Urmi Juvekar On What You Should Know Before Applying To Screenwriting Labs!

By Aditya Savnal. Posted on November 19, 2015

It’s been 8 years since the NFDC Film Bazaar was started. And in these 8 years, the Bazaar has quickly established itself as the biggest film market in South Asia and has played a pivotal role in the re-emergence of a new wave (if it can be called that) of independent films in India.

One of the biggest success stories of the Film Bazaar is the NFDC Screenwriters Lab which has helped to pave the way for some of the more exciting Indian films of recent times. The success stories include Kanu Behl’s Titli, Sharat Katariya’s Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha and Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox to name a few.

Besides this, the International Co-Production initiative of the Film Bazaar has also helped several promising feature films get funded and access to international markets. Anurag Kashyap’s The Girl In The Yellow Boots, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, Anand Gandhi's Ship Of Theseus and Umesh Kulkarni’s Deool are some of the projects that have leveraged international co-productions over the years.

We recently spoke to Urmi Juvekar who heads the Screenwriters' Lab and the Co-Production Market for the Film Bazaar. Urmi has written several acclaimed features including Kalpana Lajmi’s Darmiyaan, Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Shanghai, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and has served as a creative producer for Love, Sex Aur Dhokha.

She spoke about why Film Bazaar is a viable option for filmmakers to market their films and the interesting initiatives being conducted at this years' edition of the Film Bazaar.

Republished below are excerpts from the same.   

On The Selection Process Of The Screenwriters Lab

The basic criteria of selection is, does the story tell us something new and is there something original and attractive about the project?

The selection process is also primarily on the basis of content and we look at whether it gives us a glimpse of the writer’s potential and how good it actually is. The background of the applicant also influences the selection process. People who are familiar with the writing process and know how to develop a screenplay have an added advantage. Understanding of the medium is what we also look out for. The lab is mainly about discovering new talents and that’s what our past editions which featured people like Kanu Behl, Ritesh Batra and Ruchika Oberoi have been about.

For the selection process, we ask for synopsis and shortlist them accordingly. After that we ask them to submit a full draft. We have various markers for evaluating the project such as originality and feasibility. Besides this, we also look at its marketability, viewership quotient, plot, character developments and the themes. The process does get tough at times as there are as many as 400 submissions. This year we have received around 450 submissions.

People with no training, prior experience and whose applications are not strong enough would have a lesser chance of cracking the selection. However if a script written by such a rank newcomer is good and has a potential, then we willingly accept such applications.

One also needs to understand that the lab is primarily a mentorship program and is focused on the project they are writing. If the project doesn’t appeal and communicate with us and it’s in a nascent stage of development, then it normally does not get selected.

What Applicants Need To Keep In Mind While Applying To The Lab

At times, after going through a script I realize that it could have been written in a much better way. This year onwards we intend to create a checklist to help people evaluate their material and check it against our guidelines and parameters. One of these criteria would be, does the protagonist have a want or a need? So if this element is not in the story, the writer can rework on it accordingly.

I would want applicants to be well aware and know what they are getting into while applying to the lab. I would advise the applicants to take their time to write a better script and may be apply next year. Just because the submission deadline is nearing, one should not be in a rush to submit. People should be aware of their material, its strengths and should give it a thought while submitting their scripts to the lab.

On The Trends Observed In The Screenwriters Lab And Co Production Market Over The Years

Surprisingly till now, there have been no trends in the lab and we get stories that cater to various genres such as comedy, thriller and horror. However with regards to the co-production market, till a few years back we would get films that would be perceived by people as the ideal project for a co-production market. People looked at them as a phenomenon wherein the stories mostly involved people travelling from one country to another and discovering themselves in the process.

But with time and thanks to films like Titli and The Lunchbox, people have realized that films that are deeply rooted or ingrained in a specific culture or place can also go places.

On How Platforms Like NFDC Film Bazaar Helps Filmmakers Market Their Films

Film Bazaar is primarily about getting films out in the market. In our opinion, if a film is made and not released, then it is not made at all. Film Bazaar is an entirely curated market. People look up at our selection more carefully. Over a period of time, NFDC Film Bazaar has acquired a good reputation and people believe that if it’s an NFDC selection, then this project definitely has potential. In terms of the Screenwriters Lab, there is a lot of work that happens post the first draft and one has better chances of meeting a producer or investor and impressing them. Film Bazaar also helps to increase the quality and visibility of your work.

On The Selection Process Of The Co-Production Lab

For the co-production lab, we have various criteria, based on which we select the projects. We look at whether the project is ready, does it sound interesting, are the names proven and do they have the capacity to realize this dream?

One must realize that the Co-Production Market does not give you money. But it is the first step in helping you get the same and take your film out to the world. Our selection has a mix of everything as the buyers are interested in all kinds of genres such as horror, thriller and psychological dramas. We ensure that we have a good mix of all these varied genres and we look out for variety. If we receive multiple entries that deal with the same genre then we consider the projects with better credentials and the projected budget which they are aiming at.

On How Film Bazaar Intends To Make International Co-Productions Easier

We have legal advisors who help the participants of our co-production labs, take care of and sort the legal hassles and formalities. We also keep updating and publishing the co-production treaties. When it comes to international co-productions, there is fear of getting conned since one may encounter many people who may talk well and throw big names. But after a while nothing happens. The Film Bazaar Co Production market helps take care of such issues. We ensure that the buyers and sellers are authentic.

The people who come to the Film Bazaar have a certain amount of credibility, a well established background and some serious credentials. We know they are serious about business and backing films they believe in.

For an international co-production we look for the credibility of the producer and director. This gives us the confidence and assurance that what we are selling will work.

On How The Success Of The Lunchbox Opened Up New Avenues For International Co –Productions

Financial success always opens more avenues and it makes people take more creative risks. The world is driven by economics and we cannot over look the same. Unless the film is not successful, the market will never open and there will not be much variety in the content that will be offered.

The need of the product is what determines whether the aforesaid project is eligible for a co-production or not. One also needs to determine the need to go for a co-production and at what stage does one need it? It can be at a sales or the distribution level.

While addressing one of the previous editions of the Film Bazaar, Guneet Monga had said, “A film may not need co- production finance for the production but may need it at a later stage”. I feel this statement makes a lot of sense.

One needs to define for what purpose and at which stage of the film one needs money. A lot of people are on the lookout only for the money without actually pondering about these things. Figuring these things will give you a better sense of clarity about your intentions and the project.

On The New Initiatives Undertaken At This Year's Edition Of Screenwriters Lab And International Co-Production

We are creating a separate pitch for scriptwriters wherein we have invited directors, finance, producers, and investors to come and listen to the stories with the intent of helping filmmakers form alliances. Even if the particular project does not get selected, it helps filmmakers and other people make the right contacts.

For the Co-Production Market we have an Open Pitch where everyone will talk about their project and show some clips.  This will be followed by meetings. It gives them an added advantage to meet the various buyers at one go. And it gives a peek into the projects and paves the way for future prospects.

I also intend to develop childrens content and that really is the need of the hour.



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