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NOLLYWOOD NOT YET THIRD BEST – ZEB EJIRO

By EMERSON GOBERT, JR
ZEB EJIRO
ZEB EJIRO

Zeb Ejiro has blamed Nollywood for encouraging mediocrity in the industry. Ejiro, whose works, Ripples and Domitila made him a household name in the industry, said newcomers to the industry have relegated standards to the gutters.

In criticizing his own constituency, the filmmaker who did not spare anyone, including actors, directors and script writers, said only professionalism and eradication of piracy on the part of government will sanitise the sector. He also spoke about the proposed movie award, Crystal Awards, which is coming from an academy, not individuals.

Nollywood today
I want to start by saying that the industry at the moment is in a pretty bad shape. This is because when we started so many years ago, the dreams we had are not what we are seeing today. In those days, professionalism was the major thing, but today we have too many gatecrashers, too many people who come into the movie industry without the necessary training. That is why these days, we have many substandard productions. There is also no regulation. Government has not been able to put down an enabling environment for us to practice. So the laws are not effective and that is why people just come into the movie industry and do whatever they want. So what we shoot are dramas and not movies, because people are not well trained-the script writers, the directors, the producers, the cameramen, and audio men.

If you watch movies like Domitila, Rattlesnake or any other one that we produced in those days, whose scripting, directing and shooting were by professionals, there is a lot of difference between these and what obtains nowadays. So, in terms of what I have achieved personally, I would say I've embraced professionalism but in terms of whether the movie industry has got to where we wanted it to be, no is the answer.

How I started
When I started, I knew from day one that the movie industry would be very big because first of all, the celluloid died totally and Nigerians were yearning for something because the only leisure at that time was to go to the beach or bars to drink and we just felt that we should continue from where the celluloid stopped. But we later realised that people could no longer make a movie on celluloid because it was so expensive.

And because celluloid is capital intensive, we agreed to do something to satisfy our people. I remember I attended a conference in Kaduna where we spoke to two American directors on Wall Net Live. The questions we asked then was how we could make films in America because people were so crazy about America then.

But the two American directors asked, “What do you do in your country?” and we said home video. So they said, “Good. Why don't you develop on it? Why don't you make Nigeria the maker of home video in the world?” That, to me, was a wonderful advice from those guys and today, that is what Nigeria is, the biggest home video producing country in the world. So from day one, I knew the industry will grow, but we have built the industry to this point without government participation and I think this is the time government should come in to assist us by creating the enabling environment. Let the laws be effective. Just take a look, all over the place, movies are being pirated.

American movies are brought into the country and you buy one DVD and you have about 14 or even 21 movies to watch. What will make you buy a Nigerian movie then? People would probably argue that those ones are not Nigerian movies, but they always take a chunk off our markets. This happens because nobody is checking or regulating them.

Apart from that, we don't produce equipment in Nigeria. Government has to create a way to subsidize the cost of these equipments for us. At the moment, most students, most graduates, when they leave school, what they do is that they come to the movie industry. Even when they don't have a job, they come to the movie industry as a 'stop-gap' do something, put money in their pockets until that bit job comes. Whichever way you look at it, the movie industry is a vital economic factor in this country and government should give adequate consideration.

Two brothers in Nollywood
Usually, when somebody goes into a business and succeeds, the tendency is that people after him will follow his footsteps. In football, for instance, it is the same thing. The Fashanu brothers; the Kanus are there. There are so many examples to give. In the movie industry, we have the Amatas. I think what I am doing is good. When I started, it was very, very rosy, so my brother thought. This is a good thing to do, so why not do the same thing? He studied Agricultural Science, but I tell you that till today, he has not done anything in agriculture. He is fully into the movie industry.

Era of violence and romance
Yes, we paint romance because we as a people, are romantic. It shows in our everyday lifestyle. But I want to add that we have mediocres in the movie industry, who do not know how to handle romantic stories. This is because they always have one particular pattern they follow, and that is why I observe that five minutes into a Nigerian story, one can predict the end. They are not properly treated, they are not handled professionally. The only problem is the way productions are handled, if they are handled properly, viewers will enjoy the movies.

The way forward
First, one needs training. People must be trained. Secondly, all the associations in Nollywood must be able to regulate themselves properly.

The other thing is that government must fight to eradicate piracy. Pirates should go to jail because each time a pirate is arrested, he or she is usually released on bail. In Nigeria today, if government hears that Naira is being counterfeited, it will advance a troop of soldiers to arrest the culprits. The same thing should be applicable to pirates of our intellectual properties. If the right of the owner of an intellectual property is being infringed upon, it is just proper for government to do the same thing. Once all these things are done, we will have a viable movie industry.

Duplication of titles
A movie must have a beginning and an end. If you want to do a follow up, you can call it something able, but that same follow-up must have its own beginning and end. You can even have a six part movie, but each part must have its beginning, middle and end. It's wrong to produce one movie and divide it into three parts because it will amount to cheating the audience. I think government should address this through the Censor's Board. Any single movie divided into 3 parts should not be allowed in Nigeria because it's very, very unprofessional.

Legacy
I will like to say that professionalism is the key word in this profession. Every artiste must be professional as much as possible because that is the only way he or she can stay long in this business. If not, the artiste will be kicked out by a better competitor. In short, I have what I call the four cardinal points of success which I think the young people should imbibe in whatever profession they have chosen. First, they have to think all the time; they have to make use of their brain. Second they have to work very hard; third, they have to persevere because nothing good comes easy or cheap; and fourth, they have to pray. With these four points, the sky will definitely be the limit for them.

Future of Nollywood
Give Nollywood another five years, it will be the second biggest. Presently, we are rated third biggest in the world on the pages of newspapers. We are not third biggest in the world when it comes to cash in the pocket.

But I believe that with new organisations and bodies springing up to bring money and investors into this business, and with the pressure that NBF is going to make government create an enabling environment, in another five years, Nollyword will be the second biggest in the world, not just on paper, but in terms of cash and quality of movies.