The Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC) on Wednesday said it would participate in an indefinite strike starting from March 1, protesting against the ‘Virtual Print Fee’ (VPF) charged by digital distribution companies, such as Qube Cinemas Technologies, and UFO Moviez. Qube Cinemas Technologies controls around 700 screens in Tamil Nadu, and 1,800 screens in south India.
With this announcement, there will be no new Tamil releases (or releases from any south Indian industry) until an agreement is reached between the companies and the TFPC.
However, English and Hindi movies will continue to be released in cinemas as per schedule.
Producers/distributors pay the VPF towards the investment made by companies such as Qube to purchase and install digital cinema projection equipment in movie theatres during release. Speaking about the strike, TFPC treasurer S.R. Prabhu reiterated the demands of the council.
“The companies are offering a consolation reduction in charges. We want the VPF to go. We have paid it for 10 years and can’t do so anymore,” said Mr. Prabhu.
“Going forward, we will find theatres and service providers who will not demand VPF. We are paying seven times the handling charges as VPF. It is unfair. Theatres cannot outsource the upgradation of their equipment to producers,” he said.
With producers and distributors usually preferring to avoid releasing big budget films in March due to the school examinations, the space opens up for smaller films. The strike will lead to smaller films having to wait longer for release.
Senthil Kumar, co-founder, Qube Cinemas Technologies Pvt. Ltd., said it was unfair for producers to demand an end to VPF charges suddenly without taking into consideration existing contracts and agreements with theatres.
“In Hollywood, producers or studios have been paying $850 as VPF, which is slightly less than the $1,100 that they pay for a film print. If Indian producers had also paid the same amount for 10 years, it would have been possible to recoup the investment costs,” said Mr. Kumar.
He added that VPF charges in Tamil Nadu were among the lowest in the world. “It is not right for them to cherry-pick things from the U.S. model to choose their narrative. We have been offering services for 1/3rd the price. If they choose a date sometime in future, we can work with that. But this is untenable for us as a company,” said Mr. Senthil Kumar.
He further added that the company would enforce all the contracts they have with theatres.
While industry veterans said that it was almost impossible for producers to change the system overnight as the market was scrowded with too many companies and Qube Technologies is a dominant player, producer G. Dhananjayan said, “Compromise is not the solution. Producers cannot be asked to subsidise equipment in theatres anymore. It doesn’t make sense. The Tamil film industry should work with other south Indian film industries.”
Distributor and theatre owner Abirami Ramanathan hoped the issue would be sorted out in couple of weeks. “We will assume that there are no releases for the next two weeks,” he said.