Revolutionizing storytelling with each tiny step: Chintan Ruparel on TTT
From Tales to Talkies, the Terribly Tiny community isn’t so tiny anymore. What started with incredibly enticing stories narrated in just 140 characters has now grown to memorable short films that touch all the right chords. Helming this transformation in storytelling are Chintan Ruparel and Anuj Gosalia, the Co – Founders of Terribly Tiny Tales and Terribly Tiny Talkies.
On a rainy evening, I caught up with Chintan, who had just returned from the edit of one of their Father’s Day films. As the office bustled with energy, we sat down for a freewheeling chat about all things Talkies. As Chintan passionately spoke about films, the journey that it has been for TTT, the various film formats they are experimenting with and more, I couldn’t help but feel amazed and inspired. With such hearts and minds involved in the art of filmmaking, we can surely look forward to a revolution in cinema, one that has already begun.
Here are excerpts from our conversation.
What prompted the expansion from Tales to Talkies?
Anuj (Gosalia, Co-Founder) and I always wanted to expand storytelling to different formats, and films were such a tempting segment to explore! Anuj loves cinema, he also ran a blog called Popcorn Friday where he reviewed films. Coming from an advertising background, I’ve seen films happening in front of me. You think of an idea, a story and then see it happen in front of you, you see the magic on the sets and it just sweeps you off your feet. With writing, it’s just the paper and you; you are everything. But when it comes to films, there are so many people involved; to control that, bring that to the table, have a shared vision and also make money out of something like films is a huge challenge. So we thought of dabbling with films, short films to begin with. The challenge was to adapt the 140 characters (from Tales) to something like film. Because, what is terribly tiny when it comes to film – is it 10 sec, 50 sec, 1 minute or 10 minutes? There was nothing to define it. So we thought of starting with five minutes.
We contacted all our friends in the advertising industry, film industry, writing community etc., as we knew quite a lot of them who were very talented. But they were not really able to do what they liked or make films the way they wanted to. They were all frustrated in their work and had expressed an interest in working with us if we were to expand to film. So we called four filmmakers and I was the fifth, because if I had to give feedback to a filmmaker, I had to know how to make a film. So I made my first film with the first edition of Talkies. We made five films of five minutes each on the theme of love. The first edition premiered at Matterden where we had a full house of people. It was a great sign and that encouraged us to make more films.
The challenge was to adapt the 140 characters (from Tales) to something like film
You started off with a 5-minute bracket and now have 10, even 15 min films, what determines the stories you’d like to back as a platform?
One is the honesty in storytelling. The idea should be close to the maker in some way and should be something that he or she really wants to make. Apart from that, it should be an idea that hasn’t been done before, or hasn’t been said in this way. It should be fresh. The last and the most important thing is that it should be engaging. Initially, we began with 5-minutes but we realized that a lot of filmmakers suffered as a result because they felt that if one more shot or one more sequence could have been included, it would have added to the overall telling of the story. So, we decided to relax ourselves on time and told them to keep it under 15 – 20 minutes, with 7 – 10 minutes being ideal. But if the film is engaging enough and needs more time, we will not let length kill an idea.
A large number of your films are very red-letter day/occasion specific, what is the thought behind this approach?
Our films are designed for social media and not necessarily designed for virality in terms of the content. These red-letter days are a good time when people want to share stuff. The Internet is bombarded with content, so much is being thrown at you on a red-letter day. So we didn’t want to be those people who curate or collate or distribute content that is designed on virality. We wanted to keep it occasion specific. Other content creators go the whole viral route, they are designed in a way to make people laugh, they create sketches and so on, but we were never those people. We wanted to tell a story that has value. That was a tough call but that is what defines us.
We have a Terribly Tiny community that looks forwards to these films on all occasions.
Our films are not necessarily designed for virality in terms of the content
Which brings me to your recent Father’s Day films. What was the thought that went into these heartwarming stories?
The relationship between fathers and children is very special. It’s a given that mothers do more – give more, express more etc. But there is something so amazing about these species called ‘Fathers’. They apparently don’t do enough and while there is a whole patriarchal side to them, if you leave that aside, they are sweethearts who need to be celebrated. We have all had those special moments with our dads while growing up.
What we also realized is that the relationship between a father and son is more strained than that between a father and daughter. These films will mostly touch upon that and how fathers are awkward in expressing what their feeling. They don’t say a lot of things but do feel them.
So, we’re releasing two films this time, because in addition to passion and love, we need to take on meaningful brand collaborations that add to our portfolio and also generate revenue to fund the other films that are produced solely by us. We’re doing one film with Ola Cabs called ‘Rear View’. It’s about two fathers colliding – a passenger who is a single father and a driver, who is an expectant father. The conversation they have and how that changes the course of their lives in one day and how they end up touching more lives around them because of that, is what the film is all about.
The other film is called ‘Aamad’ which means ‘invitation’. It is the story about a son who returns home after many years, in his 30s, and finds his father on the deathbed. Their relationship was strained in the past and what efforts the son makes to mend things with his dad and whether he can make up or not forms the crux of the story.
When it comes to these movies, what is the making process, how do they come together?
We’re currently doing three kinds of films. One is for our YouTube audience, proprietary films that are not backed by brands, films that we want to put out regardless of brand or no brand. These films define what Talkies is all about. And people look forward to these films and we make it a point to surprise and delight them in some way.
The other is branded content which keeps money coming into the bank, but we aim to collaborate in the right way. Several brands want to do ad films with us, but once you go down that route, it’s hard to come back. So we stick to collaborating with brands that are interested in telling meaningful stories. It has been very good so far but budgets are still a challenge because brands don’t see the returns in this, what such a film can do for their brand. It’s a fairly new way of telling stories for them. So we’re taking one step at a time.
The third is the film festival route. This year, we’ve already commissioned a few films, one is ready and the other is going on floors next week, which are purely for film festivals. We wanted to test ourselves against the best out there. So we will not be in a hurry to release these films because they may give us a new audience, a new reputation and open more doors with VOD platforms.
We’re launching a fourth kind, which is contest-based. This Friendship’s Day we’re opening up Talkies to college campuses. We’re asking students to make films (under 5-minutes) on friendship and submit them. We’ll choose the best and put them online under TTT Campus. A lot of these kids aspire to make films and we’re fairly known in that (student/youth) community. So it’s worth exploring.
We co-incubate, co-create, creatively produce, platform the film, promote it and oversee the creative process
While making proprietary films, solely backed by TTT, do you’ll approach filmmakers or does it work both ways?
We get a lot of queries and I have script readings everyday. Thankfully, we now have Sharanya Rajgopal on board. She is a fantastic writer and has worked on several feature films earlier. Sharanya is the Chief Writer here and anything that come to us, first goes to her. When any script comes to us, we first assess if it is the kind of film we’re looking at, if the scale is right, it is not going over budget and so on. A lot of writers send us their scripts, so we see if they want to make their first film or are they fine with us giving it to somebody else to direct. We prefer writer-directors because they’re more in control of their craft.
From this year onwards, we’re having more emphasis on the script and Sharanya is the best gatekeeper for that. She’s also creative producer, so both of us work very closely. We sit with filmmakers and try to understand what they want to make. Sometimes we call filmmakers whose work we like and ask if they’d like to attempt any of the upcoming red-letter day films. From there on, it’s a collaborative effort. But we don’t get into production. We are like the studio, we co-incubate, co-create, more importantly creatively produce, platform the film, promote it and oversee the creative process. We outsource production depending on the film and the maker.
Is it a conscious decision to stay away from production?
Yes. Even if it’s writing, we call ourselves ‘enablers’ as a platform. We want to enable more storytellers. If we get into production, there is another round of headaches; permissions, taxes, several risks. We may get into it in the future, but as of now this model gives us scope to do more. Unless the team expands and we feel a dire need to have a production of our own, we would rather outsource it.
People don’t understand how to treat sex in India
Coming to your audience, while the younger crowd is hooked on to TTT, your target is not restricted to them alone, Khujli being a successful example. Is it important to target this new demographic that includes our parents?
With platforms like AIB and TVF, you may not or cannot necessarily watch that content with your parents. But we want our films to be enjoyed by everyone. We’re okay with going edgy like in Khujli as long as the story and content is good. It was a conscious decision to make a film like that because people don’t understand how to treat sex in India. Sex and humor haven’t gone well together, and you have films like Masti and other very bad films being made. So, to have that right balance of a good story with good performers and then make it well and make sure it reaches the right audience was a challenge but we enjoy such challenges. We wanted to move on to different genres and experiment with different kinds of films. One of the films that we’re making this year is a horror film. Again, horror is not a genre that is explored well in India. We’re doing a horror film for Raksha Bandhan (smiles). It’s a very different take on a brother-sister relationship, and we can’t wait for it!
With so many players in the short film segment, what does it take to keep it sustainable?
Not many people know this, but for one entire year, we didn’t make films at all. After making around 13 films; five films in the first edition for Valentines Day 2015, five more films on Mother’s Day in the same year, and then three films on Independence Day, we realized that we’d put in a fair amount of money, but it was not coming back! We realized that passion is one thing, but economics is a completely different ball game. And these films consumed most of my time, so we needed to have some returns on investment. After a lull year in 2016, we are back in 2017 doing more films. We’re making a comeback of sorts. Economics was a huge reason why we stopped films for a year. Also, there is a way to smartly package content and deliver it well. With so many VOD platforms coming up, there is potential to sell content and recover or even make money.
Our ‘Backspace’ videos are a new way of telling a story in a video
Going forward would you’ll be open to exploring other formats like features, web series et all? If so, will it be in a similar space to the content you’ll are exploring now?
A lot of people ask us if we would do feature films and I say why not?! We don’t want to rule out anything. We’re already experimenting with various formats. As I mentioned, with TTT Campus we’ll be exploring student short films though it’s a risk because they don’t know how to package films and do QC but it is a new format for us. Another thing we’re really proud of is called ‘Backspace’ videos, which you can see on our Facebook and Instagram account. These videos are executed on the basis of WhatsApp chats that people have. Because a lot of times, you type something but erase it and send something else. That psychology of hesitation, how our minds work, is a very interesting concept that can be explored around various themes. It is a new way of telling a story in a video. Some of these videos are backed by brands and we’re getting a phenomenal response.
We’re trying to crack new formats and are open to things. The moment we find a story that we feel is different from what’s out there, and we need put our hearts and money in it, we’ll make it happen.