Nomad Films Seeks Deeper Connections with Global Counterparts by Anthony Vagnoni 3 April, 2012
From New York to London to Cannes, AmitabhBhattacharya, Nomad's EP, has been working to build bridges for the Indian production industry.
"Earn your stripes," that's the old slogan for adidas. We're not sure what kind of sneakers Nomad Films' AmitabhBhattacharya wears, but if he wants to don a pair, he's more than welcome.
So what's he done to earn his stripes, you ask? How about travel to New York City on his own dime, as we say in America, to hobnob with fellow producers and do some global networking at the last 'boards summit in 2009? Or lobby for a meeting with the AICP Chief Executive Matt Miller, to talk about trying to create a similar association of production companies in India? Or dedicate himself to the physical and mental discipline required to be able to climb the Alps on a bicycle, which he's now done as the only Indian executive producer to join the vaunted Fireflies riders, whose benefit ride culminates with a triumphant entry into Cannes during the Lions Festival?
And oh, yes, his company makes pretty good TV commercials, too.
Among other things that have earned Nomad its stripes, Bhattacharya claims, are a number of firsts. His company is the first production house in India started by an agency creative director. It's also arguably the first production house in India to use Cinesync, a tool used for movies like "Avatar," and also invested in what it calls Nomadness, its own pre-to-post servers, so that clients anywhere in the world (whether agency or production company) can view the progress on their jobs and make notations.
Recent and notable Nomad spots include work for Volkswagen and DDBMudra, shot by directors HamishRothwell and Johan Gulbranson (see "Flyboy" and "Parsi"). Both are sweet little stories about the passion people have for their VWs; in "Flyboy," which was co-produced with Sydney's Goodoil Films, a boy born with wings gives them up so that he can drive off in a new Golf, while in "Parsi," an Indian man fusses over his beloved Polo until he passes on, yet his spirit lives on in his grandson.
Nomad also recently partnered with RSA London and director Nick Livesey for a Leo Burnett spot titled "Highway" for Thums Up, a Coca-Cola soft drink brand, which features a group of young people traversing from rooftop to rooftop using parkour-like moves and zip lines.
Other Nomad TVC clients include PernodRicard, the electronics company Moser Baer, Samsung, National Geographic, Castrol, Seagram's and Star News, among others.
Bhattacharya got his start in the industry in the early 1990s as a copywriter at JWT, then moved to Leo Burnett before joining McCann. By the time he left the agency business he was a Creative Director, heading up the office in Bangalore.
He launched Nomad in 2002 with his business partner, JunaidMemon, an independent producer. At the time, he explains, the market for most Indian TVCs was handled by just a few large production houses. The industry's smaller shops presented challenges for major agencies to work with, given their size. "I wanted to bridge that gap between the smallest shop and the big ones," he says. He loved the process of producing films, but felt that he was in an odd position: "I wasn't sure I could make it as a director," he explains, "but I also felt that no one would trust a creative director to be a producer."
So instead he carved out an interesting and unique niche in the marketplace - Nomad became the company that sought out young, up-and-coming directorial talent and introduced them to the commercials world, using his knowledge and contacts gained from years in the agency trenches.
Bhattacharya has always had an interest in developing wider ties for not just his company but for the Indian production community in general. That was behind his trip to the 'boards summit in '09. He went, he says, to "see what we were missing out on in terms of the larger global picture." His main goal was not so much to round up work for Nomad, he explains, but rather position them to be able to "cater to the needs of international clients, including agencies, brands and production companies, when it comes to working in India." While the need was not as strong in 2009 when he traveled to New York as it is today, he nonetheless wanted to be ready.
While there he ran into Brad Avery, a producer at Batch Films in New Zealand, who told him about the Fireflies-the benefit bike ride from Geneva to Cannes formed by Jake Scott of RSA and others that raises money for leukemia research.
The concept of taking part in the ride intrigued him; he'd wanted to go to Cannes, but felt he didn't want to go without a purpose, and this presented him with one. So he began riding regularly to get in shape for the event, should an opportunity arise to join the group. When London's APA came to Mumbai for a presentation on UK advertising, he spoke with RSA MD Kai-Lu Hsiung about taking part.
His opportunity came in 2011, when he was asked, on short notice, to join the riders. He accepted immediately, becoming, to his knowledge, the first member of the Indian production community to join the riders.
What value did it have for him? Bhattacharya is hard to cite tangible benefits. "But for me, it's very important to get to know the international market and the people that I hope to interact with in the future," he says. "And on the Fireflies ride, people step outside of their business roles. There's a lot of honesty. No one talks about work, it's not a 'networking' opportunity. But what it does do is build a sense of camaraderie, familiarity and trust."
This paid off when he went to the APA show last year in London and was greeted as a part of the gang. "Everyone was so welcoming to me, it felt really good to be with them all again," he says of his fellow riders. "It was a sense of community. We get too tied up with getting business and making money in this industry, we can lose sight of things. And particularly in India, we're kind of cocooned in our own space."
Breaking out of that cocoon and spreading one's wings is an issue that at times frustrates Bhattacharya – he feels there's tremendous interest in working in India on the part of EPs in other countries, but not a corresponding amount of interest in understanding Indian culture, or the way Indian agencies and clients do business. Likewise, he feels that foreign directors and production companies that come to India to shoot – whether shooting jobs for Indian agencies or utilizing the production service arms of companies like Nomad – there's relatively little exchange of knowledge or best practices.
This leads to the manner in which Nomad works with foreign directorial talent. Bhattacharya says their goal is less about building relationships with individual directors and more about cultivating deeper relationships with companies, in which Nomad would represent an entire slate of directors in India and co-produce jobs that may be awarded to those directors.
This is behind his growing association with Goodoil Films, a live action production house based in Sydney, and Eallin Motion Art in Prague. In the case of the latter, Nomad has collaborated on numerous jobs with the studio, which is a full-service animation and effects shop with offices in several European countries.
DamianoVukotic, Head of Sales at RSA, has pitched numerous jobs with Nomad and has shot several already, including the recent Thums Up spot. "They're fast, efficient and experienced," he says of Bhattacharya's team in Mumbai. "Our experience has been that Indian EPs are very eager to partner with companies like ours, and they're quick to respond to inquiries."
In general, the interest in working in India is being fuelled by the country's economic progress, Vukotic says, pointing out that this progress is propelling Indian advertisers into markets beyond their shores. "Just consider Jaguar," he notes; the iconic automotive nameplate is now a subsidiary of India's huge Tata conglomerate. "Indian companies are buying up international brands like this, and as a result they need to work with more interesting filmmakers who are international in their approach, and not just Indian," he says. "They're now promoting products to a global market, not just an Indian market."
Vukotic says that it's an exciting time to be working in India. "It feels very opportunistic, which is why we're building relationships with companies like Nomad and producers like Amitabh. The budgets in India are challenging, and you need really good local partners to make things work. He realizes that, and he's a straight shooter. It's been great working with him."
Bhattacharya believes that a production company has a highly specific set of stakeholders, if you will, or as he puts it, "three types of target audience." One is the agency, which he believes is more concerned with being taken care of and getting the right director than they are with the specifics of the production company.
The second is the client, "who generally goes by the agency's recommendation." They want what the agency wants: a reliable shop that can meet deadlines and make their brand look good. "Most importantly, they want the production house to bridge the gap between them and their agency," he adds. "They want their money's worth."
Finally, there's the wider production community, the area that Bhattacharya has spent so much time, money and energy cultivating. "They're often looking for looking for partners in India," he notes. "These guys do a lot of homework before they contact a production house in India. They depend a lot on word of mouth and networking. If one is a part of a network or group, then it helps. Winning awards at international shows helps. Your association with big international clients helps. The fact that we're an approved VW vendor gives many international production houses the confidence they seek."
This need to connect with production houses abroad is driven by changes in the Indian marketplace, Bhattacharya suggests. The influx of foreign directorial talent has altered the Nomad business model; the ability to generate work for rising, native-born directors is being undermined by the easy availability of foreign directors. Bhattacharya claims the number of Indian spots being directed by foreigners has increased five-fold in just the past few years.
"They're filling a gap that exists between the most established Indian talents and the up-and-comers," Bhattacharya says. "The names sound bigger, and the risks are seen as being less," he says of how clients view this talent shift. "They just want to get their job done, so they're more than happy to shoot with these guys."
Going forward, Bhattacharya says he wants Nomad to be "future ready," so he's setting in place moves that will further establish the shop's connections outside India. For example, he's in the process of opening an office in Prague, which would be a major move for an Indian production company. He'll be partnered with Eallin there; the two companies will work together on some jobs with Nomad providing whatever live action work that Eallin needs on mixed-media jobs.
At the same time, Bhattacharya is very keen to see a domestic production association form for his Indian counterparts, similar to the APA, the CFP-E or the AICP. "I've raised this issue before," he admits, then adds, "but we're a small production company, and I think someone at one of the bigger production houses would be in a better position to lead this effort. We're still a relative newcomer to the industry, having come to it from the agency side of the business. In that regard, I'm still something of an infant."