How to Film in Nigeria and still be human by Niyi Akinmolayan

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FILM CRITICS: SHOULD WE EVEN CARE WHAT THEY THINK?

jay-forry-the-blind-film-critic

Let me give you a gist. We premiered my first film in front of the Nigerian press, in a very fine lounge sometime in 2010, I was sitting feeling fly. After they all saw the movie and started asking questions, one self proclaimed critic got up and said “excuse me, how can you say you made a Sci-fi movie, I’ve read a lot of sci-fi classics. this is bull-shit and you are bold to defend it”. The moderator told him to mind his words and be civil, he said “ so what, will you beat me “ and started screaming. In my head I was like…look at this crazy nigga after eating our fine food in our fine restaurant. They can’t even appreciate revolution mscheww…anyways, I will tell you what happened with the guy at the end of this post.

NOW…THREE STORIES

STORY 1: a producer made a film and brought it to my studio for post production. We hated the movie immediately. It was poorly lit, giving us challenges with grading. The audio was bad. The staging was awkward. I made the producer see all the problems. She broke down and started crying. She paid the director so much. She lost interest in the film. I felt for her so I took up the film personally to see what I could do. I worked on the color and sound myself. I convinced her to try sell it to iRokoTV and move on. The film turned out to be a mega hit on iRoko. It was so loved, they made memes out of scenes from it. Viewers were demanding more from the producer. I learnt a big lesson from that experience.

STORY 2: “Make a Move” was my second feature film. We had initially set out to make a big dance movie but after realizing, shockingly that the good actors can’t dance and the good dancers cant act, we decided to go on with the film and hopefully sell it as a drama. It didn’t work. Just as people thought Kajola was the Matrix, Critics thought Make a Move was Step Up 2. Which kain wahala be this. One critic called me a filmmaker for 12-year olds…lol (he’s right in a way. I now make the best animations from these parts). The producer decided not to let criticism get the best of her and really pushed the movie’s publicity. African Magic liked it and showed the Behind the scenes a million times. One day I was asked to propose and defend a job somewhere in Abuja. I walked into the room and before I could say Jack, the main oga there recognized me and said. Are you not that guy on TV with the dance movie. I nodded like a bad guy. He said “wow, My teenagers loved it”. I got the job and the pay was in millions.

STORY 3. Three years ago, I was in a meeting with some rich people interested in film. They wanted to make a big cinema film and started talking about options for a director. They didn’t know I was but some prominent names were mentioned. The rich guy immediately went online and started googling to see reviews of their films. By then, the only review that comes with my name was the one they called me a filmmaker for 12-year olds. The review even made it to Wikipedia (Aiye le O, ibosi). I was glad they didn’t know I was a film director. Jesu!! Imagine the embarrassment. It took me starting a blog, making “Out of Luck” and particularly “The Arbitration” for that review not to appear on google’s top page when you search my name. I told myself “Don’t fuck around with film critics. They can fuck you up.”

Before I delve further into this, I want you to know that there is no answer to the question “is film criticism good or bad”. Now lets talk some more.404549

WHY DO WE EVEN HAVE FILM CRITICS?

Hospitals and doctors don’t have reviews, yet our lives depend on them. Banks and financial corporations don’t have critics. Our survival depends on them. There’s no “rotten tomatoes” for Telcos and corporate organizations. Why do people feel the need to critique art, literary publications and film? I think its largely because there’s a connect we feel for art that we don’t for other institutions. When a writer makes a novel, You get into that world and you believe the writer should do exactly what you would have done. You want to own the art because it’s presentation sets you up as the judge. That’s why you are the viewer, reader, audience. People who create art are helpless slaves always trying to get validation from other people. Unlike a medication that can either work or not work, An artist does all his work in hope that you like it. The animal in us automatically responds and we begin to judge the work. After all, it was made for us. Poor artists. Art is personal to everyone and film in particular goes deeper. People take characters in film seriously. People want their own experiences to play out. People want the magic they cannot create. Critics are forever.

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FILM CRITICS AND REALITY

“In my reviews, I feel it’s good to make it clear that I’m not proposing objective truth, but subjective reactions; a review should reflect the immediate experience.” – Roger Ebert

The early film critics were mostly academics. They would break down a film into techniques, themes, subtexts etc and write their review in specific journals. Then came people like Roger Ebert and newspapers became places to read film reviews. This opened it up more as many newspapers were willing to create columns for film reviews. Then the Internet happened and anyone with a blog and some free time can write a review and the review can show up easily on a Google search. Infact, the Internet ushered in the era of percentages via sites like rotten tomatoes. People don’t even read the reviews anymore. They just want a number.

Even though some critics refuse to admit, film criticism is nothing but an opinion; An opinion largely based on your preferences and expectations. A film critic is an audience member that can spare some time to write about a film. Why do I say this. There’s no BA Course solely on film criticism in any University. This tells you that anyone claiming to be a film critic in Nigeria did not study it anywhere as a primary course. He/she is just a regular film lover that can write.

Another thing to note is that if we are to hold all films to a particular standard, then the changes in style, form, structure and general approach to making film and art in general that we’ve had over the years wouldn’t happen. People create new art when they rebel or drift away from the standards. This is why critics initially rejected most films that eventually became cult classics. This is a reality that’s sometimes hard for film critics to live with. One of the common ones I see is the way critics compare a film to something that was made 40-50 years ago. While it sometimes makes their reviews sound smart, it’s usually disconnected from reality. There are films that were masterpieces in the 60’s that will bore the hell out of today’s audience. Not all great films transcend time. We are greedy with our taste and choices and art is no different. People will always want new things and its silly to say the old is better than the new simply because it is old. So a real film critic should be a critic for today. But this post is not for film critics. It’s for filmmakers.

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AUDIENCE VS PRO-CRITIC

I use the word pro-critic to refer to people who actually spend a lot of their time doing movie reviews or have a website dedicated to it.

I’ve always said this. As a filmmaker, the questions you need to ask yourself before you enter this suicidal profession are:

  1. What kind of film am I making?
  2. Who am I making this film for?
  3. Is it my money or someone else’s money?

The answers to these questions will automatically make you take a side in the audience vs Pro Critic argument.

What kind of film am I making: Does it have a unique theme/style/approach that can only be accepted by a niche group; An international festival maybe? Almost everyone in a film festival is a film critic or some cinephile. They will judge your film on technical and structural points. Your film has to obey the laid down rules of structure, story etc. most likely you would be in competition. Also a good word or review from a festival can do great for your film if you decide to sell to big buyers. Unlike Nigeria, Most civilized countries have a broader reach for movies and they can accommodate a lot.

Who am I making this film for: this is probably the most important question of the three. I’ve rejected a lot of scripts because I know they weren’t made for the Nigerian audience. No matter how good I make the film, my people will not watch it. In Nigeria, our taste is not that diverse for arts. This is why most of our music sound the same. Same thing with film. We know what we want and expect from a Nigerian film. The audience has proven it to us several times. Don’t ignore that. There are only few people that will be willing to pay for films outside comedy, romantic dramas etc we are known for. you have to respect that. Even when you try to make other genres, we’ve realized its best to infuse some Nigerian humour into it for it to work. Don’t listen to all those people telling you to just experiment, if you want a Nigerian audience. They don’t pay money to watch our films o. they all download it online. We know them. Respect the guy who walks into the cinema, ignores a Hollywood movie and pays N1500 for a Nigerian film. If you are making films for a Nigerian audience, please make a Nigerian film.

Is it my money or someone else’s money: There’s something I consider silly that I read from some critics in Nigeria. They call some films indie films. In this Nigeria…which one is indie film. Please what’s the other alternative. Mention a big studio making studio films the structure of Warner Bros and the likes. We like to speak grammar. There are no indie vs studio filmmakers in Nigeria. Its either you use you children’s school fees to make it, or you borrow money from friends or someone who has money and wants to put his girlfriend in a film gives you money. Lol. If you are making a film with someone else money, that person’s opinion matters as well. Is it your money? Joo o.

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CAN A GOOD/BAD REVIEW AFFECT THE SALES OF A MOVIE

Hmm…JAMB question. If critics love your film, you may or may not sell based on it. But if the audience loves your film, you don blow. This wasn’t necessarily the case before the Internet came. The age of Social media has given almost anyone the power to influence other people choices. This puts the audience on top. While you should hope your film gets critical review. The real validation you want is from the audience. “The Arbitration” taught me this. People who loved the film talked about it, blogged about it. Shared and shared their 3 paragraphed reviews on social media. You could tell they wanted everyone else to share that experience. Genesis cinemas increased our time slots when they saw this happen.

On the other side, Social media also makes a bad review spread fast. Most review websites deliberately use click bait type headlines just to get you to read the review. Because we love to share bad news, a bad review will get shared faster than a good review. I rarely randomly come across good reviews except I visit the review site. But bad reviews litter the Internet quickly. So you see why you cant just make any movie and not give a fuck about the things critics care about.

HOW SHOULD YOU REACT TO A REVIEW AS A FILMMAKER

The common mistake a critic makes is to assume the filmmakers don’t know theres a problem with their own films when there is. The common mistake a filmmaker makes is to assume people hate them when they critique their movies.

Here are the do’s and don’ts for you as a filmmaker in reacting to reviews.

  1. Only share the good stuff: Please never share a bad review of your film. Its stupid. I saw a producer do this once. I didn’t know what she was going for but she only made people hate the film more.
  2. Don’t reply film critics when they make a bad review of your film. It’s like responding to an audience member that says he doesn’t like your film. I know it’s hard to resist especially when the critic is just being annoying and abusive but you should never respond. Don’t start explaining how hard it is to shoot in Nigeria and how people should support nollywood. I am for #supportnollywood but we dey fuck up too sometimes and we should be mature enough to accept it.
  3. Read all reviews. I read every review of my film on the Internet. It has introduced me to some very fantastic writers. In fact I started looking out for other things the writers wrote because I really enjoyed their writing.
  4. I don’t think filmmakers should be film critics while they are still actively making films. But una no go gree for that one. I don’t think we are there yet tho.
  5. Follow up on your audience. Go to twitter and Instagram and find out what people are saying about your film. Interact with some of them. Learn all you can about what they like or didn’t like. Add that knowledge to you next film and stay winning.

Back to that my gist…fast forward to TIFF last year and I saw the same Journalist in Canada. I didn’t even recognize him but he came up to me and while introducing himself I realized who he was. I knew this was my clapback moment so he said “ ah what are you doing here?” I answered, “My film is one of the selections” and showed him my fine sexy baba dudu photo on the catalogue. Oshey…baddest!

People won’t always like your work. Don’t fight back, Get to work and be better. That’s how you win.

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Comments

  • Posted: July 28, 2017 14:45

    Francisca

    I love this. Nothing else to add. Thank you Boss. Abeg more blog post. It's been a while.
    • Posted: July 28, 2017 14:46

      admin

      i know...i dey find chop money. but i have a couple more post coming soon
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 14:55

    'Nimilo

    I totally agree with you. Making a movie for a Nigerian audience is different from making film for Warner Bros. I learnt a lot today.
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 15:00

    Danny Nwauzorma

    Hehehehehehe.. really interesting read... you are right about almost everything said here. But in the Audience VS Pro-Critic, i would say you should care more about the Pro-Critics than the audience if its a movie that can be downloaded. Yes because data is scarce, people don't have data to waste hence they FIRST OF ALL, go and read the reviews of the movie from blogs, rotten pepper and the rest of them. But if its a movie that can only be seen at the Cinema. Like the era of Nollywood we are in now. definitely the vote goes to the audience. Nigerian films made for cinema only gets validation from people including critics who goes to the cinema to watch. so sometimes if majority of the audience (of which most of them are not pro-critics) like your film, they will bring their bae's and boos to come and watch and the news spread that way. Can't wait to see wedding party 2 this December sha. That movie go blow pass Hiroshima bomb.
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 16:29

    Afolayan Dammy-Easyyoke Films

    The major critics to follow are the audience. What are they saying. Not one single person that tags or names himself a critic out of nowhere. That is why IMDb uses ratings based on hundreds of people's vote. Not just 1 person. Rotten tomatoes aggregrates percentage score frm a number of people. But who cares sef as long as your movie is making money jere. Aimoye blockbusters in US with very poor rating on RottenTomatoes. Does WarnerBros care? Nibo. Once they make their own money, critcs can goan kill demselves. Lol. But all in all. What makes movies sell the most especially in Nigeria is word of mouth. Bola watches. Tells Sola dat movie sweet die. Sola rushes to d cinema, comes back and tell Segun dat movie is da bomb. Segun takes three family members along nd d word of mouth keeps spreading. I tink dose r d critics to really listen to not one bros with access to free internet nd free wordpress blog calling himself a film critic
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 17:50

    Seyi Adewoye

    Well said, as always sir...
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 18:08

    Akpos

    Interesting lessons. Thanks for this piece Sir.
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 18:51

    Priye Diri

    Lol Which one is indie filmmaker again? 😂😂 Lovely read but my own is some movie critics will now come and call someone's sweat a hot pot of mess.
  • Posted: July 28, 2017 19:41

    Tolu

    I remember getting home very late because I had to see a movie. It was a premier and premieres don't end early. The movie was awful. My time, strength and money had been wasted. It wasn't funny. It's like buying a terrible product you cannot return. It felt like the filmmaker was only out for selfish reasons and fast cash. No regard for quality. It was still replaying in my head when I got up to write about it the next morning. We all know bad films when we see them, we know good ones too. When films are sweet, you can almost taste it in the critic's write up. I started writing reviews partly to help movie goers make better watching decisions and to support Nollywood in its move away from the type of films I hated watching as a child. Product reviews on Jumia or Konga are meant to help intending buyers, and they're not written by Nigerians who studied product criticism in the university. I think its value addition in the least and I try to be proud of it. The message for critics anywhere is to not let your anger turn abusive. Lay down your grievances in ink and place a rating. The person that will go and see it, despite reading your experience, will still go. Criticism is constructive and should be appreciated. The WordPress sites may be free to own and setup, but the time sacrificed writing, editting, and screen grabbing (all for other's sake) cannot be recouped. I hope I can delete this post if readers start to attack me sha.
    • Posted: July 28, 2017 19:58

      admin

      I won't let them attack you.
      • Posted: July 28, 2017 20:04

        Tolu

        😀 thanks..
  • Posted: July 29, 2017 04:13

    kelvin

    I agree with everything Mr Niyi said.....he mad a lot of sense. I also agree with Tolu... criticism works only if it's constructive..
  • Posted: July 29, 2017 12:14

    seni

    u re on point Egbon. I feel ur primary concern should be the audience and not film critics, some of these critics sef, they can make u cry. My first movie 2years ago, titled help from a lying ghost. U re so right when u said film critics think film makers does not know the film mistakes, they now feé lojù and if u re not strong u will start thinking of carrying ur CV to go and look for salary job. The way they finished the movie I did not have mind to take it for marketing. I just put it on YouTube via Iroko channel, and I was surprised at the comments, one even said they usually don't comment on movies but he couldn't but just comment as the movie was exceptionally good, and I was like Oga oo, film Mi naa. with over 400 comments only just 5 talked about the negative review of it. in addition, after like a year, most top blogs including Linda ikeji, naij ,e.tc. rated the meme cropped from it as the most popular Nigerian meme on the net. ( the odunlade meme ) . In short I believe we should just make a movie that we feel the Nigerian audience will love and not what critics will approve
  • Posted: July 29, 2017 22:31

    Moviepencil

    Niyi. I've told you that you inspire me before abi? Well, let me say it again just in case. You see, you make me believe that my belief in Nollywood will not waste. Not just because you are a really good filmmaker but because your head is in a good place when it comes to issues in the Industry. It also doesn't hurt that you've made some of my favorite films. Truth is, as a film critic (a word I particularly don't enjoy using), there's a vision I see for the industry and a role I believe my writing plays. Further, I take my write-ups seriously as my primary allegiance should be with people who would consume your product as a filmmaker (yes, each film is a product) though I believe I owe you the filmmaker some of it too. The questions I then wrestle with as a 'film critic' is, 'where do I balance my idea of what is good for the audience and what the audience particularly enjoys?' And, 'when do I realize that my tastes also influence my opinion, especially in Nigeria where film criticism is not yet as technical as some areas?' They may sound like strange questions but they are very important ones, as you have noted above, our mass audience is not particularly one with eclectic tastes. Therefore once you can fit their taste there's a chance you'll make some good change not because you've necessarily made a swell film. You have spoken well Egbon Neyo. Very well indeed. To be honest, I don't think a lot of people realize that film criticism is hard work. And I believe that if as a filmmaker you have blanket dislike for film critics,.... 'Oo ti mo se to gba'. Let me be going now.
    • Posted: July 29, 2017 22:53

      admin

      I love what you are doing with Movie pencil. Whenever I read stuff from there, I can tell this person is out for nollywood's best interests and that's all that matters
  • Posted: July 30, 2017 10:52

    Adebimpe Adebambo

    Niyi! Niyi! Niyi! How many times did i call you? You should be a lecturer part-time! Thank you for always sharing nuggets and ingots of wisdom! This is a 360 short film you have scripted in this piece. Well done. Read and listen anyone who has eyes or eyes! I have learnt a lot from reading and following you on instagram. Your kind in Nollywood is rare. Doing free training and sharing so much. Keep up the great work!
  • Posted: July 30, 2017 11:37

    Adebimpe Adebambo

    I thought i should say more. As you said there is no film criticism course and like many things in Nigeria, most people are self taught and don't even augment their training as it were. Abroad many film critics are seasoned journalists and they have even worked in film so they breakdown the film in bits and this can help both the audience who plan to watch the film and the filmmaker. International reviews most times help my choice of films and imdb is extremely helpful too. I hope we have a Nigerian equivalent of that soon. Most times as you said, art is subjective and whether people like it or not, a 'film critics' review is subjective because a certain genre of film or filmmaker might appeal to them more. I just ask the so called 'Nigerian film critics' to be kinder and criticize positively. A good filmmaker will take positive criticism and and process it and as you advice, better to restrain from talking back as the filmmaker knows all that has gone down with the film. That said, i think somebody should organize training for 'Nigerian film critics'. Some do not even use the proper film terms, they do not talk about key aspects of the film and at times, sentence construction is wack. I have told some 'film critic' acquaintances of mine to read up international reviews and learn. At times once people start a blog, they feel they can just become film critics. I am looking forward to someone starting an aggregated film review platform like Rotten Tomatoes for Nollywood movies. Movie Pencil, maybe you can rally round people and set something up. Niyi, as you are already doing so much for the industry, you might want to consider partnering with someone to organize a workshop for 'film critics'. That is if they would not feel too big or learned to come. I think also us Nigerian filmmakers (i have recently joined the group of emerging filmmakers with an animated short film) should make more general films. I conducted a film appreciation session for 11-13 year olds in a Summer camp last week talking to them mostly about what i know about animation. I showed them my film and BTS of some feature animation films by big studios like DreamWorks for them to know what goes into the films they enjoy. Making a case for Nollywood, i asked them if they watched and liked Nollywood films. One of them said "They are too predictable"(i am sure she was just echoing words of an adult). I told her that some Hollywood films are predictable too but that we will keep working on improving our craft. Most of them said that many Nollywood films are not for their age and that they don't want to wait until they are 15 or 18 to watch our films. So let filmmakers also try to make family flicks. Imagine a family of 6 going to the cinema to see a Nigerian movie as opposed to only parents going. Most international films that have raked in billions of 'Benjamins' are general movies. Lets go there! Peace Out!
    • Posted: July 30, 2017 12:33

      admin

      thanks a lot for all these. I'm gonna make a flick for children and family next year
  • Posted: July 31, 2017 13:39

    Marvel

    Thanks a lot Sir. I can't agree less with what is inked here. But I have few questions to ask based on a previous post "Making Your Own Nollywood Budget". I'm really sorry to drag you back, but I really do need clarification. Sir, I would like to really comprehend what you meant by Iroko TV offering "CRUMBS". I mean your CRUMBS might me my dream money for a beginner, you know? I just want to understand in fiscal terms, what you mean by that and also does Iroko TV buy films that have no stars in them?
  • Posted: July 31, 2017 23:22

    Desire maxwell

    Am working on a big action nigerian movie i hope it will have good critics
    • Posted: August 18, 2017 05:37

      Adewole Kehinde

      Critics might love it and they might not, it depends on what the final product will look like. Even with a low budget, you can make a good film. The major thing is to put your heart into what you producing! Some film-makers produce movies for the sake of quick cash regardless of the quality of their product! Nigerians are not fools. Don't play on our intelligence. If I see a movie that is produced with passion, I will praise it even if the budget caused some mishaps but the producer or director tried something different and put his best into it. For instance, Kajola( I am not mentioning this movie cause it was made by Niyi though a little part of me mentioned it due to that #winks). But on a serious not, in Kajola, you see efforts, passion and heart! Niyi wanted to try something different and he did. If as a film-maker hoping to be great one day and all you want is to jump into the band-wagon and follow the normal nollywood- take the audience for a fool-ride, you are unfair not only to the audience but also to yourself. You might make the quick cash but you won't stand out! I will advice you love what you doing, learn from the best and take advice- critics help you grow but most times their opinions don't matter if you know what you are doing. All the best with your work Mr. Maxwell
  • Posted: August 12, 2017 08:27

    MiteH

    Thanks Niyi! You are amazing!
  • Posted: September 6, 2017 13:12

    Jummai

    Thanks Mr Niyi keep impacting knowledge we are here to learn!
  • Posted: September 15, 2017 20:11

    Mstilii (African Movie Reviewer)

    I dont even know where to start :) :) :)