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