Here's What You Should Tick Off First
While four years may not be that vast a time for a new generation of film industry to mature, it is enough to get on the audience’s nerves: case in point – a lot of mediocre to bad productions since 2013. The problem, I feel, lies in multiple fronts. In a bid to help out, here’s a handy checklist of pointers for filmmakers to mark off before they set out to release their films.
Write a Film
Notice that I didn’t say write a screenplay – though that may also be accurate, to a degree. Screenwriting is an art and a science; science, in the sense of its practicality. A screenplay should be effectively written on the page, and detail a thorough breakdown of the production for the assistant director and production manager to draft a sensible budget from. It is an art-form, because all of the written text leads to evoking emotions for characters. Things don’t stop here. These characters, small or big in scope and role, have an arc – a cinematic journey. The audience should care about these journeys, the ups and downs, and the rights and wrongs. Most importantly, what they do in circumstances should be engaging; nothing should drag. The story should always be in a state of evolution, and it should all be for the sake of the people investing in the price of the ticket – not for the satisfaction of the filmmakers – at least not primarily.
Good stories keep the audience invested, but for that, one has to write something worthwhile in scope and in grandeur. If you have a high enough concept do the following (high concepts are big ideas – they do not have to be about world destroying scenarios).
Ask yourself, does this scene/story have the right effect? If you realise all too quickly that it does, then stop writing. Get a second opinion from someone who has seen a lot of films. Don’t push them to the idea, otherwise they will answer in your favour as a friend, but in the favour of the audience, get an honest opinion, and re-build from there. This is your first, and the most crucial step.
Hire a No-Nonsense Producer
Find a guy or a girl who has common sense, and can control the direction of the project. Filmmakers who are directors, writers and producers – a big dilemma in Pakistan – chunk all sensible advices out the window. What your project needs is someone who has great management skills, a flair for negotiation and the common sense to see the big picture. Again, this producer should be well-versed in movies. That experience gives your project an instant reference point, because even with the best managers, if they can’t see what your project is doing right in reference with other films, your end product will suffer by the time you will edit. Don’t hire a family member only because they are funding the film – well, you can if they are keen enough.
Don’t Overspend – or Lie About Overspending!
Are you, dear producer, interested in covering your taxes? If you are, then you are definitely going to lie about the amount you spent on making the film. That alone tells one about the sincerity of your product. I know motion pictures are expensive to make and even more expensive to market. One of the first things our producers do is lie about the cost. Almost every Pakistani film is astronomical in budget. The zeroes in crores are cool numbers to throw around, and when a film doesn’t perform well enough, you know you can say “It didn’t make money (for so and so costly reason)”, and we will try again next time”. Such hyperbole is a rudimentary tactic alas – and not just in Pakistan, but especially here since we cannot fact-check or audit films.
Don’t Sell Your Soul to the Devil
By the devil, I mean sponsorship and branding. Yes, I know we are a fledgling industry that needs rescuing, and their help is much appreciated. But there is a downside to one’s over-enthusiastic hospitality.
First of all, why would any brand help your film? What’s in it for them? Exposure, you say? They can easily invest their money in 30-second commercials on television. The brand should be highlighted (Fair and Lovely Ka Jalwa and Tarang Ka Jor anyone?), but that goes without saying… right? If your film reaches out to a considerable audience, then, of course integrating the brand makes sense (but after we count all factors listed above); if not, well the brands may still come in, because some companies really do care about supporting the industry.
However, there may be specific terms, and sometimes – like in the case of Project Ghazi recently – these terms may hinder the impact of your film.
Films don’t usually have much to do with sponsorship. Take in WAAR, which made 25 crores without sponsorship. Or, honestly speaking, do you really think Fast and the Furious’s beverage partner (a longtime associate of the franchise in Pakistan), makes a big difference in its box office gross?
No. Fast or WAAR made money because they gave people a reason to buy a ticket, and no marketing gimmick can give you that leverage.
As Pakistani’s we are jugaadi’s – experts in finding ways to make money without doing a whole lot of work. This is especially true for the people working in the entertainment industry.
Work on the story, get a good producer, hire a good star and brands, and the audience will follow.
This is a big predicament. We need stars right now. Charismatic people who can tear the screen apart with a look, and throw the audience in frenzy. We had a lot of them in the past – Nadeem sahib, Waheed Murad, Muhammad Ali, the names that roll off our tongues by default. Who else can you name? Shaan? (No one counts Babar Ali, Saud, Moammar Rana or “Rambo” – even though at one time we had no choice but to consider them). Ali Zafar, Fawad Khan need to make movies – by, at least, a dozen. Fahad Mustafa was astute enough to dedicate his acting to films (he can always fall back on television if being a “film actor” doesn’t work).
Humayun Saeed, by far, is the only actor who can compel people to buy a ticket. Not one of his movies in recent history failed. Yes, I even count Main Hoon Shahid Afridi as a hit, because it grossed over 5 crores at a time where films generally did 1 to 2 crores. But we need more. Many, many, more.
Our need is new blood who have that old-school magnetism that made Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir Khan so desirable when they started. They were decent enough actors, but their likability played a bigger part than their acting skills.