Thoughts on Nigerian Cinema in the Global Market, Funding and Co-Productions
Making money from film is hardly ever guaranteed in any part of the world. What’s the point of asking asking distributors to guarantee success of your film before going into a co-production? If you want that kind of guarantee, meet your babalawo.
Life is all about competition for scarce resources, not everyone’s film is going to be successful. On making films that have international reach/potential, the first priority is story. We are all humans, we have common struggles that everyone can relate to, you can start from there. The second priority is that your film has high production value. I mean sound should be clean and the dialogue intelligible, the image should be high quality and camera work shouldn’t be distracting from the story. Don’t come and tell me that the world has a prejudice against Africa and they want to see stories that perpetuate that prejudice. The world is waiting to hear our stories that are authentic, innovative and rooted in our culture. The spotlight is already on this industry. Some filmmakers say, ‘It’s my script, they are going to change it’. please stop holding on to the wrong things. Open your mind or be a local champion. Creating a film takes time. There’s no point rushing into production. We shouldn’t be an industry of guerrilla filmmakers. Collaborate, you can’t do everything by yourself. Leverage your relationships for favours if money is a problem. I watched ‘He Has Your Eyes’ at Africa Internation Film Festival (Afriff), which is an African story but it had the Nigerian and French audience in the cinema engaged and laughing throughout. And I bet this film has some international interest. You said you’ll first tell your stories to the 1 billion people in Africa. How many people in Africa can afford to either see your film in the cinema or buy the DVD? Why stay local when you can be world class? The business of film is a game of numbers; the more people that see your film, the higher your chances of recouping your investment as a filmmaker. You cannot say you’ll make films the way Nollywood has made films because you want to keep production costs down and make your money. If you want a secure and creative job, maybe you are better off working for a TV station. What’s the point of life without evolution? You can’t stay in the same place forever. Scratch that, you shouldn’t stay in the same place forever. I’m tired of hearing the ‘Asaba filmmakers’ say we are bashing their work and so on. We appreciate what you’ve done for the industry and how far we have come but it’s time to move on to better things. This leads to my next point: We don’t really have a film industry in Nigeria. What we have is a lot of independent filmmakers that know each other. We have guilds that I can’t really say what they do. Probably just social clubs for filmmakers that have a subscription fee. We don’t have unions, so everyone is pretty much a tiny island in a large pond. For this industry to be sustainable, we need to have a value chain and a network of skilled professionals not just wannabes playing at the bottom of the table. We can’t all be forming indie filmmakers. We need a value chain/system that is not necessarily the Hollywood or European model that works for Nigeria. God is not going to come down and do all this thinking and problem solving. Neither is the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government need to create an enabling environment for the film and TV industry. Things like signing co-production agreements with other countries, setting up film offices, offering grants, enforcing anti-piracy laws, strengthening intellectual property laws and most importantly, subsidising the development of cinema/multiplexes infrastructure across the country . For being a key contributor to the economy, we should be taken seriously. We put them there and they work for us. Vote me into office already. In the mean time, the directors, producers and actors can lobby government to do the right things for the industry. Enough with the excuses. Further dialogue can be had with Nigerian distributors & exhibitors to make sure everyone wins because it seems some of the terms are unfair for the filmmakers. They have to play their part in developing this industry. To make good films with international reach, you need lots of money. Co-Production is hard work. You should be willing to part with something. When international distributors have a stake in your film, they will work hard to sell it around the world.
P.S. Being a local champion is not a bad thing. We can’t all make great films, so maybe we should all stay in our lanes and mind our business. We want more arthouse/ experimental films. Check out Surreal16. Be true to yourself and tell your story. Finally, be intentional about why you are making a film and who the audience is. Don’t tell a story about your life and automatically expect us to relate. There are different markets for your product, but don’t as an afterthought force it to be what it wasn’t intended to be. This article was inspired by panel discussions I attended at AFRIFF 2017.