Faisal Qureshi, Owner & Director, Game Over Productions, speaks to Aurora about his current Ufone success, the importance of humour and his longer term ambitions.
FAISAL QURESHI: It’s a difficult question. I am still confused… I am a thinker, I work as a writer, a director, a producer, an actor and now a concept writer for Ufone.
A: And you are also a NCA (
FQ: I am a graphic designer, although professionally I am not practicing.
A: How did you move TV?
FQ: It happened during my second year at the NCA. Ahsan Rahim had just graduated from there and he was working on a TV show. He had seen me acting and wanted to try me out for the TV show he was working on; it was called VJ (Video Junction). I agreed to do one show for him and I wrote the script, which he really liked. He asked Hadiqa (Kiyani) to host the show, but she was unable to do it. Also, he was keen that the host should be able to carry off the script the way I had written it, so he asked me to try it out. I agreed and the show was a hit and the producer then insisted that I be hired as the host.
A: Does comedy work in
FQ: It does. The Ufone commercials were first made seven years ago and they were a huge hit and the client was very happy. Then there was a change at the top, and the new management wanted to move away from comedy. However, later on, the former management came back and they asked me to continue with the original campaign. So I am back writing for them again, and we have been getting a brilliant response. In
A: What draws you to humour as a form of expression?
FQ: It touches the heart. Also, with humour you can get away with a lot of things on so many issues that you can’t do in a serious way. But you have to be smart when you do it. I think the Pakistani public appreciates comedy, but ad agencies can’t think in those terms. I don’t know why, but we are very conscious of the quality of the production; we don’t want to show the lower classes in our commercials. In Indian ads, you see people portrayed just as they are. We are very self conscious; we want A-class ads, with upper class houses, glass buildings, good views and rich people. We are happy when we achieve the quality and the neatness of the ads. Our creative people cannot think beyond a few things. They make these lifestyles ads, and they are an easy way out; they justify the budgets because they show glossy stuff. If you show the raw stuff, the client will ask how can you justify the budget?
A: Do you work directly with the client on the Ufone commercials?
FQ: Yes. I am the creative writer and I work directly for Ufone. I think agency people – and I am not talking about any specific agency – have a specific mindset which they don’t seem able to move away from. I have worked on a freelance basis with a number of agencies and I think they cannot create change because they are following a set pattern. Also, if too many brains are involved in a project, each with different thoughts, you end up spoiling the whole thing. I told Ufone that I would give them the idea and if they wanted changes, we would make them, but that the basic idea would remain the same. They have given us that free hand.
A: Is this your only venture into commercial ad making?
FQ: Concept wise, I am doing only this so far. But different companies are approaching us and want to work with us.
A: So what is your bread and butter?
FQ: My production company, which is called Game Over Productions. We produce TV programmes for different channels… ARY, Geo, Hum TV.
A: In terms of production values, do you think PTV has lost its edge?
FQ: Their edge is that you only need an antenna to be able to watch their programmes. They are surviving because everyone in every village can watch PTV, while the rest of the channels are restricted to the main cities. Production-wise I don’t think they are growing.
A: In terms of quality productions, nobody seems to be doing particularly well. Why?
FQ: The problem is that we don’t have an institute to polish people. We polish people by experimentation. Someone comes along and says he wants to do camera work… and that is how they start working, with no knowledge, or study, or background. The set up is raw; we need an institute to make it more solid.
A: But no one seems willing to set up such an institute.
FQ: I think it would be a brilliant opportunity for investors! If they make it a good institute and hire teachers from abroad, they will make money out of it. We have so many TV channels and they should contribute and open an institute. If they do, they will benefit from good, polished talent and good programming and they won’t have to buy programmes from elsewhere. It will take about four or five years to train the first batch but eventually this will make us self sufficient enough to develop our own stuff and even sell to
A: Does running a production house make good business sense?
FQ: Yes, if you produce good work. We do not take on more than two projects at a time. However, those companies that are working on 10 or more projects are suffering due to the recession. We are very focused on the projects we do, and people appreciate this.
A: Why do many production houses feel that TV channels are unfair to them.
FQ: They do not pay on time. One of the reasons why I do not take on more than two projects at a time is because I cannot keep financing them myself. If I make a 26-episode series, the contract states that I will only start getting paid after the 13th episode. However, if for some reason this does not happen, I have to stop the project and try to recover the money, all the while incurring the expenses of running my production house. There are no laws or rules. Channels draw up contracts, but they are not bothered about paying on time. Their concern is about getting the project delivered on time, but not paying on time, and sometimes they take years to do so. This is why some of the smaller production houses are forced to close.
A: Under these circumstances, what happens to quality?
FQ: For the amount they pay, they cannot get quality. In
A: So even if you did have a training institute, unless the channels are willing to pay real money for value, quality will always be compromised?
FQ: Channels are scared of investing in people because quality people who actually know what they are doing are so few. Most experiment and learn on the job. We need people whom the channels can trust.
FQ: The budgets for commercials are much bigger, the cameras used for commercials are more expensive, plus there is the processing. The budget for a 30-second commercial is more than that allocated to a 30-episode series.
A: Does this kind of difference happen in other countries?
FQ: No, internationally you won’t find any difference between a TV series and a film. They have the same budget, use the same cameras, the same teams; you can’t tell the difference.
A: So what is the problem here?
FQ: People are not open to investing. People don’t want quality, just cheap rates.
A: A lot of directors have resorted to making commercials because they feel there are too many hurdles to overcome in
FQ: There are problems. Many of these directors are making such good money making ads that they can’t take the time for anything risky; you never know what is going to happen with a film… they can lose millions; a film takes at least two or three months to make.
A: Have you thought about venturing into a feature film?
FQ: I would love to. We are planning a film; I am buying my equipment and film gear. If I have my own equipment, I can make a low budget humorous film.
A: But the lack of layers and polish that we have been talking about almost certainly applies when it comes to producing films?
FQ: Yes, but we need to take risks. I am buying my own equipment because with your own equipment you can experiment. If something is not good, you can reshoot it because you have your own team. If you have a financier, he won’t let you reshoot because you are wasting money.
A: Are you in favour of co-productions with
FQ: Yes, so long as we get something out of it; the most important thing is to learn from the process and apply that learning to our own productions. I have worked with Indians and they have the same setup as international teams do. We need to produce more good commercial entertainment, and this is where we lack. The people who are making films are more into art and depression, whereas we need good entertainment; we need a good laugh and something joyful to watch.
A: Is making a film an affordable venture?
FQ: If you work smartly, you can make a good, low budget film. However, you cannot develop your film industry by making low budget films alone; you have to invest in the industry. Films should be larger than life and for that you need big budget films.
A: What is your big ambition?
FQ: To make a film which can be released internationally and receive international appreciation. We need to go international. We need to compete with those markets. I heard that an Indian producer has signed a contract with Spielberg to make three films. The Indians are thinking and investing on that level; the fact that we are not, is not good for us.
Faisal Qureshi was talking to Mariam Ali Baig.
Faisal Qureshi was talking to Mariam Ali Baig.