When I took a lead acting role in IFC’s three-part TV miniseries BOLLYWOOD HERO with Chris Kattan and Julian Sands, it was my first experience of Hollywood. A fully developed screenplay, defined roles for production crew, detailed call-sheets, hourly schedules, multiple table-reads, makeup trials, costume albums…I can go on and on about the intense prep of a Hollywood production mandated to ensure no-nonsense, no-delays execution. But most important was the discipline followed on the set and off the set. I had tasted blood, and I was hooked.
My journey from Bollywood to Hollywood is not any different from any other immigrant story you must have heard a hundred times. Nothing was rosy, and all the obstacles were met with folded hands and a smile, like the Air-India mascot. I discovered that books-to-films adaptations were hot with Oscars and the Golden Globes, and I decided to focus on producing those sorts of prestige projects. I learned that business wasn’t done with handshakes but was instead done with lawyers and contracts, and I learned that a plethora of A-list academy winners like Ethan Hawke, Sally Fields, Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson, and Al Pacino are affordable and willing to work in independent movies.
Here are my five mantras that would help you understand Hollywood from an insider’s point of view:
Mantra 01: Content is King
Over the past eighteen years, there has been virtually no correlation between entertainment consumption and other industries. Even when everything else is down, the entertainment industry is still making money. For instance, despite recent setbacks, the entertainment market is expected to increase at an 11% CAGR over the next five years.
Mantra 02: East meets West
My eureka moment happened when I learned that Bend It Like Beckham, an indie film, was made for $5.6 million US dollars and recouped $74.5 million worldwide, of which $32.5 million was in domestic sales and the rest was foreign sales. More than two billion people watch Hollywood content in a hundred and twenty countries around the world. Since 2010, there has been a steady growth of international market sales, and now more than 50% of the revenue is from foreign sales in territories that include UK, SE Asia, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, UAE, etc. By recognizing the consumption pattern worldwide and tailoring our narratives and packaging for worldwide success, a modest investment can reap huge profits.
Mantra 03: Be Willing to Change
I’ve had to change my thinking in multiple ways to make my shift to Hollywood. Not only did I have to expand my idea of “good” content to adapt to a world audience, but I also had to adapt to the changing market conditions as technology transformed the way the world consumes content. Today, more than ever before, people have access to movies and TV thanks to streaming, which has created a gold rush for content creators like never before. Twenty years ago, theatrical exhibition was the only way movies could recoup money. But since 2018, filmmakers have a number of distribution options, like commercial networks, cable networks, non-theatrical exhibition, digital distribution, NFTs, DVDs and Blu-Rays, that guarantee commercialization of indie films.
Mantra 04: Realistic Budgets with a Recovery Model
Every movie has a market value, in Hollywood-lingo ‘a recoverable budget’ that is drawn from data visualization and predictive analysis. Smart independent producers in Hollywood are delivering exponential returns using the low-risk/high-return model like Moonlight, Lunch Box, Get Out, Nomadland and the list goes on.
Mantra 05: Don’t be the Smartest Person in the Room, Be in a Room Full of Smart People
Like any business, success depends on the people, and I’ve surrounded myself with some of the best content creators in the industry, all of whom continue to teach me and guide me on my journey. I have and continue to work with successful producers and directors like Scott Rosenfelt (Home Alone), Santosh Sivan (Asoka), Rob Menzies (Fatman), Bill Bennett (Bollywood Hero), Daria Jovicic (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Vivek Sharma (Bhoothnath), and others. Like myself, I’m sure they’d attribute their success to working with other intelligent, talented people.
This is my shout out to the Indian diaspora: If you want to control the narrative, you can’t shy away from Hollywood.
Rashaana Shah is a Film Producer. She heads Mulberry films, specializing in books-to-films adaptations. She has produced several feature films and music videos in Hollywood. Rashaana is known for Rang Rasiya (2008), Kal Kissne Dekha (2009) and Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities (2004).