Contrary to the glamorous stories of successes and wealth that Nigerians read about Nollywood and filmmakers in Nigeria, there are sordid tales of unfulfilled dreams and failed expectations that will astound the world about the lives of those who ply the trade in the country.
The story has often been told of how Nigeria’s Nollywood has metamorphosed into the second largest film industry in the world, per volume of productions released yearly, behind Bollywood (India) and ahead of Hollywood (USA).
The Nigerian film industry has also been bench marked as the highest employer of the labor in the country. According to statistics from 2006 Annual Collaborative Survey of Socio-Economic Activities in Nigeria,the industry provides direct and indirect employment to more than a million people. Across Nigeria, an estimated 1000 filmmakers are believed to be on locations weekly filming different production titles.
However, things are not the same in the personal lives of many of those in the business of filmmaking in Nigeria especially those who go by the office of producers. Eelive.ng investigations actually reveal that only a negligible number of those who are in this business live solely on filmmaking. Many of those who spoke to us informed that the average filmmaker in Nigerian cannot boast of a standard of living that commensurate with the efforts that they put into the job. As a result many practitioners engage in several other activities to make ends meet.
This much was corroborated by veteran producer, Zik Zulu Okafor when he said in a recent social media group of Nollywood practitioners: “Cost of everything is going up in this country, it is only in Nollywood you find everything about the producer’s revenues going down.It is a tragedy. At home now the producer is struggling to smile with his family. Meanwhile his works keep the world smiling and having fun with their own families. If I depended only on Nollywood to earn a living, I would have long come close to committing suicide. Nollywood is in distress. Producers are dying of hunger, of hypertension due to heavy debts from rent, school fees and even chop money.”
Producers who spoke to eelive.ng gave a few reasons why things have become so tough for them. For several years, piracy was the main albatross of the film industry in Nigeria. But with the return of the cinema culture and the technological innovations that brought about streaming sites, the negative effect of piracy has become significantly reduced on Nollywood. Yet the same blessing of cinema has for a variety of reasons become a drag on the fortune of the filmmaker.
Practitioners insist that this happens because there are too few cinema screens for everyone who would want to watch a film in Nigeria. Speaking to eelive.ng, Bamishigbin said: “I would have loved for government to use that money to create the enabling environment that will help us make money, build cinemas around because if a place like Lagos has cinemas in all its twenty local government areas, you will have your film shown and you will be bringing back the cinema culture.
Currently in Nigeria, there are just a little over 150 cinema screens to sit less than 20,000 people in a country of 200million and that goes a long way to explain the meagre returns that filmmakers except for a few who have huge advertising budgets, which has also endeared them to cinema owners take home.
This take home is further worsened by the unfavourable sharing ratio of cinema proceeds and the near tyrannical capacity of cinema owners to decide who and who and at what time they can get into the cinema or not. Sources told us that all said and done, filmmakers who spent their monies energy and goodwill on making these films only get between 27 and 30 percent of the proceeds at the end of the day. That is before taxes are factored in!
Another challenge that filmmakers have is that of funding essentially because the poor return on investment has become a disincentive for would-be investors. Some practitioners who have dared to take loans from the BOI or through other less formal sources got their fingers burnt resulting from the poor cinema performances of the films. A reason for which another filmmaker Tunji Bamishigbin who once worked as a banker recently vowed that “If l owned a bank l would definitely not invest in Nigeria film industry, if l set up to make profit.” Not even the recently announced loans made available to practitioners in the creative sector by the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria at the single digit interest of 9% is attractive to filmmakers who have no scientific method of predicting sales returns.
It is true that there have been a few films breaking box office records in Nigeria in the past couple of years but concerned practitioners have told eelive.ng repeatedly that the so-called success if a fluke which could blow up in the face of everyone unless some urgent steps are taken by stakeholders to put a sustainable structure in place.
Veteran filmmaker, Lancelot Imasuen told eelive.ng earlier this year that: “the industry needs to be set in the right perspective, the industry needs records – how much did you put in this movie, how much came from the cinema, how much came from other auxiliary distribution alternatives? But the issue of razzmatazz, the issue of overtly over-bloated, egoistic projections, of positioning seems to be beclouding the reality on ground. But the truth is, between you and I the Nollywood film industry is nothing more than a noise.”
For an industry that literally nurtured itself into global reckoning without little or no assistance from government, government at all levels in Nigeria should pay a bit more attention to this industry, which does a lot to provide employment for so many citizens. An enabling environment, which provides reasonable loan facilities, a favourable tax regime and policies that support the tenacity of the Nigerian filmmaker would no doubt improve the capacity of the sector for national development.
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