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An overdue attention on film industry

Source: nigeriafilms.com

An overdue attention on film industry

ADEMOLA JAMES

IT is heartening that government has at last decided to fully and directly step into the chaotic mess which currently characterizes the organization of the film industry in Nigeria. Efforts to help re-organize the industry by the under-funded regulatory bodies in the past so as to make it easier for the agencies to perform their functions were misunderstood, misinterpreted or ignorantly ignored by practitioners.

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Like most Nigerians, stakeholders in the industry will always rally round any idea connected with money, especially now that this administration has publicly announced the provision of a sum of N100m in the budget to help organize and re-structure the industry and business. In expending such an amount to put up recognizable and bona-fide structures for the industry, the government must be firm, determined and focused. Structures or organizations that eventually emerge must be legally established through CAC incorporation and other such legalistic requirements for a start. They could subsequently be chartered and fully empowered through the Legislature later, if need be.

It is necessary to bear all this in mind because artists and performers are not an easy group to deal with, considering their mercurial temperament and the past experiences of government agencies and officials. The voted amount should not be handed over to any of the existing private "organizations" in the industry. N100m of public funds may sound paltry in these days of billions and trillions of naira always announced for expenditure by three governmental set-ups at local, state and national levels. Yet the money must be accounted for now or in the future by all involved in its disbursement or spending. Also considering the fact that the film industry itself is now worth aggregately some N15 to N20 billion in total turn-over annually (inclusive of foreign exchange expenditure for equipment, inputs and earnings from export and piracy), N100m may look like a drop in the seemingly continuous oceanic expansion of the industry.

Yet, while the industry continues to expand, it is obviously not developing. And the reason is because it is not structured or property organized to attract required investments by the local organized private sector and foreign investors in the major technical and technological support areas that actually sustain the industry. Such areas include equipment assembly or manufacture, production of inputs such as tapes, CD's building of modern cinema halls, etc.

It is worthy of note that prior to government's "support" through the N100m vote, foreign media had to recognize the industry first, for its worth. And lately a South African firm has decided to step into the production of inputs locally as well as exhibition and distribution sub-sectors, perhaps three of the most lucrative aspects of the entire industry. May be this will ginger the "big boys" of the organized private sector in Nigeria from the finance houses and investment groups to take necessary action too.

But who do they deal with especially with reference to investment in the production of movies? Individual producers, director, actors, actresses, marketers, etc?

Or is it the numerous professional bodies that continue to mushroom into splinter groups at the slightest disagreement among the members? Or their non-existent or badly run administrative offices (some located in private homes)?

This is where the N100m vote could prove useful, historic and small as it may be. Obviously the sum of N100m is not enough to be injected directly into production and post-production aspects of the industry. How many movies would be sponsored or financially assisted? Will it be on refundable loan basis?

How many gadgets and equipment will the money buy for rental purposes? How many productions can use such few chains of equipment simultaneously? Will the operators of the "small" amount of money not be accused of "bias" one way or another?

The fact is that what the government has voted to assist the industry – N100m – is not enough to meet even some of the basic needs of the industry except if its is meant to be used solely and particularly to re-organize and restructure the industry properly. It can then be expended on setting up appropriate structures for the industry by opening offices, employing administrative personnel, engaging legal consultants, purchasing a few vehicles for mobility and utility purposes, buying office equipment and furniture and covering related matters for probably a year for the use of such well-organize structures. The vote cannot be a one-off affair, if the envisaged re-organization and structural reforms are to achieve the desired objectives.

Money would have to be provided to continue the sustenance of these administrative offices for the new structures of this industry as was the case with similar bodies in public relations and advertising which the government subsidized in the past and probably still continues with today.

It is necessary for the structural reforms and re-organization to be properly executed before new or proposed official agencies such as the Film Development Fund and Practitioners Council are activated or started operating – so that they would be able to identify their bona fide clientele. However, official appointees should not be imposed on the industrial/professional structures that the funds may be used to establish by government. The stakeholders and the practitioners advisedly should be in charge.

Certainly, several restructure and re-organisation options are available for the utilization of the special government vote. I was not privileged to participate in the recent government sponsored retreat for stakeholders in the industry where I would have presented some of the ideas contained in this write-up. I wish to use this medium to humbly submit that, above all, part of the N100m vote in the 2004 budget for the re-organization and proper restructuring of the home video industry should be used, for a start, to establish two foremostly required structures: An umbrella body: that will embrace all stakeholders in the industry, north and south of Nigeria and Film and Video Rights Collecting Society to handle the collection of royalties for the practitioners and film owners from all the users of their works such as video clubs, airports, hotels, salons, hospitals, schools, libraries, unlicensed film exhibitors, night clubs, etc.

The umbrella organization will embrace all the current bodies in existence as a form of trade union or over-arching authority for all stakeholders. It will be financially empowered by contributions from each and every organization belonging to it to enable it speak authoritatively and act as a financial guarantor for members especially during applications for loans from Banks or the proposed film development fund. The government should help it take off with a special grant, from the N100m.

It should be recalled that for the past 35 years (1970-2004), or thereabout, the film industry and business in Nigeria have remained private sector driven even though not well organized or properly structured, because it was and still is an SMEI phenomenon. All the while, government intervention in the business has been mainly through regulatory agencies whose efforts were not really appreciated by most of the stakeholders. Now that financial support is being promised, essentially for re-organization and restructuring exercise, efforts in this direction could also be directed advisedly first, on priority basis, at strengthening and enhancing the technical, technological and money spinning or revenue-earning sub-sectors of the industry.

These are in the areas of acquisition of required state-of-the-art equipment and gadgets for packaging and finalizing international standard productions. This will help in bringing in more foreign exchange for exported works. Conjointly, the distribution and marketing system, the very end-time of the industry, should be streamlined, restructured and totally reformed so that the menace of piracy is considerably reduced. To rake in more funds for the workers and investors, the Collecting Agency to pursue royalties vigorously and determinedly should also be put in place as earlier proposed.

If government's restructure and re-organization efforts are directed or focused on these three priority areas initially, more funds could continue to accrue to practitioners and investors for fresh investment in the industry.

To shore up a restructured and re-organized distribution and marketing system it will be necessary to build new 1000-seaters movie halls, may be at least ten per state, for a start under one management and reduce tax on such equipment as video and cine projectors so as to revive and promote film viewing culture, which perhaps, is the most lucrative aspect of the business, based on regular proceeds from gate fees.

Nigeria's Cinema Revolution (the working title of a book I'm currently writing on the industry) as a whole will be greatly enhanced if the latest official intervention is immediately followed by the establishment of a fully-empowered Film Practitioners Council and an adequately funded Nigerian Film Development Trust Fund based on revolving loan system to professionalize and energise the industry. This will enable the industry join the league of local organized private sector at premiership level provide its stakeholders the needed credentials for full support by the nation's finance industry and further raise the profile and prospects of film production to enable it attract more direct foreign investments now and in the future. As a labour intensive industry it could go a long way in contributing substantially to the mass employment or job creation target of NEEDS.