Footcandles Film Looks to Share its Top-Ranked Production Skills by Anthony Vagnoni 4 April, 2011
It's Indian TVCs are top-rated by CNBC and NDTV. Now this production house is examining the best way to import talent while exporting its brand.
After Footcandles Film in Mumbai had the distinction of having four of its TVC campaigns touted as among the best in India last year by two prestigious business news TV channels-NDTV and CNBC-did the phone start ringing off the hook?
"A lot of people called to congratulate us," says Managing Director and Executive Producer Anand Menon, sounding matter of fact, as though it happens all the time. (For more on the achievement, check out our feature article here.) "We're a familiar brand in the Indian ad market, so it didn't have a huge impact on our work. After all, we've been turning out good work for quite a while."
That would be for at least the last ten years, probably longer, if you go back into their vault. The company was founded in Chennai in 1993 by Anand's brother Manav, a former senior producer at JWT India. Two years later he was joined by his business school graduate brother, who now acts as EP and supervises production, along with a team of seasoned producers and executive producers.
"In India, the bulk of marketing for production companies such as ours is by word of mouth," he continues. "It does more for you than going around with a showreel. All the big agencies in India know our directors and they know our work." What the publicity has done, he feels, is help familiarize clients with the Footcandles name, since they tend to be big followers of the general business press in India. "What works with agencies is when you win at Goafest," he says. "And when you win internationally, even better!" The CNBC and NDTV laurels were nice, he adds, "but it's not like winning a Lion."
But if things keep going the way they are, Menon and his directors may soon find themselves up on the stage in the Grand Auditorium. For example, the shortlist for the Creative Abby Awards, to presented by the Ad Club of Bombay at Goafest later this week, just came out and Footcandles has 25 films on the list, by far the largest single representation from any Indian production company.
From this position, Menon and his partners are charting the future growth of the company. He's well-suited to the task, as someone who's involved in every aspect of production but, not being a director, he doesn't have to concern himself with the creative details or marshaling forces on the set. Indeed, he says he never had the itch to direct himself-"I don't want to be the man with the megaphone," he jokes-but prefers working the production angle, helping to improve the work as it goes through the process. He also likes helping the directors themselves as they mature from budding young filmmakers to more experienced pros. "I'm there at every stage," he adds.
Menon has some clear opinions about where and how international directorial talent can mesh with the Indian marketplace, and expanding its foreign roster is something Footcandles is seriously considering. Right now, the shop offers the talents of three international directors: Juergen Bollmeyer from Germany, Erik Morales from Spain and Louis Ng, the legend from Hong Kong. But with its growing production service business, Menon expects that will grow.
"You really need a strong personal connection with every director you work with," he says. "You need to click, and we've found that production service is a good way to get to know a director. It helps you build bridges, and then you go from there."
The Footcandles showreel is strong on both humor and emotion, with much of the work coming from its young directors like Vinil Mathew and Ayappa, both of whom show a strong feel for sophisticated visuals, the nuance of performance and the split-second timing demanded by comedy.
Being so well-known at home but largely unknown abroad, we asked Menon what Footcandles reputation is like. "We're known as a really solid production company," he states. "We encourage our directors to push the envelope as much as they can and take risks, and we back them up with full support. And I think that shows; it's rare that we don't succeed in a pitch. Agencies know our production processes are very sound, and we deliver good work.
"We've had a reputation for doing emotion and humor - our directors have shot many of the breakthrough humor campaigns in the Indian market - but more to the point, we do work that connects with consumers," he continues. His brother Manav is known for work that integrates visual effects in a seamless fashion, which gives the shop a broad range of styles that they can cover., but Menon sees the need for more.
"We need to evolve in terms of the kinds of scripts that we're handling," he comments. "Comedy and emotion are great, but they're not enough. We need to keep challenging our directors." This, he believes, is where Footcandles can fill a niche with foreign talent.
"We don't want to bring in foreign directors on the work that we know our in-house Indian directors can handle with ease," he says. "Rather, we'd like to bring them in on those rare jobs where we feel they can help push the creative and the execution to another level."
Their strategy for this is to proceed with caution and take their time. Menon believes that, by and large, few Indian spots shot by foreign directors today are the kinds of spots that end up on their reels, and he'd like that to change. "Right now, great ideas are often deprived of budget and time," he says. "Being one of the dominant companies in the marketplace, we're often able to persuade clients to back up our scripts with adequate budgets and schedules.
Yet he realizes that foreign directors look at the work they produce in India as not among the best work they're capable of doing. "We believe they'll eventually come here for work they'll be able to show anywhere in the world," Menon adds. "This way, the relationship works both for them and for the production company."
Likewise, Footcandles is looking to extend its brand to agencies and clients outside India. "We're starting to put out feelers, getting a feel for the kinds of scripts that are out there," he says. They've already worked for agencies in Asia and the States, and are optimistic about other areas, such as the Middle East and Europe.
In the meantime, the shop is focused on the work and the upcoming awards season. They'll be at Goafest, for sure, and are eager to see how their work plays in Cannes. At the same time, new work is in coming out the door that Menon is excited about, including work for Docomo, Cadbury, Havell's and Airtel, all of which will breaking during the Indian Premier League cricket matches later this month.
"The new work will make news," says Menon confidently. Given his recent track record of scoring headlines, we're sure he's right.