Dalbag Singh Khaira in interview
To describe Dalbag Singh Khaira as a busy man is something of an understatement. As Head of Production for Proctor and Gamble in Greater China, he is undoubtedly one of the most active members of the region’s commercial film industry. Proctor and Gamble (P&G) is thought to be the biggest producer of films in China and Dalbag adds: “We film on more days of the year than any other filmmaker here.” Dalbag oversees the production of all P&G’s commercials and photo shoots in the region and he asserts: “There is literally something going on every day”.
Dalbag has worked for P&G for nearly two years and he has been involved in making commercial films in China for 15 years. He is also well known for his work in short films. In addition to his P&G hat, he is a Partner with production company FilmOrient.
So what are the particular challenges in making commercials as opposed to short films? Dalbag responds: “When you are making commercials, you are always making them for a client – a marketing person who has very strong views on the messages they want to deliver. The film really has a very specific job to do - which is to sell a product.” This inevitably means that there is little artistic autonomy. Dalbag adds: “The advertising agency comes up with idea, they come up with the board and the challenge for the filmmaker is to bring that board to life.”
Dalbag points out that while there are significant differences between short films and commercials, the gap between feature films and commercials is not as pronounced. “Generally the studios and financiers have the same concerns as a client would have but obviously when the film is the product, you do have bit more licence in terms of story and creativity.”
Despite the inherent challenges, Dalbag is certainly passionate about the advantages of working in the commercial market. He says: “When you have a great idea to work with, bringing that to life is fantastic. Also, with commercials, you are always more or less at the forefront of filmmaking technology. Whenever there is a new piece of equipment out for use on set, you get to play with it!”
The fact that Dalbag is based in China has much to do with a simple twist of fate – having completed film school and in need of a job, he was offered an opportunity in China and he took it. As the region has shot up in popularity, he appreciates his good fortune in being based here. “In the last few years, it really has come into its own. When I first arrived 15 years ago it was very much a backwater. China has now become incredibly fashionable.”
He concedes that there remain certain challenges for filmmakers coming to China. “There are huge difficulties in working here in terms of approvals and permits etc. Also language is an issue.” But he is enthusiastic about China’s potential as an international filming location and is keen to encourage others to film here. “It’s a land of great opportunity. There is an incredible work ethic here. Everybody wants to do their best and give their best.” He adds that the diversity of locations is huge. “You can go to parts of China which are more impressive than the Grand Canyon. The variety of locations is spectacular and at least on a par with the US.”
Dalbag continues to travel extensively within China and Greater China in his capacity as Head of Production for P&G. He explains that the company tends to favour the major production centres around Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, but that it will locate films across Asia when necessary.
So what are the priorities in terms of locating a film – is it budget, scenery or a mixture of considerations? “It’s a combination of all these issues,” says Dalbag, “In addition, we work with a lot with celebrities and it can be tough to fly them half way around the world. Cost does play a big part in what we do. But the cost isn’t just based on the location, it’s also about factors like the length of time we are spending in post-production and where that is going to be based.”
One of the great advantages for P&G is that it is a global organisation and is well placed to research the cost of locations – and also to benefit from good deals when they find them. “They have a clear concept of which locations are more expensive than others. We spend a long time putting all of those numbers together and some of the results are pretty eye-watering and surprising. For example South Africa does extremely well, as does Argentina. Where there is a good deal to be had, the company will make the most of it.”
As far as working with a company like Proctor & Gamble is concerned, Dalbag says this brings its own challenges. “It’s a huge corporation and they have their own way of doing things. They even have their own language in terms of acronyms etc.” But Dalbag says it was not long before he felt he belonged in the company and its culture. Organisation and efficiency are clearly key for anyone looking to thrive within one of the busiest film making centres in China.
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