Shrouded in mystery, uttered in hush tones, guarded from the prying ears of outsiders trying to look in are the secrets of earning profit from investing in a Nollywood film.
All very cloak and dagger-ish to be honest.
But who details help?
Investors have always been seduced by the narrative, the legend, that central story that shows that a venture is worth it. It was what lured explorers into seeking El Dorado, and it's what lures them today to invest in speculated goldmines. In recent times Nollywood has become one of such gold mines, you scour through the internet looking for free filmmaking education and you're likely to stumble on quite a number referencing Nollywood either for how it makes quite a profit on low budgets or how its guerilla filmmaking tactics are something to be copied or innovated upon. In fact, I won't post a link, Google the word Nollywood and pair it with filmmaking, guerilla, revenue and see what comes up for yourself.
While it looks like all is getting set for what may be the rosiest of rides in the Nigerian filmmaking scene, all is not as it appears to be. While we savour the successes of A Trip to Jamaica and The Wedding Party, there are those quietly licking their wounds, wondering how they got it wrong and if such successful films are not outliers in the current cinema film landscape. Especially when stories like this abound. Making Nollywood profitable beyond just the high PR, corporate backed feature film will need that stakeholders address a good amount of the following problems
Usually these two go hand in hand around these parts. I once sat in on a meeting with someone who would become an executive producer on a film and we met a cinema distributor who all but told us that turning a profit on a cinema movie was anything but possible, it was on the top of my tongue to inquire why one would continue in the business but I held my tongue, it was not my meeting.
If you're not being discouraged from attempting to make a film then you're sold an elaborate dream of how you'd quickly recoup your investment when your film has been sold across multiple platforms in under a year for quoted amounts high enough for you to do twice as much films next time around.
This lack of information is industry wide too, it's impossible to find comprehensive data on the costs of and revenue a film made except through here, Wikipedia.
And when you consider that such might be fraught with errors, like this.
or outrightly conflicting figures,
well, you know to take such information with a pinch of salt. Add to this the fact that films like The CEO, and Half of A Yellow Sun cost hundreds of millions of naira to make and you begin to question the profitability of such projects seeing as cinema is supposed to be the primary revenue earner.
When the only other source of information as regards film revenue comes from the PR engines behind a film then you're bound to have a misrepresentation of the true state of affairs.
A classic example is this never before seen phrase used to describe a sponsored film premiere and product placement in the movie "fifty"
DEARTH OF INVESTORS
When most films that get funded outside of the Family,friends and fools circle are comedies then there is a dearth of investors. Outside of this other investment sources are usually CSOs and NGOs, not everybody wants to make a film that hits you over the head with a socially conscious message, some would just like you to suspend disbelief for the next sixty to ninety minutes and be immersed in an entertaining story. Alas this ideal is very rarely ever the case.
Countless stories have been made to pivot to 'market forces' and re engineered in order to 'sell.'
I find it odd that while home videos with themes around drama, tragedy and even our sometimes laughable, no, downright laughable attempt at horror get massive audiences in the straight to DVD market, attempting to push a similar genre for the big screen is immediately frowned upon by would be investors and industry experts alike.
There just aren't enough Cinema screens, worse still is the fact that nobody seems to have found a way to make
this proposition by renowned filmmaker Tunde Kelani work.
For crying out loud it screams viable ecosystem, movies screened at parks or local viewing centres on a community to community tour or simultaneously, brands product vendors ready at said locations and the entire works, Mr. Tunde sort of proved this when he took one of his works, 'Yekpa' on a tour of Lagos cities and screened it, albeit for free, at open air fields, parks and other such spaces
I once talked to someone who has been working on creating chains of community cinema for a while now, small multiplexes that exist outside of the big shopping centres and the likes with an aim to open itself up to a wider variety of films old and new.
As opposed to the early nineties when such local cinemas were where we were introduced to Indian screen legends from Amitar Barchan and the likes, Nollywood boasts a much larger and technically superior catalog than before and is significantly poised to make use of such apparatus to increase revenue for all players involved. So why isn't anyone taking advantage of this?
As much as we love a good story of how one guy came first on the scene with nothing but dreams and a dogged insistence on winning, figures do matter and as long as they remain shrouded in mystery and irregularities, any sensible investor will rein in his or her enthusiasm and seek conviction in hard data. Movies will most likely get better investors, but infrastructure that enables maximization of profit will also have to be built,and such will not be built on assumptions
Nollywood screams about piracy so often one would think it is a lazy cop out, until you realize how easy and lucrative piracy can actually be. The pirate does not create content in any way, or funds a movie production, he just waits for the hottest film property on the market, gets his hands on it and floods the market with his own copies and chokes out the timid distributor who was afraid of over supplying the market into oblivion.
Piracy rose to fill a gap created by distributors who were either too timid or lacked financial muscle to push movies into the hands of the populace in time.
Distributors and filmmakers have tried in one way or the other to combat piracy, from using the law, to technology as stated by Kunle Afolayan in this article but have attendant gains been made with such pursuits?
What's worse is this supplicant stance has been transferred into how negotiations for online and VOD distribution deals are made.
Creators sign unfavorable licensing and distribution contracts for a pittance, hoping to have just enough to go back and churn another project, then sell for a little extra, rinse and repeat ad infinitum
Iroko is not Nollywood's friend right now, in fact, set up the way it is or going by it's trajectory it stands to become independent Nollywood's competitor in the VOD space. It may hire Nollywood actors and writers on its original content but it is not Nollywood.
Distribution deals with most VOD platforms have remained one sided for the longest time. Content can be sold from one platform( the principal license) to a larger platform and all you're left with is the lump sum you were paid initially and so you fume and rail and rant but wait for the stipulated time on the contract with the VOD platform to end, at that point, your film isn't so hot anymore and maximum value has been extracted by the distributor with no residuals accruable to you. Leila Djansi, Ghanaian American filmmaker took IrokoTV to task on it here.
No Nigerian problem is complete without the almighty Cabal, whether it's established practitioners sponsoring a 'tether us to the government's breasts' kind of bill like MOPICON, while also seeking to criminalise creativity that runs afoul of their 'lofty' goals or Cinema Houses actively funding films to be screened on their platform despite the obvious problems and conflict of interest issues that raises. There has always existed a Cabal, not a clique, and with every paradigm shift in the industry the Cabal has shifted base, from Marketers in Alaba, to VOD(Video On Demand) channel owners to operators of Cinema and Distribution outfits.
True to form Nollywood seems to have fallen in line and practitioners have aired their grievances sparingly and in provate hopeing that their words will be taken in confidence.
Eventually we must come to the realization that Nollywood needs to be smarter and assert itself and the tremendous value it brings to the table.
The industry is on the precipice of beneficial change and with a little more concerted effort at the right things, stronger negotiation for films, initiating hybrid systems for disseminating our work among others and filmmaking as the product in and of itself, not the special purpose vehicle for brand and product placement or launches(not that there's anything inherently wrong with this), would finally pay off