EXCLUSIVE :NOLLYWOOD IN PERSPECTIVE
The Nigerian Film Industry (popularly referred to globally as Nollywood) is one of the fastest growing sector of the Nigerian economy. It is less than 20 yrs old but it is now ranked third in the world after Hollywood in the USA and Bollywood in India, in terms of volume of output, productivity and profitability.
The Nigerian home movies have become popular in most parts of Africa, even franco phone Africa, and increasingly so in Europe, America, Asia and elsewhere. A casual glance in the internet today yields overwhelming surveys and articles detailing the progress and positive expectations of the Nigerian Film Industry. Several researches have been conducted by prominent organizations to understand the phenomenal success of Nollywood.
A LITTLE STORY
However, the last fifteen years have not always been rosy for Nollywood despite recent acclaim. The erstwhile refusal of the Government to provide support and funding, the unprofessional attitude and conducts of the practitioners coupled with the aversion of the banks to lend needed support, made things very difficult for the early film makers. These, and the lack of a formal, effective indigenous film distribution network and infrastructure, made the whole venture very risky and the cost of production astronomical.
Today all these are changing rapidly. The Government has suddenly woken up to the huge potential of the Movie/Entertainment Industry for boosting Tourism with the potential of generating billions of Naira for the Country. Besides, the taxes on film products and the massive potential for employment generation has spurred the Ministry of Information/Tourism/Labour and other government agencies to begin to pay more than lip service to Nollywood in terms of appropriate regulations to tackle piracy and enhance productivity.
State governments are also falling over themselves to be involved. Only a few months ago, the Cross-River Government co-sponsored a film AMAZING GRACE to the tune of several millions of naira despite the involvement of two banks (First bank/Diamond bank) in the same project. As of today, virtually all the State Governments are involved in one form or another in the Industry, be it in the creation of Documentaries, Advertisements, Feature film productions, Film Villages/Infrastructure support, equipment leasing, marketing, etcetera.
The private sector is not left out. Some years ago, Guinness Industry blazed the trail with the release of the Blockbuster Michael Powers film, CRITICAL ASSIGNMENT, a pan African Co-production venture with Hollywood. The publicity, acclaim and commercial benefits attending this project stunned the corporate world. Today, consumer product and service firms like Amstel, NBL, MTN, CELTEL, CADBURY, NESTLE, GLOBACOM to mention a few, are involved in film sponsorship and branding. The vaults of several big banks are opening and soft loans are pouring into Nollywood.
Even Churches are cashing in on the expanding opportunities. RCCG's CITY Of DAVID is sponsoring a TV serial HEAVENS GATE to the tune of N27 million naira for the first season (13 weeks) and the programme has been on air now for over a year and still running strong and profitable. RCCG in partnership with Dove Media are also into Film marketing, even offering its services to secular films so long as the contents are not judged amoral or unethical. Other churches like The Living Faith Church and several others are turning their searchlight to the market. Evangelist Helen Ukpabio, a faith based Nollywood filmmaker and her Church blazed the trail in this aspect years ago and made a fortune before she ran foul of the Censors board for her adversely critical film against the almighty Catholic Church. Today, only a tip of the iceberg has been touched. The market is deepening and expanding and hungry for good quality captivating entertainment in contrast to the increasingly low quality and bizarre voodoo films that is fast derailing the early promises of Nollywood.
THE WORLD WILL COME
By far, the greatest impetus for the rush to Nollywood is the great interest being shown to the sector by foreign content channels/production firms like MNET, TV Africa, etc. A couple of months ago, MNET hosted a sensational competition for the production of two Nigerian TV serials, promising to sponsor the winning submissions to the tune of $40,000 per episode/per week for the next 65 episodes which translates to Three hundred and thirty-two million, eight hundred thousand naira (N332, 800, 000 ) for roughly 16 months. Previously, Nigerian producers would budget a paltry ten or twenty million naira for the same project.
What this means is that standards will increase, quality of production will gradually become central to success and the market will rapidly transcend from being local to gradually becoming Global. This will not however be a tragedy for the astute and ambitious local filmmakers as many fear, so long as we are willing to embrace professionalism and make the effort to produce globally competitive films from our own perspectives, as the Indians and Asians had been doing in the past. Our comparative advantage in Nollywood is simply economics; by this I mean the relatively cheaper cost of film production here. The margin of returns on Nigerian film is one of the best world-wide. This is the attraction for the foreign organizations. The succinct example today is the runaway success of a Nigerian Film OSOFIA IN LONDON which was Shot for about ten million and after one year the film had grossed over Ninety million naira (N90, 000, 000) and counting.
Nigerian Investors are slowly coming to appreciate the massive opportunities in this sector, and like the government are responding. But like every new field of opportunity, a lot of confusion and misconceptions and skepticism exist in the mind of prospective investors.
THE FIRST STEP FROM DINOSAURS
The first step obviously is locating a genuine and capable Film Company. This is no easy matter in an industry that was largely originated by small time, largely illiterate and unprofessional businessmen who stumbled on film making mostly by accident and now believe they are the only authority in the field. These self-made Nollywood pioneers have paid their dues and the industry owes them a lot of goodwill and gratitude, but they have long outlived their usefulness, and their hostility to change is almost becoming the bane of Nollywood. However time will slowly ease out these dinosaurs of our film industry and usher in a new era of creativity, accountability and professionalism as is the practice world-wide.
Still it is worth a lot suppressed admiration and research in acknowledgement of the awesome feat that this dinosaurs achieved despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them. These petty traders willingly staked their livelihood to invest in a non-existent film sector. Without any formal filmmaking knowledge or professional advice or assistance from the government or the so called organized-private-sector (OPS), these unschooled merchants created Nollywood and in twenty years they made Nollywood the third largest film market in the world as well as the most innovative. They broke all the rules and threw the books away. They broke the formats of filmmaking and they broke the dictatorship of time. They would start shooting a film on Monday and by Saturday the films would be selling in markets around the country and the continent. For lesser deeds, lesser mortals have had their legends enshrined in the Guinness book of record, but not these men. However they are not interested in our awards or recognition or Oscars: The money was rolling in, and that was all the compensation they craved for their valiant effort. Yet the world continues to marvel and wonder how they achieved all that we see today?
A LITTLE HISTORY
Twenty years ago the Nigerian people were starved from any meaningful home made movies. Ninety percent of the population could not relate to foreign, often prohibitive films from Hollywood and Bollywood as well as the Asian variety of martial films (only a few families owned a Video machine and a colour TV) and piracy of Hollywood films was still a privileged occupation in the back-streets of Europe and Asia.
In Nigeria cinema culture had retrogressed to a dangerous activity as the few cinema halls had become havens for marijuana smoking touts and hoodlums. The only consolation, grossly inadequate as it were, were the few dramas aired by the then Government monopolistic TV station, the NTA. Despite the low production and technical quality of these TV series, they proved the only form of escape for millions of our people. TV dramas like THE MASQURADE, UBA'S COCKCROW AT DAWN, Ken Saro-Wiwa's BASSEY AND COMPANY, MIRROR IN THE SUN , etcetera only wetted the appetite of the public for made in Nigeria films. This was the opportunity noticed by the pioneer, small time businessmen and slowly the Nigerian Movie Industry was conceived.
The early Nollywood Films were morbid in the sense that all they seem to offer to the world was the impression that the Nigerian society is a terrible, bloodsucking, witchcraft infested, secret-cult pervasive society. Yet, such was the need of the market for made in Nigeria home movies that these aberrations were all highly commercially successful. Unfortunately, two decades later, Nigerians are still being force fed with these genre of films.
These early pioneers grew so wealthy and dominant and fixated with their pseudo believe in their formula for success that it proved impossible for the professional filmmaker, with no fund of his own and little access to the banks, to control the creative process. They were forced to dance to the tune of these Businessmen who then bounded themselves into a cabal under the aegis of Nigerian Film Marketers Association. And woe unto the professional Director/Actor/Producer/Screenwriter who incurs their wrath, as several leading Nollywood Actors found out recently when a blanket ban was placed on most of them that rendered them out of work for a whole year. This cabal had become so strong and so entrenched in Nollywood that even the government for so long deferred its film regulatory policies to suit their position.
Fortunately, the Economic force of Globalization is no respecter of Monopolies. The Nigerian Film market is expanding fast and rapidly; independent marketers are popping up everyday. Money is pouring in from all corners and professionals can once again control the creative process of film making and harness the lucrative opportunities of Nollywood to sell the image of Nigeria as well as entertain and correct misconceptions.
The Government is waking up to the need to set standards and enforce basic codes of practice. The Nigerian censors board has been resuscitated and empowered to enforce regulations, although in their haste they seem to have shot themselves on the foot ab-initio with their new policy on film distribution licensing in the country which is so outrageously expensive that the only people that will benefit is the same wealthy monopolistic cabal the censors board would have us believe it's trying to break. (But this is subject for another article). On a positive note too, the Nigerian Copyright Commission has become more proactive in the fight against piracy. Relevant laws have been amended in the national Assembly to give teeth to the bark of the erstwhile comatose bulldog. A new parastatal, The Nigerian Intellectual Property Organization is to be launched in 2007 to oversea/coordinate and regulate these activities, and that can only translate to more wealth for Nollywood and the Entertainment/Creative Industry of Nigeria. Thus, the convergence of all these favourable events and synergy can only create the perfect opportunity for the astute investor in the Nigerian film industry. The timing has never been more auspicious in the past twenty years.
By Uba Franklin/http://nollywoodgists.com EXCLUSIVE