After a short hiatus, Ronnie Screwvala, the former promoter of UTV (which he sold to The Walt Disney Company in 2011), is back into the business of films. His first two films should hit the screen in January-February of 2018 and there are four more films already on the production floor. But this time around Screwvala says that it is his film-making passion that has brought him back. "I am not looking at it as a business. To me, it is my peaceful space. EIse, I have to start thinking scale and raise money. I don't want to do any of that," he says.
In a conversation with Business Today's Ajita Shashidhar, Screwvala talks about his new film business as well as the learning from the past.
BT: Are you entering the studio business yet again?
Screwvala: I am not forming a studio under any circumstances. My focus is Swades (NGO) and Upgrad (education). Movies in my mind is an unfinished business. I am in it on a selective basis and not as a studio, just as a creative production company.
In the past studio model, I had to co-produce and acquire films. Now the scripts are incubated. The stories that I need to tell are developed in-house, and I then get a cast, director and do it. I might do 3-4 films a year. I am not creating large overheads, we are small team of 4-5 people.
BT: What kind of films would you be doing?
Screwvala: We have interesting biopics and other story lines and scripts. I am not going to a studio for distribution and funding. I will do it with my own money and release it.
BT: Will they be smaller budget films?
Screwvala: Not necessarily. We are doing a movie with Aamir Khan and one with Hrithik Roshan. They are not smaller budget movies, they are rightly budgeted movies.
BT: What has been your learning from your stint as the promoter of UTV?
Screwvala: The biggest learning has been that the script is absolutely critical and you have to own the IP. When you have a studio model you have large overheads which are not required. This is a business if 50 per cent of the business you have to do and 50 per cent of the business you want to do, then you are in trouble. I am only doing stuff which I want to do. When you have a large studio 50 per cent of the time goes into filling up the slate, then you compromise on quality or content or start making deals that may not completely add up. The talent is also overpaid.
BT: You had entered the digital content creation space and quickly exited. Any plans of re-entering that segment, especially since there is so much action happening?
Screwvala: I am eyeing it but there is nothing that interesting to do. There are a couple of movie ideas that we are working on, which are larger than life and could lend themselves to being a series in the digital platform. But I will do it only if I retain the IP. If I create the IP and go to Amazon and Netflix and say I am doing this, rather than here's my idea and you commission me, only then would I do it.
BT: Why has the studio model not worked?
Screwvala: Studio model is extinct. It has flopped across the world, not just in India. The only studio that's doing well globally is Disney and that's because they don't see themselves as a movie studio. They see themselves as an integrated media company. They are not green-lighting movies, they are green-lighting franchises. But a Universal and a Viacom are struggling as they are as good as their last hit. The studios out there are cutting down on overheads. They won't green-light a movie unless there is at least a Japanese, a German or UK lottery fund that is co-producing or co-financing it.
BT: What went wrong in India?
Screwvala: Fixed cost model and co-productions which are too lopsided in favour of the other side (he means production companies). The other side also exploited it too much. There has to be a win-win. Eros has now said they will not do any more acquisitions because it's too expensive.
Currently, I don't have a fixed cost model. I can do one movie a year, don't have to do a movie every year, or I can do six movies. It just depends on the script. It may be a passion, but right now I look at it as a passion.