Web series as a genre was just being discovered in India when Breathe Season 1 dropped on Amazon Prime Video. Starring Madhavan and Amit Sadh and directed by Mayank Sharma, the web series was extremely successful and captivated the audience. The Abundantia Entertainment production was a game-changer for subsequent web series productions which jumped onto OTT platforms. Breathe Season 2 starring Abhishek Bachchan, Amit Sadh and Nithya Menen is set to release soon. In this chat, Breathe writer and director Mayank Sharma talks about the web series genre, working on the series and more.
Q: Moving from films to the web series genre, how has the experience been for you? You are co-writer and director of Breathe.
Mayank: It’s been very exciting. The journey from Season 1 to Season 2 has taken four years and it consumes you completely purely because of the vast scale of the run-time of the show. We are talking about 400 to 500 minutes of content – to create that it’s highly challenging. Four years back when Amazon and Netflix came in, the web series genre was new for everyone here as people worked only in TV, films or commercials. No one had the experience of crafting a web series script and executing it. It was more a trial-and-error experience in Season 1 especially. It was super fun. I claim now that this medium has corrupted me because as a story-teller it really spoils you – gives you so much of freedom to play with the characters, the screenplay, the arc, sub-plots. It’s amazing and very different from feature films in terms of scripting it. The technical aspects are the same. You release the series in around 200 countries so the post-production is very exhaustive.
Q: The writing process for a web series is different because, in feature films, which wrap up in 120 minutes, the characters just need to get to the endpoint. In a web series, the character development, plots, sub-plots, etc, are more detailed. The writing process takes much longer than a feature film, isn’t it?
Mayank: 100 %. From my experience, it does take a lot of time. For Breathe Season 1, it took us a year-and-a-half just to write the screenplay of eight episodes. The first season was a big learning process and there was great support from Vikram Malhotra (Abundantia Entertainment) and Amazon. Breathe was Amazon’s second web series in India and they brought their experience and knowledge in this space by giving us ideas and technical aspects like how to create a writing team. The real challenge is to create a bible of the different stages of writing for the web series format which is extensive and layered. In the first season, you have the liberty and time since there is no particular launch date but the following season is more challenging because you know there is a deadline looming. Since I’m the writer and director, it takes me eight to nine months to write and then a year to execute including post-production. So close to two years for Season 2.
Q: Projects from Hollywood studios and OTT platforms in the West are very process-driven and you have a tightly-bound screenplay/ script before you step onto the set. You don’t make random changes like how we typically often tend to do on sets in India.
Mayank: That I learnt from being a writer to director. When you wear the director’s hat, you then think of how you’re going to execute it. You’re working with top talent like Madhavan and Amit Sadh who come from a film background and are far more experienced. It was new for all of them as well. That’s where you get to know the craft and know how smartly you can plan it to the t and execute it. If you talk about Breathe Season 1, it’s close to three feature films. If you shoot a film in about 40 days, it doesn’t mean you get 120 days to shoot season 1. The math doesn’t work like that in this medium. You still need to shoot the length of three feature films 50-55 days.
That’s the challenge and everyone needs to be prepared. Pre-production is a mandate from OTT platforms like Amazon and Netflix that from bound script to first day of shoot that there should be at least four months of pre-production. This is really great.
Q: What are some of the creative challenges in the web series medium?
Mayank: You need to have clarity of how the whole story and the arc is going to pan out for 350 plus minutes. As a director, I salute the directors who walk into the project in the pre-production stage and direct it. Since I have written the series also, I had clarity on how to execute it. You need to understand the nuances of the characters and what they are going through at every minute of the episodes. Here, you don’t shoot episodically or linearly. For instance, you need to take the actors creatively through the journey in the series before every scene to get into that frame.
Q: Breathe Season 1 was a big success. Now you have to up the ante with Season 2.
Mayank: From the day of release of Season 1 till the day I started writing Season 2, I felt the pressure. The love you get from the people and feedback adds to the pressure as a writing team. You know you need to get a level up for the next season and it took a lot of time to crack the story.
Q: Season 2 has heavyweight actors Abhishek Bachchan, Nitya Menen and Amit Sadh again. Is there anything you can tell us at all about this season?
Mayank: The fun of the genre is such that I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise! I’m really excited and thrilled to bring Season 2 to the audience. It was a delight to work with Abhishek, Nitya Menen and Amit. A lot of new actors have come in and added value. We are through with the shoot just some post-production work. We can hopefully show it to the world soon.