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Nollywood gasps for breath

By SAM AWOYINFA
motola Jalade
motola Jalade

The honeymoon seems to be over in Nollywood. This is because the market for the movies seems to have been hit by a meltdown. Even as more movies are released into the market, the purchasing power of the viewers is daily shrinking due to the competing hierachy of needs, in the face of the present economic crunch.

An investigation carried out last week revealed that the marketers, producers, and the actors are now re-strategising in a desperate move to reposition the industry, for optimum performance and profitability. At the height of the booming era in the Nollywood some few years ago, top-rated actors like Richard Mofe Damijo, Olu Jacobs, Liz Benson, Regina Askia, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde (Omo Sexy), Genevieve Nnaji, St. Obi, and other A-list thespians were paid artistes' fees ranging between N500,000 and N2,000,000, for their efforts in a single movie.

But now, the movie producers have gone back to the drawing board, and have reviewed downwards these 'fat' artistes' fees under various guises. One of the strategies they now employ is to pay top-rated actors between N300,000 and N500,000 supposely for their efforts in a single movie, but some of the producers would then break the story into a two-part movie; some of them would even carve out two separate movies from the single movie, giving them different titles. They parade same set of actors and actresses in the two different movies.

This way, the actors, actresses, directors and other auxilliary workers like costumiers, make-up persons, etc who work in such movies would have been short-changed through this smart conduct.

The dilemma of the movie producers has been compounded by the ubiquitous video club operators whose numbers across the the country run into a few millions, who reap where they did not sow. Just as soon as the movies are released on weekly basis, they buy copies of these works and begin to rent them out to movie addicts, who prefer to pay between N50 and N100. The majority of these video club operators do not pay any form of royalty or compensation to the producers of these works.

This, according to industry watchers, is a cankerworm which must be tackled, because they (video club operators) do not allow the newly released movies to make appreciable sales before they begin to rent them out to willing members of the public.

However, some of these video club operators, we gathered, are doing genuine businesses, as they registered with the producers of such works they rent out, and they both benefit from the rent fees, on a pre-agreed percentage.

Again, the presence of different movie channels on terrestial channels such as Dstv (movie magic), Hitv (Hi-nolly), among others has won over some movie addicts.

Another problem confronting the movie industry, industry sources say, is the uncontrollable release of movies, both in the Yoruba and English genres. According to a reliabe source in the industry, between 40 and 100 movies are released on monthly basis in both genres.

A movie producer/director, Mr. Bakky Adeoye, frowned on this scenario, which he described as chaotic and inimical to the growth and profitability of the industry.

“Since all these movies are being released to the same market, how many could an individual buy? You can see that we are our own enemies,” he says. He noted that there was the need to control the number of works to be released on either weekly or monthly basis so as to restore sanity.

Adeoye also put the blame on the doorstep of movie marketers, who he described as more of traders than marketers. He stressed that most of them lacked the channels for effective distribution of movies, and had become producers, who dictated who and who must feature in their movies, simply because they were providing the funds.

“I believe so much in specialisation, if you an actor, producer, marketer etc, remain focused on your area of strength, and you will excel. This will definitely rub on the industry,” he adds.

Another movie producer in the Yoruba genre, Mr. Biodun Olaribigbe, shares the belief that indeed the Nigerian movie industry is witnessing a serious meltdown, and he appeals to all stakeholders to rise to the occasion, before the whole house will crash on everybody.

”I must tell you the truth, most the actors are managing to survive these days. First reason is that the sales figures have reduced. The roles are no longer many, and the fees have been drastically reviewed downwards,” he stresses.

He declares that what some movie producers now do these days is to pick a few notable faces among the actors for major roles and use other lesser known ones for supporting acts. This, observers say, is a veritable strategy to cut costs and produce such works within a tight budget.

The President, Association of Nigeria Theatre Practitioners (ANTP), Prince Jide Kosoko, however, does not share the view that the movie industry is going through bad times. He says what the industry is witnessing is a reform regime, which is aimed at standardising the profession. But the chubby-cheeked actor reveals that what the industry witnessed some few years back was a fluke and not real boom.

He stresses that a lot of things were not right, and this led to a crash. While he agrees that the sales figures have dropped considerably today, he calls on all the stakeholders, including the government, through the National Film and Video Censors Board, to come in and rescue the industry.

Kosoko, who argues that he is an advocate of professionalism and capacity building, tells Sunday Punch that in recent times, practitioners have been undergoing one training or the other, so as to open their eyes to other areas where they can learn one or two things to enhance their career.

”I believe so much in capacity building. In recent times, our members have availed themselves of one developmental programme or the other. This, I believe, will open their eyes to new areas in their profession,” he states.

Sunday Punch made frantic efforts to reach Mr. Ejike Asiegbu, President, Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), for his comments but his two phone lines were unreacheable.

Another sore point is that though Nigerian movies are popular in cities like London, United States of America, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia etc, being the third largest after Hollywood and Bollywood, most of the proceeds do not accrue to the main producers of these works sold outside, because a strong network of middlemen, operate this largely informal market. It is only a few of Nigerian producers who have direct dealings with marketers of their works outside the shores of Nigeria.

However, the National Film and Video Censors Board, has been performing interventionist role in the industry. Apart from registering and classifying films, it equally now licenses the film distributors. Recently, it came out with a regulation, which stipulates that a marketer or film distributor must have a bond of N30 million with a bank, or with an insurance company, before such could qualify to obtain a licence. However, some distributors kicked against this at first, and called for the removal of the NFVCB boss, Mr. Emeka Mba, for what they termed ”his high handedness and lack of understanding of the industry”. But some of them have seen that the regulation is for the good of the industry.

The zonal co-ordinator, South-West zone, NFVCB, Abosede Francis, confirmed the fact there is a lull, arguing that the regulatory body, had put in place some measures to regulate the distribution of movies in the country.

While she says evidence of having N30 million bond with a bank or an insurance company must be provided by whoever wants to remain or become a distributor, she adds that this does not not mean they should have N30 million cash, but the bank or insurance company must be able to vouch for supposed distributor that he or she could handle business of such magnititude. ”Some of the distributors have lauded these measures, while some of them who are probably being misled by their selfish interests are resisting it. But those who won't comply, let them be prepared to face the wrath of law,” she threatens.

Francis warns that there is no going back on this regulatory measure, because, according to her, NFVCB has discovered that the so-called distributors are not really grounded in effective distribution of movies.

While stakeholders still search for palliatives to lift the industry out of the woods, it remains to be seen whether the industry will respond as quickly as most of the practitioners would have wished.