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ELEVATOR BABY: How we turned a simple low budget idea into a massive hit

Hello everyone…I know… I know…I abandoned the blog for a while…but like every guy in a relationship. its not my fault. you people too didn’t call to check on me lol.

Its great to be back and i promise we will do better this year. i was also doing a lot of producing and executive producing last year, including the hit Malika animation so the work was plenty. I figured the best way to start the year would be to share what I believe was the most beautiful anthill studios story of 2019: the making of Elevator Baby. its even weirder when you think about the fact that as at this time last year, the last thing on my mind was using my money to produce a film but like I shared on my IG (follow @niyi_akinmolayan), sometimes don’t be rigid with your plans. I will be highlighting key lessons as I go on about the story.

LESSON: If you are serious about this business, Build your own TEAM

Most people don’t know Anthill is also a creative hub…even though we are a small company, i’m always training interns in all fields. Also, because i love the entire film making process, the company has a team of writers (like a script engine room). They help develop some of my ideas and we spend time coming up with new ones. Then i have a production unit with young people who hope to be directors, cinematographers, set designers etc. Then there’s the post-production and animation part which generates the company income (you rich people should come and invest in this company). if you are serious about film production, you should think about building your own team. if you cant afford already established people, get young hungry ones and train them. it pays off eventually.

The moment we decided we were going to do a small budget film, i saw it as an opportunity to engage everyone in the studio. This way, i wont have to pay premium money for crew since my staff already collect salaries and most importantly, it would be a great field experience for them all. I figured we could do a small film maybe for 5m and sell to online platforms and airlines and cable TV. The director, Akay Mason (Akhigbe ilozobhie) has been in the studio for about 4 years as a writer and assistant director on many projects. We also get him to handle documentary shoots, BTS etc. I believed making a feature was the next step for him but i wanted to be a guiding hand. So i made him a challenge…Fix a story idea we had been playing with, do an entire screenplay and i will get you to direct the film. I’m glad he took the challenge. After his first draft, I would make notes, then he would fix. Then we do this thing in the studio where we all read the script particularly looking for holes and whats not working with dialogue. At this point, I include non writers and for this film in particular, a medical doctor friend, and a nurse. During this long session with lots of pizza (always buy food for creative meetings), we discovered some key problems with the story but rather than wait back and forth, we were fixing on the spot.

LESSON: stop wasting time during story development. stop postponing stuff. stay there, fix stuff, write as you fix. you wont stop fixing…even on set you will fix. if you are serious about making films back to back, stop wasting too much time during story development. My strategy is once the original draft has all the key elements of the plot in, every fix we do would be right on the spot. we make suggestions, the writer fix and we move.

The next thing i demanded for was a director’s treatment. i had taught them how to do directors treatment so it was easier. find attached here

A treatment like this helps everyone plan ahead. and because most of the crew were going to be interns, it was important to start early. once the treatment was ready, i created a whatsapp group for crew. because we didn’t have money, i focused on young crew knowing i could guide them better. also pulled in favours from old friends like Joseph Oladunjoye, the DOP. he does a lot of our documentaries.

The biggest challenge was going to be our set design. We knew that to save cost, we needed to build the set so we can shoot for long hours and manipulate the set for different camera positions. As we didn’t have much money, i converted our reception area into a set working with a set designer, i gave him some of the interns and we were building from scratch. we used a lot of wood and wallpapers. we created a fake hallway, buttons etc. we initially wanted a mechanism for closing and opening the lift but when i saw the cost, i opted for two production assistants opening and closing on cue….lol. they rehearsed a lot.

we converted our reception to the elevator set

The moment we saw the set and final draft, i started thinking…what if…just what if we could try our luck in cinema. I flirted with the idea but abandoned it. i didn’t want to borrow money, (NOTE: That’s a stupid thing to say. if you plan well, you can borrow money. knowing its not your money also helps you think clearly. you would be very careful in spending).

Next step was casting. it was going to be a small film so no need for fancy auditions. we knew we wanted Timini as the male lead but we couldn’t make up our mind about the female. I had hoped an actress friend would be available but she wasn’t. I also noticed most big actresses didn’t want to risk doing work with a 25yr old new director. This was going to be a problem. Akay has to direct the film and we needed a strong female lead that is a know face. The initial Abigail character wasn’t a yoruba illiterate. she was an educated woman…so it was hard but lets move on. I started asking myself, what if i reached out to people with great following but aren’t necessarily into big english films, their face could help since we weren’t going to do cinema. I knew most of the yoruba actors won’t mind working with a new director. A name came to me; Toyin Abraham. I called Toyin and this was where the magic began.

While talking, i realised, very surprisingly that she was 7months pregnant. she had been hiding it so she was actually shocked how i knew because she thought i did. i told her i didn’t. i was sad because i wasn’t sure i should allow a real pregnant woman play the role. She told me in the most yoruba way that this was destiny and she would play it. My mind started racing. Toyin Abraham playing the role is a big deal but Toyin Abraham playing the role with real pregnancy is a hit. i ran back to the office, called Akay and the team. we were going to rewrite the entire script making this woman an illiterate yoruba woman and even with our small film, we were going to do cinemas.

LESSON: if you wanna make a commercial cinema film, Always look for the strategic selling point for your film. in this case, it was pregnant Toyin playing pregnant Abigail. Sometimes, it’s the story idea itself and we also had this as well. pregnant woman in labour stuck in elevator with spoilt brat. Don’t start filming until you are sure you have this

We went straight to work. I knew i needed more money so i started reaching out. i raised an extra 5m. I figured we could use more star power. usually its always a great idea to find popular people as appendages. give them a few scenes where they basically play characters they are known for. the mistake people make is that they find a popular comedian on IG for example and they make them play things out of their zone. You are trying to convert their followers not make them professional actors. I reached out to brodashaggi. told him it would just be a day’s shoot and begged him. I also promised to cut a character teaser for him for free so he could use them as skits on his page.

We went ahead and shot the film keeping silent on Toyin’s pregnancy. her respect for my team grew because she didn’t think it would be possible. she and timini gave everything for the film.

LESSON: Bartering is the still biggest way to get things done in nollywood. always have something you can barter with. I own a post production studio for example, i can always tell people i will edit free for them in exchange for something. yours could be real estate for rent etc. It could be film equipment. You don’t always have to pay cash. heck you can even offer a star some back end cut on the film (we did this with Toyin as well…they will “carry the film on their head”..lol).

Next we got a distributor (filmone). I was so glad they saw the potential. we didn’t have marketing money so they agreed to borrow us some and we pay back once the film was ready. we decided to focus on the collective social media power of toyin and Brother Shaggi, the cool appeal Timini has with young folks and the “a niyi akinmolayan production” factor as key tools to sell the film. Once we agreed, i created a new whatsapp group with cast. we didn’t have billboard money and the likes but we had a good film with lovely performances. if i can get the cast to like this film and feel special about it, i will leverage on their following.

First thing we did was design the poster. everyone agreed it was sexy. (ALWAY SHOOT YOUR POSTERS DURING PRODUCTION. STOP GRABBING FROM THE FILM. BE DELIBERATE). I paid a photographer 150k just for the poster. we also covered a lot of behind the scenes. All i needed was another intern in the studio. Most people overthink BTS. you can actually just get a phone on a stick and film all your BTS. Find one of your cousins that wants to be a filmmaker and give him/her the job lol. we did a lot of that. the footage will look great cos they are mostly for social media. After the poster which people loved signalling we have a lot of interest, i started creating character teasers. Actors are very narcissistic lol ..if you want them to really push for you, create content for them. one great way is teasers. just cut scenes from the film and jazz it up. if it makes them look cool or its full of great performances, they will share (THIS IS A MAJOR HACK…YOU ARE WELCOME). also watermark things like meme and gifs with the name of ur project because you don’t want something to go viral and they can’t trace it back to you.

LESSON: The distribution structure in Nollywood cinema isn’t yet strong and while the cool guys at FilmOne are the best of them all, you have to augment their efforts. one of the ways we did this was create a marketing whatsapp group and i created a google drive with assets they can all use. that way, everyone is happy. we were constantly creating content for them to use to augment their stuff. Here’s an example below:

The build up was great but we were also pro-active. Once we saw something trending, we jumped on it immediately. almost every phone can edit cool videos now so i don’t know what your excuse is. We also created anticipation for things like cinema visits. countdowns to teasers/trailers. this social media age love anticipations. The next strategic thing we did because we didn’t have money for a premiere but i knew Toyin appearing in cinemas after a baby is all the premiere i needed. The genius however, was in location. she’s big in Abeokuta, Ibadan, Ilorin etc. So i figured i wasn’t going to waste time with you grumpy Lagosians at the beginning. We agreed to make her first post-baby visit in Abeokuta. I drove to Abeokuta a day before the release to plan with the cinema. I went alone with my phone loaded with plenty battery power. On the release date at OOPL cinemas, I filmed every possible reaction i could get. Even got the crowd chanting “My name is abigail” Used a lot of it on IG.

When we got back to Lagos, i drove Toyin and some friends to Filmone Surulere and we did same (you must be ready to do this work else no money for you). This was all the content we used throughout the time of the film. you could be watching audience reaction 4-weeks into the film thinking its recent not knowing it was taken on the day of release. its strategic and it works. Be smart. Also only share positive reviews of your film. both from audience and critics. Also be in charge of all your social media comments. Those platforms are designed to amplify negativity. Once you see someone talking nonsense, remove it before they infect others. Opinions will always differ but you are here to sell a film you’ve already made.

Don’t forget however, that we were bold about these things because we made a film people would love but most importantly, we made a film for Toyin, Timini and Broda Shaggi’s fans. Know the kind of film you’ve made and tailor your marketing towards that understanding. Don’t sell drama as comedy or comedy as drama. Also dont waste the actors that can make ur film sell.

Elevator baby was widely received by critics and audience and ended with 31m in cinemas even with all the hollywood competition like Maleficent. So if you do your math and have been following the blog, you already know i’ve recouped most of my investment. Now the profit is going to come from NETFLIX, Amazon, TV airlines etc. the status of the film based on its cinema performance has given me better negotiating power because i know a lot of people want to see it. I’ve been told if we had doubled our marketing budget, we would have made 60-70m. This knowledge is what we are bringing to our new film coming around July…code name #DOD (follow me on instagram for more gist) This time, it will be directed by Akay Mason and another protege, Abosi Ogba and i will be executive producer once again. i’m going to share that process especially pre production and production so follow, follow, follow.

Hope we are all getting ready for the next chics in post (this time i’m including guys).

Have a happy new year and shut up and go make that movie.

PS: at the bottom of every post I make now, i would be adding a request for support for the blog starting with this. I would love to hire a blog editor and pay for some more stuff…including time to write more and money to travel and cover some more great stuff. Also to finance little projects that we can use to teach on the blog. the blog will not carry crazy ads so it can always be free and unbiased. If you want to support the blog… send a donation however small to:

If in Nigeria,

GTBank

Account name: Omoniyi Akinmolayan

Account Number: 0011224034

If Outside Nigeria (dollars)

GTBank

Account name: Omoniyi Akinmolayan

Account Number: 0210360414

Bank Swift Code: GTBINGLA

let me know who you are so i can send my thank yous.

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