Corporate studios have had a rough 2016 in Bollywood. Walt Disney has put a halt to its Bollywood stint, Balaji struggled and the rest battled rumours about imminent closure and fought to retain their people. Eros Films, which has had its fair share of trouble with box office performances, shareholder panic and wayward budgets, has decided to consolidate its productions under three distinct sub-brands. Eros, Colour Yellow and Trinity Pictures will back three different kinds of films under three different production models, so that the risks are spread out and returns more equitably shared.
“Under the new model, we have identified niches and there are different Eros entities servicing them. So Eros will continue to do the films it does (big star cast), we have Anand Rai’s Colour Yellow (small budget) which does a certain kind of films while Trinity Pictures takes on franchise projects,” says Ajit Thakur, head, Trinity Pictures.
The multi model approach could help beat the crisis that unfolded in 2016. Studios suffered as the films they acquired failed at the box office and a skewed risk-return structure denied them a larger share of the films that did do well.
Eros has dabbled with various business models . It experimented with the acquisition model where it went out and acquired films to promote and distribute. It then tried the co-production model where it jointly produced films with other production houses. This meant more control over the project and more equal sharing of risks and rewards. However this model too has had its share of critics and increasingly, studios believe that the way forward will be to move towards long term ownership of intellectual property (IP) of the movies. This is the route that Trinity has decided to follow.
The three subsidiaries will also be differentiated by genre. Eros will stick with big ticket, big star cast ventures. It has in the past produced films like Bajirao Mastani and Lingaa with known faces in front of and behind the camera. Colour Yellow will continue with smaller budget films that are more experimental with script and casting norms, like Nil Battey Sannata and 2015’s runaway hit Tanu weds Manu returns.
Trinity’s agenda is to produce franchises and not just films. As Thakur puts it, “We want to reduce the dependence on the first Friday and weekend as much as possible. Also, we want more ownership over the IP’s and one way to do it is create them and then nurture them. By franchise, I mean a complete multi-platform presence and not only sequels.”
Eros is clearly hedging its bets by keeping all production models under one roof. It is also modelling itself on global studios such as Walt Disney Company, which has acquired Pixar and Lucas Films and produces very different kinds of films with different production models under one umbrella. Similarly, Sony Pictures has Colombia and Viacom has Paramount. In India, Disney tried a similar strategy with the acquisition of Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV. As a result, there was a time when the company was operating three brands for Bollywood productions: UTV Motion Pictures, UTV Spotboy and Disney Films.
Disney however had to call it quits on Bollywood productions last year. Close on its heels, Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Films also rang in the alarm bells saying that it was going to get more cautious. Several filmmakers and actors speaking about the crisis at the time had pointed to lack of fresh and creative scripts and high paid stars as culprits. The star system was pushing budgets out of control, they said. Director-producer, Vidhu Vinod Chopra had spoken to the media at the time and said that Hindi filmmakers needed to rethink the entire model, focus on scripts before stars and then keep costs under control.
This seems to be the way forward at Trinity and almost every studio looking to survive the present crisis. Thakur says that his team comprises mainly writers. He says that they are committed to developing strong scripts in house and the writers, fairly new to the business, have but one mandate — to come up with ideas that can be created into multi-platform universes (much like the comic book to TV to movie universes under DC and Marvel Comics). The team over the past two years has come up with close to 60 ideas that can be converted into franchises says Thakur. Sniff is the first superhero franchise film under the banner.
“We realised that the issues studios need to tackle are fairly out of their hands. Whether it is the scarcity of screens, taxation or spending capacity of the TG, they are things we cannot control or influence. So we decided to change track and innovate,” says Thakur. For instance, take the problem of screen availability, he adds. “If we have only 3,000 screens in India, we decided to collaborate with China and make movies which will appeal to Indian and Chinese audiences. This way, we go from just 3,000 screens in India to over 30,000 including Chinese exhibition,” he reveals.
By taking this route the films get a full release in both countries as they do not fall into the foreign language quota. There are two such films under production currently. Both are being shot in Hindi and Mandarin/Cantonese with a different cast for both versions. Other countries where such tie-ups are possible, says Thakur, include Turkey and Korea. All the world is a screen, after all.