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Location Spotlight: An Insider's Guide to India

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Never Ending Story’s Amitabh Bhattacharya provides an in-depth look into working and shooting in India

Location Spotlight: An Insider's Guide to India
Indian production company Never Ending Story is a proud supporter of Little Black Book as its partner for the Indian market. As part of the relationship its founder Amitabh Bhattacharya and LBB explore what makes India’s advertising industry tick. Here, Amitabh gives a low down into shooting in India, what makes the country so unique and some helpful dos and don’ts for visitors. 

How would you pitch India to any production companies looking to shoot in your region?

India is unique in many ways. Our landscape, our culture, our architecture all has a unique look and feel to it. The diversity that you find in this country spoils you for choice. However, India as a visual palette has often been stereotyped. Most requests from international production companies are limited to the big cities, crowds and iconic locations.

More and more states in India are encouraging production companies to shoot in their region. They are making the paperwork and permission process more convenient so we can offer a lot more options to our international clients. For example, India can be a great option for shooting commercials for cars and scripts that need a diverse landscape.

What are the main qualities of your region? 

We can offer each of the four seasons; both snowy and vibrant, colourful winters, our summers may not always be very inviting for crew from the cooler countries but our legendary Indian hospitality more than makes up for it.

They don’t call it the Indian ‘sub-continent’ for nothing. We have mountains, rivers, tropical forests, beautiful wide roads (yes!), high rises, salt deserts, beaches, mountain passes, glaciers, you name it. And most of these places are well connected by road, rail and air. 

What would you say are the top locations in India? 

Besides the stock image locations, we have more or less everything one can ask for. We have tropical forests, winter forests, rocky beaches, Bamboo forests, pine forests, farmland growing wheat, corn, sugarcane, paddy, cotton and more. We even have a few river islands and India has a rich wildlife (sorry, can’t hire them for shoots though!). 

What location would you say is most popular?

I don’t know if there is ‘the most’ popular location. But the locations featured often would be Varanasi, Rajasthan, Mumbai, Kerala and maybe Delhi. Then of course, there is the Taj Mahal in Agra. With the increasing demands for filming locations, one can foresee new locations getting added to this list. 

Which location would you describe as the biggest attribute to local production?

Mumbai is the heart of the Hindi Film industry in India - it is also the biggest in the country. You see, India has a local film industry in almost every state - producing content in regional languages. And they are quite strong in their own right. States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bengal are some of the established film production hubs and produce hundreds of contents for both cinema and television every year. 

While Mumbai does have the best supply of crew and equipment, the aforementioned states are making serious efforts to up their game. New investments are being made in filming infrastructure across the country. 

Explain the climate and the best/worst times to shoot in India? 

In a country where demand for video content outstrips supply, shooting must happen in 24x7x365, nut that's often in shooting stages and indoor locations. If you want to shoot outdoors then barring the three or four months of monsoon, you can shoot pretty much round the year. Spring and winter (October to mid-February) are more pleasant. That said, as is the case in many parts of the world, climate change is influencing the seasons and weather patterns in India. 

What specific work permits/Visas are required to shoot in India?

Though the government has eased the visa process, getting the right visa isn’t always easy. Legally, international crew coming to India to shoot documentaries or commercials have to apply for a J visa. If you are visiting India to shoot feature or fiction content, you have to apply for an F visa. The details are all available on Indian embassy websites and applicants must check with the local Indian embassies before applying. It can be tricky sometimes, but the embassies are generally friendly and helpful. 

How is the infrastructure in India for supporting large productions? 

As I mentioned earlier, content production in India is growing exponentially. As is the demand for good crew, state-of-art equipment, sound stages and recording studios. Companies are investing, more and more international specialists are collaborating with Indian production companies and the government is also encouraging international companies to participate. 

What has been your biggest/most successful production in India to date? 

I had the good fortune to work with some of the best production companies in the world. Companies like RSA, Stink, Pulse Films, Knucklehead, Chelsea, Bullitt LA, Radical Media Germany, Landia, Agosto Films, among others. We also co-produce projects and have a long association with Photoplay Films in Sydney, Australia. 

I love every project I have worked on. I am not trying to be politically correct, I sincerely do. I am very proud as an Indian but I also feel that the production service industry can become a lot better. Every time I work on a production service job, I see an opportunity to better ourselves. The interesting thing about service production is that your client is also in the same business. So there is always an opportunity to exchange notes and learn.

I remember when we were doing the Facebook project for Rattling Stick, Tess Mitchell, Rattling Stick EP suggested we use the services of Ad Green. I had heard of the organisation. I was aware that they did not have any representation in India. But I still contacted them for their guidance. We were probably one of the first production houses in India that started thinking about sustainable production. 

As an insider, what would you say are the biggest Dos and Don’ts in the region? 

To be fair to most international crew I have worked with, they have been very accommodating and understanding. Barring a few stray incidents, I have never had to caution the international crew about dos and don’ts. Nevertheless, here are a few pointers that production companies working with Indian service companies or travelling to India to shoot may want to consider:

Tax: Tax is one subject that comes up often. India’s tax rules have changed a few years ago. So if a local service company is charging GST then it must be discussed at length with the commissioning production company. 

Visa: I have already covered this point, but I would urge international companies to be very careful about the kind of visa they are applying for.

Currency of payment: International companies should avoid paying in Indian currency (INR). 

Sensitive issues: Please don’t drink alcohol on the road or around religious places. Do not walk into Mosques/temples/Gurudwaras with your shoes on. 

Remote shoots: Since the pandemic started, remote shooting has become more of a norm. Be very clear about your brief. Things do get lost in translation. 

Unions: Big productions in India just can’t work without the union crew. Please be very specific about the shoot hours, local government rules and protocols.
Permission to shoot with animals: Animals Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is the go to organisation for shooting with any animal. It is quite strict and the process can take time. If you plan to shoot with animals in India, please ensure that your local service company has all the permissions in place. 

What would be your number one tip to any coming to India to shoot a campaign/film?

Come with an open mind. Get your service company to research well. Don’t depend on Google for everything. 

Where would you suggest a foreign production stay while they are in India?

There are standard star hotels in almost every city in India. Most international hotel chains have their presence in the Indian metros. However, if your shooting locations are in smaller towns, then you can always opt for good budget hotels. 

Where are the best bars/restaurants? Any hidden gems you could suggest?

That would be a long list. Every city has some hidden gems. Street food in India is much talked about and well documented on social media platforms. 

Any other tourist recommendations?  

I wouldn’t even attempt. There is so much to see and discover our country. It is truly a kaleidoscope. There are so many patterns and designs to discover. It depends entirely on what you are seeking.

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Never Ending Story, Tue, 17 Aug 2021 11:32:00 GMT