‘Specific digital content will attract international film market to Pakistan’

April 24, 2019

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GALEN Knowles (centre) speaks at the event on Tuesday.—White Star
GALEN Knowles (centre) speaks at the event on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: You have to have a sound digital strategy to penetrate into the international film market. Beware of the film festivals that don’t have an active marketplace in terms of distribution. This was said by American film producer and director Galen Knowles during a roundtable conference titled ‘Connecting with international audiences — developing international partnerships’ at a local hotel on Tuesday evening.

The event was attended by members and stakeholders of the Pakistani film industry, including directors Saqib Malik, Amena Khan, Wajahat Rauf, Nabeel Qureshi, musician and producer Haroon and actor Adnan Malik.

Mr Knowles, replying to a question (and there were many, most of which were about how Pakistani film-makers can approach Netflix) said coming up with a [good] digital strategy can attract attention of international [film] markets to Pakistani society. It’s a combination of things which involves getting aspects such as screenwriting and cinematography done the right way. As far as film festivals go, offering your content to the festivals doesn’t mean much unless the right steps are taken. Film-makers must beware of the festivals that don’t have an active marketplace in terms of distribution. The ones that do have an active system are the likes of Sundance, Tribeca and Toronto. Sundance, he pointed out, looks for diversity in voices.

Mr Knowles said submissions to Sundance are done online, but the thing to be careful about is the sooner you submit the better it is. Even if you have a pretty good rough cut, submit it. Don’t wait for the film to be complete.

Responding to a question about Netflix, Mr Knowles said it is not really funding much original production anymore [worldwide]. Their spending is high. The ratio of the amount that they’re putting on their platforms to their original production is low. The shift in its business model from funding original production to doing Netflix originals is entirely coming from their in-house team which has grown from 150 people to almost over 2,000 in three years. It’s quite an explosion. They still have so much money but they’re not interested. The idea of short films could be entertained, though.

Mr Knowles said Netflix is also getting much more precise with the regions [they’re interested in]. One way to approach them is to create specific digital content that they might have a hard time doing or it appears an opportunity for them to take it to another country.

Haroon in between the conversation mentioned these are exciting times with companies such as Apple coming up with interesting stuff. Adnan Malik talked about the fact that a lot of content that’s coming out of India is in English. Mr Knowles acknowledged it but cautioning about brands’ interference in the creative process said one thing more and more US companies are doing is that they’re selling ancillary digital content as part of a package of series, for example, behind-the-scenes content on YouTube or Snapchat. But then a brand can put in a lot of money.

Saqib Malik touched upon the subject of the Chinese market as one of the biggest emerging markets, arguing India has also penetrated into that space. Mr Knowles responded that it’s an interesting question because a similar issue is being discussed in Japan. Japanese and Chinese audiences get attracted to a different kind of content. So it depends on how well you understand cultural nuances and put those into your pitch.

Jason Green, public affairs officer at the US Consulate in Karachi, sat next to the film producer at the conference. Giving his opinion on the Pakistani market he said Pakistan needs to have a film commission (such as India has) and there should be a film-centred bill [from legislators].

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019