ProducerLand 2021 is the first edition of a learning and networking development programme for film producers in South Asia. This is aimed at helping producers understand the complexities of international co-production and bring them on a par with producers from around the world. Celine Loop, the producer of Chippa, Brahman Naman and Gandu, speaks to Soumya Varier about the genesis of the programme, the lack of visibility of South Asian films and her journey as a producer. Excerpts.
You're a lawyer from Belgium and came to India a decade ago. What made you want to take that leap from being a lawyer to a producer?
I came to India in 2008. I studied in Belgium for six years, I have a Master's in Intellectual Property Rights Law, and I came to India as a traveller initially, then as a lawyer. I think this leap happened by accident. I always wanted to be in the creative space and be someone who can help artists and creators. I thought of becoming a producer. I was in Calcutta and doing my legal business, and Calcutta is a place for artsy filmmakers and I had met a few of them.
A friend introduced me to Qaushiq Mukerjee (more popularly known as Q) and I went for the screening of Gandu at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. At the end of the screening, I was the only one applauding; everyone else was silent. I started giving legal advice to Q. He's a unique filmmaker and he had made this film with a few friends and the film got selected to Berlin, and he didn't know the next step to take. He was also editing himself.
Filmmakers tend to produce their own content because they don't have an option, they don't have producers who they can rely on to help them take their ideas to an audience. So, I decided to help him out by taking the film to Berlin as a producer. He pitched me his next film idea on the flight to Berlin in 2011.
I think that was my entrance, and I think I always had it in me to be a producer and had to learn from my own mistakes, over the last decade. That's why I'm happy to put a programme together that offers required tools for international producers. This is something I did not have. I had to produce six to seven films and learn the hard way by trying new things, taking big risks and understanding what kind of content you want to produce and how you go about it. Each film taught me something different.
I think film is a beautiful medium to communicate with the rest of the world. Even though I had no plans to stay in India, life has taken me on a journey and I'm still here now.
What was your experience like in the beginning? Did you have a mentor?
It was very difficult and I did not have many references, because there were not many creative producers back then. Of course, Guneet (Monga) was there, I met her in 2011 Cannes for Gangs of Wasseypur or a film before that. But there were not many who wanted to understand how international co-production works, or how to approach a market or film festival works, so I learnt from people I know from the West. I learnt from Belgium and France, and even though it was difficult, I had to use it in the Indian context. I had a few friends in this space working in New York. It took a decade to train myself to become the producer I am today. Everything has been difficult, from working with the director, the relationship between producer and the director and understanding the market.
There was no market, because OTTs hadn't come here yet, so the first few years there was nothing at all. We had to rely on the old ways of selling things by printing visuals and meeting producers. One part of the job was networking for equity funds as well.
What is the exact need for ProducerLand?
The starting point was, why aren't there more Indian and South Asian films travelling and crossing over and getting appreciated in other parts of the world, and why are Korean, Turkish, Japanese and Latin American films seen everywhere? We spent six months talking to filmmakers and producers, trying to understand the need. That was one aspect, and the second aspect was my own learning on the ground. It took me a decade to understand how a project is made, how to sell a film, how to hire a crew and how to pitch a film. There's no lack of talent. There are a lot of talented directors, actors and cinematographers, but why aren't we exporting these talents better?
One of the reasons for this, I believe, is lack of producers, because filmmakers have to do everything on their own like Qaushiq did. It's a lot of work and filmmaking is a very tough job. It's slightly different from non-fiction films where you have a very small crew, you have control over your content and the makers will be the producers as well. In fiction, I think filmmakers should not be producers. It's so much work. You should be able to focus on your vision, your critics, your actors and crew, and you should have a producer who looks at everything market-related for you, one step detached from the content..
This programme is important, because when I go to a market like Film Bazaar, people will run after you because they're in need of producers. I also did a survey with filmmakers and producers asking 'What do you think we need more in the industry' and most of the replies are 'We need producers'. I can see everyone embracing this programme..
How did your team come together?
When I initially broke down the programme into different modules and segments, we looked at the missing subjects. The idea is that, by the end of the programme, producers should be at ease and be able to do international co-productions or understand all aspects of production. So, we began with the curriculum, how to develop a project and international co-production and distribution. Apart from my own journey, I wanted experts who can be lead mentors.
You've said 20% of the syllabus will be created out of each participant's interest. How did you arrive at giving an elective for the programme?
There are three modules and this is for module 1, a residency programme in Goa with seven segments. This is common for all participants. We did a survey asking what else they wanted to learn, and most of the answers were non-fiction. They wanted to look at producing non-fiction content, and we made it as an elective for module two, where you go more in-depth in documentary producing. The third module is in June as a preparation for four days to pitch and it's online as well. The faculty will have 'one on one' meetings with participants, group meetings and then the final pitch.
How did you decide on choosing participants from neighbouring countries?
We are based in India, but we're also looking at South Asia. There are quite a lot of in films happening in South East Asia — in Bhutan, Singapore. We thought we don't want to just elevate Indian producers, we want to build a community. So we wanted to look at a region, and not just a country.
What are you looking for in applicants?
We would prefer experience, because we will go quite in depth in producing. We have a lot of applications from people we call transitioning producers, they would have been a cinematographer or director who want to transition to producer. They will have a good understanding of the craft of filmmaking and the industry as well, so we will consider those who don't have a producer credit but have a good understanding of the craft. One should, however, know what production is all about, because this is an in-depth programme.
How do you choose a film to produce?
That is a very personal choice, depending on your interests, your relationship with the writer and director, your 10-year path and growth, your opportunities and the books you're reading.
How do you decide if a South Asian film fits the global market?
There is no clear answer for this, because that's why as a producer you have a network of people with different expertise that you can rely on, and that is why we also have a lot of faculty in this programme. We have more than 60 people as faculty. Everybody comes with a point of view, and this is what we need.
Guneet Monga was campaigning for Jallikattu and is now a part of ProducerLand's faculty. In one of her interviews, she says marketing Indie films is time-consuming, and can take up to three years. Will this programme reduce marketing time?
That's my hope. It's something I want to focus on, and it's something Guneet and I did as well, which we should avoid. It's very important for the producer and writer-director to understand who you are writing and directing for so that it is positioned well. Once you're clear, it will give a direction to projects at an early stage. It's very important to understand the life and journey of a film. So, we're focussing on that a lot in this programme.
Apply for the ProducerLand program here: