Trouble in Nollywood
Until few years ago, the world knew only two flourishing film blocks. Then it was Hollywood of the United States and Bollywood of Indian. The Nigerian Nollywood joined the fray 16 years ago and showed much promise.
While Nollywood blossomed, many star actresses and actors were discovered. Many of them have even made in-road to Hollywood. Such star actors and actresses include Genevieve Nnaji, who rose to become the Face of Lux; Rita Dominic, Emeka Ike, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde; Ramsey Noah; Jim Iyke; Kate Henshaw-Nuttal, Stella Damasus-Aboderin, Ini Edo, Uche Jumbo, Oby Edozieh etc.
Other acting icons, who had made waves in the film industry, joined Nollywood to give it boost and impetus. These include Pete Edochie; Sam Loco-Efe, Ejike Asiegbu, Kanayo O. Kanayo, Bob Manuel-Udokwu, Bimbo Manuel, Segun Arinze; Richard Mofe-Damijo; Enebeli Elebuwa; Joke Silva; Olu Jacobs, Clarion Chukwurah, Eucharia Anunobi, Ngozi Ezeonu etc.
Over the years, Nollywood grew in leaps and bounds. Films or home video were produced in their numbers and the industry became a toast across the world, as the films produced tell the African story to the world that had seen the continent as backward and barbaric. Indeed, there is hardly any part of the world where films produced in Nollywood are not in circulation. In the United States and Britain, Nollywood products are seen as collectors' items.
However, it appears that Nollywood has reached a point of diminishing return. The industry has been hit by many problems and has therefore started a decline. First, there was the problem of quality, as the producers were accused of churning out films every other week, without caring much about the standard. Second, amateurs joined the industry as actors and actresses, without the requisite training. Three, some of the star actors and actresses got swollen-headed and started breaching contracts after collecting their fees. This led to the delisting of such actors and actresses by producers. Four, pirates swooped the on industry and reaped where they did not sow. Fifth, actors and actresses from neighbouring Ghana become more professional and started dwarfing, as it were, their Nigerian counterparts.
Indeed, in recent times, the Nigerian motion picture industry, has come under severe criticisms, from both stakeholders and keen followers. Their endless worries and fears are premised on the fact that an industry, which began in 1992, with so many promises, is gradually heading for ruins, if urgent and drastic measures are not taken, towards salvaging it.
Observers and pundits are worried that the industry, which started on a very sound footing and reached its peak, between 1998 and 2003, is fast declining and losing patronage, even among its pioneer practitioners.
Indeed, practitioners and bookmakers have attributed several factors as among the reasons the industry, which according to the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), the apex film regulatory body in Nigeria, is worth between 250 and 300 million dollars on an annual basis, is gradually going down the drain.
Speaking recently at the international summit organized by the Movie Reporters Guild of Nigeria (MORGON), and tagged: “Nollywood Our Nollywood,” Mr. Adim Williams, a leading filmmaker and the vice president of the Association of Movie Producers (AMP), in his paper entitled: “Dwindling Fortunes of Nollywood: Who takes the blame? lamented heavily on the sorry and deteriorating state of Nollywood.
Expatiating more on his thought provoking paper, Williams painstakingly traced the genesis of the problems bedeviling the industry to several man-made impediments.
He further itemized how the decay in the industry, which is regarded, as the third biggest after US' Hollywood and India's Bollywood, reached an abysmal level.
In his submission, Williams, a University of Calabar Theatre Arts graduate, blamed the government, those in the private sector, as well as practitioners, stakeholders and entertainment journalists, adding that they should be held responsible for the dwindling fortunes of the once vibrant and very promising Nollywood.
“Sincerely speaking, Nollywood is on the verge of a total collapse, if urgent salvaging measures are not taken with immediate effect. Our fortunes have drastically dwindled and this concerns the producer, director, actor, scriptwriter, cinematographer, costumier, make-up artist and the rest of the thousands of men and women involved in this incredibly daunting process of making movies in Nigerian. Disorder and lack of professionalism are the bane of Nollywood,” he insisted.
Embittered Williams went further to state other factors militating against the growth of Nollywood, which has, no doubt, helped to positively launder the once battered image of Nigeria, especially on the foreign scene. They include: the unending ignorance of most filmmakers, he argued could not control the phenomenal success Nollywood, brought them at the initial stage.
The Nigerian factor, which usually brings about the proliferation of any booming business by most Nigerians, coupled with the ego-tripping of the industry elite, petty jealousy and mutual suspicion. He further blamed part of the failure of Nollywood on lack of stability and structure in the industry, arrogance and failure of the marketers' union, constant neglect by government and its agencies as well as other corporate bodies.
“We should also distance ourselves from multiplicity of associations and guilds, which are all working at cross-purposes to achieve seemingly similar goals. A creative industry, like Nollywood does not need to be organized along tribal or sectional lines, but rather along structure, standards, professionalism and proper legislation,” he said.
Williams, is however, happy that despite all these challenges, viewers' interest in Nollywood movies had not diminished, meaning that the industry could still be salvaged and moved to the highest height, with all hands on deck. Attestation to this fact, is that today, there are several cable stations globally that depend on 24 hour transmission of Nollywood movies and contents. Sadly too, most of them give nothing in return to the industry, thus further contributing to its dwindling fortunes.
Hear Williams again: “What had diminished is the revenue that accrues to the filmmaker and by extension his ability and capacity to continue making good movies in the midst of all these challenges. The talent and ingenuity of the professionals have not diminished. It is only the participation of trained and sound minds in today's filmmaking concept that has diminished,” he pointed out.
Williams, is of the view that true professionals constantly working for the success of the industry, could reinvent, repackage and reposition the brand Nollywood and take it to the highest level. But without passion, professionalism and total commitment, the above cannot be achieved.
“With the cooperation and support of all stakeholders, government and corporate bodies, we can rekindle the fire in Nollywood and hoist its glorious flag higher into the sky for the rest of the world to see, emulate and applaud,” he submitted.
During a recent visit to The Sun Newspaper, Mr. Emeka Mba, the Director General of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), who spoke on the strategic importance of the agency's newly introduced Framework Distribution Policy, argued that Nollywood would immediately bounce back the moment practitioners fully embrace the frame-work and professionalize their art.
He further stated that lack of structure, as enshrined in the new Framework Policy, would never guarantee growth in any film industry, especially Nollywood.
“We need to have these fundamentals right; no film industry, globally, has survived without a structure. We want more sense of responsibility in filmmaking by our filmmakers; all these are the factors that will help salvage Nollywood and help make it a global brand. We also want to promote ideals that are beneficial to the industry,” he told Saturday Sun.
The bespectacled DG further called on the Nigerian viewing public to be conscious and always take cognizance of the six major classification symbols, especially as it concerns what children and teenagers watch.
As part of its efforts at regulating and salvaging the industry, the board usually takes critical look at five thematic materials whenever a film is submitted for censorship. These are in the areas of context and impact and include: sex, nudity, violence, drug and imitable techniques. In all of these, the key is context and how the movies impact on the audience.
Also proffering solutions on how to salvage Nollywood and bring it back to its early days of glory, Mr. John Odey, former Minister of Information and Communication, while delivering a speech at the recent presentation of licences to film distributors by the NFVCB in Lagos, maintained that the film industry holds the key to the next level of Nigerian global engagement and economic growth.
In his address entitled, “Driving Sustainable Growth in the Nigerian Film Industry,” Odey noted that the government owed the film sector more than a passing interest, if it must be truly salvaged,” adding: “The opportunities in the film industry are enormous and require the strategic partnership of both the private sector and the government to fully harness. We want our contents to be able to command the respect and envy of its global competitors like Hollywood and Bollywood.
“At the moment, the only assurance that this is possible is through the institutionalization of the goals and visions of the film video-licensing framework.
I wish to assure you that the future government support for the industry will be through the structures of this licensing project, so that we will be able to plan effectively with the knowledge of who is who in the industry, based on correct data and statistics, which at present are evidently lacking.”
Odey, also stressed that distribution is truly the engine room of any film industry, warning that failure to properly harness and manage it effectively, would automatically lead to decline in sales, thus leading to loss in revenue.
He further said globally, a movie is regarded as a gold mine, adding that the key to unlocking such goldmine lies in a robust distribution system, which not only determines the direction and strength, but the contents as well.
Delivering a paper, entitled “Investment in Film Production,” at an even organized by the Association of Movie Producers (AMP) and held at the National Theatre, Lagos, Mr. Andrien Gbinigie, a financial consultant and Nollywood executive producer, highlighted some of the major challenges facing filmmakers in Nigeria.
According to him, film financing is one of the most difficult and least understood challenges facing a producer and its fraught with perils for the unwary. He said: “Investing in film is risky and factors like: piracy, absence of coordinated organized distribution system, insincerity of producers and government neglect are all affecting investment in the Nigerian film industry.”
To salvage the critical situation, Gbinigie, said that filmmakers should immediately constitute a formidable alliance devoid of tribal or ethnic bias, with a view to presenting a strong position to government.
He also said that there was the need to cultivate an aggressive media campaign aimed at informing the public about the negative effects of piracy and penalties for offenders.
He also called on producers to raise the standard of their productions, in order to increase viewers' confidence and interest, as well as improve on distribution, which he argued, was key, if the industry must move to the next level.
Gbinigie, also urged practitioners to immediately draw up a code of practice and ethics, as another means of salvaging the industry and raising the bar of the profession.
In the words of respected filmmaker and critic, Zik Zulu Okafor, in a paper he presented at the dinner marking the end of the Workshop of the Screen Writers Guild of Nigeria (SWGN), at the Golden Gate Restaurant, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Okafor, one of the few voices always speaking out against bad practices in Nollywood said: “Nollywood still remains a lonely island in the midst of a vast occasion of material prosperity called corporate Nigeria. Corporate organizations in Nigeria still remain largely aloof, standing on the sidewalk and peeping through a prism of suspicion and reservation”.
The above statement succinctly captures the tragedy of our once buoyant industry, which is daily collapsing, due to neglect and disorder inherent in the system.
Also lending his voice, cerebral scholar and director of the Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi, unarguably, one of the few corporate Nigerians who have passion and high hopes for Nollywood, despite its dwindling fortunes, is optimistic the industry will not die.
Delivering his extempore address as the Guest Speaker at the MORGON international summit on Nollywood, on November 20, 2008, at Ojez, National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, Utomi, in his speech tagged: “Nollywood and Business Opportunities,” described the motion picture industry as a very serious business that must be treated at such.
He said: “The influential way of motion picture makes it a serious business.”
Utomi further added that culture and not politics promotes progress in a society. He also called for the setting up of a private film fund for the industry, as one of the ways of revamping and consolidating its threatened growth.
The erudite scholar, however, urged government, at all levels, as well as the private sector to support the industry through finances, logistics and any other incentives, for its continued and effective existence.
While speaking at the same event, Mr. Ejike Asiegbu, the national president of the Actors Guild o Nigeria (AGN), challenged his colleagues to always think of what they can do for the industry, instead of always looking for ways of short changing the sector, for their own selfish needs.
Asiegbu, further condemned the activities of pirates and quacks, masquerading as filmmakers, adding that salvaging Nollywood, should be the collective responsibility of all stakeholders and practitioners, irrespective of their guilds, backgrounds or associations.
He was also optimistic that the industry would rise again and take its rightful place in the comity of filmmaking nations globally, if all hands are on deck.
“It is incontestable that Nollywood is the pride of Africa and would continue to maintain its lead in Africa and the world in general,” he said.
Asiegbu, also frowned at the indiscriminate cutting of movies into several parts, recycling of old stories as well as re-entitling old movies in new jackets for selfish commercial purposes. He insisted that such bad practices would never aid growth and professionalism in Nollywood.
He repeatedly warned gatecrashers and those without any meaningful contributions to Nollywood, to leave immediately, adding that the industry is not an all comers' affairs or dumping ground for ne'er-do-wells.
“Our Special Task Force members are already going round and fishing out these bad eggs. AGN is out to help sanitize this great industry,” he told Saturday Sun.
The popular actor further kicked against the indiscriminate rental of Nollywood movies by unregistered video clubs as well as unauthorized cable TV stations feeding fat on Nollywood contents, warning that the long arms of the law would soon catch up with them and their cronies.
He made a bold promise and even prophesied that Nollywood would stand tall again, the moment all these unwholesome practices impeding its growth are checked and properly controlled.