The emergence of screenwriting workshops and contests is a new and welcome trend in the Indian movie business. For far too long screenwriting has been treated like a hit-or-miss thing and screenwriters have been given the stepmotherly treatment. As audience preferences have matured, writers are being called upon to write a wide variety of scripts — ranging from the song-and-dance masala fare to smaller budget indie-style screenplays. Clearly, there is a need for writers to amp up their screenwriting skills and these professionally-managed contests/workshops do provide a huge opportunity.
The Asia Society India Centre, in collaboration with Time Warner Foundation has announced the launch of its second edition of the New Voices Fellowship for Screenwriters (NVFS). The program aims to identify, encourage and support a group of six talented independent screenwriters to develop their feature film scripts by working in a dynamic and innovative environment with guidance from eminent filmmakers and screenwriters. Indian writers are invited to submit an original story for consideration and the deadline for applications is 15 December 2013.
The fellowship is guided by an Advisory Council which includes some of the big names of Indian film industry including screenwriters Anjum Rajabali and Jaideep Sahni, filmmakers Dev Benegal, Devika Bhagat, Saket Chaudhary, film journalist Uma da Cunha and media and communications expert Jeroo Mulla. The project Mentors are screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi, screenwriting teacher Ashwini Malik and writer-director Sriram Raghavan.
Bunty Chand and Rachel Cooper of Asia Society are also members of the Advisory Council.
The New Voices Fellowship for Screenwriters will follow an open application process to select six screenwriters from across India for an eight month long fellowship. Selected fellows will have a rare opportunity to work with eminent screenwriters to develop their scripts and to attend two five-day long workshops. Selected Fellows will receive a stipend of Rs 200,000, regular mentoring, two five-day long intensive workshops and recommendations on pitching to studios and advice legal issues such as copyright and contracts.
Bunty Chand, Executive Director of Asia Society India Centre shares her vision of the NVFS program here. Read on:
How is NVFS different from other Indian screenwriting programs that are currently on offer?
The NVFS is quite a unique program. We wanted writers to take the time to write seriously and reward that behaviour by offering them a stipend. Most of the screenwriting programs that are offered are just workshops. After the workshop is over, it just dies. But we have the commitment of three mentors who we have signed on and they mentor the fellows through the nine months. We have a very strict timetable clearly stating what should be produced by the fellows for the mentors during the process and we follow their progress.
What are the requirements for being considered for the fellowship?
There is no application fee. However we emphasise that the story must be registered by the applicants. In case some applications are incomplete, our staff will call them back and help them out.
What is the process for selection of the fellows?
We hire readers to read the story ideas. We give them a set of objective criteria to judge the ideas. This time around applicants have been asked to convert a part of their story into a script format. We crosscheck the readers’ selection and from them we pick 20 applicants. The ideas of the 20 applicants are judged by the mentors and members of the advisory council and of these 12 semi-finalists are selected for the first four-day residential workshop. On return from the workshop, there is an interview process and six fellows are selected. Each of the six selected Fellows are mentored by two mentors.
What kind of stories is the NVFS looking for?
We are looking for mainstream ideas. We are looking for stories that reflect the diversity of India. What are the stories coming out from different parts of India. Not necessarily song and dance Bollywood films. There are lots of clever stories out there – for instance, Lunch Box.
There is a perception that such programs are there to benefit the industry people and their cronies. Your reaction?
The selection process is totally transparent. We ask that applicants do not put their name on the title page of their story idea submissions. We assign numbers to each of the applications that are received. And no one knows who has sent in that story idea until after all the twelve shortlisted candidates have been chosen. I am very firm about following this rule. We don’t want any bias creeping in as that affects the program’s credibility.
Sure, some writers who are more experienced, that will show up in their story ideas. Last time, we had one person who had worked with Mira Nair for four years. She filtered through the process but we had no idea about her identity until the very final stage. A couple of people who got selected also came from film schools. But out of the six, one was actually in the business, one was a doctor and one was a short story writer. But all of them came up ‘blindly’. We want to hear the young and new voices that are out there. We had some wonderful stories last time around and we’re hoping that we will generate some this year too.
Have any of the projects from last year’s NVFS program been made into films?
Three of them had registered for the Mumbai Film Festival. One of them is hawking her script about. A couple have been got hired for writing assignments by a production house. So in a way we have been able to create some connections for all of them.
What are your plans to help the Fellows further their writing careers?
The NVFS is not a contest but a fellowship of writers and our aim is to connect them with people who are well established in the film industry. I think we’re trying to meld many voices and it will take a few years for it to flourish but it will happen over a period of time.
The biggest challenge for a scriptwriter is to get his/her script made into a film. How does the NVFS propose to help the Fellows on this aspect?
In this edition we are also trying to train the fellows how to pitch. And we might also do a private pitching session as well.
I’m targeting the Film Bazaar to establish a linkage between Film Bazaar and the Fellowship. And if I can get them to look at the scripts coming out of the NVFS I would have helped in advancing their projects. We will be looking at other film festivals. One of my advisors is connected with the Melbourne Film Festivals and Dev is connected with Tribeca. So we are looking at how we can link the NVFS to international film festivals as well. So the endeavour is to equip screenwriters with a range of skills. We are very excited about this edition, specially as we have a wonderful advisory who are so committed and generous with their time.
Thank you Bunty for talking to us about the NVFS program. Good luck!