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EAVE Interview: India – an ecosystem in transition

“The power of community is inspiring.” - An exclusive interview with EAVE graduate Mathivanan Rajendran

By Lilla Kadar

EAVE producer Mathivanan Rajendran, founder and leader of the successful independent production house STRAY FACTORY since 2010, has moved from Chennai to a small village by the sea in Goa during his EAVE year in 2020. The process of zooming out and having more time and space to reflect on the overall situation of his industry led him to build the ambitious project ROOT.AX with the Storiculture Company. The transmedia accelerator programme aims to help South Asian producers and creators get their voices out more effectively in South Asia’s ever-changing audio-visual environment.

In India, there is not just one industry, most people immediately think of the big Bollywood industry which has the biggest visibility, but there are a whole range of languages and cultures that have independent industries – it’s like Europe in that respect. The assumption is that most stories are told in Hindi, but actually each language has its own industry and dedicated audience of millions of people. Not to mention that a large diaspora audience watches the Indian productions from many different countries outside of India.

In terms of financing, until recently the situation was more comparable to the Wild West: bank loans are not readily available, there are hardly any grants, producers raise money and create their own financing system often using very high interest debt. Generally, only one producer was credited, the one who finances the film.

With the change that OTTs have brought to the country, the industry is now undergoing a major transformation. Creative producers are finding their way into the industry by working with platforms and studios.  For directors, the change means they do not have to take on production duties like they used to when there was only one producer with the money. The mindset and approach is changing and filmmaking is also becoming more organised in terms of roles. 

But the modernity of the structures, the new system of permits, legal documents, blockchain, IP rights, creative feedback and so on are also very intimidating for filmmakers. In the past, the filmmaker could find a producer and if they liked the story and gave the money, there were no obstacles and a unique film could be made. “Today if the few decision makers do not like the film, it’s game over.”

Co-productions are slowly finding their way, for example Rohena Gera’s film SIR was very successful this year. It was successful on Netflix and it had been released in theatres in India and Europe across the country. There are many other native stories that are waiting to be told, across borders.

 

 

Root.ax – a bridge between producers and creators

In India, there are not many frameworks that connect the financial and creative sides of filmmaking, and only a few labs are exposed to the industry. Root.ax acts as a transmedia accelerator offering creative mentorship, audience/buyer understanding & most importantly multimodality training for South Asian filmmakers to bridge this gap.

“We are noticing that making a single film is no longer sustainable for a filmmaker. Filmmakers spend 3 years building everything around the film. The question is: In how many other ways can the story of the film travel?” – Mathivanan explains.

It’s about amplifying the impact of the film and increasing the filmmakers’ revenue from the same content. On an artistic level, we can think of extending the content to film installations, museum screenings, screenings with live orchestra. On a commercial level, the film could be extended into series, podcasts, graphic novels and even digital products and communities.       

In practice, the creators are taken through a multimodality workshop, to show them the different options they have to amplify the impact and revenue of their project. “Good filmmakers usually have great source material; they can multiply it because they have a clarity of where it comes from.”

If their content is rich and they are willing to collaborate with other creators who can amplify the effect, Root.ax offers them three different labs: MAKE (For Development), BRIDGE (For Pitching) and MOVE (For IP Extensions). The content must be bold and meaningful. In the sense that it must be something that pushes the boundaries either socially or artistically. This is not limited to art-house or independent films. Even if it’s a genre film, participating in the online workshops can make a difference if it’s bold in terms of aesthetics or in terms of social impact.

Mathivanan has a background in digital design strategy and has extensive experience delivering design workshops virtually across the globe. So he knows the importance of making the sessions immersive and developing personal engagement in an online event. The pool of creators and mentors has expanded thanks to this virtual setup. Mentors such as pitching expert Stefano Tealdi from Italy and script consultant Mmabatho Kau from South Africa (both EAVE graduates) are able to attend easily despite the distance.

“It’s also good for industry professionals: not everyone can attend a hundred pitches a day but we can record them and share them with the interested buyers and partners.

Root.ax aims to match projects with platforms and the right partners throughout the process. Every 2-4 weeks they will check in on the project to ensure success.

Industry networking will be facilitated through the Root.ax Festival in March, which will physically bring creators and mentors together. The plan is to hold such an event once a year as face-to-face meetings are also essential.

“We will encourage our filmmakers to meet international mentors who can help them. We also want to connect them with co-production markets. The main goal is to explain the structures to local Indian and South Asian producers and vice versa, so that more and more local producers, including big local studios, are interested in co-producing with other countries. Right now there is very little knowledge, so we see our role as passing on the information and acting like a bridge.”

 

The power of community

After attending the EAVE Producers Workshop, Mathivanan felt that he could have done many things differently as a producer. He wished more people in the industry had the information he has now. Being able to share information very quickly across multiple projects could really improve the way native stories are told, he feels. “South Asian stories are not seen because we have not found a system to get them out into the world. I am very passionate about finding filmmakers and amplifying their stories is very important to me.”

Did the EAVE year contribute to Mathi’s project in any way?

“Totally. My year made me believe that curating people is the most important thing. As I understood later, EAVE spends a lot of time trying to identify the right people – mentors, creators, projects, then industry finally – and that’s what multiplies. That was a big learning. It’s not only about a project. It’s about how to curate people well.

Secondly, what I particularly enjoyed was being able to hear different perspectives from the people in my group regarding the same story. It tells us that a story can resonate across geographies and that there are common themes that matter to all us. The power of community is ultimately inspiring. What I learnt from EAVE was that the magic lies in putting the right people in a room

 

If you are interested in offering your expertise as a mentor to Root.ax, you can contact mathivanan@thestoriculturecompany.com.

Read more about Root.ax:

https://www.thestoriculturecompany.com/root-ax

Page published 2 February 2022. Updated 27 April 2022.


Donate to the EAVE Alan Fountain International Scholarship Fund

A scholarship has been set up to honour the memory of Alan Fountain, former Head of Studies and President of EAVE, who passed away on March 3. Its goal is to enable one producer from outside the EU to participate in all three sessions of the EAVE Producers Workshop each year.

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