NIGERIA IS BEST HOME VIDEO PRODUCER IN THE WORLD—ZEB EJIRO
Although the Nigerian movie industry popularly known as Nollywood, may have made some giant strides in the past, the same cannot be said of it today. Things no doubt are gradually falling apart. However, one man who is not happy about the turn of events in the sector is a top class film producer, Mr Zeb-Ejiro, a man who combines his creative ability to make all the movie magics that always thrill its viewers. He is worried that the issue of standardization, professionalism and dignity has been thrown to the winds in one of the fastest growing sectors of the country. In this interview, he speaks on how the dwindling fortune of the industry could be turned around and repositioned for greater Nollywood performance. Excerpts:
WHAT is your impression about the performance of the country's movie industry?
The performance of the country's movie industry is in a pretty bad shape, I must tell you the truth. It is in a bad shape because we have not been able to build structures. When I'm talking of structures, I'm not talking about physical structures, I'm talking about legislations and regulations that would guide us on how we operate business. A lot of big movie-makers are not making movies anymore because of the way the industry is at the moment. Most of them have gone into other things and it is not good for the business because that means that we are not showing the young ones good example. So, people who have decided to pick movie-making as their career are afraid that, if the ones that started this thing are going away from it, so what is there for us? So we are not sowing a good seed. These days, everybody is a movie-maker, an actor, actress, producer.
The movie industry is now an all- comers affair. That is not right because not everybody is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Medical Association or the NUJ. You have to meet some kind of standard in terms of training, formal training, apprenticeship or what have you, before you can now be inducted or accepted in any professional body. The guild has not done a good job, I'm sorry to say that.For instance, it is so sad that they collect ten thousand naira (N10,0000) from these kids, they don't organise any seminar or training for them. Most of them are not students or graduates of Theatre art.
Most of them probably read Mass Communication, Banking and Finance, Business Administration and what have you. Yes, they are allowed to come into the industry but when they come into the movie industry, they have to be trained. They have to go through some kind of induction course so that they would be able to know the rudiments and do some revision as they are trained to be good actors and actresses. These are not done. They collect N10,000 from them, and just allow them to go into the market. The executive of Actors Guild of Nigeria do not work hand in hand to maybe create a synergy whereby they can from time to time, create jobs for the actors because if you work with producers from time to time, create an MoU sort of, so that from time to time, you create jobs for your people. Not just collecting N10,000.
You collect N10,000 from them, you don't train them, no seminar, nothing to update their skill and no synergy with the producers so that you can create jobs for them at the end of the day. So what happens? You leave them like that. Next year, you still ask them to pay another N10,000. Even these days, there is nothing like screening, once you have N10,000, you are an actor and they would issue you an identity card. The same too with the producers association, everybody today in Nigeria is a producer. They have started going from state to state, creating state chapters. Why are they creating state chapters? Is it a political party? So, you find out that everybody is a producer. All you need is just pay your N10,000 yearly due and that makes you a producer.
As someone who started with the industry right from the scratch, would you say that it has impacted positively on the country's economy?
It has and my problem is that I am feeling bad because it is going the other way right now. After government, the movie industry is about the biggest employer of labour.
I'm saying this because we have a lot of people today, including school leavers, the first place they go to is the movie industry at least if they don't have jobs for the first six months, there is somewhere they go to as a stop gap for them to be able to put themselves together until that big job they are looking for now comes their way. The movie industry has been able to do that and it also created so much employment and helped the economy to grow. Today, we have more than 25,000 video clubs and each video-club employs at least about three people or four. Then the companies that produce printing papers are equally having a booming business.
So also is paint companies as the demand for different paint colours is very high now. So, the effect is huge and it goes on and on. So, at the end of the day, after a hard day's work, there is something shown to the viewer through the television for them to relax and watch. So it creates leisure for them. So the economic benefits are very huge. But my problem now is that because the state of the industry is probably in a bad shape, the gains are dwindling at the moment and most people depend on the movie industry for their livelihood. I know that the movie industry at a point, absorbed this people and created employment opportunity for them. Like I used to say, a creative mind does not look for trouble.
The creative mind is caged in its own world of creativity. He does not have time for trouble at all. So, the more we create a viable movie industry to train and absorb more people particularly the youths, the better for you and I and for the big guys too because the roads and streets would be free and the economy would grow better because more people would be employed.
What could be done to see that Nollywood competes favourably with the American Hollywood?
The Nigerian home video industry is the biggest in the world. We are the best in the world when it comes to home video production. But when it comes to movie-making in the world, we are third but like I told you earlier, this third position is on paper, not third as to what comes into the pocket. Why we cannot compete favourably with Hollywood is that we have not been able to put structures in place.
So it is the basic training that is missing, that is making it an all-comers game, making production standard to drop, thereby crippling the growth of the movie industry. These are some of the reasons why it cannot compete with Hollywood. It is only when we look at those areas and correct those things by organising trainings periodically for those in the system, that we can redirect our focus. That is the only way we can raise standard. If not, we shall keep getting substandard production all over the places.