Supporting India’s next generation of storytellers

By

Akshat Agarwal, Legal Analyst, Koan Advisory

Jyoti More is fascinated by the idea of films and storytelling. Today, as a student of BSc. Filmmaking at Whistling Woods International (WWI) one of India’s premier film schools, Jyoti’s dreams of one day becoming a filmmaker are one step closer to reality.

Jyoti is a beneficiary of a joint partnership between the Motion Picture Association (MPA), WWI and Salaam Balak Trust (SBT), started in 2013, which has been established to create opportunities for talented youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds in the film industry. After completing a three month course in VFX and Roto Artist, Jyoti was identified by the selection board to receive support from the SBT-WWI partnership. And with her specialized training in VFX, Jyoti will find herself in demand for employment in film, television and music videos production. ‘I had no idea that this was even a possibility – I balanced between college and a job, but when Ms. Agnes of SBT encouraged me to go to Whistling Woods for an interview, it opened up a new world for me’, says Jyoti of her journey with the programme.

Jyoti’s predecessors in the programme, Asad and Babu, who were sponsored by the MPA in association with WWI and SBT a few years ago, have done just this. Having finished their one year full time diploma course in filmmaking, both these young men have begun successful careers in film. “We are very pleased to hear that the graduates have established careers in the industry and have found regular employment with camera crews on film and television projects.”, said MPA Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Charlie Rivkin. Mr. Rivkin toured the Whistling Woods facility and spoke to students on a visit on March 14, taking the opportunity to meet with Joyti and find out first-hand about her plans to build a career in the VFX industry.

The film industry has seen ground breaking changes in recent years. Online streaming technology now provides easier ways to reach audiences, and a growing young demographic generates a steady demand for a wide variety of content. However, the industry is lacking in trained professionals in the areas of screenwriting, post production and VFX. According to a Deloitte report, although close to 200,000 people are employed in the Indian film industry, over 90 percent of the workforce has been trained on the job and not through formal instruction.

VFX is an integral part of today’s filmmaking. Speaking about the importance of effects in film, Jyoti points out that “while actors may act, there are some things that people love to see – magic and fantasy – that are best delivered through VFX. I’ve always loved films like Lord of the Rings and want to learn more about how to create effects like that.” At the same time, she appreciates the flexibility Whistling Woods offers students, with the ability to switch departments and learn whatever aspect of film that fascinates them.

Thus, programmes like the one sponsoring Jyoti serve a dual purpose: in the first instance, they are a means of empowering talented individuals coming from difficult backgrounds, identifying their potential and giving them opportunities in an industry which would otherwise be a closed door. Second, they help to boost a pipeline of highly-skilled professionals familiar with the latest filmmaking skill-sets, to satisfy the demand from India’s growing screen industry. 

By providing a structured curriculum combined with practical learning through exposure to industry professionals, WWI’s graduates easily transition to the workforce. Moreover, through technology partnerships with leading tech brands like Apple, Autodesk, Canon, Carl Zeiss, Dolby, Foxconn, FujiFilm, Google (YouTube), HP, Kodak, NVIDIA, Sennheiser, and Sony, WWI provides students in cutting-edge technological instruction, equipping them to work with global quality equipment and standards. It also provides international exposure through a number of exchange programs with schools such as Dodge College - Chapman University & Syracuse University in the USA, University of Calgary in Canada, Deakin University & Griffith University in Australia, Bradford College UK, Leeds University UK & NYU Tisch Asia.

According to Jyoti, a variety of masterclasses offered by some of the leading professionals in the world, helps expand students’ worldview at Whistling Woods. In her time there, she has seen masterclasses on cinematography and music by international guests, where students can access the knowledge from international experts including places like the United States and Mexico, and learn about cutting-edge global trends and best-practices.

According to a report by the Media and Entertainment Skills Council (MESC) of India, there is a great need to offer more opportunities to keen to pursue careers in filmmaking. Government facilities like the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, and the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, are not able to meet the huge demand from the industry.

WWI also recognizes the need to prepare students during their time in school. Collaborating with the Ministry of Skill Development and the Ministry of Human Resource Development, WWI has designed the curriculum for the Media Studies elective offered by CBSE to students in grades 11 and 12. This introduces school children on the cusp of higher education to the possibilities of careers in film and television and provides an avenue for discovering individual talent at an early age.

Jyoti strongly feels that local films have immense potential for garnering global audiences. “Look at Bahubali, a regional language film where many people didn’t know the actor – it attracted viewers from the world over because of its inviting visual style and effects.”

According to WTO estimates, Indian exports of audio-visual services grew by 6.46 percent between 2016 and 2017, and this demand continues to grow. Leveraging such demand also requires Indian productions to be up to speed with technological trends such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), two nascent but fast developing mediums to present content. WWI provides opportunities through its AR and VR Development Lab, set up in partnership with Reliance Jio, and augmented by leading names in the VR ecosystem on the advisory board of the Lab.

Indian content can become an important export industry, benefiting India both economically and culturally. Likewise, improvements in the technical ability of local crews will help to attract offshore production, stimulating the local economy. Initiatives such as the MPA–WWI Scholarship For Excellence in Filmmaking, helps in some small yet highly-meaningful way to support this mission.

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