Tag Archives: entertainment

Bollywood Unmasked: The Director’s Chair

Today I have a guest article published in The Director’s Chair online magazine, an online E-Zine with Film Directing Tips, Film Making Articles and Online Resources for the Independent Filmmaker.

Bollywood Unmasked: The Real Potential of BC Film and Media Collaborations with India

In the five months I have spent researching the Indian film industry, I learned that there is huge potential for more film and media related business between British Columbia and India. With a grant from Western Economic Diversification (WED), I went to India twice with the SFU India Initiative to look for ways to increase ties with BC and the Indian film industry.

With no previous knowledge of India and coming from a Scottish-Canadian background… Click here to continue reading


A big thank you to Peter D. Marshall for the opportunity.

BC Film, Tourism, and India Post-TOIFA

For the last three months I have been working to develop ties between the Indian and BC (British Columbian) film industries. I have written about the research I did on the Indian film industry in previous blogs and talked about the potential areas for collaboration in another. I was back in India with the SFU India Initiative fund again in January, but this time I wanted to accomplish something more result-oriented because the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA) was coming to Vancouver.

The TOIFA is essentially a tourism package deal between the Times of India group and the BC Government. The details were that the BC Government would pay roughly 10 million dollars (one third of the cost) to host the first year of the Times of India Film Awards. In exchange, the province would see an increase in Indian tourists by getting promotion in the Times of India media as a business and tourism destination for one year, and having the stars of Bollywood come to Vancouver and tweet about their experience. (The actual deal is a bit more refined but this is what I know).

This seemed like a great idea for everyone and the deal was signed in December 2012. Unfortunately for the Christy Clark, leader of the BC Liberal party and Premier, the Vancouver press conference on January 19th fell in the same week that Wayne Bennett from the BC film industry started the Save BC Film campaign. Save BC Film is an awareness campaign that started because of the decline of business in the Vancouver film industry caused by competing tax incentives in eastern Canada. The goal is to lobby the politicians of the BG government to increase tax incentives to a competitive rate to prevent the decay of the Vancouver film industry and the loss of jobs, and also to raise public awareness of the importance of the industry for BC’s economy so that voters support the industry.

The announcement of TOIFA enflamed the Vancouver film industry, because the Liberals said that they could not afford to “subsidize” the Vancouver film industry – showing a complete misunderstanding of the tax credit system. Tax credits give a production a rebate on a percentage of the money they spend in the province. If there are no productions coming to shoot, the province is actually losing about 1.8 billion dollars in revenue/year. When the government announced the TOIFA, members of the BC film industry felt that the liberals were prioritizing getting the South-Asian voting community on their side in time for the elections in May over saving 25,000 BC jobs.

TOIFA Launch in Vancouver

TOIFA Vancouver Press Conference on January 19th

Save BC Film

The Save BC Film campaign

 The BC-India Film & Media Initiative

The TOIFA controversy exploded while I was in India, and it was at about this time that I teamed up with Jamshed Mistry, an entertainment lawyer who was also the negotiating lawyer for TOIFA. Jamshed and I have both been keen to increase the relationship between the BC and Indian film industries since we met in November 2012 at Vancouver’s South Asian Film Festival. We decided to organize a roundtable discussion in Mumbai to brainstorm with Indian and BC film and media executives to find ways for the two industries to collaborate. Here is an excerpt from the invitation we sent out:

“Our Aim is to identify key benefits and opportunities, and to discuss/implement solutions to increase trade, coproduction, and investment between the British Columbian and the Indian film & media industries.”

Thanks to support from ICBC (Indo-Canadian Business Council) and Whistling Woods International, we held the roundtable on March 1st without any personal expense. Here I will mention that although SFU’s India Initiative grant was paying for my expenses, Jamshed and I were organizing the event on a voluntary basis.

The roundtable was attended by 16 invitees including Manoj Gursahani (Bollywood Tourism), Kiren Shrivastav (Molecule), Mannu Sandhu (Actress), Kavita Sharma (BC Trade and Investment), JD Majethia (AMPTPP), Sophy Vsivaraman (Indian Documentary Foundation), Michelle Poulin (Canadian Vice Consul), Rajesh Nair (Mukta Arts), Pawan Gil (Director), Patricia Gruben (Praxis), and Mel D’Souza (Bang Bang Films).

There was a presentation on Vancouver and the current tax incentives as well as a mention that the Indo-Canadian Coproduction treaty is still unsigned and that we were looking to search for alternative ways to work around it.

BCFMI Roundtable Discussion, March 1st at Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

BCFMI Roundtable Discussion, March 1st at Whistling Woods International, Mumbai

The discussion began with talking about the setbacks and challenges already encountered when Indian productions have come to BC and vice versa. The largest problem is the difference in how each industry produces films. The India film industry has a set hierarchy when shooting based on an apprentice-type system while Vancouver films work with the traditional western system of assistants. The roundtable concluded that this difference would be surmountable if there is more interaction and exposure between the industries. The other significant problem the roundtable reached is the cost of production and labor being much more in Vancouver.

This brought the discussion to tax incentives and a conference that is held annually in India called “Locations”. The Locations Conference is a meeting of Indian filmmakers and other countries who would like to have an increase in Indian tourism and film business. It is based on a concept, backed up with facts by Sudhanshu Hukku, that popular Indian films with stories shot in foreign locations significantly increase the amount of Indian tourism. Tourism boards, governments, and production companies come to India and present their locations along with incentive packages, and they meet with Indian filmmakers and negotiate individual deals such as Ek Thaa Tiger, a Salman Khan blockbuster of a film produced by Yash Raj Films. Tourism Ireland and The Irish Film Commission 2012 shared almost 30% of the production costs.

The roundtable discussed many other potential areas of collaboration as well. For example, the Indian Television industry is growing even more rapidly than film with 15.5% just last year and the audience is also growing internationally. JD Majethia, head of the Association of Motion Pictures & T.V. Program Producers (AMPTPP) suggested that B.C. tourism also create relationships with Indian television channels to produce a series of television episodes in British Columbia to increase the visibility of B.C. as a tourism destination and service industry.

Animation, VFX, and Gaming are also huge areas where BC and India have their own strengths. Prime Focus Films is an great example of an Indian VFX production company which has a branch in Vancouver and is drawing upon the talent in in BC as well as in India. Along with an exchange of talent, there is also a huge demand for film education in India that is up to Western standards. Film or animation student exchanges as well as faculty could not only give Indian film students an exposure to Western film education, but also give BC students exposure to the Indian industry and methods of production.

Documentaries are shot in India all the time but seldom ever see an Indian audience. Documentary production and distribution is also a large area where BC and India can collaborate.

Finally, the discussion also focused on the wealth of Indo-Canadian stories which could be made into films. Almost every Indian I met had a relative in Vancouver or Toronto, proving that the ties between the countries run deeper than just business. The huge amount of untapped story material also leads into new markets for distribution. There is not a lot of potential for making Indo-Canadian films for an Indo-Canadian audience, but there is a huge potential to make films for a global audience.


Some BCFMI Roundtable Attendees. Left to Right: Jamshed Mistry, Michelle Poulin, Pawan Gill, Liz Cairns, Manoj Gursahani, Patricia Gruben, Rontu Basu, Kiren Shrivastav, Kavita Sharma, Apurva Mehta, and Sophy Vsivaraman.

The Roundtable Conclusions and Action Plan

The roundtable concluded that there are many opportunities for collaboration between the BC and Indian film industries that can be beneficial to both parties. However, to first take advantage of these opportunities, BC film and media must become more visible to the Indian industry and markets through increased films shot in BC, and an awareness of BC talent and expertise that comes with increased exposure and closer relationships.

The roundtable came up with five needs in order to improve the relationship between BC and India film and media.

  • Across-the-board tax incentives to increase shooting in BC
  • More awareness of BC as a location in India
  • Promotion of Indo-Canadian stories for coproductions
  • Consistent long-term Government strategy to increase relationship between Indian and BC film industries
  • More Lawyers and Production Consultants aware of the differences between the industries

The Full Roundtable Minutes are viewable here: BC-India Film and Media Roundtable Minutes

The next steps were up to Jamshed and me to present our findings to the government in such a way that would be beneficial not only for the film industry, but the province as a whole. The method was clear: Indian film and Indian tourism are so closely related that there is a Locations Conference based on it. If the goal of the Times of India Films Awards is to increase Indian tourism, then increasing tax incentives for Indian productions is a certain way to achieve it and support the BC film industry.

I wrote up a report that Jamshed Mistry emailed directly to Christy Clark. The report outlined the roundtable conclusions and showed how increasing tax incentives could increase Indian tourism. It also suggested that the government take advantage of TOIFA to encourage film production. Here is the total list of suggested activities from the roundtable:

  • Tour of the BC film industry and promoting the location, industry, and stories for selected TOIFA guests
  • Promotion of Indo-Canadian stories at TOIFA
  • BC Government increasing tax incentives
  • BC Tourism to develop deals with Indian film and television producers
  • Promotion of BC at FICCI Frames
  • Promotion of BC at Locations Conference
  • Promotion strategy in India by BC government
  • Delegates of Indian directors and producers to BC

A copy of the actual report can be found here: BCIFMI Report

Unfortunately, there was no response from the BC government. TOIFA came and went with only a BC-India Film Networking lunch organized by BC Trade and Investment (who were present at the roundtable). Also the head of Vancouver-based Praxis Center for Screenwriters and roundtable participant, Patricia Gruben, managed to organize a screening of Gauri Shinde’s “English Vinglish” with the writer/director giving a Q&A period to the public for free. So despite the lack of government initiative, the BC-India Film & Media Initiative roundtable did have some indirect success in creating awareness of BC in the Indian film industry, and TOIFA did grab the eyes of both nations.


Jamshed Mistry speaking at the BC-India Film Networking lunch at the Pan Pacific, April 5. John Dippong facilitated the discussion also including Arjun Sablok and Eva Schmieg.

Gauri Shinde speaking to the public after a free screening of English Vinglish, April 5th

Gauri Shinde speaking to the public after a free screening of English Vinglish, April 5th. Patricia Gruben is on the far right.

The key here is not to focus on TOIFA anymore and to look to the future. TOIFA can now only be discussed in BC for a political purpose, so now the government and the industry should look for ways to move the BC-India film relationship forward post-TOIFA.

With the huge wealth of potential projects and exchanges between BC and India, the first action that must be taken is to make a long-term strategy to increase awareness of BC as a viable film industry in India and of Indian film as an important industry for BC to work with. To create this awareness there must be contact, and to create contact there must be an incentive. Essentially, the first thing the BC government must do is increase the production tax incentives to compete with Ontario’s 25% back on total spend. It doesn’t even need to match it, but it should be close. BC’s film industry has enough incentives on its own to draw business once the cost can be justified.


Read more about my research in my previous blogs!

The India Initiative and Solutions for the BC Film Industry

Mounties in Mumbai: A Crash Course on the Indian Film Industry and Opportunities for BC

You Can’t Polish a Turd

This is probably the best advice I have ever been given. The man who said it was Murray Bulger, my high school Information Technology teacher and the person who introduced me to making videos when I was 16 years old.

The context was this: If you’re making a film and the story is bad, the camera work is bad, or the sound is bad… the film is going to be bad. The saying “Fix it in post” is only used with sarcasm with the people I work with these days. Sometimes a poor shot can be excused or even made to look intentional, but an audience that has been trained to watch films with the suspension of disbelief will almost always pick up on the one or two bad things about a film because it automatically draws attention to the fact that they are spectators and not really involved in the story.

The term, suspension of disbelief, refers to a spectator getting ‘caught up’ in the story and forgetting they are watching a movie. When an element of the film draws attention to its own artifact, the suspension of disbelief is broken. This is often not what narrative filmmakers want. In order to make a seamless film, it is therefore necessary to make sure every facet is executed to its best potential.

When I started making films, I was very controlling of the production because I didn’t trust my crew to meet my standards. This resulted in my domination of the production and doing every job possible by myself. As I went into film school, this persisted for the first couple of years partially because of the nature of my projects. I was making experimental and documentary films with no more than two subjects, and that made it easier for me to handle camera, sound, direction, etc. As a result, the production quality was not as good as it could have been because I simply couldn’t focus on camera and properly conduct an interview at the same time. I legitimized this with the nature of my projects, but I wonder now if I chose to make those films because of my distrust of other people’s competency.

In my third year of film school, I finally gave up some control. I got Remy Siu, a composer, to do some work with soundscapes for my documentary “The King of Cassiar” so I could focus on the editing and my other schoolwork. In my experimental documentary “Index: Alexander St.” I had the amazing Jon Thomas take charge of the camera and the film would not have been the same without him.

This is when I got another amazing piece of advice from my production teacher, Bridget Hill. “Figure out what you’re not good at and stop doing it!” The message being that if you haven’t made any progress after three years of film school, it might be best to start letting other people do the work for you for the sake of the project. This hit home for me and I realized that the only reason I was doing it all myself was my own unattainable goal to be good at everything. I don’t believe all humans were created equal because I know very well that there are some cinematographers out there who have an eye for lighting that I lack, and to be honest, camera operating has always scared me because I am not great with my hands (another thing I struggled to admit).

And so it began, my slow relinquish of control as I embraced the merits of teamwork. At this point most of the people in my class had found their niche and specialty. I could take advantage of different people’s skills for my film and trust that they could deliver at least the same quality if not better than what I could do. I think it’s too bad that I didn’t realize this earlier in film school because I believe that some of my projects could have been better had I only built my relationships with my classmates sooner. However, by the time I had to shoot “My Uncle Terry,” I had a great crew that was appropriate for the project and they all did a better job than I could have.

My Uncle Terry poster for our graduation screening

My Uncle Terry poster for our graduation screening

The turd polishing metaphor might not apply to all kinds of film. A documentary can get away with a lot more than a fictional narrative because the audience is more willing to forgive. The same exception applies for student films. When a film is experimental, people will probably assume whatever is “wrong” was done on purpose and sometimes narrative filmmakers don’t actually want the suspension of disbelief throughout the whole film. There have been whole movements that reject how Hollywood has shaped the expectations for narrative film such as Dogme 95, started by Lars Von Trier.

However, a traditional (read Hollywood) narrative film has to be perfect in every way to suspend the disbelief of the audience, and the only way to accomplish it is by dividing responsibility among team members you can trust. If one part of the film is bad (doesn’t support the story) then the film is a turd. You can polish that poor line delivery all you want, but it’s still bad. Sorry but it’s true.

I think the above information is well known to many of the experienced filmmakers out there whether or not they learned it through experience the way I did. However, I hope that this modest story of an important lesson reaches someone out there who is like me and helps them succeed at making better films. Filmmaking should not service an ego but should be done for the sake of the project.

Reality Becomes Fiction with “Crulic: The Path to Beyond”

The film “Crulic: The Path to Beyond” is an animated documentary of a young man who died at the age of 33 from starvation in a Polish prison hospital because of a hunger-strike in opposition to his unfair treatment by the Polish and Romanian law system and his false conviction of theft. The film is beautifully animated on multiple platforms including paint, stop-motion, photography, and composited pieces of video and drawing. The sound design brings to life the character of Crulic and his family, and immerses us in the multiple worlds such as Romania, Italy, Poland, the Prison, and the Hospital.  It also brings to life Crulic’s hunger-induced hallucinations in combination with surrealist design in animation.

The film illuminates injustices in the prison and legal systems in Eastern Europe, and has been funded and supported by many national film commissions.

An interesting discussion followed the film as my fellow Connexions colleagues and I discussed how it can be classified as a documentary as supposed to a drama. One of the arguments brought up against it were the “dramatizations” of the story of Crulic. The film gave a disclaimer at the end stating that it had taken liberties in the creation of characters and dramatization of events in order to tell a more compelling story. However, I find that that dramatization of a story does not remove all documentary aspects or any of it’s credibility as a documentary. If one were to tell their life story, they would paint it in colors that would make it interesting for the listener. With that said, the fact that Crulic is deceased means that there is no verifying how “dramatic” the events leading up to his death were.

The other argument against Crulic being a documentary was that it had none of the tell-tale signifiers of a documentary film such as archival footage and interviews. Information about how the story was constructed is not explicitly given during the film. However, it is implied that much of the story was taken from Crulic’s writing from his imprisonment as well as interviews with his sister and mother. I think that taking a person’s diary and rewriting a story based with the inclusion of details gathered from interviews is just as valid as a personal interview. The animation and characterization of the animated people in the film is just as relevant to us as our own imagination would be if someone told us the story through a radio broadcast. Just because it looks like a cartoon, doesn’t mean it isn’t as real as our own memories. Since “Waltz with Bashir” is a documentary consisting of the animation of memories recorded in interviews; “Crulic: The Path to Beyond” is a documentary consisting of the animation of someone’s diary consisting of their memories. Perhaps it is even more accurate since the medium of a diary is much more personal, and one is less likely to censor and embellish their story if it is only being recorded for the sake of their own memory.

In the end, the consensus of the group was that there are no black and white lines defining a documentary as opposed to a drama or narrative film. In the end, we are all telling stories of life and the human condition whether it be how large corporations are inhibiting the rights of free speech of a Swedish filmmaker, or telling the life story of a man who died of self-induced starvation while fighting for his rights.

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