This conversation happened last year. It was me, an “I just got back”…lets call him Jack, My shoulder demon and my shoulder angel.
Jack: I want to make the best movie ever made in Nigeria
Shoulder demon: ope o…our money has come
Me: Have you ever made a movie before
Shoulder angel: good question
Jack: No..but I’m a movie lover and I’ve always wanted to do this
Me: Do you have a script
Shoulder demon: shut up you this idiot niyi
Jack: no but I have a story, I gave it to one guy, they say he’s one of the best.
Me: why do you want me to direct your film
Jack: I know you are one of the best
Me: Actually I’m just there
Shoulder demon: ode buruku
Shoulder angel: that’s the spirit
Me: wait, have you seen any of my films
Jack: no…not yet…where can I watch them
Me: wait…you haven’t even seen my movies and you want me on your project.
Jack: can’t you handle it?
Shoulder demon: exactly, can’t we handle it
Me: Please Mr Jack…Have you seen any nollywood film this year in cinemas or IrokoTV or AFMAG.
Jack: I’m not really into Nollywood and their shallow stories. You will see this story we are working on.
Shoulder demon: no time, make we chop him money
Shoulder angel: not fair, tell him the truth
Me: I’m not available now. Why don’t you try someone else.
Jack: ok bro..nice meeting you
He left. My shoulder demon and angel started fighting. I left them to go drink some Zobo. It’s almost a year now. Jack has spent millions already, been duped twice and the movie hasn’t even begun production.
It hurts whenever this happens but really, ignorance isn’t an excuse in business as well. Since I started the blog, I’ve had lots of rich people show interest in nollywood. Most were for all the wrong reasons. I hope I can point out some key issues in this piece. Remember my blog is dedicated to people serious about filmmaking as a career.
HOW PROFITABLE EXACTLY IS NOLLYWOOD
Nollywood is a totally different kind of business. No one fully understands it. No one is an authority on it yet. We know its growing but we don’t understand what that growth exactly is. It’s still largely a big experiment and we are terrible at collecting data. This means whatever anyone tells you about profitability in nollywood is only half the truth no matter where it’s coming from.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Wikipedia is 100% wrong on Nollywood box office sales. This link is rubbish https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_Nigerian_films
Unlike every normal business out there, Nollywood is one where the weight of Loss is heavier than the weight of gain. This means, you can loose or gain…but the loss is way more painful than the joy of gains.
Lets get practical. Starting with cinemas, at its best right now, a successful cinema run means you have made just enough money to even up your investment. Also, don’t believe the hype, so far there hasn’t been any big cinema Box office success that happened accidentally. These were largely big films with huge marketing and star power. So unlike FMCG products where you can bet on the quality of your product, or like tech products where you can give people what they need, You can’t just make a good movie, put it in cinemas and expect to make money. It’s far more complex.
Averagely, at the end of your cinema run, you really aren’t going home with more than 27-30% of the total box office sales. This roughly means, if you make 100m in cinema, you aren’t going home with more than 30m. and cinemas wont give you your money till 4 months after your run (correct me if I’m wrong here). Only 4 movies have truly crossed 100m (Wedding Party and the three AY movies) and I can tell you for free that the production and marketing for those films didn’t cost anything less than 50m. Now put that in proper perspective. We still don’t have enough cinemas to guarantee you will be stinkingly rich after you make a movie. At the most, what a good cinema release will do for you is give you better bargaining power on other platforms. That should make you think about people who claim to have spent close to 100million on a film.
For those not making cinema movies in this non-DVD era, most of the profit is from online platforms and cable TV. People only make money here when they think about it in volumes or when the platforms commission them to. I spent 5m (it should have been less) on Meet The Inlaws and have only sold to IrokoTV and EbonyLife TV. Between those two, I have made about 4m. So I still haven’t made a profit yet but I didn’t sell exclusively so hopefully if my agents don’t fuck me up, I might end up at the end of the day with a 500-700k profit. The movie is two years old now. This only makes sense if I made like 3 good movies with say 10m and target those platforms. Some people have totally ignored cinemas and followed this route. Funny enough, TV series are actually easier and more profitable than Film.
So is nollywood profitable? not as we would want it to be. In fact, the real benefits of nollywood might not be reaped by those of us in the business now. Which is why we need to teach the new ones more and share knowledge. Moving on…
WHO SAYS THE ONLY WAY TO INVEST IS TO PRODUCE A MOVIE
I’ve said this a million times now i’m just tired talking about it. For us to have a successful industry we need to think of it in terms of a “sum of multiple parts” not just one big imaginary self-running engine. If the cinemas didn’t rise up to the challenge of dying DVD sales, or the online platforms didn’t maximize the fact that there was more broadband connection than before, we would have been fucked! There would be no industry. The pirates would do whatever they like and we would just be circling in dust. Imagine if Jason Njoku came to Nigeria to produce more movies. IrokoTV is feeding hundreds of cast and crew right now Just because someone saw a potential. The cinemas are one of the reasons we have stepped up our production values. The cinema is doing for nollywood what MTV base did for naija music. That’s how you should think about industry.
– RETHINK CINEMAS AND DISTRIBUTION
Unlike other products you need to introduce to a market, everyone knows what film is. The demand never changes, its always constant. What we lack is strategy to capture the numbers. This is what pirates knew way back then. Get the movies to the people as fast as you can. Why must we think about cinemas as big cineplexes. Why don’t we have small sized ones all over the place? There’s a lot of argument on this in our circles, but wait until one sharp guy comes to do it and una eyes go clear. Might even be Chinese people. So far, the cinema with the largest sales is Silverbird Ikeja, and you don’t need any formula to understand why.
We also need to think about what’s peculiar to us. Right now, Internet penetration isn’t that strong and data is expensive, why isn’t anyone thinking of distributing films without making people buy data. Its easy tech. get hotspots all across the country, build an app. People come around there and download movies to their phones. They pay for the movies but don’t have to buy data.
Most people think the only thing they can do in the rental business is big cameras and lights. We don’t even have enough of those. How about building gear that you can rent or even sell. Up till now, we are still buying simple things like sliders, dollies and tracks. O ma se o!!! China does it all the time. They even have a version of the expensive JL Fisher dolly. Ok so maybe that’s too big…do you know you can rent tents and trolleys for production? You can rent cables, Monitors, and basic things people didn’t even know they needed.
– RETHINK SERVICES FOR NOLLYWOOD
Right now, we still don’t have a nollywood IMDB. We don’t have a marketing and research company people can buy data from. We don’t have casting websites, where thousands of wannabe actors can upload their reels and make the audition process easier for producers. Do you know how many people will pay just to bypass they difficult and often non effective audition process if they can have all that done online. We don’t have a website that helps the collaborative process, where people can go, build a team, meet crew in geo-locations, organize virtual meetings etc. lots of films are being made the same tedious way and no one has thought of these. Lazy people. You just want to make film and play with actresses abi.
– RETHINK SERVICES ON SET
Do you know one of our biggest challenges is getting extras on set. With all the jobless people out there, no one has started a company dedicated to supplying extras for a film shoot. We still don’t have a company dedicated to props. Even if it means building a lot and renting them out. Props as simple as fake guns take forever to get. Why don’t you think about that…props, special effects stuff. There are cool things we need like knives that retract when you stab someone, fake needles, fake glass….Even blood is hard to get…and everyone wants to produce film. Why are we like this?
Ok. So back to investing in Production
THE FILM YOU LOVE VS THE FILM THAT WILL SELL
Did you know that the producers and directors behind some of the biggest comedies you’ve seen don’t even like comedy? Surprising but true. One of the big pitfalls for most people entering nollywood is that they forget it’s a business and get too personal with their ideas. It doesn’t work that way. Let me give you a shocking truth. Whether you believe it or not and feel free to argue, Nigerian audiences want Nigerian movies, Even the critical, Hollywood loving ones. The moment it looks or sounds too foreign they will reject it no matter how good you make it. This means even when we want to scale, we have to be true to our material. Nigerians don’t want you to make another kind of film; they just want it to be finer, bigger and more engaging. Most people prefer to watch Hollywood films, we know so don’t use what you and your friends like as the yardstick. All the comedies that sold big like wedding party and AY movies aren’t the funniest comedies we’ve made, not even for cinema. But they had the most spectacle. Spectacle is what people want from Nollywood right now. Once you start talking like Jack bauer, they will start pressing their phones. We love our dramas and our comedies. Even when you try out other genres, they should rest on some humour (light or dark) and some exaggerated drama. Then add spectacle. That’s a smart way to blend what you love with what sells.
Also, most of the people we call stars were people typecast for particular roles in the pre-cinema era. Our audience largely wants them to come “do their thing”. This is not a bad thing. It’s the knowledge you need to win.
I also think there is a golden opportunity to make children themed family movies. No one is really in that space yet (think Matilda, Homeward bound, even harry potter). I also think we need people to make religious themed, yet big movies…I realized despite the millions of them, Christians don’t like making Christian movies…lol…shame on you. But they will all rush to watch the African American ones. That’s a lot of number and u can get your GO to tell everyone to go see it. Animation is also something to consider. Plaything, an animation my studio made last year has a collective viewership of about 2million. Animation takes time and investment but can give you a monopoly. Think about it.
HOW TO GET STARTED
FIRST, KEEP YOUR MONEY AND LEARN.
Don’t make a movie if you haven’t experienced the process yet. Sit down…be humble…ask to intern in a production. Work closely with a producer. There’s no shame in it. Study how it’s done. Nollywood is nothing like you’ve read in fancy oyinbo film books. We make decisions on the spot, from small asaba movies to The Wedding Party 2. That is a skill that’s learned on the job. I was glad I spent a lot of time doing AD work for Desmond Elliot before fully going back to directing. I learnt a lot, from dealing with actors who are on multiple sets at a time to figuring out what to do when a location goes wrong to Understanding how to negotiate prices. I even got to know actors that were easy to work with and the difficult ones. There’s no book on this. Filmaking is not one of those businesses where you open a shop for your brother, give him money and be waiting for alert. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.
STOP BELIEVING IN HYPE
If someone tells you they are the best “insert role here” in nollywood, don’t take their word for it. Go see their work for yourself. If it’s a director, after seeing his/her work, find out the producer they worked with and ask how easy it was working with them. Find out for yourselves how much things cost. I did an elaborate thing on budgets here. Some people are still bragging over just one work they did 10 years ago, they might no longer be relevant. I believe people are as good as their last jobs. Also don’t let the elders bully you. There’s a lot of it in Nollywood. Statements like “I have been doing this for 40 years, I know what I’m saying”. It’s a lie.
Finally, study how the successful people do it. People can yab AY for all they want but he’s still the person to learn from when it comes to selling a movie. Go to the cinema, sit at the back, as you are watching the movie, watch what people are reacting to the most. Don’t believe just what you read in some online review. Hold the points in the review but go see the film yourself. I also love reading iROKOTV comments. They are real. I have seen people hype a movie only to realize it had terrible ratings on iroko. Never fall for hype. Also learn to gather multiple opinions.
DON’T BE A JERK AND A KNOW-IT-ALL
Anyone who enters nollywood from a “these olodos don’t know what they are doing” angle is bound to fail. You should learn to make friends with existing producers. Pay them visits, buy them wine, come empty like you know nothing and they will open up to you. Never ever ever say “I don’t watch nollywood” to a nollywood producer. Don’t even say what you don’t like about their movies. They will actually watch you fail and not give u any advice.
DISTRIBUTORS ARE YOUR FRIENDS…KINDA
These days, when a movie fails badly, one of the first people that get blamed by the producers are the distributors. You see, we have very few of them and it does look like a cabal. But that is because they aren’t many. Work with distributors early on in the process of making the film and take their advice seriously. They have the numbers and a bit of data on what works. Going online to curse distributors for your failed project is not a smart idea. It’s a dog eat dog world out there people. Choose your battles carefully.
There’s so much more I would love to say but my fingers hurt joo…and I have a premiere to attend tomorrow. My baby girl bunmi ajakaiye’s My Wife and I. Go see it and thank me later.