Make Your Movie for Less in India


There's a short term window of opportunity for making movies at greatly-reduced costs by making them in India, but being short term, it won't last.

In the 1960s Japanese cars were much cheaper than American cars because Japanese labor costs were so much cheaper. But by the 1980's Japanese cars cost as much because Japanese labor costs became as high.

The same kind of thing is happening right now in the Indian film industry. The facilities are adequate and the techies are capable, yet you can cut costs by half or more because nobody's unionized the place yet, nor is there any of the massive studio infrastructure and agency muscle-flexing that adds so heavily to the cost of American film-making. One of the figures that emerged at the recent 5th Annual Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival was $35 per day for an experienced cameraman. In America the mere mention of such figures would be enough to have the union send around a couple of goons to break your legs.

In Hollywood you couldn't arrange catering for what you can do a whole film for in South Asia. All this arises, believe it or not, from the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose victory over racism in America in the 1960's led to a parallel defeat of racism in Canada. Prior to 1967 openly-bigoted Canadian immigration policies excluded Indians from Canada in spite of the official Commonwealth policy of open emigration everywhere in the Empire. With the end of de facto racism smart, capable Indians flocked to Canada and became part of Canadian filmmaking. The skills they learned in Canada were networked back to Bollywood where they remain today, available to you at 1930's wages. The secret is to bring an American-quality script.

How long will it be before the Indians too unionize their crafts? With the auto industry it took 20 years. But that was Japan.

Aroon Shivdasani, Executive Director of the Indo-American Arts Council, thinks unionization won't come to India for a long time yet. India's films are low budget, she points out. An effort by the crafts to shake down the producers for more money would just put people out of business and there'd be less work.

But the history of organized labor worldwide is full of such reasoning, and it never kept unions from being organized. So how long will the window of opportunity remain open? We probably won't know until after it's been closed, but for the balance of this decade at least, you can be sure India will be a place where you can get things done cheaply. A good name to add to your Rolodex is Aroon Shivdasani,, 212-529-2347, a lady who can tell you where in India to find what you're looking for.