Shooting for ad films and movies was among the first few activities to come to a standstill when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown
Shooting for ad films and movies was among the first few activities to come to a standstill when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown. Ad filmmaking has now resumed at a slow pace. Ram Madhvani talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about shooting with mobile phones and a leaner crew, safety protocols on set, and dwindling ad budgets.
Now that ad film shoots have resumed, albeit amid restrictions, what are the challenges you are facing?
We began shooting indoors and in homes May onwards; some of these were done on iPhones, with the agency and brand representatives joining via video conferencing. The quality of films made on iPhones is viable for broadcast on television and, hence, not a challenge. However, the final gift wrapping of the film is what suffers to some extent. Some of the emotional rendition of the stories through visuals need to be changed to adapt to the handicap. A lot of the ad films we made initially were centred around a single character on screen. In one of the ads we made that needed a father-son interaction, we made sure that both the characters were from the same family.
Shooting in studios has begun now. And as we ease into working during the pandemic, we are hiring health and safety auditors who will inspect and ensure all the necessary precautions have been implemented.
What are some of the best practices you are adopting while filming in these times?
We will be working with fewer people on the set and the crew will be rotated. We are also going in to shoot with a very clear idea about what we are shooting, so that there is no time wasted on the set. If we opt for an outdoor shot, the films will be shot in places that may be a couple of hours away from the city. Crossing state borders to make films is still not a viable possibility, as it entails mandatory quarantining.
The process of filmmaking cannot happen all at once now. It must be compartmentalised into small bits and done in a sequential order. For instance, if we needed a certain element for the set, the person doing the set design would have to fix the set when it is empty.
How do these challenges impact the cost of filming an ad?
Following social distancing norms and other standard operating procedures does add to the budget of the film. That is predominantly because social distancing adds to the time taken to make the film — what was previously a one-day shoot may now take us two days. The cost of the location, hiring technicians and crew for the shoot increases with every day added to the filming process.
Further, brands are reducing ad film budgets; we are seeing ad film budgets shrinking by 20-30%. The number of commercials being made will reduce as budgets are low, and brands want to make money last longer. Therefore, we are finding creative ways to work with the budgets available. If production houses go without work for longer than six months, it will be tough for them to survive. This could lead to a job crisis in the ad film industry.
Are you expecting a demand for new ad films with Indian Premier League scheduled to kick off next month?
We do not expect brands to air older advertisements during the matches. We expect higher inflow of work, especially for the IPL when brands typically invest heavily in advertising.
Have you seen newer/ different kinds of advertisers commissioning ad films lately? Do these brands prefer digital to TV?
We are working with all kinds of brands. There has been no big shift in client profile for us. We have worked with brands such as Airtel, Spotify and Facebook during the last few months. Additionally, brands from a few other categories are lining up to shoot fresh ads. From May to July, we had about 40% less work than we did last year around the same time. However, more work is coming our way in August.
Television continues to be the primary medium for advertising through the lockdown, as a lot more people are watching television. There has been no significant shift towards digital ad films.