5. Lab issues
If there is a single place in existence, which can make or break a movie, it has to be the lab. After the movie production and area sales to appreciable levels, at the time of release major issues would get created and the film would vanish without leaving a trace. Here things can get terrible and make the happenings worse for a producer and push him to the verge of bankruptcy. That is lab for you. Yes, it is that critical.
Producer has completed the movie. Distributors too, have paid the fair amount of advance. They would arrive in the lab to collect the print of the movie from the lab, when they would pay the rest of the amount to the producer. During Pongal or Diwali season it is very common sight at any Chennai studio, crores and crores of rupees are handled effortlessly wrapped with newspaper, arranged in carton boxes or dumped in suitcases.
When all set to lift the print (box) of the film, complicated problems, which would make the release impossible, would start to sneak in their ugly heads. Wondering what could be the problems? Actors’ salary problems, issues with the financiers who supported the producer or the technical crew’s outstanding salary amount.. there is no end for them. If a single person or body gives a letter to the lab claiming that the producer owe them or him money to be paid for the movie related to the movie, the lab would immediately seize the print of the movie. The print (box) would not be released until the problem is completely resolved and the complained party has withdrawn the letter. Till then the box would not be handed over to the producer.
In our own case of ‘Uyirile Kalandhadhu’, for which we had bought the rights, similar problems started to occur. We were told to come to the lab in the afternoon for getting the prints. We were very enthusiastic as this was our first attempt in distribution. We were waiting eagerly waiting at the studio entrance with a set of cars, of course with the balance amount less the advance we had already paid. There were also distributors of other area waiting with us. We were told the prints would arrive in any time and expectation was mounting. Suddenly the same people, who were telling us that the prints are on the way, struck a thunderbolt on us. In their own words, it was ‘ eighty bucks deficit’, which means deficit of eighty lakh rupees. We could not understand anything at first. Later, on enquiry, we learnt that the producer had borrowed money for the production expenditure. As he still owed a balance of Rs. 80.00 Lakhs of the loan to the financier at the time of release, financier has issued the letter to the lab claiming that the producer may be issued with the prints only after his dues are settled. So despite the prints were ready, they would not be sent out. Though we were novices there, we were relaxed that some senior members or other well-wishers of the producer would arrive in the scene for his rescue and settle the issue.
What followed though, was on the contrary. As time progressed, the problem intensified. We came to know that the Surya and Raghuvaran from the movie cast have issued the letters too. Our team is confused by this new twist in the story. All the experienced distributors had started to gather in small groups and were discussing the issue. Since we were new and knew no one there, we were hesitant to join them and were only witnessing the happenings. Even then, having purchased the rights in outright method and for Chennai city, we were bit courageous that we could take our money back. As time moved on and on, senior distributors negotiated with Sivakumar and Raghuvaran and made them to cancel their respective letters. The situation turned worse only later. Financier had toughened his stand and created ruckus for his due of money. The producer tried to pay him with the audio, area and Telugu rights of his next film. Despite this, there was balance amount remained to be paid to the financier. The film was not released the next day as planned.
Already the advertisement campaign was on full swing across the state. Since the film was not released as per plan, the theaters started to screen old films to run the business. It happened at Chennai theaters as well, for which we have paid advance for this movie’s release! They were showing old films on days for which we had paid the rent already! As we were losing money on rent, tension started to build within. On the proposed release date, the producer and distributors were holding lengthy discussions with the financier. The clock was ticking. As a final resort, since no other way out, all the producers had to pay a sum of Rs. 8 to 10 lakhs, putting extra money from their hands to bail the film out. They had to; because if not there were no signs of getting their advance money back too. So, thus the each financier agreed to pay Rs. 1 lakh extra on the agreed purchase price of the film.
Our group made the agreement through outright method when compared with others’ M.G or distribution and thus, we were not under the pressure to pay extra like them. However, in the mentality of somehow bailing out the film and releasing it, we too agreed to pay a lakh extra like others. It was late in the night to pay the money in the presence of the financier, settle the rest of the money and get hold of the prints. When we reached the theaters, last show of the day was on. This way, one day’s theater rent was already lost for us, even before screening the film in them. One strange thing occurred when we paid the extra amount like other distributors and got the prints. All senior distributors shadily looked at us, talking between them, shaking their heads in what looked like disbelief (We were downcast to know the reason later, which is, since we owned outright release rights in Chennai, even if the other guys had released the movie elsewhere, that is useless for them). As a final twist, when we were carrying the prints out of lab, a final letter was on the way from the dancers’ union for a balance of Rs.5000.00. It was settled out of office!
There were times when even an average film crossed 40 prints. If the movie is big, it would even cross 200 prints. During ‘Aalavandhaan’ release time, a Diwali, two labs were buzzing round the clock with printing activity. Present times, even big films won’t cross 30-40 print count. Rest of the theaters? Digital print. Movie in your palm. Simple, isn’t it?
How issuing lab letter could hinder the release of the movie? Who has given the rights to the lab?
Lab is lifeline for a movie. During the shooting and post shooting, all the contents of the movie, every shot captured in the films, are edited, connected and given the final shape what the public get to see in the theaters, take place only in the lab. As the lab facilitates the origin and completion of any film, most of the pacifications and reconciliations take place only here.
First of all, a producer must pay the lab’s dues. This means settling the lab’s bill towards the expenses of purchased film and processing fees. Many producers assure to their lenders and employee unions to pay their dues ahead of film release. However, as the film nears completion, releasing the movie itself would seem impossible. In such a scenario, if a producer pays his dues to the lab alone and gets the movie released, it is almost impossible for other people cited above to get their payment dues.
The pillars behind establishing this process of issuing the lab letter to claim the payment dues of the technical crew of the film are Mr.M.P.Srinivasan and Mr.Nimai Gosh, with few others. This process is the first and important success of the body named FEFSI created by them. This is the reason why all 24 work groups of film industry have chosen the lab as the final resort and use it as a frontier to settle all financial cases connected to a film. M.P. Srinivasan has also brought in a rule for paying the wages of the music technicians in the same evening of the working day.
At present times, when most of the prints are digital, the digital prints would be handed over to the concerned only if an NOC letter is produced from the lab, which the producer has worked with. It is evident that in the coming years, enterprises like UFO and Real image, PXD, which release digital prints, would play the lab’s part.
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