President of Asia Entertainment Finance Associates (AEFA) and Asia representative of Gold Circle Pictures, Peter Anshin has been one of the first Hollywood based finance and legal specialists to spot potential in producing and distributing Asian content in international markets.
Anshin has been responsible for introducing western film finance and sales structures to Asian entertainment companies, governments and financiers.
In a tÃƒÂªte-ÃƒÂ -tÃƒÂªte with Businessofcinema.com, Anshin discusses international market tastes and the Indian film industry.
You are one among few, who initiated the union of Asian content and European production houses. Where did the idea come from?
The idea came about simply because I had worked in Asia and I understood that there were many people producing content in Asia. Given the right tools, opportunities and right kind of assistance, they could get more of their content outside Asia and they weren’t.
I was in America and I was working in independent film finance, and I realised that there were a lot of big people creating content in the rest of the world that were able to do that. So I put the two together and thought I could help Asian content creators to reach the rest of the world.
So where does the Indian film industry figure in this?
India is exceptional for me; I came here six years ago and saw a huge opportunity because you have a film industry that has evolved and matured. It hasn’t reached foreign markets as Hollywood has, but it has matured in a domestic way.
People spoke English here, which was a huge plus in getting content out of the country, in creating English content. But there were problems as there are problems in entertainment industries all around Asia, which include people being focused on the domestic industry, people who make films not because they make sense from a business perspective, but because they make money on the side.
In India, we have been working with WSG pictures on various different levels of development. It really happens a lot at the development stage, but it also helps at the business stage. We might get a project that someone might bring to us, where the content might fit foreign markets, but might not have the mechanism to reach them. In that case, we can help people work with others who effectively sell their films in these markets. We can also get them to get to work with people who will finance these films.
So, there are a number of different levels on which we can help but you need the understanding of what foreign markets are, what kind of content people are looking for, what works and doesn’t. Part of my job is to help them find this.
Simply out of curiosity, does having a recognised star aid in pushing forward a good film internationally?
Having Stars and star power is very important, that drives the Indian film industry as it drives the Hollywood film industry as well. The fact that you have domestically recognised stars is fantastic; one of the things I am trying to help with is to build the recognition of stars in foreign markets. But they have to be good, like Pankaj Kapoor, he is a top rated Indian actor and can go head to head with Robert de Niro in foreign markets.
You have been working at creating internationally viable content, so where is it that we are going wrong?
It’s Bollywood that eclipses and biases foreigners. They think everything that comes out of India is a Bollywood film.
Many of the films sold abroad by these few Indian sales agents are sold to non resident Indian audiences, and they are Bollywood films. Foreign audiences should be talking about great talent but those names don’t get out. I think you have to tone down the volume on Bollywood and increase the volume of good film and filmmakers in India.
Do you think the industry realises this and is making quality content that works in an international market?
You have the capability to do it, but you haven’t been able to do it. People don’t care about internationally oriented content; they are just looking at domestic content. And secondly, they are relying on the so called Indian Sales agents, who are not professional.
Does language pose a problem with respect to tastes of the international market?
It is true that subtitled films are viewed in a different light than English films but you could make English films if you wanted to. I have met actors here who are raised abroad, they speak English extremely well. If they are trained as actors, they can speak in any accent they want to speak in. The key to speaking English as an actor is the pronunciation; and the ability to communicate with the director, to be in touch with the feelings of what you are acting. There are enough acting talents who can speak English in India.< Page Break >
How do you identify what makes good content?
Identifying content is a combination of a lot of information. It is a combination of the gut feeling involved, analysing people who are very informed of international markets, who understand what market trends are. It is a combination of a whole lot of things. There is no one formula. In terms of what’s good, there are no hard and fast rules.
You can create good stories, stellar stories that are compelling and the actors just happen to fit the roles and they happen to be from countries you want to target. That will work but you can’t do it the other way around. The content can dictate who the talent is and that can work and help leverage the power of different countries, but you can’t try and tailor the content to fit the countries.
What is the advantage of the independent model of filmmaking?
Films are individually financed and sold. Probably 90 per cent of the studio films in America are independent films. That means, the studio in America handles distribution, they might pay a minimum guarantee for domestic and the North American deal. You have a foreign sales agent handling international rights and you have a bank that comes in and funds the film. In a way, it does not hurt the creators. What it does is leave the copyright in the hands of the creators, so that if it does do well he benefits from the sales of the film. It is about empowering the creators of the film; part of this model is that it liberates talent. This is one of the things we are trying to do here.
You say we are not making enough money whereas the corporate wave that has hit the industry is essentially doing that, making moneyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
You are just robbing from Peter to pay Paul. The films flop and then you get a new project, get a big soundtrack, make money from that one and pay off the one that flopped. My understanding is that you’ve got a thousand films here and just handfuls make money. I don’t think it is going in an adverse direction; it’s evolving, but very slowly. We are just trying to make it evolve more quickly, that’s all. We are just trying to help people create new things that haven’t done before.
In comparison to other Asian film industries, where does the Indian film industry stand?
It’s really hard to compare. It’s like asking me to compare apples and oranges. I’ll go back to what I said before, as far as a total production industry if you compare it, India has the most matured, most advanced film industry of any of the Asian territories by far. And it has people who speak English as though it is their first language.
It is logical deduction that India should have the capacity to reach foreign markets more quickly, effectively than any other Asian territory. If you can get more Sheetal Talwars out there who say, let’s be clean and let’s do business on an international standard, then you will have more success.
To me, India is the logical first choice. Korea came up as a powerhouse a few years ago. A very new industry, they never even had a film industry there. I worked with the Korean industry, I went to Hollywood, showed them what some of these models were.
India has no division of managers at management and agency division, in capping their percentages. All of these individual pieces of what we call the entertainment industry that are so important in having it go, don’t exist here. And still the industry is mature here and you have things like people registering copyrights, which in many territories don’t exist, you have some excellent labs here which don’t exist in many territories. But then, there are these other pieces that don’t exist that are starting to exist in those territories, because they are targeting foreign markets more quickly. So it’s a lot easier for India to adapt those pieces they don’t have, you are so much further ahead of other Asian territories.
Finally, where is it that you see Bollywood going?
I don’t think it will change anytime soon. It does not have an incentive to change. The only thing that could change is more actors and more creators could start saying ‘Hey I have an alternative, I don’t want to be doing this, I want to do something else as well’.
I see it happening, but it will probably take a decade.