Cameron Woodward 0:00
Welcome back to On Production, the podcast where production professionals share their stories and insights from behind the scenes. In today's episode, we're excited to welcome Milan Chakraborty, Head of Film at Marginal Media Works. Milan is a prolific film producer with a wealth of experience in both independent and studio productions. With notable films like my friend Dahmer, and assassination nation under his belt, Milan has earned a reputation for bringing compelling stories to life on screen. Milan, thanks for being on On Production with me.
Thanks for having me.
So, Milan, you have an amazing story. And I want to go all the way back to before you were even in film. What were you doing? And how in the world did you stumble into this amazing industry that we both love so much as an indie film producer? And as a producer of films?
Milan Chakraborty 0:53
I was trying to figure out where I wanted to start. Do I start in Indiana? No, I studied accounting in college. So not a typical film, film background. But I don't think there really is a typical background anymore. But through accounting, eventually I was working with Time Warner Cable for a couple of years, I'm trying to give the fast version. and, and we had a conference out in LA and I and I met up with a few friends that I went to college with. And a couple of them were getting coffee for Dick Clark, when he was a lot, you know, others are assistants for other, you know, actors around town. And here were some of the smartest people I knew making $450 a week. But they seem to be happier. And all my friends on the east coast at that time I was in Washington, DC, and I thought there was something to that. And so I asked for a transfer. I was working for Time Warner Cable when the AOL Time Warner empire. It's hard to keep track of all the company names nowadays, but they asked me to transfer out to the LA office and they approved it. And a few weeks later, you know, Time Warner obviously owns Warner Brothers. At that time Warner Brothers knew Line and HBO and they approved it. And you know, I think like three weeks later I was on my first film set which was Batman Begins in London. And followed by Superman Returns in Australia V for Vendetta, Germany, shows like Entourage and One Tree Hill and, you know, a couple of years in because I never really thought well, oh, there's something I could do. I was just an accountant and auditor checking up on the numbers and studio policies and, and the producer role became very interesting to me, because it was obviously business but there was a whole creative element. And I was like, maybe I could do that. And the more I got to know them and something about being 29 years old, you know, now I think back to those days, and I was just a kid but so I did that for like when I was 24 to 29. And I was like now it's time to do it. And at 29 LED decided to become an independent film producer. And, you know, with a few friends started shooting my first film like four months after my time at Warner Brothers was done.
Cameron Woodward 3:11
That's pretty incredible. So before you were at the studio, you were just really an accountant. What were you working on before? And then what in the world was that like for you to be like, put onto a massive studio film and like digging into it. I wish I could take a time machine and meet you then and get a sense of how stoked you must have been.
Milan Chakraborty 3:35
Of course, it's a little nerve racking. You know, we're auditors, so we're not quite accountants, yes, I had a CPA, but we're checking up on the accountants and the producers are their numbers that they're sending back to the studios, right. You know, why was I traveling all around the world? Well, remember, at that time, like the US hadn't really opened up tax credits. Now I think you deal with it even more than me, but I think 30 Plus states have tax credits. It wasn't till Dukes of Hazzard that I came back to Baton Rouge, which you know that you would in bet that. That was my first time there since 2005. But, you know, being there, I didn't. I still didn't think I could be a part of it. You know, I joke I'm an Indian from Indiana and we don't even dare to dream we could be in the film industry, because what would we do? You know, and so of course, it was nerve racking. And I remember seeing some big expenses like food, you know, and all the catering stuff. And like, I asked a question and somebody looked at me, one of the producers looked at me and he was like, how many film sets have you been on? And I was like, crap, you know, I've found out this fast on my first film, and I was like, This is my first one. He was like, always feed your people. Well, and you know, at that time, remember the pound was double the US dollar. And even that advice that I got on Batman. I took two little films that I was making for less than the cost of like one day You know, of their craft services on the film's, but that advice is universal always feed your crew well and be conscious of, you know, treating them well and then them feeling energized, because they'll cost you a lot more money if they're not happy. So it was, you know, especially the Batman and Superman and dukes, as you know, I grew up watching those and to feel like I was a small part somehow, that's really that addictive, you know, where you kind of catch the bug, right? But at the end of the day, my job was to observe and report, right? So see my findings reported back to the studio. So it doesn't matter if you're auditing, you know, chicken coops or films, like, you know, and that a lot of it, that's how I kind of felt like, I was like, wait, I felt like I was observing other people living out their dreams. So what would it be like, if I kind of switch sides, and it took me a while to kind of gain that confidence to make that move? Well, I'm so glad that
Cameron Woodward 5:58
you did. Because the work that you do is awesome. And we're going to touch on some of your future projects, as well as, you know, some things you did in your past as you kind of kicked off your career. But before digging into the projects themselves, I'm really curious Milan, when did you decide to make that jump? And really, kind of take the plunge in, in working on your own projects? I'm curious, in those early days, what were the key challenges that you faced? And how did you overcome them?
Milan Chakraborty 6:29
One of the key challenges will always be, you know, finding the money. You know, I was used to making 100 Millet being a part of these 100 million $200 million films. And I remember like, you know, the first project I tried to get off the ground was 7 million when you're used to 200 million, you'd assume like, what's what's the point of having friends if they can't put in 7 million right, like, and I realized really quickly, it was a very different game. So obviously, fundraising, but that goes through one of the biggest challenges, you know, especially for me, being a former CPA, I felt like people valued me only for my financial understanding. And so I'd have a creative note. And people be like, go back to the numbers, you know, and then I'd find when we get to the Edit, my note was still legit. So discovering my creative voice that I could fit in with, you know, I think this is it really does take a village and I lean on pas that went to film school, because they, they spent a lot on their education, there's no one you can't learn from on a film set, you know. And so on my first four films, I was producer, line producer, production accountant. And so, one of my big fears and knowledge seeking was, well, this is how I'm going to learn, but I learned it the hard way. And a lot of times when I'm doing panels and different things like that, I'm like, I learned it the hard way. So you don't have to write. So it's just like everybody, if everybody learns it the hard way, that's a very inefficient process. But for me, it was the best way for me to learn. And, you know, I feel like when I first started, I was often Pennywise Pound Foolish no matter what, save $1 Save $1. And once you once I really started understanding, this really is that intersection of art and commerce, and not just commerce. So sometimes, you gotta weigh things, right, every studio solves their dilemmas with more money in the film, time and money are two most finite resources. So it's like, we spent a little extra time here, we don't have time there, we spend a little extra money there. And, you know, if you really talk all that out in pre production, you're on the same page and making moves kind of at the same time. And that's, that's how you make a great team. So what I thought was my biggest weakness, what came in because I'm just an accountant, and just this and just, you know, after a couple films, I really realized like, well, I should lean into that as my strength. And it's like, you know, if someone on your team doesn't care about the boring stuff, you don't have a complete team. And it's just like, I'll never be the biggest creative genius on a set, but that's okay. That's why we have a team and I can, but I can help that person, hopefully achieve their vision. I feel like that's the role of a pro producer. Hey, man,
Cameron Woodward 9:25
I do onboarding payroll and accounting, so I totally get you. It absolutely takes a village. You know, something you mentioned, you know, is that even on your projects today? You know, asking a PA if they have good, good chops or folks kind of gives you really interesting insight on feeding the crew, right. I'm curious. You know, in your early career, how important has mentorship and networking been in shaping your career? As a film producer,
Milan Chakraborty 10:01
mentorship is something I wish I would have done better. I feel like as a mentor, I do a lot of trying to be the producer I wish existed 10 years ago, right? I felt like a lot of times, I'd go to these panels, and I'd sit there listening, and I want to learn. And then afterwards, I tried to talk to these people. And I felt like the whole time they were telling me why I couldn't succeed. And it seemed like only they could succeed. So, and me being kind of a mid career switching careers, I never kind of quite found that, you know, person. And you know, there were a lot less South Asians back then, especially in kind of indie production, that kind of stuff. There's always been South Asians in the industry, but not necessarily reflected in the film industry, but not as reflected in you know, all Hollywood. So that part was never, I feel like I have good like, kind of life mentors and people that are, you know, doing well in business and a great, you know, friends circle, and people it obviously, even though it was a risky thing at 29 to leave the careers, people that believed in me, you know, it's just like, that was great. But yeah, mentorships were never, but it's just like, I think I'm a curious person. And that constant seeking of you to have a good idea, you know, put it up, let's, let's see, and I feel like that, really, there's a double positive effect, not only does it empower that crew member, but you also get them in their better product. And, you know, they might have spent a lot of money at film school. And now like them, some of the time, they're doing things like Firewatch, and stuff like that, which isn't exactly what they thought they signed up for. But really, every position is so integral to the whole thing, because you realize when you don't have it, how it all falls apart, right? And so, on the flip side, I've tried to be a decent mentor and make time for people to go to a lot of film festivals, not just the big ones, but the regional ones, because the big ones are exclusive in their own right. So I think it's important for that person to think, Hey, you can do it wherever you are, you know, especially nowadays with cameras and all the equipment everywhere you can go out to your local Walmart go into those regional fests for me, it's like a great opportunity just to talk to people outside of our typical bubbles.
Cameron Woodward 12:24
Milan, I'm curious to that point on mentorship. You know, you mentioned all the regional film fests which ones are your favorites? I'm just curious.
Milan Chakraborty 12:34
Oh, that's so hard by you know, a lot of it has to do with the person that runs it up, runs, runs them, the head of festivals, the regional festivals, I think are kind of that unsung, like lifeblood of indie film, a lot of times, you know, indie film can be such a lonely endeavor to be able to get into a festival and, and they're curating an audience that a filmmaker is now getting seen people watching their film, I think that gives us just enough inspiration to try to get you know, so I always have a special love for Dallas Film Festival. James Vous does an incredible job. But he also was the first person ever to let one of my films in it. You know, my very first film premiered there. In 2000, I think nine you know, when it was AFI Dallas, I've world premiered two films there, you know, tall grass because of Melanie Addington. You know, she was at Oxford. And, you know, I just went to Cleveland for the first time, which was a very well run fast, you know, there's so many and then there's like, you know, even some I love like the niche, whether it's a LGBTQ or a horror fest, you know, I live in Chattanooga, now Chattanooga Film Festival was a cool space where you, a lot of people have their guard down then versus when they go to a bigger fester and they're at a bigger town, you get to really know it's kind of that's how I grade grade. A lot of them. It's like who shows up and I'm excited to go. I'm a juror at Milwaukee this weekend. And there's also what I think is one of the purest film festivals in your state of Louisiana is the Louisiana film prize, which is all shorts. And you know, I've been a juror the last four years and the winner gets $50,000 Like, hey, that's a short that made money. But more importantly, yes, that's going to take care of some bills and that but I think it's going to inspire if not fund the next project and if you know, I think it's a long journey. So little things like that. Not little things, but those things are kind of just signposts along the way, keep going, keep going. And I say we need that. We need that little little validation every once in a while because, you know, to make sure we're on the right side of that fine line between ambition and delusion.
Cameron Woodward 14:56
That is awesome. Well, thank you hopefully have the chance to see You heard some of those are some of our listeners have a chance to make it out. I want to pivot a little bit to talking about some of the nuts and bolts blocking and tackling of producing independent features. And along these lines, I want to kind of explore what you've been really working on as head of film at marginal media. But before we do, can you just kind of run us through some of the projects that led you to marginal media and what you do as head of filament marginal, and what you're really excited about in this role, and some of the products you all have coming up, or things that you've been, you know, amazed by in the process?
Milan Chakraborty 15:35
Yeah, well, some of it goes back to what I was saying, you know, there's always been South Asians, you know, in the film industry, but we that necessarily, we were in our own silos. And funny enough, you know, Sanjay Sharma, who's the head of marginal, was in business affairs at Warner Brothers at the same time I was there. So he was on that set, I was on that set. And there was one of the heads of physical production at the time was Ravi made the who's still you know, he was also on set and one of the directors of Dukes of Hazzard was Jay Chandrashekhar. So funny enough, in Baton Rouge in 2005. It was like the nexus of a lot of, and, you know, Sanjay, and I kind of found our ways back to each other like four or five years ago, and really just, like, became friends, and I think over, over locked down, every time we'd catch up, I would have produced another film in here from Chattanooga, Tennessee, when a lot of people were saying you can't make anything and I was making, you know, I rebranded a lot of stuff I'd been calling micro budget to COVID, friendly, one location limited characters takes place over the course of a day. So we could shoot them in less than a week, because, you know, safety is never negotiable. And at that time, I just didn't feel like we could feel comfortable that we're keeping people safe. We went through all the COVID protocols, and we could keep people safe. If there was a weekend in between, right? Because everyone's gone. It's so it's like if we can keep things controlled. And, you know, after a bunch of conversations, he was like, what would it look like, if you came in house? You know, and at that point, I had been an independent film producer for 13 years since, you know, since I was 29 years old, and, you know, with with Sanjay, he's such an inspirational person, not just the fact that he's also South Asian, but, you know, we had a lot of commonalities. You know, he's from Baton Rouge, I'm from India, you know, Indiana, you know, and the Warner Brothers thing. He's a former lawyer, I'm a former accountant. And I really felt like, you know, in a partnership, we go farther together. And the thing is, what the kinds of films I was making before was, remember, because of my background, it's like, Okay, I think this can give good value to a potential investor, right? Like it. It wasn't necessarily what everyone was trying to make, but what I could get made, it's, it's a lot more, you know, transactional, when you're pure indie. It's like, because every felt film that I helped get made that helps a filmmaker make their film, right. So my role might be different. But he had such an amazing mandate, which I believed in since I started Yes, he wanted a step tell with marginal tell stories of underrepresented stories and storytellers. But what he wanted to focus on is commercial stories. So what's the horror? What's the romantic comedy? What's, you know, what's the Sci Fi instead of traditionally, and these are important films, the trauma drama films and the stories of exceptionalism? Those are important films, glad people are making it. But we need to expand the pipeline to show, you know, joy, to show fear to show to show people just living instead of the best or first person living, you know, and how cool would it be that like, now my mandate aligns with kind of my mission in life is not only, you know, getting stories told, but helping people that typically haven't had an opportunity to tell those stories.
Cameron Woodward 19:14
So the mandate is, let's find interesting characters that may be from marginalized groups in terms of representation in cinema, and let's have those characters participate in phenomenal stories, whether that sci fi or horror or comedy, but not necessarily a trauma story, or rising and overcoming story, is that right?
Milan Chakraborty 19:40
100% and it's shown by you know, we have a couple films at Tribeca. But you know, for samosas cut was kind of one of our first us working together and you know, directed by Ravi Kumar, and we shot it in Little India, and and it's very South Asian, we're almost tougher on South Asia. projects because people see suit to South Asians, we do a South Asian project we like, oh, that's all you do, you know. But this one had such an interesting tone and had a very Wes Anderson feel. And I like to joke that it's a story about the South Asians that would never win a spelling bee, but they deserve a film too. You know, it's a comedy, it's like, we got to be a part of this. And, and, and it felt special. And we're trying to tell those stories in a lot of different groups, whether it's comedy or horror, but like, you know, we're hoping our track record, you know, winds up with our mandate. And of course, there's some projects that are either great opportunities or, or just incredible stories that we've that that might not be 100% That mandate, but it's just like, we need to be a part of this, we need to help this this story get told, because it's, it's that we think that it's not important. We wish we would have seen this film 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago,
Cameron Woodward 21:01
totally. But the opportunity is to make it now, which is great. You know, to that point, Milan, can you discuss kind of your approach, maybe marginals approach in selecting and developing projects? Like, I think we understand the mandate, but in terms of the actual process of getting your hands around an opportunity that you really want to pursue? What is the process of that happening?
Milan Chakraborty 21:29
It starts with the filmmaker, you know, in the story, right? Just our general admission of a producer is helping a storyteller and a director get their vision across. I think this is kind of what I've said, towards my own method, but I think it's followed me to marginal. And if I look at what we're working on, I've always referred to it as the stickiness factor. You know, we read so many things, we, we have so many meetings, so many zooms, and what, what, what else. But what's cool is, two months later, three months later, just randomly, someone will ask you, what are you excited about? And then your brain does something like that you can't control and it'll throw like, one or two or three things and those past the stickiness test, right? Like, oh, wow, this, you learn after you do some your early films, you just think that film was gonna change your life versus like, it's a long journey. And these things follow us for a long time. So if it doesn't have that stickiness factor, going back to what we think on set, right, your two most finite things time and money. I'm going to spend a lot of time on this. So I better love it. So if it passes that stickiness factor, where you can't control it. You don't want people to make it without you. Like, we need to be involved. I think that's a that's a kind of high level of credit criteria that any project needs to pass because you see stuff with great attachments, or great this or great that and but you just okay, is this a story I want to tell, you know, and all projects are not created equal, like, you know, you have different reasons. But as long as it aligns with the mission, you know, in some some or opportunity, someone's two thirds, three fourths of the way there and they could use a push, or they could use the experience of how to navigate the Film Festival and distribution, you know, that's a part of the business that I kind of definitely learned the hard way. You just think you make the best film you can and then everything works out. And yes, it starts there. But that knowledge of what happens next, actually, and ends up outside of raising the funds for it, there's nothing you spend more time on is than the Film Festival and distribution cycle.
Cameron Woodward 23:58
You know, it's interesting, the audience for on production runs the gamut from people just starting out to folks who've been in the game a long time. And in many ways, we're just swapping war stories, you know, but for sure the audience's figuring out, like how to kind of break in and maybe make a career switch like you did, you know, from the distribution side, you know, at the end of the story, or really actually just the start of the story, right? Then the production component and then the raising the funds position. For you in your first film, what was that process like for you to kind of get started to actually get a project made?
Milan Chakraborty 24:37
We were too dumb to know better on the first one, you know, it's one of those. I had been living in LA for five years. So you live in LA, you know, you've still you know, I think you spoke at the time but you're obviously are you from there too, right?
Unknown Speaker 24:52
You mean? Yeah. Yeah, I'm in LA all the time.
Milan Chakraborty 24:54
You meet a lot of talkers, whether it's my background of being you know, from the Business Business swirled are just me in general, it's just like, talk all you want, like, get get it done. Right. So, you know doing that first one, you know, a couple of years before I was reading stuff, taking some meetings on weekends and at nights and stuff like that, but nothing was getting done, you know, and it was kind of like leading up, I knew it was about time, you know, I asked a few few friends, let's find a script and do it. Were up, you know, all put in a little, all the key people put in a little what we'll just do it? And, you know, not the most recommended way. But for me, you can't until you actually do it, then. Can you say that that's what you know, that's what you do. And I know, that's an arguable thing. And I think we shouldn't just be defined by that. But for me, I was like I can't on airplanes and stuff. And after I left, I was like, I can't say I'm a producer until I've made something and it was just sheer kind of will and pushing, push pushing it over, like, we won't be stopped. And maybe we should have been stopped a few times to think about a few things. But once you get it done, it's like then you kind of have all this, oh, this is this is how it works. This is how this system works. This is how this process works. And so you take that, and you take that into your next film. But you know, I often say it's like the hardest film to make is your second film because most people wipe out their closest connections on their first one. So it was important, me and my former business partners, still great friends, adequate films, we kind of had a role, we weren't going to ask anyone we were close with until we figured out what was going on. And a stranger has every reason to say no to you, they should, they should and probably will say no to you. But you know, to kind of preserve those close friendships. And then what's amazing is once we started putting up some, you know, success at a film at Sundance and that kind of stuff, then all of a sudden you have some calls that are incoming, you know, but luckily, thank God, thank goodness for you know, those amazing people that took those shots early on, but it's a lot of trust that you're taking on, it's our fiduciary responsibility. And it's like, I think understanding that just because you can raise money doesn't mean you should like, you know, I tell people this all the time, they're like, oh, I can get it from my uncle, you know, and it's just like, Well, if that person gets it, and doesn't have that proper fiduciary responsibility, and that high net worth individual, the next time a filmmaker with a great business plan, maybe a great script comes to them, they're gonna say, Well, I think film is a terrible investment. It's like, no, your nephew's a horrible investment. And, from that, like, what we get to do is, is knowing that responsibility that we're all part of a very fragile ecosystem, like, I'm not competing against any indie filmmaker, I'm rooting for every single one. Because each time someone does well, that that gets them to the next level, or that that gets them to make another film that gets another investor that said, this wasn't so bad, you know. And if we all had that responsibility, I think we would create a more sustainable and viable industry. Let's see how that turns out.
Cameron Woodward 28:41
Milan, so insightful. So that's kind of like, starting out, raising funds. I think, like even that discipline that you had early on, I imagined so carries forward into your career now, and really understanding how to package a production so that you give it the best offer opportunity to not only win, but then bring you into the next project. I'm curious, you know, with all these productions under your belt, I'm curious, you know, that's one part of it is the fundraising and the project selection. But you know, you have a unique view and that you've also actually produced content and gotten it distributed. I'm curious, other than feeding your cast and crew very well. Can you discuss maybe the Milan approach to building and managing production teams for your film projects, ways that you do it that maybe you feel like, have been helpful to your career over
Milan Chakraborty 29:37
the years? It's interesting because like, you know, gaffers, and sat sound people and past so many other people, actors, they all get access to so many people's sets, right? And most producers, we mostly just go on our own sets. So we don't know how another person has done it. So obviously one was just talking. You know, talking to people and really making people feel part of the team and empowered because as far as you know, most of my indies, most of my films have been sub $1 million. So we're probably not paying. Obviously, there's some exceptions to that rule, but historically, we're probably not paying people that much. So they should feel respected and empowered. And, you know, I don't need union rules to tell me I don't believe in anyone having to work more than 12 hours, I just think, oh, not only for safety, but just diminishing returns and respecting people's lives that that was a rule right from the beginning. You know, like, before I even knew what union rules or you know, and, and I think that kind of toned at the top mentality, which is very much a corporate phrase. So I guess many, you know, it's like, I'm not a producer that sits in video village, you need a producer that sits in video village, but you don't need five producers sitting in producing, if I see trash, I pick it up, you know, it's a kind of everybody's a PA mentality, there's nothing that I think I'm above or do you know, do that won't do that. It's like, I think a mentality that I try to teach department heads, sometimes when something doesn't work out, you get into people pointing at different people blaming this blaming that but ultimately, a department head, you're accountable and responsible for your people. So that means you didn't do indie films, you're not getting often the most experienced people. So part of it is a teaching process. So that kind of mentality, like, I can't just blame that person, say, it was my responsibility to also you know, to let them know how to do it better. And that, and that comes all the way back up, or, you know, not that there's all these layers, but to me and make creating an environment that people feel is going to be safe. And we're making a movie, like I think because I had that corporate background and no other things I could do with my time or cubicles I could spend time in and I'm grateful for my time in corporate America makes me very grateful to be on a film set and to understand that it's a privilege and not a right. And in the end, I want to look back as well. We got to make a film and watch every every person to feel kind of empowered and proud to be a part of it. And you know, so I don't know that that might be the exact same way other people run it. But for me, that's just how you should treat people. Doesn't matter what industry you're in and does it and you know, the coolest thing in our industry is, you can see someone that was you know, helping out, you know, PA on one film and four years later, they're one of the biggest directors, you know, at at Sundance and, and we got to root for each other. Right? You know, I think a lot of people would be a lot better served, if they, instead of just talking about their own accomplishments, they make sure they can prop up and applaud those around them. And it is so cool to see. And I think that's unlike almost any other industry where a person on the bottom of whatever ladder can go to the top in such a short amount of time. But sometimes a long, long amount of time. It's a long journey
Cameron Woodward 33:30
that people break out at all different times in their careers. There's no doubt about it. I mean, I think you're saying something really interesting about the community aspect of the indie film community, which is that by people helping each other and lifting each other up, you're actually helping, not just yourself, but the industry in totality. I mean, like, so much of the best IP that will be in the studio system, in a number of years, will have originated from, like the indie studios, or the indie projects like interesting, like cutting edge character and storytelling oftentimes starts at the indie level and then kind of gains momentum and not just for individuals but for for stories as well. So it makes a lot of sense to me that it's a really smart strategy to engage with and play positive sum games in the space.
Milan Chakraborty 34:32
I can't remember where I got it from, but that's why the importance of networking sideways. I think a lot of people think someone from the top is going to reach down and pull them to the top. But like the, the reality of the as time moves on, you know, go back to 2013 my first Sunday as well. There was a guy named Ryan Coogler that had his first feature. There was a guy in Jordan Vogt Roberts that had his feature, you know, went out to do the Kong movie, there was a short called Whiplash By this, you know, Damien Chazelle, you know, you had, you had Joey Solloway had a movie there. You know, that's, that's just 10 years ago, and you have some of the, those some of those names are the biggest in our industry today. So if we applaud the PEEP our peers and lift them up, you know, and it, I wish we as a community did a better job. Like, you'll talk to people. And it's like, either they're waiting for the free screen or as of the end of the year, it's like, you know why it's so hard to get into theaters? Well, not enough people go. So it's like, you know, the last couple of weeks, whether it just saw shrimali A this weekend, you know, 1001, and how to blow up a pipeline, you know, last weekend, it's like, it's a huge accomplishment now to get our MB. So when we don't go and support while the money will say, well, there's no audience for it. So whether it's in a theater or you know, on a T VOD, how can we support not just tweet and Instagram or this but you know, our dollars and our clicks or our votes. And I feel like if we could just get our own ecosystem and community more, like hungry to consume, like the stuff that we're putting out, when it comes out. It would make a better place for everyone.
Cameron Woodward 36:26
Milan Chakraborty 36:27
hold me accountable as I tried to, but you get busy just trying to make your thing. Yeah.
Cameron Woodward 36:35
So Milan, you touched on your philosophy and worldview a bit on fundraising. You've touched a bit on your approach to crewing up and producing projects. And you had described a little while ago, some of your lessons around distribution of your films. I'm curious if you want to speak to kind of your approach over the years about getting attention towards your projects, and that they can hit a distribution point where ultimately audiences can enjoy the stories?
Milan Chakraborty 37:07
Oh, that's a tough question. I don't I don't I don't pretend to have any answers that aren't said by pretty much everyone. But it's always hard when people come with that question on their own films, after they've made it. So I feel like questions about who's the audience you know, which I know, son, this is where the art part gets upset sometimes about my commerce side, because you know, with it, maybe some of the greatest films don't get dealt without it. So when the greatest films don't get made, and, and I'm not trying to talk to the exception to the rule, I'm talking about having the ability to make the next film. So who's the audience that identifies that very early on and and not just the audience, not the audience if you have a $100 million marketing budget, because that's that, so that's different. So it's like, most people, you right now, it's not the audience that might necessarily sit in a seat one day, right? That's an important audience, too. But the first audience might be a film festival, and at the same time, that first audience might be a buyer. So understanding if you want a marketplace or need a marketplace, you're going to need to get the attention of one of those buyers. So you need to make, I think, people that come traditionally, people learn about the four quadrant model of the studio's use, because they're trying to get as many people as possible where with indie since you're not spending 100 million instead of trying to impress everyone. I think a lot of times, if you try to impress everyone you impress no one, you really got to nail your niche. You know, I think, whether it's a movie like moonlight, or parasite, or so many others, recently, on paper, it doesn't work. There's no financing model that makes those work but you could tell the filmmakers knew their story in the genre and the actor and it was just so perfectly executed. It became undeniable to people in that core group, that niche group told other people so you know, we did you know, a film that calls where hope grows, you know, one of the first films with a national research star person with Down syndrome, the industry said, no one's gonna watch it. But we said there's 400,000 People in America with Down syndrome. That means 400,000 families and advocacy groups, and I don't think it's a coincidence. Like before it came out. We had 500,000 Facebook fans. It did 1.2 million in the box office through roadside attractions. premiered at Dallas Film Festival won the Audience Award at Heartland so 1.2 million people Sophos I think is more than most films that go into Sundance or South by or Tribeca. And, um, it's so it doesn't just have to follow that formula. It's a reason I share it not look at look at our, you know, success success story, it but it's really knowing who we're making it for before we start and a lot of people either straddle the fence, you know, because that's what they've learned to make to get the most people to watch the film. But it has that vision early on, instead of wondering how to do it, once the film is done. So I probably use the phrase too much by reverse engineering to that, and I'm not saying that means filmmaking should be formulaic. That's the last, if you look at most of my films, by the numbers, if you do it verse verses, what's the international value of these people, they don't work. So at some point, like you got your gut instinct, the films that have those formulas, obviously, they work, and they're a good business model for certain people. But like, you know, I didn't want to just, you know, I didn't want to just turned filmmaking into an algorithm, because if I wanted to do that, there's easier ways to make money, you know, in the world, that's your data, all data and algorithm based, you know,
Cameron Woodward 41:23
absolutely, incredibly insightful, Milan, you know, something I want to pivot towards is asking you about technology. So for me, I'm a technologist, you know, I think constantly about how to use technology to deliver, you know, seamless experiences for our users, which is filmmakers, cast and crew members, agents, people engaged in the process of filmmaking, right in the back office. But technology has transformed the industry over the last couple of years. And arguably, the industry is a technology industry, right? Like cinema, from the very earliest, earliest days, you know, was invented by technologists, and then, you know, mechanisms for delivery and all of it. It's a fascinating industry that's really colliding with my world, which is like consumer technology. I'm curious, from your view, you know, from the start of your career, to where we are today. How are you thinking about technology? I'm curious how it's impacted independent filmmaking. And I'm curious how it's how you're how you're engaging with technology today, with with the development of your films
Milan Chakraborty 42:37
look, like you said, like, technology, from the beginning, it's been a part of our industry, the technology advances has brought down the cost of making film, which is made made it more accessible, which is now why we're getting we're getting so many new people that are getting an opportunity to make make films. I mean, we've seen it with the, you know, South by Southwest is the first ever film festival I went to in 2008. Right. And, you know, it was just such an amazing Overwatch to be surrounded by people in this industry that was like that, for me, that was the first time I'd been in a room like that. And then to see in like, 2011, or 2012, you know, Twitter, Foursquare, Uber, like all these companies launched at South by, and you saw the shift into the technology side getting bigger and bigger. And I know a lot of people looked at that. And it's just like, looking at it like a different industry when I think it's very synergistic. And we need each other at where technology ends. And the film begins, I think, you know, that seamless look, eventually the person that was driving the horse buggy said, Oh, the car is better, right? Like, we can hold on to some of these things, but why not? Sometimes it's embracing the future to make things easier. And I think the natural progression, you know, whether it's our phones and email systems in zoom, right, that's the simple one, but the natural progression as people are talking about the future, everybody's talking about AI, right, and I see so many people get bogged down by AI. AI is a replacement mechanism. And I think that's where hopefully it's just making our jobs and lives easier and spending less time on uncertain things. In the end, this still is a people business, right? Like we need a massage a lot of different you know, personalities and, and make this you know, village operate. But, you know, I take it back to the time I grew up playing chess and remember there was that time where like, you know, Russian Grandmaster taking on, you know, the IBM computer and that the Grandmaster wants so it's like man versus machine, the man one And then chess took a big hit. When finally Watson the machine beat the Grandmaster, right. Because that meant at any given time, there was a perfect move, because it was going through every iteration. And then I feel like chess became more a memorization game than one player playing the other. But what eventually happened is a grandmaster with a computer could beat a computer. And I feel like that's how we can use a AI, we can help it, we can help us get through some of the stuff so we can focus on the creative and the whew, you know, the conscious elements, a friend sent me this funny little meme, it's like, until a machine can drink, it can't replace me, you know, like. So it's like, just like every other piece of technology we've met along the way, you know, finding out how it can be, you know, friend, not foe and, and hopefully make our lives easier. And we're spending less time on the stuff that we could have. Going back, that's been a theme, I guess, throughout this whole conversation, right? Time and money being finite. So if this AI stuff can take some time into some of the most mundane tasks, we can focus more on the creatives and stuff like that. But, you know, I recently read a book called 4000 weeks, and it's about time management. And one of its big warnings is, each time we say, oh, it's making us more efficient, we actually fill it with more and more work. Inbox Zero, guess what that means? You're getting all those emails back. Like, so. You know, it's like that, that busy hustle culture, it's like, you know, maybe we spend more time out in nature and with friends and families and find better, you know, stories to tell? Because in the end, what's important, you know,
Cameron Woodward 46:57
I mean, Milan, I, I had more questions, but I feel like that's the absolute perfect way to stop. You know, I, I was going to ask you kind of what maybe some trends you see happening in independent film, but I think he just spoke to it beautifully, right? It's like new tools will come. But stories will always be important to people.
Milan Chakraborty 47:19
We're just touching the surface, you know, of stories, just watching. You know, the history is written by the victors, right watching shivali. This weekend, you know, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. just kills it again. You know, he had a small role in our film, Assassination nation, and it's just to watch his career progress. And he's always been great. But now people are seeing him, you know, and he's just getting started. But the story is shivali a, you know, this amazing black violinist, composer or artist, poet, son of a slave, a slave owner that, you know, raped the mother and then dropped off at a school in Paris, right? The reason we're only healing that story is because literally Napoleon was like, get rid of that stuff, you know, and, and so we haven't even scratched the surface of the stories that have a need to be told that are just incredible. Not just, you know, death, not just about people, events, and just lives and lifestyles, you know, you're seeing some of the best movies come out. And people are cool with subtitles, right? Like, we're just, we're just getting, we're just getting started. You see, you see sometimes a little bit of like, scenes, like the same old stuff. And we're barely scratching the surface of the stories, let you know, we're global now. Like you can, you can tune in to stuff going on around the world. And I think, and people are open to that, and therefore, we have a lot more stories to tell.
Unknown Speaker 48:52
Absolutely, Milan. Well, thank you so much for your time.
Milan Chakraborty 48:55
I am such a big fan of you, of your work, what you give to the community. So thanks for being here. And can't wait to see you out there on the festival circuit. This is like my third or fourth bike. And I've always said no. And finally, in the last year and a half, I still feel so awkward about all this stuff. And just talking to AP people. So yeah, I hope I didn't say anything too. Too bad or long winded. But you know, great. Thanks for leading a forum like this because I really appreciate being able to go out and like I said, we don't get to be on other films, people's sets that sometimes. So hearing how other people do it for me is very, very helpful. And people like you are creating forms for people to share. It's another important part of the ecosystem. So thank you
Get the inside scoop on what it takes to produce an independent film with Milan Chakraborty, producer of Four Samosas and Assassination Nation.