'More avenues demand better production methodologies'
... says production manager-turned-line producer Harris Desom, who talks about the changes being implemented currently in Malayalam film production and his experience with Prithviraj Productions
Everyone knows what a director, producer, cinematographer, or an editor does. But anyone who has spent some time on film sets and talked to film crews would know the most demanding job is that of the production controllers/managers. A few also delve into line production, which means additional responsibilities.
Harris Desom, who served as executive producer in Ranam, line producer in Driving Licence and 9 (both produced by Prithviraj Productions), and Dulquer Salmaan’s home production Varane Avashyamund, spoke to Cinema Express about his profession, the changes being implemented currently in Malayalam film production, and how he ended up working for Prithviraj Productions.
Excerpts from an interview:
Can you tell us what a production controller/manager does—and how does their career evolve?
They begin their careers just like assistant directors do. Once they’ve done four to five films, they’re promoted—usually by a producer or veteran production controller—to a production executive. Later, when they’re capable of handling an entire production or, say, designing a project—looking over a script, taking it to the right people, etc.—on their own, they’re promoted to production controllers. They oversee it from its inception to completion. Outside India, this responsibility is handled by executive producers or line producers.
So how does a production controller differ from a line producer or an executive producer in India?
When big production houses conceive their projects, they assign a production head like me. Once we read the script, we come up with a proper budget plan and study everything pertaining to the necessary actors, technicians, number of shoot days, locations, technical and legal aspects, grievances of crew members... everything. So a line producer is required to be involved even in the areas that a production controller/manager usually doesn’t cover. An executive producer’s job is similar. Compared to a production manager/controller, a line producer or executive producer bears a heavier burden.
Which stage of the production requires a major chunk of your investment?
The main production. The post-production is taken care of by the respective technical departments. Once the final output is done, we are concerned with handing it over and, later, the marketing aspects and making a profit for the producer. A production manager or production executive doesn't have to worry about those areas; they only have to be concerned with the actual shooting process.
Can't these all be handled by the producer alone?
That depends. When it comes to a production house like Aashirvad Cinemas, Antony Perumbavoor handles everything. Some producers who started off as production executives and managers, like Anto Joseph, for example, know the business well and don't need a line producer or executive producer. They can manage it themselves. But since production houses like Prithviraj Productions and Dulquer Salmaan's Wayfarer Films operate like a corporate, they hire an executive producer or line producer to delegate tasks, thereby ensuring everything goes like clockwork.
Was your decision to turn line producer compelled by a desire to work in a disciplined environment?
Yes. In the old days, things weren't so organised as they are now. Verbal agreements have occasionally led to conflicts and arguments. It's not a good idea. But things are black-and-white now. Starting from Ranam through 9, we made every single crew member, including the line producer, sign on the dotted line. As this was not the norm before, some found it baffling. This approach is better, legally speaking. In the US, even the junior artistes/extras are hired that way. There is no such system for them here, not even a one-page contract.
In my opinion, such systems need to be implemented now that Malayalam cinema is being showcased on the international forum. When remake rights and digital rights are involved, we need to improve the production methodology too. More avenues demand better production methodologies. Take a company like Sony Pictures or Amazon Prime. They demand deliverables - location videos, stills, music, lyrics, making videos, subtitles, the works - in optimal quality. Only after these have been taken care of is the agreement signed.
How did your association with Prithviraj Productions begin?
Well, I didn’t know Raju (Prithviraj) that well before working on Ranam. That film was a fascinating and enriching experience because most of the crew were Americans. So once the shoot got over, Raju asked me to contact him after I got back home. So I did. But as he was busy with a shoot at the time, he asked me to meet his wife, Supriya. I learned that they were planning to start Prithviraj Productions and set up 9 as their maiden production venture. They asked me to supervise it. Working with them and Sony Pictures taught me a lot. We finished under budget and made decent business. I’ve been working with Prithviraj Productions ever since.