As the Coronavirus outbreak spreads across India, many under-production movies, such as Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha have pushed back their shooting schedules. While the senior technicians and artistes (actors, various heads of department) on a film set are paid a lump sum for their services, a good number of those who make a set run are junior-level technicians such as light boys, set workers, camera operators, sound assistants, spots who are compensated on a day-to-day basis.
On Monday evening, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association, the Western India Film Producers’ Association and other film bodies held a joint meeting and decided to call off the shoots of films and television, including those made for streaming platforms. Where does this leave the daily-wage technicians?
In a meeting held last evening, the Producers Guild has come together to set up a relief fund which will benefit those without assignments till the outbreak is contained. Many top filmmakers and studio have already committed to donating to the relief fund.
However, industry workers are yet unaware of it.
“We were supposed to shoot a major ad on the 19th of this month with a bunch of cricketers but it had to be called off,” said Mumbai-based Anjana Rai, an art director, who has worked on ads for brands such as Tata, Dabur and Ponds. “I’m still fairly comfortable but what about my setting boys - the guys who actually install and dismantle a set? All these workers work on a per day basis and they’re losing out massively.”
Rai mentioned that she finished shooting an ad for a mobile phone company and her crew is still in the process of dismantling the set at a studio in Andheri. “Since the shoot of the next one hadn’t begun, the companies don’t owe us any payments.”
Shankar, who runs a company in DN Nagar, Andheri that rents out camera and light equipment, said that bookings for the rest of the month have dried off completely. On an average, his firm would receive about 8-10 bookings for equipment, which has now stopped. “I’m not sure how we’ll be able manage the overheads if this goes on. The only hope is that by April, work will resume,” he said.
Other than the relief fund, the Federation of Western India Cine Employee, has also sought funds to distribute ration and cover other daily requirements of its members.
Allaudin, a spot boy who was attached to a recent production that has stalled shooting, said that he’s worried as so far, he’s been covered till March. “But if this goes beyond March, then I don’t know if the production will compensate. I also cannot look for more work as nothing is happening. Everyone is sitting at home.”
When asked if he knew about the fund, Allaudin said that he didn’t but has been asking in his circle.
In a conversation with HuffPost India, director-producer Nikkhil Advani, who had several under production projects, said that he’s requested the vendors he was engaging with to pay the salaries of their staff as his company eventually plans to work with the same people, once the shooting commences.
“Because of the advent of streaming and the corporatization of Bollywood studios, the cash system has pretty much stopped. Depending on the deal one has with the vendors, you agree upon a rate and pay weekly, monthly or schedule-wise,” he explained.
“Since I’ve several projects on the floor, my assistant directors and several other technicians are on the company’s payroll. But that’s just some of us. Certain producers who aren’t doing multiple projects at the same time will suffer more and that’s precisely where the fund, set up by the guild, comes in handy.”
When asked what happens in a situation where a set has been erected but nothing is being shot due to the COVID crisis, Advani mentioned that’s something producers are figuring out with insurance companies as this is an unprecedented situation.
“That’s an ongoing discussion on a lot of people’s minds as the costs attached to this are enormous. Every day a set goes without shooting, it’s an expense to the producer. We’ll soon have more clarity on this. Because how long can we keep a set erect? We don’t know when this ends.”
Veteran writer-director Sudhir Mishra said that he has already started reaching out to people in his individual capacity while also encouraging his other director-producer friends to donate to the fund. He, however, prefers individually reaching out to his unit members as that cuts through the bureaucracy of associations.
The director, who recently finished the screen adaptation of Manu Joseph’s Serious Men for Netflix, explained how he’s going about ensuring that people who’ve worked on his production get paid.
“For example, the camera department knows all the light boys. The production designers know the set boys, the art department knows the setting boys. I’ve sent across a mail to all my HoD’s, saying that whoever is in need of immediate funds, will be paid. We’re going to justify it as a stipend, bonus, or an advance salary, it doesn’t matter. They are the ones who make the set run.”
He pointed out that the spot boy who works for him mentioned that he’d fall short of paying school fees for his children as a result of the shoot lockdown. “I took care of it. Same is the case with my other director friends. Anubhav (Sinha) has done it too - written to all his department heads to ensure no worker goes unpaid. So far, we’ve helped out about 40 people.”
Mishra said that as a result of the pandemic, his post-production work on Serious Men has suffered and will be delayed by a month or so. “Thankfully, the shooting and edit has been wrapped. Work on sound remains,” he said.
In a statement shared with HuffPost India, Siddharth Roy Kapur, President of the Producer’s Guild said, “The Producers Guild has decided to set
up a Relief Fund to help support those most affected by the shutdown. We would encourage the entire fraternity to contribute to the fund, to ensure that we can do all we can to minimise the disruption in the lives of our valued colleagues and associates in this difficult time.”
Zoya Akhtar, in a comment to HuffPost India, said that both Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby Films will be contributing to the relief fund. “It’s a real concern,” she said.