What goes into making a Blockbuster ?

By : Rijul Nadkarni (Railways Business)

After a brief sabbatical, everyone’s favorite internal magazine is back for the New Year’s Edition. The vision this time around is to focus on quality than quantity and come up with a unique edition, month in month out.

As a part of the make-over process , we have come up with a new segment in the name of “Editor’s Choice “ in which we plan to cover diverse range of topics such as Sports , Technology , Health , Money and Business to name a few . Our main target is to make our content pleasurable to our readers and in the process a continuous feedback mechanism through comments or mails to our magazine would help us scrutinize and maintain our sections more holistically.

A new year brings new challenges in life or in any discipline one wishes to pursue. For the movie buffs the new year brings a blockbuster film be it Bollywood, Hollywood or Regional cinema. One enjoys the holiday season from Christmas to New Year to enjoy some cracking cinema. Back in college, I watched a TV Show named ‘Entourage’. It fascinated me what goes into the life of a movie superstar and who are all the stakeholders involved in making a film. In the process I did my own research and made a synopsis of the process. What exactly goes into making a blockbuster? Here is a brief 7 step process to the best of my knowledge

1. Development

Making a film takes time and preparation and also involves hundreds of people, but just like a startup all films start with a moment of inspiration. Inspiration could be in books, in magazines, newspapers or anything around you. The start of a project varies, but generally will begin with development of a script, be that an existing script, a book or a brief story outline.   One could dream ideas, but ideas cost millions and it is essential to protect them.  A lot of filmmakers often take out errors and emission insurance to protect against copyright.  Development may also start with a Director and/or Writer pitching an idea to a Producer.

2. Pre-Production

This is the phase where you would narrow down the options of the production. It is where all the planning takes place before the camera rolls and sets the overall vision of the project. It starts with turning the rough idea into a final script ready for production, but this costs money.

A producer could put in his own money or seek financial support from other production houses. But there is a thin line here too. The selection of your financers is very critical since you need to ensure your idea and script is airtight.

Subsequently, it is down to the writer to deliver the final product that the producer and the financiers want. First the writer makes a synopsis and he/she and the producer agree/not agree on the key events on the film. If there is no agreement, the project stalls or is sometimes called off. Pre-production also includes working on the shoot locations and casting. The Producer hires a Line Manager or Production Manager to create the schedule and budget for the film.

With the script complete, the director and the producer decide how they want to film the movie and who they will employ to help them. To turn the film into a proper business proposition, the producer must know how much the film will actually cost. One common way to make the project more commercial is to attach established and marketable stars to the script. The producer are often stuck at a junction of two roadways while making a key decision – invest more time and money on a script or on a superstar. The Directors who can crack the code to maintain a balance of both help provide the best return on investment.  

3. Production

With the financing secured, the full cast and crew are hired and the detailed preparation for the shoot begins. With all the heads of department onboard (yes this includes all the people in the credits screen post a movie :P) ,  the shooting script is circulated to all concerned . It is key to keep planning ahead of the daily shoot. The primary aim is to stick to the budget and schedule and this requires constant vigilance. Incase this isn’t managed efficiently, it adds to running costs.

4. Principal Photography

Shooting begins and funding is released,  thus the producer breaths a huge sigh of relief. This is the key stage in film making. This is when the camera rolls. It is nearly always the most expensive phase of film production, due to actor, director, and set crew salaries, as well as the costs of certain shots, props, and on-set special effects. Everything that has happened up to this point is to make principal photography go as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Communication between all parties is crucial during the shoot and the production must maintain a full set of records and strive to remain on time and on budget.

5. Wrap

This is the period immediately after shooting ends. It is when one strikes (dismantles) the set and clears the location. Everything must be returned in good order to suppliers and there must be a full set of records of the shoot.

6. Post-Production

This stage starts when principal photography ends, but they may overlap. The bulk of post-production consists of reviewing the footage and assembling the movie – editing. There will be contributions as required from Visual Effects (VFX), Music and Sound Design. The picture is now locked and delivery elements are created.

7. Distribution

While the film is still in post, the producer is trying to sell it. But he/she can’t sell it to the public themselves, they need a distributor. To help sell the film to the distributors, the producer secures the services of a sales agent to help the producer sell the film to the public. This is how producers make their money back and a considerable amount of time and energy will be invested to secure the right distribution deals for their projects.

As the finishing touches are being made to the film, the distributors plan their strategy of marketing and selling the film. Knowing the audience is essential and the marketing team runs test screenings to see how the film is received.

Cinema expedition is still the primary channel for films to reach their audiences and box office success equals financial success. A high profile star-studded premier is used to launch the film tithe public with an explosion of media.

There are few Directors though who make films not for the masses but for the more artistic viewers.

A successful run in cinemas make the film a sought-after product, which can be sold through other more lucrative channels such as DVD’s, videos ,  games and television channel rights  for the film. Hospitality sales for hotel channels and in-flight entertainment can bring in millions of additional revenue.

Presently with web platforms available , there are bidding wars among Amazon Prime , Netflix , Hotstar , HBO etc. to bag rights for films that do well at the theatres and multiplexes .

A Producer often looks for intelligent Directors who can combine a typical entertainer for the masses with a definite message or a unique concept to appeal to the ‘artistic audiences’.

 Classic examples were Ayushmann Khurrana’s  ‘Badhai Ho’ & ‘Andhadhun’ which released earlier this year and did good business too.

Directors such as Rohit Shetty , Sajid Khan and Karan Johar are ones who back their strengths , back their ability to attract stars and thus present cinema that appeal to the masses and there is no harm in it too . Rohit Shetty is a dream Director for any Producer as he exponentially increases the investment in the project .

Directors such as Anurag Kashyap , Dibakar Banerjee , Vishal Bharadwaj  and Mira Nair believe more in concept cinema . The fact that some of their movies might  eventually do well at the box office is unrelated. The unconventional themes come because of the budget. Since you can’t do jaw dropping action , you can bring in the audience either by way of humour or story .

The ideal Director for the Producer is someone such as a Raju Hirani , Zoya Akhtar , Quentin Terentino or a Christopher Nolan who with their brilliance and genius make the Producer money , maintain star power and at the same time provide a potent message .

A exception to these classes is our very own ‘Bahubali’ . S .S. Rajamouli blended drama , action , visual effects , star power , a good story and an out of the world concept to produce one of India’s highest earners at the box office . I’m a huge admirer of Malayalam cinema . The thing about Malayalam cinema right now is that there is no single-point agenda to have a hero and heroine dance around trees or one man beat up an entire army. Stories are topical and there is no formula. There are characters and situations which are very local and not at all glamorized and this simplicity is it’s USP.

With the audiences getting smarter by the day , transition to preference for the latter two classes of Directors is on the rise . Many Producers are now roping in these Directors directly with web platforms such as Netflix and Amazon and currently this seems like the way forward .

The hope is that our Producers and Directors continue to be flexible in their mindset and adjust their content based on the progress with regard to trends in technology and preferences of the audience. The belief is that they will after all Cinema too is a business and business is run by ‘Rokda’ .

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Sandeep Dahiya

Could relate this to our own movie making during Moments and Movements days!!
Well written article.


Am I getting a break for your next movie? I am good at being dead