(MUMBAI) I am sitting up on a stage with four industry pros, one of whom (Bob Last from the UK) has had an Academy Award nomination) feeling incredibly honoured to be asked to speak at FICCI Frames and desperately trying to figure out what I can contribute to the discussion and staring out at the audience when the moderator, Tapas Chakvarti (CEO of of DQ Entertainment) throws me a curveball.

“Well, Don, what is it that draws you to India? Why are you here?”

Not as easy a question as it sounds. I have been preparing since I got here to explain the advantages of international co-productions between India and Canada and the various tax and other incentives that the federal and provincial governments offer to encourage these projects. The workshop, I should explain, is one of those great catch-all seminars grandly titled “Animation co-productions with International Markets and Emerging Opportunities.”  The “co-productions” part is where I come in.

So there are two ways to approach this. The short answer is “Looking for money to make movies.” But it doesn’t quite cover things and seems a bit crass for this crowd. Plan B is a lot riskier. It involves sharing philosophy, not tax credits. Okay, Plan B it is…

I talk briefly about the importance of story, that I have always been amazed at the diversity of stories and styles represented in the various communities that make up B.C. and I know India has so much more to offer. I also share my belief that the fundamental things we all share is the expression of the human experience through storytelling. That for me, the secret of success for a co-production is not confined to the financing: it starts with a story. And that the best stories, well-told, cut across all cultural lines rising above what Joseph Campbell would call their “folk ideas” and reach the “elementary” or universal ideas that resonate with everyone on the planet.

It’s a bit esoteric, perhaps, but I’m grateful that my fellow panelists agree: it’s all about the story. It starts with a good script. Bob Last says he wants to hear the story first, never mind what animations system you’re using. This is not to say the subject of tax credits and government support for the film and animation industries didn’t come up, and this was the most contentious part of the discussion. In India, the industry is entirely free enterprise: there is no government support. In Canada, support in terms of production tax credits, R&D research funding and other incentives abound. The panel is split, with some (including Bob) not convinced state support is desirable. But there are two Indian delegates who are leading a lobby to change the government’s mind and they’re asking me lots of question for which (unlike the first one), I have answers.

In the end, I do manage to slide in a few remarks about looking for funding to develop Mr. Jinnah and the moderator is very kind and effusive in his praise of the Hauka Films portfolio. When it’s finally over and we’re all shaking hands, Bob comes up to me and with a grin says “I see you have become the champion of state intervention in the industry.”

I laugh. “It’s not a mantle I wear easily,” I assured him.

I should say the other major bone of contention over here is the lack of a co-production treaty between India and Canada. One is in the works, but has yet to be finalized. Many of the Indian companies want it signed, sealed and delivered. “Why has this not happened?”  they ask. Okay, time to do some more homework…