Digital Domain deal sets up round-the-clock 3D shop

In a little over five years, Reliance MediaWorks has gone from being a film processing lab to one of India’s largest entertainment-services companies, with offerings ranging from production work to post-production and exhibition.

Part of India’s behemoth Reliance ADAG, which has fingers in Hollywood via its investment in DreamWorks and several other production companies, RMW is headed by Anil Arjun, who started out as a chartered accountant.

Reliance MediaWorks, a subsid of ADAG, last week partnered with post-production and vfx studio Digital Domain in a deal that will set up visual effects and stereo 3D production services studios in Mumbai and London and make it possible to work on film projects round-the-clock.

The partnership will give Digital Domain, a major U.S. player in post and visual effects, a presence in India and the U.K.

“Very often you see a production hire 15-20 small post-production houses to do its work, but with this partnership our strategy is to be able to offer an end-to-end production solutions,” Arjun says. “We think this is an advantage for the client in terms of managing their workflow.”

Arjun, a graduate of Delhi U., says he enjoys implementing dreams rather than just financing them. “Banking is all spreadsheets,” he says.

Formerly with bankers ICICI, Arjun was part of the management council of Reliance that worked on the business growth strategy and organizational development of exhibitor Adlabs, which Reliance bought in 2005. The company has grown from $18 million to $161 million in annual revenue, while its employee roster has increased from 800 to 7,500. Arjun was named CEO in 2008.

“We were only a film lab, but in 2 1/2 years we built up services in India,” he says. “We are (now) seen among the top companies worldwide.”

Arjun says the growth has been mostly organic, not via acquisitions, although the company did buy up post and restoration facility Lowry Digital in Burbank in addition to Adlabs.

“It was a planned effort; we saw opportunity in exhibition and also in services.”

From its sprawling campus in Mumbai, Reliance offers services including film processing, restoration and image enhancement, 3D, digital mastering, and studio and equipment rentals, as well as exhibition. The company owns theater chains in India, the U.S. and the Netherlands, among other countries. Clients range from indies to Hollywood filmmakers as well as sister company, Reliance BIG Entertainment.

“In India, 75% of the film print business goes to us,” he says. The company makes prints for about 375 films each year in Hindi, regional Indian languages and English.

In May, the board of the publicly listed company approved raising $111 million, which Arjun says will be used to refinance debt as well as to back projects. These include expanding the digital distribution of films via fiber-optic cable, instead of physical prints — which Arjun sees as a buttress against piracy.

For Arjun, a married father of one who likes to watch films of all stripes, moviegoing has become a changed experience. “I used to see movies and enjoy them,” he says. “Now I think, what are the (box office receipts); is the popcorn too cold?”

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