Breaking Into The International Film And TV Market With Award-Winning Producer Kripa Koshy
Kripa Susan Koshy is a California-based film and TV producer taking the indie film world by storm. She produced 12 short films over two years, three of which were created as prototypes for the cutting-edge streaming service, Quibi. Two others, Home and Flu, have been recognized by Academy Award and Canadian Screen Award Qualifying Festivals. A third, Aurora, is currently being developed into an anthology feature film. Kripa has also won multiple producing awards for her films.
She did all this while finishing up a dual MBA-MFA degree in producing for film and TV and her day job as Senior Content Director in charge of development, strategy, programming, operations, and distribution of content across eight digital channels. She also holds senior-level positions at Alliance for Women in Media and two film festivals — Holidays 365 International Film Festival and Indian Film Festival Los Angeles.
Q: Those are a whole lot of achievements in a short period. What drives you, and what keeps you going?
A: I’ve had a few years of show producing experience (non-fiction, factual entertainment) leading up to 2017 when I came to California to pursue my narrative film and TV producing degrees. So, I hit the ground running quite instinctively when faced with the intense pressure of a dual degree course load and the desire to make the best of every opportunity that presents itself. I guess that’s because, when the going gets tough, producers usually get running!
Q: So, what kept you from burning out?
A: When I first got into the field, I was like so many others: a thrill-seeker. The high risk, high reward life, and the creative highs, the adrenaline boost brought on by the late nights, and intense pressure were all quite irresistible. In that kind of life, you live from moment to moment, project to project, and since things change all the time, you don’t often have sight of the bigger picture. But after a good number of years spent in the profession, you start to identify patterns, you develop a strong instinct, and a clearer sense of where you’re headed. That’s when you can move faster, make quicker decisions, and get relatively predictable results. There’s still a lot you don’t know, but you know how to figure it out or where and when to get the help you need. There’s less stress, more conscious action and clarity about future goals, which keeps me excited and raring to go.
Q: You have worked with some internationally renowned brands very early on in your career. How did those help influence and inform your career path?
A: Interning at BBC in Birmingham and later at CNN in London was an excellent launchpad for my career. Soon after, I was hired to work as an Assistant Producer at two of CNBC India’s high profile talk shows — “Tonight at Ten” with Karan Thapar and ‘What’s Hot’ with the current Managing Editor, Shereen Bhan. One job led to another, and next I joined Times Now (JV with Reuters) in India as a Broadcast News Reporter. I did some reporting for them from the Reuters office in London soon after.
Those were all tremendous foundational experiences that groomed me to work comfortably with celebrities and renowned industry professionals. They also taught me to work within tight deadlines and under intense pressure. I quickly realized, though, that my passion lay more in exploring the creative potential of visual storytelling, and that was the direction in which my career naturally progressed.
Q: So when do you feel like you had a chance to fully explore your creative potential?
A: Working on feature stories at Times Broadcasting in India was a great start, but the big creative adrenaline boost came only when I was hired to write, produce, and direct promos for some popular factual entertainment shows at CNBC and History (A+E) Networks: “Swamp People,” “Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads,” “CNBC Meets (Jon Bon Jovi, Richard Branson)” “America: The Story of Us,” among others. Network 18 would broadcast these to upto 200mn viewers across 50–100mn households in India.
So, all of that was inspiring work! Most of the companies that I worked with were top brands, and everyone there was highly proficient. But what surprised me was that even though these were huge organizations with a storehouse of talent, there wasn’t enough room for everyone’s skills to be developed and recognized, which led to jaded employees and untapped potential. I was not the kind to settle for mediocre work, so I quickly learned how to inspire with the desire to create products that everyone could own and be proud of. I involved everyone I worked with in all the creative decisions, even when running the show. That was a great motivator, and the results were apparent. It’s a lesson I carry with me no matter where I go.
Q: Broadcast News in England and India, documentary filmmaking in America, then promotional videos, food and lifestyle content in India, and now back to America, where you are a Senior Director for digital content while also producing indie short films. Was this a planned path, or did you go where your career took you?
A: (Laughs) I think it’s a bit of both. If you told me 17 years ago, when I was starting my career, that I would one day move to California to do my MBA and produce fiction shorts and features in Hollywood, I wouldn’t have believed a word you said. All I could see then was my next move and the next move after that. One step at a time was hard enough to keep up. Good thing, too, as that kept me focused on learning and not getting lost in the glamour of it all. Knowing then where I was meant to end up would have probably prevented me from knowing what I know now.
Q: You’ve been an Executive Producer on some of India’s popular food, and living shows broadcast on cable and satellite TV. Which were your favorites, and how do you define their success?
At Food Food, I was an EP on 12 shows, one of which I also directed. So, it’s hard to choose just one out of those, but I can say that I most enjoyed the shows with which we tried to do something different. “Pure Sin” with Masterchef’s Shipra Khanna, “Fit Foodie” with Michelin Star Chef Vikas Khanna, “Sunny Side Up,” with Shilarna Vaze, “Health Challenge” with Saransh Goila, and “Firangi Tadka” would easily fall into that category. With regards to success, Food Food broadcasts to an audience of more than 3.5 million in India, the USA, Canada, UAE, and digitally to an audience of over 100mn. That’s one way to measure success. Some of these were also signature shows for these celebrity chefs, and Food Food still plays reruns of many of them.
Q: How did that experience prepare you for your journey to filmmaking and producing digital content in America?
A: When you’re an Executive Producer on TV shows, the buck stops with you. You get one season (or, in some cases, just a pilot) to prove that the show concept works. So, there really isn’t much room for failure. Every decision you make — creative, organizational, budgetary, or otherwise — affects the show’s output. As a result, EPs tend to get formulaic and risk-averse, preferring to stick to tried and tested formats. Or, they spread the risk by playing the numbers game: producing as many shows as possible to increase the probability of success. I was neither risk-averse nor was I one to play the numbers game just to beat the odds.
But, I was expected to take on multiple shows (the highest was 8 in a year) simultaneously. So, I got good at multitasking, delegating, managing, preempting problems, and predicting results. I also got a good sense of the business of TV, the numbers, and how to read an audience. In the process, though, I realized I didn’t know enough about the non-creative aspects of the field, which is why I decided to pursue an MBA. I wanted to learn the language of the business to communicate to the executive suite what best served the interest of the shows and the creative vision in a way that they would understand and even relate to.
Q: How was your experience with digital programming different from TV?
A: Unlike TV, the digital platform has almost limitless space. There’s a lot more room for experimentation and risk, a lot more trial and error potential. Coming from the TV world, that was refreshing and liberating, as was the democratization of content creation. But the downside is that there isn’t always a high bar for quality, especially on UGC digital platforms. So, I much prefer a hybrid that allows for both curated content and User Generated Content. My experience as EP at Ping Network was enriching. I learned a lot, and I unlearned a lot too.
You have to when you move from TV to the digital space. What I loved the most about leading the digital curation, and creation teams was the wiggle room to experiment with content formats. While I had some freedom to play with the content structure on TV, the shift to digital opened up a whole new world of short format options — Listicles, Vlogs, live streaming, tag/challenge videos, tips & tricks, meme videos, the list is endless. A lot of that experimentation is reflected in the shows I conceptualized or revamped — “Being Amrita: Chef and Beyond,” “Vicky’s World,” “IFN Quickies, Tips & Tricks,” “Sin-a-mon Tales,” are a few of them. Working with international retail brands like Nestle, Bisleri, Del Monte, Quaker Oats, Marico, and California Walnuts, among others, also offered new and interesting opportunities to create. Primarily because the budgets on those were usually higher.
Q: As we’ve mentioned before, many of the narrative shorts you produced have gained recognition and accolades. What do you look for in a script and a director?
A: In a script, I look for a story that is unique yet relatable, with distinctive themes, which also have universal appeal. I also prefer scripts that have an authentic voice. In a director, I look for someone who truly understands and prioritizes the aesthetics and the audio-visual craft as much as they would the narrative storytelling. Film, TV are both audio-visual platforms, after all, and I prefer to work with directors who have the talent and an innate desire to celebrate those aspects that are unique to this medium. I’m also all about ‘creative, inspired, honest storytelling through a female lens,’ so I have a particular interest in female-focused stories and women-led productions. A lot of my past work in film reflects that.
Q: What would you change about any of the films that you have produced and why?
A: If you ask that to most filmmakers and content creators, the most common response would be that there is always room for improvement in their past work. As a creator (and pretty much a human being), you constantly evolve, and your art or creations, in many ways, are a reflection of your current evolutionary stage. So, if you share some of my past work with me now, I’ll be looking at it from (hopefully) a more evolved lens. When you’re looking at anything in hindsight, the scope for change is endless. You just have to decide when you are ready to let go and move on. I’m usually ready when I feel that I did the best I possibly could with the creative and operational resources I had access to, within the limited time frame.
Q: What projects are you most looking forward to in the near future?
A: I have a few projects in the pipeline, one of which is further along than others. “The Voice Within,” a three-part anthology feature, is about three diverse women at different life stages who, through questioning their sexuality, break the barriers to their becoming. It incorporates a short I recently produced, ”Aurora,” which is directed by Dayna Li and was an official selection at Fort Lauderdale International, Cyprus International and Big Apple Film Festival in 2020. We are in the process of securing funds for the feature and have teamed up with a veteran financing and distribution Executive to help us meet our financing goals. It is my first venture into feature film producing, and I can’t wait for all the moving parts to come together.
Q: What advice do you have for budding independent filmmakers or film and TV professionals who are trying to break into the international market?
A: I’d say there are as many routes to break into this industry as there are people trying to break into it. Truly! It’s an industry that is vast, dynamic, and flexible, so there are plenty of ways to enter. Just know that the less-traveled roads have fewer people who can guide you or add measurable value to your unique path. And the barriers to entry (for mid-big budget content) are too high to be able to break in easily or quickly. So, pursuing that unique path requires patience, persistence, and resilience more than anything else and, of course, an unshakable focus on self-learning and craft improvement.
If those aren’t qualities you have in abundance, then pick a tried and tested path, which usually means getting an entry-level job at a studio or a production company. Look for mentors who believe in you and who can guide you through the process. No matter what kind of path you pick, the only way you will be unsuccessful in this industry is to stop learning and growing or give up. So don’t! This field isn’t for everyone! But if you choose it, then commit to it. Eventually, you will find your place in it, and your commitment will pay off (maybe not always in the way that you expect, but most often in ways that exceed your expectations).