are many factors involved.
There are several instances where we have heard that producers ask for inclusion of commercial elements in the script. How far is this true? How much do producers actually intervene in the scripts?
It varies on how the producer perceives cinema. When we find a script to have the things we are looking for, we decide we will invest in the film. From there, it becomes a matter of mutually convincing each other rather than an argument. We believe that we can quote valid, reasonable reasons and convince the director to include commercial elements in films. I think our other films have helped us achieve that. When we work with mutual understanding it becomes team work. At the end of the day, we are all working on a product that has to delivered to the end user. It becomes an issue only when it becomes a battle of egos.
What are the things you look for in a story?
First thing, we should definitely like the script as soon as we hear it. Second, we should know why this movie is being made. No one should later ask us why we made that movie. Third, how does it translate in terms of money? What is the money generation value of the subject the film talks about and is the budget within that range.
During a press meet, you said that despite having a brand in place, there were still issues in getting release dates. How do you handle them?
There are several factors involved in deciding a release date. How are last week’s films doing? What are the other movies releasing? Will audience come to the theater to watch during this season? What are the theaters we can get? We have to constantly watch the demand and supply. Now, there are other good films releasing with Aruvi, even Theeran is still running. We have Sivakarthikeyan and Santhanam’s films releasing the forthcoming week, during the holiday season. Even if the film is doing well, a 200-seater theater might have 50 people in it. The theater owner will say ‘I’ll get a full house if i run a Sivakarthikeyan’s film.’ Who is to blame: The content, the theater owners or the films that release in the next week? All such circumstances have to be considered.
When there is so much of thought involved, how difficult it is to re-strategise when you have to change your release date as a big movie got pushed or pre-poned?
It is very stressful. But we can’t blame that producer or director. The working style of the entire industry is the only reason. Cinema is not in the hands of the producer. Not all producers are in the state to demand their director to complete on time. Either they should get their films ready on the said date or think about release after it is ready. If every producer can do this, then this sad state will change.
The Tamil Film Producer Council has been active about several things this year including piracy and the Local Body Entertainment Taxes. Despite the efforts, there seems to be no respite. As the treasurer, any plans of a solution?
The beginning to all these issues is non-transparency. When the system gets computerised, the industry will get a white-wash. There are people with vested interests who will keep blocking it so that they can earn more. The entire industry should adapt to a newer outlook or the government has to intervene. It is a revenue loss for the government as well. But what the government should do is give us the correct way to implement the tax system when they introduce new one. If they computerise tickets, it would be the best thing the government can do for the industry in recent times. Nothing else can change the industry.
What about Piracy?
With time piracy should reduce significantly, thanks to the extraordinary influence of digital media. The solution is to make content accessible to everyone in the shortest time possible through several channels. It is tough to kill piracy. There are people who steal for need, and others who do it for greed. It is tough to transform the latter but we will find ways to compete with them.