The YouTube way to fame in filmland

23 Jul,2013


By Sangeetha Kandavel


Not long ago, wannabe Tamil movie directors had to undertake a long and arduous journey toward the silver screen. It would start with desperate attempts to become one of the many assistants to a leading film director, in the process having to prove their love for books, literature and scripts.


Then there would be a period of apprenticeship, in between running errands and doing odd jobs. The process would encounter a happy end only if the rookie, after knocking at the doors of numerous producers, found someone with the money to back his script. Many are still initiated this way.


But eight directors, who have made their debut in the Tamil film industry over the past year, have hit upon a liberating alternative: making short films for the YouTube audience.


For as little as 5,000, rookie directors have been able to make short films for release on YouTube, Google’s video streaming site. The shortest of these films is just five minutes long and the longest, 45 minutes. Some have gone on to spend a further 50,000 to market their films on social media.


The YouTube initiation has helped these rookies learn, make and market their work at a very low cost. They also save time – the many years of exasperated hanging around to get noticed by directors and producers. And it may take only three or four days to make such films. But most importantly for the industry, these directors have been able to make a new kind of cinema, largely unknown to the industry because producers didn’t have the conviction to back such ideas.


Take the case of 26-year-old Balaji Mohan, who broke fresh ground with his movie Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi (How to mess up in love). The short movie, posted on YouTube, went viral and caught the attention of actor Siddharth and cinematographer Nirav Shah.


The duo asked Mohan to make a full-length movie, which like the YouTube short film was a fresh take on love. It ended up a hit in 2012.


Not Following Regular Formula

“People across the industry watch films on YouTube. So, with the likes and dislikes, you get to know your scorecard,” says Mr Mohan. His film was the first of many whose storylines haven’t followed the time-tested formula of Tamil movies – action (including the sickle-wielding variety), romance or sentiment. Thirty-three-year-old Nalan Kumarasamy made as many as eight short films for YouTube. These have clocked nearly 1 lakh views online.


“Though I don’t monitor it regularly, I do check the site once in a while and the comments help do a better job next time.” When the opportunity for the big screen came, he was more than prepared. His debut film, ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ (Evil engulfs), was a big success, raking in over eight times the Rs 2-3 crore invested in it.


“Though I didn’t make any monetary gains through YouTube, it did help me with popularity. The advertisements are small and revenues low on YouTube,” Mr Kumarasamy says. “I was basically a scriptwriter. I became a competent director because of my short films,” he adds. His producer, 34-year-old CV Kumar, is fast becoming a pro in turning YouTube short film directors into big screen successes. Kumar’s last three films – ‘Attakathi’ (Cardboard knife), ‘Pizza’ and ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ – have been well-received. “Most of the movies I have produced are (made by) debutant directors, who make their first move on YouTube. Since you’ve have already seen their work, it is easier to evaluate them,” says Mr Kumar.


His next three movies – ‘Pizza 2’, ‘The Villa, Thegidi,’ and ‘Mundasupatti’ – also have their origins in YouTube short films. The Tamil film industry, which churned out 150-odd films in 2012, is constantly in need of ideas and new talent. What’s helping these young directors is that equipment (digital camera) is getting cheaper by the day. Reaching out via a platform such as YouTube costs virtually nothing, and a big cast isn’t mandatory. ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ director Kumarasamy, for instance, was helped by the fact that he was part of a TV programme for upcoming directors (‘Naalaya Iyakunar’, or Tomorrow’s Director, on Kalaignar TV). Vijay Sethupathi, the lead actor in ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ and the most reliable bet in Tamil cinema with a string of offbeat roles, is working with many of these debutant directors.


“If YouTube weren’t there, the world would have not known that Vijay Sethupathi even existed. It was the platform that brought me into limelight.” G Dhananjayan, who heads business in south India for Disney UTV, says producers are willing to look at short-film makers using YouTube as an entry point, and these directors have proven they can make good and interesting films. Ashok Holla, director of Berserk Media, says there might not be too many other examples in India. He cites as an example Uruguayan film-maker Fede Alvarez, who got noticed after his five-minute film ‘Panic Attack’ went viral. Alvarez now has a deal with Ghost House Pictures, promoted by director Sam Raimi, whose films include ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Spiderman’. “Earlier, new directors got noticed when they directed music videos or TV commercials,” says Mr Holla.


A similar wave of change is sweeping over the Malayalam film industry, though the old formula – mass movies with established actors and players – is still overwhelmingly present. But taking to YouTube isn’t a sure-shot way to the big screen. A filmmaker who has made seven short films points out that he still hasn’t got noticed by people who matter.


“There are other avenues for people like me. Websites buy short films from us and a lot of people watch them and we get paid accordingly.” Sasikanth Sivaji, who produced ‘Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi’, says short films posted on You-Tube are like a visiting card for a foray into the industry. “Today, lots of producers are not qualified to read scripts. In these cases, You-Tube comes as a saviour.” Further, he says, those gaining prominence this way know how to manage budgets well because they are aware of the value of the money invested.


Source:The Economic Times

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