From February 9-13, 600 international producers and financiers will explore new partnerships at the Berlinale Co-Production Market. This year, Megha Ramaswamy’s Reshma Shera is at the Official Project Selection (which has 22 films, chosen from 325 submissions, with budgets ranging from 750,000 to 6.5 million euros), and Dar Gai’s In-Law (selected from 226 submissions) is one of 11 projects at the Talent Project Market. Here, Dar Gai talks about the market and her experiences.
How did you hear about international co-productions, and the Berlinale Co-Production Market in particular?
In the case of me and my producer Dheer Momaya, both our features, Teen Aur Aadha and Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence, were co-productions between India and Ukraine. For non-mainstream films without huge stars, it’s essential to think about international distribution and exhibition from get-go. An international co-producer/producing partner will be more motivated to sell the film in their own territory. They would have a deeper knowledge of the local market and could help find the most appropriate distributors and exhibitors in their territory.
The Berlinale co-pro market is one of the most prestigious, well-attended markets in the world. Here, producers have the opportunity to have one-on-one sit-downs with large European studios, film funds, government grants, distributors and collaborators from all over Europe and beyond. Ritesh Batra’s Lunchbox, which is perhaps the most successful international co-production out of India, was selected for the co-pro market and found many of its partners there. Having seen how a handful of Indian films have been able to cross-border monetise effectively, we too decided Berlinale would be a great way to begin our journey with this project.
How does one pitch for the Berlinale Co-Production Market?
Oh, that is a real task. My producer will be able to tell you the amount of stress we have gone through the week of the application deadline. They require a detailed production docket, which includes long-form treatments, directors’ artistic statements, detailed budgets and financing plans, even audience engagement plans. They really push you to think through every little detail of the project and put it down on paper. It’s a fantastic rigour to put yourself through, and it helps to get an objective vantage point of the various aspects of production. However, after spending all those weeks creating the perfect application, it is most likely that you will get rejected, because after all there are only 10 projects selected from numerous applications. Last year, we had applied with another project and we got rejected. It was highly dissuading. But it pushed us to try harder the next time, and thankfully we got in.
Is this your first time with a Co-Production Market? How different is it from the way your other projects got funded?
We have had an Indo-Ukrainian-Belgian co-production titled The Road, an anthology film by three female directors. It was at the Odessa Co-Pro market last year, and we were able to find great strategic partners who are helping us develop the narrative better to suit international audiences and it to give it some sort of rooting in the business side of things. However, for Teen Aur Aadha and Namdev Bhau, we had a private financier who gave us a decent initial investment in the form of equity, which helped begin production, and those funds took us quite far. We also crowdfunded part of the post-production and self gap financed part of it from our commercial work for various brands. With In-Law, we have kind of overcome the restlessness to jump into production directly, and even though we have some private investors who are happy to invest for equity deals, we really want to build a multi-territory co-production deal so as to (a) find a strategic development partner who can help develop the final draft of screenplay which will be suitable for an international audience as much as an Indian one, (b) find producers who can help raise international financing from funds and grants so as to stick to the creative integrity of the narrative, and not have to take calls from a purely commercial outlook (even though commerce is something we keep in mind), and (c) find partners who have built international distribution and sales routes, so as to get the widest possible audience to watch it.
Is it easier to find co-producers at the Berlinale Co-Production Market than in India (given the current scenario)? Have you tried pitching In-Law to people here?
The more conscious elements of modern human society are slowly coming to an understanding that women have been underrepresented in most aspects of life, including the cinematic art form. Most stories have been centered around male journeys and even the few which have had women protagonists have either been directed with a male perspective, or have had heavily skewed narrative structures to continue giving importance to the male. In-Law is looking to break that. It’s a truly feminine story, told by a female director with a crew which is primarily female. Across the globe, financiers, festivals, distributors and audiences are looking for more female-centric stories that bring a fresh perspective on the human experience.
Currently we have been able to raise about 30% of the film budget through a couple of equity partners, some in-kind partnership from studios and equipment rental houses, and from the deferred fees of key cast and crew. However, in India, the male dominance in the entire film and arts industry, and the general perception of the wider audience, makes it very difficult to tell a story of female sexual liberation, or even realistic female relationships. Thus, it is very difficult to find collaborators here for a project of this nature. Also, while trying to stay too authentic to cultural appropriations, we may end up alienating a large scale of international audiences, which may become detrimental to a film like this one. So apart from helping tap into various international film funds and grants for women filmmakers, and international co-producer could help in understanding the international audience perspective and help us reach the widest possible audience.
Have you applied for co-production in other festivals as well, say at Cannes?
We have applied for two other government grants. Those should be responding by March/April this year. We will begin applications for the Cinefondation at Cannes and perhaps for the Sundance Institute. NFDC, too, has a co-pro market in Goa every year, but that is all the way in November. Now that we have gotten into the Berlinale co-pro, it will become easier to apply and be considered for the other markets and pitching sessions.
Is there an extra incentive? Say, the films co-financed at Berlin have a chance to play at the festival? Something like that?
Well it’s not a hard and fast rule, but yes, most projects which have come through Talents or have been selected at the co-production market are able to find some type of exhibition at the festival. However, this would depend on the end quality of the film as well as its premiere availability. Because if a film has gone to a large European festival like Cannes/Rotterdam/BFI, it may not make sense for Berlin to select it. Also, if the film is ready by March/April, it may not make sense to wait until Berlin (in February) to premiere it. However, it is always great to be part of the Berlinale Talents Alumnus, because, just like an Ivy League school, this has a wide range of Alumni (including multiple Oscar/Cannes winners) who actively provide support and guidance to young talents. It’s like a verification process for multiple film funds, festivals and co-production markets. The thought is “if Berlinale Talents/Co-pro market has selected you, there must be something special about you or your project”, and then other selection committees may take you more seriously. Basically, it’s a great way to make yourself stand out from a large pile.
Can you give an idea of the budgets involved and what part of it is coming from the Berlinale Co-production market?
The Berlinale co-pro market is not responsible for financing/raising finance for your film directly. They give you a platform to meet with and pitch to various investors, producers, film funds, government grants and sales agents. Then, depending on the strength of your project and the perceived artistic/monetary value your project holds, you can attract various levels of funding. You can walk away with producing partners who can commit a significant percentage of the budget requirement, or you may not find anyone who wants to put money. It really depends on your project and pitch. We have budgeted In-Law at about a million dollars, which includes the P&A budget. Through our current equity investors, cast and crew deferments, in-kind participations we have about 30% of the budget covered. We are looking at finding partners for the balance 70%.
There’s been news that you are going to make your “big Bollywood debut”. Is In-Law that film?
Hah. I’m not sure we can define it as ‘big’, considering India is stepping up its size game with films like Baahubali and 2.0. But there has been a lot of interest in my next project titled Chotte Kapde, which indeed will be a “larger/wide audience” film, kind of like in the space of Bareilly ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or Dum Laga Ke Haisha. It’s really interesting for me, because I will have the chance to experiment with the extravagance that Indian cinema brings with it. Besides, a little song and dance is always great fun!