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.
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?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.