Films are being trimmed after their release. But will pre-release screenings help movies fare better at the box-office, asks subha j rao
“Everything is nice, but why is the first half so slow?”; “What’s the need for this scene?”; “How much will the hero and heroine fight?”; “Ayyo! One more song?” — some reactions during the first day, first show of recent big-budget films. Some of them, including Thaandavam, Maattrraan and Alex Pandian, went on a trimming drive after release. Vijay, who directed Thaandavam, concedes they trimmed about 10 minutes of the film, including a song. Similarly, Pongal release Alex Pandian shed 12 minutes in the second half, says hero Karthi. K.V. Anand’s Suriya-starrer Maattrraan was snipped by about 10 minutes. Most of these cuts were effected after audience reactions, sometimes just after the premiere (Thaandavam).
Could they have effected the cuts before the release with the help of focus groups? Focus groups are an assorted bunch of people who watch a film pre-release and provide feedback. A well put-together group can help makers gauge if a film strikes a chord with the viewers or not. Focus groups are popular in Hollywood and gaining a foothold in Hindi films. But will they make their presence felt here?
While directors seem open to the idea of focus groups, confidentiality is a concern. Asks Vijay: “People might sign a non-disclosure agreement, but will they stick to it? There’s Twitter, Facebook… If confidentiality is guaranteed, I will show my work to a focus group.” G. Dhananjayan, chief, South Business, Studios, Disney-UTV, agrees. “People might sign the agreement and tweet under another name. The South audience is hooked on social networking.” Anand points out that when Maattrraan released, by noon, there were about 300-odd reviews from Singapore alone!
Vijay, maker of the superhit Deiva Thirumagal and Madrasapattinam, shows the film to his technicians and core team. “But, one can’t endlessly fine-tune a film. I incorporate suggestions if I am convinced about them. Who knows what each person seeks in a film? Are they technical changes? Creative ones? Do they impede on my territory? I need to look at these things,” he says.
Actor Suriya says the other hitch is the mixed opinion generated by a focus group. “Sensibilities are different. You never know viewers’ mindset. Also, will the opinion be an informed one? Can we accept anyone’s idea?” he asks.
Rajeev Kamineni, executive director, PVP Cinema, says the production house encourages focus groups. “It is dangerous to release a movie and allow theatre operators to edit it out. Today, before the first show is over, the verdict is out,” he says. Rajeev recalls being part of a focus group for a TV show in New York. “It was a close-ended questionnaire and guaranteed anonymity.”
Another issue is whether experimental films will find favour with the masses. “We strive not only to be different, but also to entertain,” says Suriya. Anand says that with big films “what works in one centre might not work in another. For instance, songs.”
Then, there is the release date. If you honour the date (“vantage time, sometimes a long weekend”), there is little time to fine-tune a film, says Suriya. Producers rue that films are never ready well before the release date. “If D-Day is the 13th, people work on the film till a couple of days before its release. It’s poor planning. We need to get more organised,” says Rajeev.
Dhananjayan says his company does focus groups for Hindi films, and it wants him to do it here. “In Hindi, a film is ready two or three months before. So, you can show it to people, re-edit and add some ‘entertainment’ elements. Here, we don’t have the luxury of time.”
Rajeev says that about 80 to 90 per cent of directors will resist this trend. “No one wants criticism. And there is this thought: ‘Who are they to give feedback?’” Dhananjayan questions the focus sample itself. “You are at the mercy of research agencies. If your focus sample is wrong, they will come out with varying, unhelpful opinions.”
Anand also wonders if the opinions are honest. “I showed Maattrraan to about 15 people, including my ex-assistants. I would like to show my film to a focus group, provided they give me genuine feedback. But, the truth is no one knows what will work with the audience.”
Dhananjayan says he is willing to show a film to a “trusted” focus group. “Probably, media friends who will judge right and tell it as it is. We are willing to accept criticism and correct it, provided it is confidential.”
Blockbuster filmmaker S.S. Rajamouli of Eega/Naan Ee fame provides an alternative viewpoint. “I don’t believe in focus groups. Even if you show it to a group, it will be a miniscule percentage of the real audience; it will not be representative enough.” The hotshot Telugu director accepts he re-edited two of his films, Chatrapati and Yamadonga. “But, that is damage control.” He continues: “Abroad, they use group screenings to figure out the marketing strategy, not to trim. As for me, I edit and re-edit my films hundreds of times before I release them. So, no focus groups for me.”
Concludes Dhananjayan: “Basically, the product has to be good. You can trim or improve the flow, but you can’t correct missing logic.”