How Prime Focus' Namit Malhotra became a force to reckon with Hollywood
Posted on Jan 14, 2013 at 05:17pm IST
A new kind of global company is on the rise in the visual entertainment space; one that has not only swept western incumbents off their feet but that have challenged some of the west's most cherished notions of creativity
Via Digital Studio
Today, Prime Focus employs more than 4,500 people across 19 facilities worldwide, eight of them in India.
Namit Malhotra doesn’t run Hollywood, but the founder and managing director of Prime Focus, a leading visual entertainment multinational based in Mumbai, holds far more clout in Hollywood than many local post houses in Los Angeles, California. Why? The global success and appeal of 3D has opened up a whole new genre of content in the visual entertainment space. The US new 3D release market alone is estimated to be about $248-297 million annually. Moreover, after the successful release of 3D converted versions of Star Wars: Episode Iand Titanic, US studios are exploring the immediate payback on the cost of converting existing ‘back-catalogue’ titles, compelling them to visit their archives. According to industry data, the US studios own at least 800 titles that have each grossed over $100 million in worldwide box-office since 1995, and the estimated size of the US ‘back-catalogue’ blockbuster film market ranges from $1.8 billion to $3.4 billion.
These figures make a strong case for Prime Focus, a market leader in 3D conversion, with an estimated 38 per cent market share in 2011. Since the launch of View-D, its proprietary 2D to 3D conversion in 2009, the company has delivered 15 projects including prestigious projects such as Avatar, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.In fact Prime Focus recently announced a partnership with Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Lucasfilm for the 3D conversion of the Episode II and III of the epic movie Star Wars. The projects are presently being converted and are scheduled for a back-to-back launch in September and October this year.ďNo company in the world has ever worked on a Star Wars film outside of ILM.
Itís an honour to be associated with George Lucas and be offered an opportunity to convert the ultimate space saga,Ē says Namit Malhotra, the founder and global CEO of Prime Focus.Visual effects and animation are other segments that are likely to ring bells for Prime Focus. VFX presently consumes almost 30-40 per cent of a filmís budget, and films with heavy VFX content have been performing best internationally.The VFX division of Prime Focus also stands to benefi from the outsourcing model of Hollywood because of the obvious international cost savings it offers, which could amount to as much as 75 per cent for some Hollywood producers. In fact, the 83rd Academy Awards forever erased the idea that the post-production studios in the United States have a monopoly in the global visual entertainment space with the company contributing to five of the ten films that ran for the Oscar awards last year.The company created eight stunning shots for the impressionistic movie The Tree of Life, 22 VFX shots for superhero adventure X-Men: First Class, 31 VFX shots and 3D conversion for the action movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The company was also responsible for providing on-set equipment for Hugo. Also very few companies can offer such a wide range of services under one roof. Prime Focus offers end-to-end solution from pre-production to final delivery, including VFX, 3D conversion, video and audio postproduction, digital content management and distribution, digital intermediate, versioning and adaptation, and equipment rental.
Founders of Prime Focus (L-R): Huzefa Lokhandwala, Prakash kurup, Namit Malhotra and Mezin Tavaria
Much of the global ambition of Prime Focus can be traced back to the formative years of Namit Malhotra. His grandfather MN Malhotra was a renowned cinematographer who shot India’s first colour film Jhansi Ki Rani and several Hindi movies for legendary producer-director BR Chopra. His father Naresh Malhotra produced Shahenshah, the 1988 Bollywood superhero film starring Amitabh Bachchan. As an 18-year-old, Namit went on a business trip to Hong Kong. His big idea: to set up backend operations for Star TV in India. The year was 1994. Star TV was part of Hutchison Whampoa group and had begun beaming programme feeds to India. The fact that the teenager had sufficient contacts to set up the base but no money to invest didn’t cut much ice with the Star TV executive. But on the transit to Hong Kong he met his father’s friend on the flight who advised him that the next big thing in media business was computer graphics. Without blinking an eyelid, Namit joined a computer graphics institute in South Mumbai for a six-month certificate course that offered training in Corel Draw, Animation Pro, and 3D Studio Max.While he had settled for much less, he took another shot at enterprise: setting up an editing studio to cater to imminent TV boom in India. He knew he needed about Rs 10 lakh to start this business, and a few good men to run his business. Namit raised about seven lakh rupees from a bank and borrowed about three lakh rupees from his father.Meanwhile, he approached his three instructors at the training institute to join him in business: Pravin Kurup, Merzin Tavaria and Huzefa Lokhandwala. All three were basically college students doing their summer jobs. In January 1995, Video Workshop (the original name of Prime Focus) was set up in a garage adjoining Namitís apartment. For the next two years, the company picked up odd jobs such as editing small corporate films or low-budget TV programmes for small-time producers.
Immediately after finishing college in 1997, all four members started working at full blast, which included 100 episodes of the famed dance show Boogie Woogie for Sony and top music countdown show Colgate Top 10 for Zee. From simple editing of episodes, the scope of work widened to high-end services such as creating title sequences, making promos, and mastering the programmes. While Prime Focus was digitally mastering Ramesh Sippy’s serial Gathaa for Star TV, it was setting up a post-production studio for Channel V at their Khar facility in Mumbai. In the next two years, the company was putting together 21 television shows a week. The success of Prime Focus can be primarily attributed to the fact that every time it matured in a business, it would diversify for the next big opportunity. So instead of scaling the broadcast business, Namit shifted focus to newer markets such as advertising and music videos, which paid much more money than television for the same service.While on one hand Prime Focus was working with top music video producers such as Sanjay Gupta, Anubhav Sinha and Kunal Kohli, it was also servicing biggest advertising producers such Sunil Manchanda of MAD Entertainment. By 1999, the turnover of the company had touched Rs 75 lakh and its capital investment had gone up
to two crore rupees.
1997 PFL founded by Namit Malhotra in a garage in Mumbai PFL offered India’s first high-end finishing system
2001 Offered India’s first scanning and recording system
2003 Offered India’s first DI system
2004 First visual effects company in India to operate a motion-control rig
2006 Entry into UK market via acquisition of AIM Listed company IPO of Prime Focus Limited on BSE and NSE
2007 Entry into US through acquisition of Post Logic and Frantic Films
2009 Launch of View-D and CLEAR
2010 First Company to convert an entire film - Clash of the Titans - to 3D
2011 3D Conversion of Star Wars: Episode I. PFT digitises and transforms Star TV’s content operations through CLEAR
2012 Prime Focus Animation launched. CLEAR digitises Associated Press international archive
Prime Focus lobby in Goregaon