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Short-format videos offer a level playing field, says writer Pranav Tonseker

The writer and creative director of Firsts (Season 1) and First (Season 2) speaks about the challenges of short-form videos.

Photo: Courtesy of Pranav Tonseker

Our Correspondent

The stupendous rise of short-video platforms in the past few years has resulted in a big change in the way in which the public consumes audiovisual content. These platforms have become so popular as to provide competition to established modes of entertainment like cinema, television and internet-based streaming platforms.

So it was but a matter of time before filmmakers would also turn to this new mode of content creation and delivery. With shows now being launched on the smartphone, Pranav Tonseker, writer and creative director of the first two seasons of Firsts, an original series of very short films, with runtimes of a minute each, spoke to Cinestaan.com about the format and what makes it so viable and challenging.

Tonseker was signed up by Dice Media to write a concept for Instagram. The plan was that every season of 24 episodes would be about a new couple. The first season revolved around a pair of teenagers in school.

While the first season was relatively easy to create as it dealt with teenagers, the second featured a couple who met in the lockdown. To find these different unique moments with Firsts, the writer had to look back at his own relationships. The team at Dice Media produced the second season entirely during the lockdown in April.

“We came up with the idea that what if it’s a couple that meets in the lockdown, through a dating site,” Tonseker said. “Luckily, we found a partner [Bumble] that came on board to sponsor the story, so that was more like a natural fit as well. We tried to make the best of a difficult and challenging situation.”

Originally an engineering aspirant, Tonseker began his career with an internship at MTV a decade ago. “They were kind of pioneers of youth content on TV," he recalled. "They were what YouTube creators are right now. It was an interesting place that exposed me to that sort of a world.” The time Tonseker spent there allowed him to focus on what he eventually wanted to do.

He went on to write for the comedy collective AIB and for comedian Abish Mathew. These were the places where he began to learn the craft of writing, he said.

Tonseker found the format for Firsts weighty at first because it is still very new and every episode had to feature a 'first'. “It is easier to overwrite than to underwrite basically,” he explained. “But here, we had to ensure that every point was encapsulated exactly in one minute, so sometimes it was very challenging, especially when there were more difficult topics to talk about.”

The format offers a good challenge for everyone, Tonseker said. “One of the bigger pros I see is that it helps every creator, not just a Dice Media, but it helps someone like BB Ki Vines [Bhuvam Bam], for example.”

Bam and other short-form content creators on Instagram Reels and Tik Tok don’t need big budgets to create their videos. “You just need an imagination and a basic phone camera. The nice thing about short format is it’s a level playing field,” Tonseker said, pointing to the innovation and ideas that can come out of it.

The short-video app Zinglin, launched less than 10 days ago by UFO Moviez, now offers such creators the exciting possibility of having their ultra-short films featured in cinema halls as well and not just on mobile handsets. Tonseker agreed that it could be a good platform for short-form videos. “A lot of people think TV and film is the only way to go. So it helps to validate that for these kinds of audiences,” he said.

The process of entering the race to get on to the big screen with one's short-video content is quite simple. Just download the Zinglin app and start recording your performances, creating your content and sharing it on the platform to collect your points. And who knows, your friends might suddenly spot you on a cinema screen. And you stand to win exciting prizes as well.

In his time in the industry, Tonseker has seen many changes and believes that with technology changing almost every day, people might eventually form new habits for content consumption. “People are going to start making choices, the way they used to with channels,” he said. “Similarly, this OTT platform [or] this influencer reflects my thoughts and space. I can relate to this person and this platform. So they will possibly prefer that, if not restrict themselves to that.”

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