Contrary to the glamorous stories of successes and wealth that Nigerians read about Nigerian filmmakers, 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.

Nollywood as Pride of Nigeria

The story has often been told of how Nigeria’s Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world. The industry is estimated to produce not less than 50 movies weekly! This prolifically, which is only second to Bollywood and exceeds the quantum of production in Hollywood is such that many would argue that after oil and gas, the film industry is possibly the country’s biggest export.  Credit for this goes mostly to digitalisation and the modestly structured global channels of distribution, which makes Nigerian movies serve as a veritable conduit through which the cultural values and arts get out of country to the affection of lovers of films from across the globe.

Not just that, statistics from the 2006 Annual Collaborative Survey of Socio-Economic Activities In Nigeria suggests that Nollywood provides direct and indirect employment to more than a million people with an estimated 1000 filmmakers are believed to be on locations weekly filming different production titles.

And without any doubt, the outlook of a fair number of Nollywood films have improved towards attaining international standards lately. In the past couple of years for instance, a collaboration between the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) with some of the most well produced and commercially successful films being highlighted at this festival. Nigerian films have indeed taken the spotlight around the world, welcoming enthusiasts to grand premieres and exhibitions in the United Kingdom and United States of America amongst others.

Significant box office returns

Back at home, Nollywood has also celebrated quite a few box office successes even though these successes are seemingly restricted to a small number of practitioners who have had back to back hits. These few names have their niche seasons; there is the one that holds down the Cinema at summer, there’s another that has carved a niche around Christmas/New Year festive season. While another holds sway during Easter.   And even though indigenous producers without the clout of these market guzzlers would rather not have their films released about the same time, they have little or no choice at all.

Between 2012 and 2018 for examples, titles like The Wedding Party (December 2016), & The Wedding Party2 (December 2017), Chief Daddy (December 2018) made by Ebony Life Films and distributed by FilmOne Distribution, had Gross Box Office earnings of N453, 000,000,  N433,197,377 and N236,331,868 respectively.

There have also been Merry Men (September 2018), N235,200,000, 10 Days In Sun City (June 2017), N176,705, 699, A Trip To Jamaica (September 2016), 30 Days In Atlanta (October 2014) all made by comedian Ayo Makun’s Corporate World Entertainment.

A third producer whose series of films were box office hits is Omoni Oboli who has produced First lady, Wives on Strike and Okafor’s Law.

Apart from these producers, there have only been three other filmmakers that have done extraordinarily well at the box office. In fact, not a few observers believe that one of them, Kemi Adetiba who in October 2018 released the daring King of Boys may have gained significant goodwill from the debut directorial role she played in the first part of Ebony Life TV’s Wedding Party. King of Boys made a whooping N231,883 at the cinemas.

Abiola Alabi’s first effort, Banana Island Ghost had a great show at the cinemas but same cannot be said of her second film Lara’s Beat. And for Jade Osiberu’s June 2017 debut, Isoken made N93, 697, 726 but her staying power will only be seen when she releases sophomore effort, which is currently in the works.

Leading actress, Genevieve Nnaji also blazed the trail last year when her film, Lionheart was acquired by Netflix Original for a sum believed to be very close to eight figures.

Observers of the industry believe that the comedic nature of these producers’ films coupled with the deep pockets which allow them pump a lot of resources into the promotion of their films account for their outstanding successes.

BUT NOT ALL THAT GLITTERS IS GOLD

However, statistics have shown that, notwithstanding the patches of success recorded here and there in Nollywood, these stories don’t holistically capture the truth about gross earnings, and standard of living of filmmakers in the industry. Investigations by eelive.ng, suggest that a lot of practitioners have lost confidence in the industry.

In an interview with eelive.ng earlier this years, veteran filmmaker Lancelot Imaseun insinuated that there may be more than meets the eye in some of the figures that pop up from the cinemas. And that even if these figures were true, the fact that two or three producers make their monies back, is not enough reason for an industry where hundreds of people practice to celebrate. And Imasuen is not alone. So many other practitioners complain about the lack of structure in the industry and how it hampers their chances to recoup their investments.

A producer, who asked not to be named spoke about how he took a loan running into tens of millions from the Bank of Industry to shoot a film which performed woefully at the cinemas a couple of years back, how that has discouraged him from daring again.

Many of those who spoke to us informed that the average filmmaker in Nigerian cannot boast of a standard of living commensurate with the efforts that they put into the job. As a result, many practitioners engage in several other activities to make ends meet.

Speaking about the deteriorating state of the movie industry, and how some practitioners literally live from hand to mouth, veteran producer, Zik Zulu Okafor said in a recent social media group of Nollywood practitioners: “The 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.”

 

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

Before now, there were complaints about the quality of films produced in Nollywood and how that caused some dissonance with the audience. However, the merchants who controlled the narrative in the industry then have since taken a back sit with many qualified professionals playing active roles in several areas of production. Quality cannot therefore be said to be a problem although there is always room for improvement.

Practitioners who spoke to eelive.ng explained that funding is a most critical limitation that they grapple with. They explained that because of the precarious sale situation, very few people are interested in investing in Nollywood and so producers are left with making films that fall below their capacity or not produce at all. The latter situation leaves them and tens of people in ancillary professions jobless.

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 I 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.

The industry, in the past has enjoyed palliative funding from the federal government in form of loans and grants. In March 2013, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, announced N3 billion grant to help turnaround the country’s movie industry. The scheme known as ‘Project Nollywood’ was meant to address major issues in the industry like, Distribution, Capacity Building and Content Production.

However, some awful tales trailed the grant graciously bestowed upon the movie industry by the Jonathan administration. It was gathered that, some of the beneficiaries, instead of putting the monies in developmental projects for the industry, diverted the grants to more personal needs, like buying and building homes for themselves, changing automobiles. At the end of the day, Nollywood did not gain as much as expected from this initiative.

In addition to the CBN initiative, the BOI also has facilities for filmmakers currently but practitioners expressed fears about conditions attached to accessing the loans and the fears that the films may bring back their investments

WHY ARE FILMS NOT YIELDING DIVIDENDS?

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. Yet the same blessing of cinema has, for a variety of reasons become a drag on the fortune of the filmmaker.

To make a film with cinema standard in Nigeria, producers indicate that they spend   between 10 million to 100million depending on the vision of the filmmaker, and the scale of the production in question.

The first challenge is that there are very few cinemas, so filmmakers literally scramble for slots to show their films. Added to this are allegations of favoritism among cinema owners who give priority attention to filmmakers with whom they have business or social affinities.

Speaking to eelive.ng, Bamishigbin said: “We need more cinemas. Imagine 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.

“It is not even so much about whether your film is good or not. The moment people or families have a date, they will go to cinema like you find in other parts of the world. You go to the cinema, when you get there, you begin to search the hall, for available films, pay for what you want to watch and enjoy yourself.  In economics, the essence of production is sales. So, basically there must be a market place, a real market place that can consume, that can really bring returns for investors. Obviously, the home video thing is fading out gradually because people have other means like online streaming. But there are still cinemas in London, in America and other places where they even have cheaper data.  Data is a problem here in addition to the fact that phones cannot really give the real feel of the cinema. So, let us have cinemas, if I have my film showing in about twenty cinemas for two weeks I think I should be making some money.”

The fact shows that as of the end of 2018, the total number of cinemas centres was put 43 nationwide. All these cinemas have 173 screens with 18,499 seats!  Projections in 2019, suggest that there might be seven new openings, with additional 37 new screens and 946 new seats for viewers in the country. This is truly inadequate for a country with a population of close to 200million people.

Producers have also complained about the sharing formula of proceeds from cinemas. Usually, the sharing ratio is 70/30% or 73/27%. Content exhibitors and distributors get between 70%-73% while the content producer receives 30% or 27% depending on terms.

Meanwhile, the producer bears other costs summed up as logistics, usually around 1.5M, he provides all hard drives transported to cinemas nationwide and bears the cost for publicity, yet he gets the ant ratio on the sharing table!  After this, he faces the tax master!  So, at the end of the day, the producer’s take home is not commensurate to the efforts, creativity, time and energy the dissipate on these productions.

Some filmmakers also claim that cinema owners sometimes outrightly refuse to exhibit their films. Such rejections could be due to what they consider to be non-commercial viability of the film, usually because it is considerably artistic or the fact that some artistes preferred by such cinema owners are not in the film. Added to the largely unfavourable situation with the cinemas’ filmmakers also allege that streaming sites and television channels dictate the terms for the purchase of movies.

 

GLINTS OF HOPE

But there are practitioners who do not think the situation is as gloomy. Public Relations practitioner and film producer, Samuel Olatunji explained at the industry conversation referenced earlier quoted that films can actually be profitable if things are done properly. Citing his own example, Olatunji said; “I took a loan of 5m while shooting Seven and a Half Dates when I got stuck. I paid back 6.4m within time. Nollywood is viable if rightly done. I know movie making is spiritual, but it is also science. Making our money back is not as hard as most people think.”

Like Olatunji a few other producers insist that there is a method to making successful films in Nigeria. A producer told us that Nigerians seem to love stories that make them laugh and forget the problems that surround them. So you must give the audience what they like.”

Other important factors like good production quality, star power casting, and a huge publicity budget have also been identified common factors which rule the silver screen market.

According to Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria, CEAN, over N500 million is estimated to have been spent on media assets across Nigeria in 2018 alone. This includes billboards (digital and print), LED screens, retail inventory, vehicles, TV and Social Media.

But two notable filmmakers in the country left soundbites that must instruct.

Prolific award winning filmmaker, Oluseyi Asurf posited “It’s very hard to make a movie for commercial purpose without compromising art, but it can be balanced to some extent. It’s mostly difficult for creators but it’s for us to really face it, knowing we are creating these films for certain consumers and we have to be able to serve what they might love.”

And then, veteran film director, Kabat Esosa offered that: “… until we have creators face the art of filmmaking and delivering on the art and craft of their trade, while the exhibitors concentrate on trying to maximize the potentials of marketing and distribution, it might just be difficult to balance art and commerce. One will definitely suffer for the other.”

With the enormous prospects ahead of this budding industry, Nollywood remains a diamond in the rough. Until practitioners come together to take a holistic look at factors that affect the development of the industry, it will continue to remain a dream, unrealised.