Atlanta’s Recipe for Getting Bollywood Films? Target Directors

Atlanta already has one Bollywood film to its credit, a flick shot by locally based Spitfire Studios and just released Sept. 15. 

But to attract more Indian movies looking to incorporate Western flair and a cosmopolitan setting into their productions, a Georgia studio owner says state leaders should target the creatives at India’s movie houses, not the bean counters who might be wooed by the state’s ambitious tax incentives.  

“In India, the final decision [on where to produce] is often made by the director, not necessarily the financiers,” said Jake Shapiro, founder of Coastal Film Studios in Savannah

The self-described Bollywood fan — who formerly worked for Indian-owned Medient Studios —  said he’s heard lots of “yeses” from film investors in India looking at Georgia, but that this hasn’t translated to productions just yet. 

Georgia’s generous incentives may have solidified “Y’allywood” as a movie mecca, but its outreach to Indian filmmakers should include a “left/right collaboration” that presents cost-effectiveness alongside the assets that make it a great place for those behind the camera.  

“We really have to reach out to the creative side of the equation,” Mr. Shapiro said at the annual U.S. India Business Summit, now in its eighth year in Atlanta.  

Atlanta’s skyline has been a stand-in for Anywhere, USA, in many films, but Georgia has diverse architecture and landscapes that make it ideal for movies with varied settings. The swampy Vietnam flashback scenes in Savannah-set “Forrest Gump,” for instance, were shot near Georgia’s oldest city, which also has beaches and historic buildings, Mr. Shapiro said.  

Now is the time to begin focusing on these cross-border ties, said Raj Deshpande, CEO of Pulseworks, which uses virtual reality and game design to fashion immersive attractions and simulations at theme parks, museums and theaters. 

“There is a new wave of Indian-Western films,” he said, citing the popularity of movies like “Lion”, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi,” all shot partially in India by Western-owned studios. 

Mr. Deshpande, who often used Indian artists in a visual effects company he eventually sold to Sony Pictures, added that India is no longer just a place to do “labor arbitrage” in digital media production but is emerging as a powerhouse in its own right, especially in post-production.  

Mr. Shapiro seconded that idea.  

“There’s not a single person in this room that hasn’t seen five or 10 films where the majority of the spaceships, creatures, monsters were all created in India by some of the best people in the industry,” he said.  

India’s undisputed IT prowess on the global scale has been well-documented, but it has spent its  cinematic creativity largely on the domestic market. To make the jump globally, Mr. Deshpande said Indian film makers will need to draw upon their knowledge of English and familiarity with Western culture, he said. 

The market is changing, and there is more appetite for stories outside the mainstream as streaming services, cable providers and even social-media platforms clamor to fill content gaps. 

“(There is) an attraction for a U.S. audience … for something behind just the traditional American hero story,” Mr. Deshpande told Global Atlanta. 

Mr. Shapiro of Coastal Studios — which just finished political comedy “Coup D’Etat” featuring Michael Caine as a rogue dictator — doesn’t see that demand changing. Larger studios are engrossed in “tentpole” productions that cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars to make, so they can’t keep up with the proliferation of platforms crossing devices, languages and national boundaries. Even theater owners are looking more to independent producers for fresh content to fill seats. 

 “This insatiable demand for new content is something we don’t ever believe will end,” Mr. Shapiro said.

All this discussion took place on a panel focused on media and technology, one of many discussions at the all-day forum organized by Ani Agnihotri of the USA India Business and Research Center in partnership with the Georgia Tech CIBER

Also on the panel were Larry Williams, CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia, who underscored the state’s assets in media, including the legacy of Ted Turner and CNN

A friendly debate among the panelists emerged as to who is “king” of the customer relationship in the new media age — those who make the content or those who hold the keys to the now-fragmented distribution channels.  

Lalit Dhingra, president of Indian-owned IT services firm NIIT Technologies, got the last word, giving his vote to distribution.  

“Why does Netflix, Apple or anybody want to get into the content business? Because they control the distribution,” he said.  

He later urged any film entrepreneurs in the crowd to look into producing digital video ads, a growing gap to fill as publishers and TV channels aim see more space open up online.

Atlanta-lensed Simran, the Spitfire Bollywood film, is now playing in local theaters. 

Delta Air Lines, meanwhile, just added Nigerian movies to its in-flight lineup. In a news release a announcing the move, Delta quoted Ayo Makun, the comedian behind 30 Days in Atlanta, which tracks a man and his cousin traveling across the Atlantic for a free vacation. Shot in both Atlanta and Nigeria, it’s one of the top-grossing “Nollywood” films ever. 



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