Gaurav Gupta, the plucky founder and MD of FutureWorks Media, foresaw the complete digitisation of the film industry as early as the late nineties. After completing his BA in Economics (Films) from the University of Michigan, he returned to India to work in his father’s print-film business. “Joining my father’s company not only helped me build contacts in the film industry but also understand how film technology really worked,” Gupta said.
Around 2000, everything in the Indian industry revolved around the use of film as a medium with companies having virtually no access to technologies that were prevalent in the West. The use of visual effects in the country was restricted to small numbers despite 750-odd movies being made annually. That’s where Gupta saw the opportunity. “I realised early on that everything would gradually become digital and that eventually all media would be digitised.” Star Wars – Attack of the Clones, which released in 2002, was the first movie to be shot as well as distributed digitally. “That was just the beginning. I could really see that digitisation would tremendously create more demand. Whether it was restoring old stuff or creating new media for feature films and television.”
Gupta left his father’s business to start Gaurav Digital, a setup that specialised in audio editing. After tasting success, his focus shifted to providing a broader range of post-production services, especially visual effects. “I decided to create a new company and get all other banners under one roof with an aim to be a full-service company,” he explained.
Abhishek De, who was working for Ketan Mehta’s Maya Digital Studios as GM of operations, joined immediately after a meeting with Gupta. “Gaurav wanted to set up this studio and I knew people who could be hired to put a team together,” said De. Gupta formally started FutureWorks in January 2007.
At inception, the goal was to do the entire post-production pipeline—including digital intermediate (DI), visual effects, sound, and editing—designed for feature films with visual effects being the main focus, said De, who is now the creative director at the company.
Gupta started operations in one room of his father’s office. “The plan was to start small and take a few months to actually figure out the business model that would be the sweet spot,” he revealed.
The next chapter
While Gupta’s background in the industry helped the company get a foot in the door with projects from companies such as Vishesh Films, the going was not all rosy. The first feature film that FutureWorks did was Mohit Suri’s Awarapan in 2007 while simultaneously moving to a half-ready office in Andheri. Gupta, however, had to visit 20-odd companies before he got that one big-ticket project, wherein he executed the VFX in the movie, which finally got his company recognition. With each project, the FutureWorks’ work spoke for itself and drew in new customers.
Another major movie the company bagged in its initial days was Apoorva Lakhia’s Mission Istanbul. However, just because he was a new kid on the block, Gupta did not opt to lower the prices for services offered by FutureWorks, knowing that this strategy would boomerang in the long run.
“You cannot bag films by just offering a lower price. Since people are always running against time to deliver a project, they cannot afford to be stuck with vendors that cannot adhere to a deadline. Therefore, you have to exude confidence on that front,” he stated. This strategy paid off and, gradually, the company started getting more projects, including Shootout at Wadala, Madras Cafe, and Boss. For some movies, like Krrish 3, it worked on sound remixing and VFX for The Lunchbox, while for some like Ramaiya Vastavaiya it covered the entire spectrum of services including sound, VFX, and colour.
Although his reputation of being an experienced operator helped, Gupta credits a majority of FutureWorks’ success to the 200-odd team and the value proposition that the company brings. “We come up with new ideas for various kinds of services. Obviously, we have to do all this keeping an eye on the budgets…do a lot more with less money,” said Gupta. The thing foremost on his mind is to deal with complete honesty while dealing with clients. This includes being upfront about deliverables; whether it is related to deadlines or what the project would cost. By being forthcoming with information, it is striving to create a distinction from its competition.
Treating clients better is not just a motto, but something that is ingrained in every member of the company, from day one. “We really felt we should provide more attention to our client’s needs. The market was captured predominantly by one player at the time we started and was ripe for other players to emerge and provide competitive solutions. We worked towards listening to our clients.” This mantra has enabled the company to retain the clients that it first worked with. “We listen to our clients and make changes whether it is technology or workflows and ensure that they keep coming back,” he said.
When it comes to technology, the company tries to be stay a step ahead of its peers and keep pace with the market. “You need to make sure that you are moving with the market. But stay a little bit ahead. You need to anticipate, identify trends, and see what’s being done. Study other people. Disruption in technology can happen in the most unexpected places,” Gupta pointed out.
Making things work
When FutureWorks worked on the Indian version of 24 TV series, the team had several back-to-back meetings with Jitan Harmeet Singh, the cinematographer of the show. In what turned out to be a gruelling schedule, the show’s makers wanted to shoot the series like a film but with a budget that was aligned for TV. To make it all work, the time limit given to the company didn’t leave much scope for manoeuvre to finish the project. “These are the kinds of things that interest me. We love getting involved in workflows to solve problems for our clients. This is how we add value. Our expertise is in customising,” Gupta explained.
“The thing about filmmaking is that everyone is trying to create something new to excite the audience. We push the limits of what can be done…whether it is action, sound, lighting or any other aspect of filmmaking.”
Employing nearly 200 people, FutureWorks has a diversified team. Apart from the visual effects, colour, sound, and DI departments with clients in the US and Russia among other countries, it also has a camera rental division. “The idea is to create a veritable ecosystem with one business leading to another,” he said.
One of the proudest moments for the company was working on Drona, the first Indian movie with post production done completely in 4K. FutureWorks did a part of the visual effects and the complete DI and sound for the movie. Among its international projects are movies such Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficent, and Les Misérables for which the company has done visual effects.
Gupta’s passion for technology and finding solutions is what really drives the company. De said, “I have never met any owner of a company who is so passionate about his work. He is interested in the technical details and understands what is needed at every juncture. It is not very difficult for any one of us to sit with him and tell him what we need.” For a recent project that FutureWorks was pitching for, Gupta was at the forefront of organising the test shoot, present at the location early in the morning.
“There were many hurdles along the way but Gaurav’s focus has been unwavering. That’s what helped us pull through the hard times,” added De.
Last year, the company serviced major films such as Airlift and Dangal; it rented out the cameras and did the sound for Dangal. While the colour department worked on Sultan, complete services were provided for Kapoor and Sons.
Being faster to scale compared to other capital-intensive departments, visual effects contribute to the biggest chunk of the company’s revenue.
What lies ahead
Talking about the road ahead, Gupta said, “The idea is to look at challenges and build creative capacity. For visual effects, we are constantly looking to improve our team with training and experience as we are looking to bridge the gap between Bollywood and Hollywood.”
The company also recently got into the broadcast business as it sees immense potential. “In the age of Netflix and Amazon Prime, the quality of TV has to really move up. TV shows now aspire to come close to how feature films are made with post production work, such as colour grading, which wasn’t the case earlier. The kind of equipment they want to rent is also getting to the level of feature films,” added Gupta.
Things look good for Gupta and his team. Despite an uncertain economic climate, the company posted a turnover of INR 40 crore in 2016, an increase of 20% over the previous year. But Gupta is not one to rest on laurels. “We are constantly pushing the limits to make things better,” he signed off.