Support Free Media – when you hear that you get the idea of some concept of Public Access Television or National Public Radio in America or some advocacy group: boy are we wrong! Tamjid Aijazi, a young aspiring technocrat started this project just about 2 years ago to address issues in the film industry. I couldn’t help but visit him in his office one night off Sharh-e-Faisal to ask him what this project is all about:
I heard about this project of yours that you started a few years back to revolutionize the film industry. I mean I see you are into IT in your office so what’s the connection with film?
Well, I guess I have to start off from the beginning. I actually have a Computer Science background and run a software IT business based in Australia working in Pakistan and delivering in the US. It wasn’t around 2005 that I started to delve into media as I always had a passion to work behind the screen to communicate with the masses and share my vision – I felt I could give back more to society through this medium. I felt I could speak to millions about my ideas and vision through the screen. So I joined Aaj TV as a news editor and previously as a producer with Roshni Television that now is known as Such TV. My contact with the industry filled me with insights that I had never gained from just looking at the screen. I saw a significant gap when it came to television and film production; lack of training, professionalism, intellectual content, and other matters. So I thought to myself how to solve this significant problem and consequently started Support Free Media.
Ok so let me get this straight, you got exposed to the industry, then you identified issues that needed solutions and that is what drove you to create Support Free Media?
You see after Musharraf liberated the media, many people jumped into this industry who had no prior training or experience. We had TV channels, producers, directors, cameramen, and entire staff overnight, who had not even a bit of experience in the industry. What resulted was a huge gap that needed to be filled and we had big money come in being splashed around and media houses came up. Usually, when we see fast money we don’t see quality not just in production and training, but lack of professionalism and that is what I feel this industry lacks.
If nothing would be done, our industry would remain 3rd rated, at best, commercialized, and casual. I thought to myself – I have a successful business and here was something I was passionate about. Look we can hand over problems to each other but unless we have the guts to stand up and solve them ourselves, we are only part of the problem. These issues were brought in front of my eyes and I couldn’t just sit on the side – I guess you can say the passion for film is what drove me.
OK, I have got to be honest about my confusion what exactly is Support Free Media? I mean how is it “Free” I guess that is what I want to ask.
That is a very good question! I was sure you were going to ask it because when people think of “Support Free Media” people think in terms of America or the UK where there are public entities of media that run campaigns to donate money so that they have unbiased media in their countries strictly funded by the public for the public. But it’s nothing like that; actually, it is an acronym, and it stands for “Films Representing Excellence in Entertainment”.
And how do you get ‘Films Representing Excellence in Entertainment’ to be potentially developed in the film industry in Pakistan?
In my opinion, film is the most powerful medium when it comes to media followed by drama and then other mediums. So here we have a lack of training, professionalism, and direction – I needed to work on these matters. With vision, we began training professionals to have strategic depth in their work, you see there is a huge gap in our industry between the intellectual and commercial aspects of the film. To really make a good film one must not only dig deep into the consciousness but also focus on heritage and culture to display a well-toned product. This aspect we address in our Never Forget project workshops we hold throughout the year spanning 3-days. These workshops are conducted in Pakistan and Dubai.
The second aspect and more exciting project is TechEx – a project geared for technical excellence. Without proper training in anything one cannot make a refined product so we have partnered up with New York Film Academy in the US and Media Asylum in Singapore to train professionals from Pakistan we send vetted individuals to these short-term workshops in acting, film-making, production, screenwriting, digital film-making, cinematography and post-production to achieve excellence in respective fields.
But I mean practically have we seen change in the industry? Sure you just started this project about 2 years back but how can we tell there has been any improvement in the industry at all if any?
Actually, it’s only been hardly 1.5 years since May 16th, 2015. It is my estimate you will see significant changes in the industry in a short period of time. Look our job is to refine the individuals, and to change this industry and take it to the next level we need to develop our human resources and there is a wide array of individuals out there to reach. Support Free Media has signed MOUs with media houses to help elevate their staff to the next level. For example, I am working with Momina Duraid at MD Productions, and we recently trained one of their staff in our TechEx program. Kashif Ahmed whom we sponsored to go to Media Asylum and get training in advanced coloring, is the lead colorist for MD Films and worked on projects like Bin Roye. Staff from Samaa TV, was part of the 3-day workshop conducted by Timelenders in Karachi to help with direction and strategic depth in media production. Most importantly one cannot better head such a project unless they themselves gain the value and are trained, so I too went to the NYFA and participated in workshops dealing with filmmaking and screenwriting.
Since its inception, Support Free Media has trained around 20 individuals in different capacities sending a few individuals overseas to get professional training and return. What this is establishing is a base of human resources for the next step of Support Free Media that we are set to launch after our annual event next month.
I won’t give out all the secrets but basically, it is a revolutionary idea to fund film production in Pakistan.
Whoa! Funding – come on, now you have to share this. I am sure a lot of readers will be interested in this issue, as many directors, producers, and screenwriters face this hurdle all the time. So, please tell us more if you will.
It was an idea adopted in India back in the 1980s that became a success. Now we all know there are but a handful of financers in the film industry in Pakistan – Hum TV, ARY Films, Mandviwalla Entertainment, and a few others. These limited resources make it difficult for aspiring film producers to come forward and have their idea implemented in a fair way. Not only that, but it is also a huge risk, and returns for our industry are not swell. Let’s look at the figures: $5 million was the total top gross revenue of the top 5 films in Pakistan – in the US it was a whopping $7 billion! We have much to close in this gap and a lot of investors are shy to invest in an industry so risky. So as we speak, I am registering a fund out of Dubai that will become essentially a stock market for film – what I mean by this is investors won’t have to take as much a risk as it will be pooled into a fund and those who can’t invest and do an entire film by themselves can come together to fund a project. This fund will be managed by a board that will entertain different ideas on films and then evaluate them if they are production worthy. With this approval gone ahead, behind is a whole set of individuals we have trained on a superior level to execute this project to its fullest potential creating that refined product I was speaking about.
Is there any other aspect of Support Free Media we have left that you may want to convey to our readers?
Honestly, after sending individuals of the industry overseas to training programs, their interaction with people there has developed international bonds between not just people but entities. For instance, I met an Italian screenwriter, Ilaria Fravolini, and convinced her to come to one of our workshops in Dubai. Hopefully, we will develop some synergy in the future to learn from Italian cinema.
Additionally with constant exposure to NYFA now I have started to work on a side project to bring them to Pakistan. Yes, it’s true this project is just in its preliminary stages, but if we can get a professional school of this level to do all the training here – we can train more professionals in superior filming skills and it would be a lot cheaper. Instead of sending the trainees to the school bring the school to the trainees!
If anyone wants to be a part of Support Free Media how do they join?
We have a major event coming up on December 10th, our Annual Grand Dinner at Royal Rodale, and honestly we already have given out all our invites but those professionals who wish to contribute to our cause can still reach us through our Facebook page, or at our website www.supportfreemedia.com and sign up as members, as we have member events and workshops and seminars throughout the year, and if there are certain individuals that pass throughout vetting process, we will sponsor them to go get the training and come back to produce Films Representing Excellence in Entertainment. This is how we will elevate Pakistan to the next level to compete internationally in this industry.
Interviewed by Syed Muaz Shah for Focus Pakistan Magazine