No. 2, December 20, 2015. All Rights Reserved
What is with Nigerians or is it Africans and our inability to do things just because it is the right thing to do? Please keep your answer to yourself because that was just a rhetorical question. When people in the Western world do something, there seems to be a sense of responsibility attached to it. They genuinely seem not just to want to make money but to leave a legacy for generations to come. Nigerians don’t seem to be wired that way or maybe I’m wrong and need to look deeper.
Am I wrong to assume that when you have a country whose film industry has become one of the world’s fastest growing despite having no proper distribution structures, that well-meaning businesses will engage to build such structures not only for profit but for bragging rights in perpetuity?
The latest source of this filmmaker’s frustrations is the quiet storm brewing in the fledgling world of cinema distribution, which “ndi feem” are all whispering about but nobody seems to be doing anything about. Remember, we are not talking about DVD distribution in Nigeria built by so called uneducated traders who have reigned supreme for decades. NO! The cinema world is supposedly built by far more sophisticated Homo sapiens; the best and brightest that Nigeria has to offer. Stay with me, I am getting to the main gist of this long story.
When Chineze Anyaene’s IJE The Journey broke cinema sales records years ago, ndi feem hailed the dawn of a new era. Many opined that all that was needed to break the perceived chains of slavery instituted by the marketers was more cinemas across the country. Almost 6 years have gone by since IJE, but it seems, as they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. In the 6 years, only one film has broken 100M and it was promptly pirated before it got to DVD. Don’t ask but there are plenty whispers about the sources of the piracy. The current chaos in the world of cinema distribution begs the questions – What is wrong with us? Why are we so prone to self-destructive behavior? Why can’t we just get it together even with all our education?
Truth is cinema distribution is turning out to be a bigger nightmare for “ndi feem” than the spastic DVD market ever was especially when you take into consideration that investments are much higher. Imagine that you have spent 10 to 15 million of your hard earned Naira to produce what ndi feem term a cinema film, only to be told you need to fork out millions more for marketing, promotion and distribution. In case you are not aware, in other parts of the world, the distributor usually funds this part of the process and recoups said funds from the income derived for the sale of the film. However, this is not the case in Nigeria. Here the cinema distributor does absolutely nothing but place your film in cinemas slots. You read right and I will repeat it for emphasis! Cinema Distributors in Nigeria DO NOTHING but pick up the phone and make calls to each other to get your film slots in cinemas that they mostly own. Frankly, if you are a well-connected producer like Kunle Afolayan, Mo Abudu, Rita Dominic, Chineze Anyaene or Omoni Oboli you don’t need them because you most likely can visit the cinema administrators and canvass for time slots thereby saving the 10% to 15% fees distributors charge. The only reasons this will not happen is that the two major cinema chains also own part or all of the distribution companies PERIOD! As such, they will never give up on this extra money squeezed out of the producer’s earnings even though they give nothing valuable in return. Silverbird, however, may still boast that they will run your adverts on their sister television and radio stations but be mindful that a producer would have to push really hard to get this.
The producer funds everything and actually does everything to market this film. They will pay for the DCP, hard drives or Apple TV to screen your film in the 20 something theatres, pay for the posters and flyers, pay for the banners, the TV and radio spots, social media advertising and all the pubic relations activities to go with it. In addition, producers can be seen running from pillar to post to ensure that their banners, posters and flyers are displayed in the cinemas. It has become common for some cinema employees to intentionally push Nollywood banners behind as if it’s a dirty business which customers must not view. Are the things mentioned not ordinarily the job of distributors? Apparently not in Nigeria and they will come up with a multitude of reasons why they don’t do it.
When you ask distributors questions about not investing marketing Naira, they first answer is that ndi feem do not understand the recouping part of the process so they have decided not to dabble in such a system. Whether that is a legitimate answer or not, the fact still remains that Nigerian cinema distributors have no real stake in seeing a film do well. If they did, they would work and fight harder to keep each film in theatres longer not the in and out revolving doors that is currently in place.
In Part 2 of this article, we will discuss how in a free economy it has become such a death wish to choose between the two major distributors, whether the distributors are even doing the only job (time slots) they have chosen to do well, the struggle for dominance among distributors at the expense of producers and several other practices that continues to affect the Filmmakers income in the country.