Lights, Camera… Documentary?!

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“…top art facilities don’t make great films, top stories do.”
Mohammad Naqvi, Filmmaker and Emmy Award Winner

Synergyzer: Please give your educational and professional background.

Mohammad Naqvi: I grew up in Karachi before I went for my Bachelors in Arts from the University of Pennsylvania, USA, in 2001. I kicked-off my career by founding B.L.A.H productions, an off-Broadway theatre company in New York, producing and directing a number of plays that paved my path towards international acclaim and helping me win twenty-five awards and honors in total.

In 2004, I founded Mu-Nan pictures, where I was Director Development, and I developed more than twenty films, documentaries and series. I then moved on to producing premium online content, including webisodes and interactive content, for my new business, Tight Media and have had the opportunity to work in collaboration with industry giants such as; Paramount, Disney, CNN and MTV.

My short-film portfolio includes Terror’s Children for Discovery Channel, Shame; Chronicles from the life of Mukhtaran Mai, Big River and Shabeena’s Quest. Several of my films have been showcased in international festivals held in Toronto, Berlin and United Nations in New York.

Synergyzer: You won an Emmy for your film Shame, a documentary on Mukhtaran Mai. How has that boosted your career?

Mohammad Naqvi: It had a huge impact. The documentary was close to my heart and reflected the true morals of our society. There are only 9 Emmy awards presented each year and winning it whilst competing with television legends like Christian Amanpour, David E. Kelley and Oprah Winfrey was an achievement of its own.

Synergyzer: What kind of stability does winning an Emmy provide documentary filmmakers?

Mohammad Naqvi: Internationally, Film and TV is an outrageously competitive business and it may take a lot of time, effort and good fortune before you fall in the line of stability. Professional accolades only help you up to the point of getting a studio or the producer to listen to your project proposal.

Synergyzer: What is your inspiration for choosing your topics?

Mohammad Naqvi: I choose films which deal with socio-political issues or stories driven from human rights where the character I portray is in a crisis situation, their rights demeaned and are left astray.
Ultimately, my films are about my own journey of self-discovery just as much as they are about expressing human beauty or truth in the most impossible and unexpected location.

Synergyzer: What other projects are you working on?

Mohammad Naqvi: Currently, I am working on two feature length documentaries, Two Children of the Red Mosque and Pride; which is about the former President and ex-General of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. Additionally, I am working on the scripts for two other feature fiction films and experimenting on several multi-platform ventures including video games, children programs and lifestyle programs.

Synergyzer: How can documentary filmmakers earn revenues internationally and how good is the return on investment (ROI)?

Mohammad Naqvi: To be financially sustainable, filmmakers need to expand their scope of work beyond a single genre. In documentary business you can earn money through different windows of distribution like; Pay TV, International TV, licensing, DVD and home video, educational markets and special screen tours. The digital revolution has also introduced added platforms for revenue via online libraries such as iTunes, Amazon and Netflix.

Ironically, documentary genre is fast becoming the most lucrative film genre with USA’s domestic and global revenues averaging twelve to twenty seven times the original budget, respectively. The reason is that documentaries have cheaper production costs in comparison to feature fiction films and often attract funding from different institutions.

Synergyzer: What avenues are there for promoting documentaries, internationally?

Mohammad Naqvi: There are a multitude of factors that influence documentary promotion, most importantly the genre of the documentary you are releasing. Since my genre is usually feature documentaries, I get my films released in limited theatres, followed by screenings and channel broadcasts. For my realm, it is imperative to launch at a major film festival months beyond its commercial release, venues such as Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, Berlin and Cannes are popular choices.

Additionally, one to one consumer engagement through status updates on social media, releasing production stills and small trailers organically grow your target market.

Documentary endorsement with institutions such as NGOs, private groups and cultural organizations that are a complimentary fit to your work enrich the commercialization aspect.

Synergyzer: How do you rate the documentary film industry in Pakistan?

Mohammad Naqvi: Pakistan’s film industry is in its infancy as film makers and funding are almost non-existent, and local documentary producers are looking for sponsorships abroad. The local audience and media do not have the courage to accept controversial topics that form the basis of many documentaries produced here. A rallying cry from many local audiences and media regulators here is, “Why are you washing our dirty laundry in public?” or “Why do you always have to show this side of Pakistan, why not make a film about our local fashions or beautiful mountains?” and other such ridiculous stuff.

It is this attitude and denial that is pervasive throughout Pakistan and it inhibits a lot of quality work from ever being promoted or showcased in the country. In my defense, I would say that I have never shamed Pakistan, rather celebrated its people and its resilience, which is truly astounding given the socio-political climate of the country. Having said that, some of my work’s biggest supporters and its inspiration are Pakistanis as well!

Synergyzer: What do you feel about Pakistani filmmakers and production facilities in and what needs to be done to put them at par with international standards?

Mohammad Naqvi: There are some incredibly talented people here – it is amazing what they accomplish with limited production facilities. However, a lack of formal film education and global market understanding are major reasons we are lagging behind.

The first step is to stop blaming the lack of technological resources available to us. It is not mandatory to have top art facilities to make a great film, what is important is a great story structure, script, art direction and acting. The facilities and technological advancement are secondary and will come on their own accord. After all, why should we deserve a top art facility when the content we make is not able to sustain the investment?

 

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