I'm still struggling to convince myself that I should write this, but it's a niggling feeling I've had for a bit and there seems to be plenty of evidence when looked at from a different perspective, that supports this.
Low budget films are about to cease being the norm in these parts.
The future? Well it's already here, it just so happens that it's so obvious and ubiquitous we've basically overlooked it.
Same way we failed to understand and overlooked the VOD market when the first movers came in and cashed in on Nollywood's content and while critical analysis of the African VOD market might suggest that it is not all rosy, the duplication of such VOD services as well as numbers that our content caters to, shows that there is alot being made in that sphere.
However, even indigenous VOD sites will move away from Nollywood low budget films as a major source of revenue.
The future will be dominated on the lower end of the spectrum by low budget web content that do not conform to the hitherto set down rules of traditional filmmaking as we know it, both structurally and technically, from aspect ratios to story structure or sub structure. These kind of content are already accounting for major traffic across major social media sites.
On the higher end of the content creation spectrum I believe we will continue to see major strides in creating globally viable cinema films by Africans and Nollywood in particular, these kind of content will obviously cater to the cinemas before being made available, if eventually, online.
The reasons for this predicted decline in low budget filmmaking while easily attributable to a number of factors can be tied first and foremost to the most glaring elephant in the room, economics.
A look at the budgets and films Paramount pictures put out in 1997 includes the hugely expensive Titanic for $200 million dollars to films like Kiss the Girls and The good burger, costing about $27 million and $9 million respectively. More surprising is the fact that they also put out a film that cost by studio standards, a paltry $750,000 (Kiss me, Guido). Basically, Paramount supported low budget, mid budget and over the line expensive(for the time) movies. Fast forward a decade and some years later and the only genres still supported on low budget are either horror films or comedies. By now we know that the bulk of Hollywood profits are not made of the back of comedies or horror flicks but rather, summer block busters, thrillers, comicbook superhero adaptations and a new favorite, young adult novels being adapted for screen. These sort of stories categorically cannot be shot with miniscule budgets, but the payoff has been huge and with this new paradigm Hollywood has adopted a new form of thinking when it comes to funding films; Go big and rake in mega profits or go for a small, relatively cheap production and make an astounding profit margin when compared to the budget. No space for mid budget films. This sort of thinking is why mid budget action films like Source Code would find it hard, if not impossible to be made in the current environment.
What has this got to do with Nollywood? Aren't our problems different? Peculiar even? Well not exactly, while the window dressing makes it different, a whole number of things still apply.
Drawing parallels from the Hollywood example above we can liken their disappearing mid budget films to our currently, seemingly thriving low budget films and their low budget films to our wait for it, skits and short form web videos. If this is somewhat confusing stay a bit with me and let's focus solely on the economics here.
While the Nigerian film industry does not have film studios with the size and structure of Hollywood for instance, Investment habits even for self funded projects tend to follow the rule of thumb which is to get as much returns on an investment as can be made within a given sector relative to the amount invested.
Skits and short web videos are way easier to produce and cheaper to fund. There are no high expectations as regards cast, production quality and stories need not be complex and post production is a breeze. Most importantly, due to their length they have the ability to gain traction and become viral in pretty much the same way as music videos, something low budget feature films can't do. Most importantly, these kind of projects attract sponsorship considerations from brands who can tie in their product with subsequent short videos from the content creator with ease. Small budget feature films do not have the luxury of being tweaked after the fact to be able to make revenue from adverts and such thus rendering it as less of a choice for people seeking to create content that earns them a living. I mean, if anybody has seen the Mark Angel Comedy skits on YouTube and the average views per episode you'll get my point, especially when you consider that there are also full length Nollywood features streaming on YouTube.
Another reason why low budget films will eventually become less viable is the prosumer trend. Filmmaking equipments these days blur the line between professional and consumer use. Hence you have Cameras, Microphones, PCs and even software that are great consumer products but good enough to create professional quality content. This puts the power of quality video content creation in everyone's hands allowing everyone attain a minimum threshold of quality. This takes the onus away from quality and on to content. And great viral content as the Internet has taught us, is sometimes a flash mob doing the Harlem shake more than your well crafted Memento rip off with a Kafkaesque twist with film Noir lighting and contrast.
Another reason is that filmmaking has gotten expensive, even low budget filmmaking. A downside of the prosumer trend is that hardware from laptops for editing and post production and cameras and the likes have become deliberately handicapped by the manufacturers. So for instance while a Camera can now shoot 4K resolution (if you'll ever need it) it comes with a paltry size battery, or has a form factor that needs you to get a rig to hold it properly, or can't do beyond a specific frame rate. Hence the need for accessories that cost nearly as much as half or the same as the standalone (which is currently not standing alone) product. Hence while prosumer based hardware are just good enough for filmmaking, it's not really the same as the early days of film democratization when your 7D from Canon was all that was needed to record video without additional accessories.
While today's Nollywood makes a huge percentage of its multi billion dollar earnings from DVD sales of its feature films both low and big budget, increasing internet penetration and falling price of data means that Video on Demand platforms and Video Sharing Platforms will grow even more, altering not just the mode of consumption of media for many across Africa, but also the consumption culture.
Plus DVD sales has always been plagued by piracy and while the internet doesn't protect from people stealing your work to profit from it elsewhere, the DMCA makes it easier for you to find your content in whatever nooks and crannies of the internet it has been taken to and take action to protect your property.
Big budget cinema will continue to thrive as proper systems are built around them ensuring their success. From funding to access to top of the line cast and crew, the comfort of following post production at a relaxed pace(again due to finance), Marketing and of course big screen distribution. Low budget films are seen however as an exercise in thrift, tenacity, and sometimes lauded for unconventional creativity but most importantly, general sufferhead and in a market where after fighting pirates in the physical space you then have to compete for eyeballs and hence potential revenue with online players pushing product that cost less than yours but pander better to the audience it gets tiring.
Maybe the eventual decline of low budget filmmaking isn't bad news afterall