BY EMMANUEL UDUMA
So I started 2018 trying again to decode the Nigerian movie audience by asking the ‘30-billion Naira’ question, “How do you make successful commercial movie?”
Looking back at the last five years, this should not be too difficult to pin down. Nigerian filmmakers have clearly stepped up their game in the area of production value but sadly, story telling and acting are areas that still need a lot of intervention. Some have argued that “if our story telling isn’t great, how has Nollywood gone on to ‘Nigerinize’ pretty much the entire African continent with our movies?” my response will be in a post for another day.
I looked back at some of the movies that have made money in that last five years to pin point how and why these movies achieved this and others didn’t. Omoni Oboli’s Wives On Strike (Part 1), AY’s 30 Days In Atlanta and A Trip to Jamaica, The Wedding Party Part 1 & 2… did I miss anyone? What was that movie about couples on beach, I remember it also had a good run at the box-office.
Wives on Strike, I didn’t see but I will see this latest installment. I also didn’t see 30 Days in Atlanta but have a pretty good idea what the story was about. As a commercial project I see how it was a hit with the audience back then; it was comedy, AY had his AY LIVE crowd, movie had scenes shot ‘in the abroad’, with Onyibo actors, and Ramsey Noah was in it! Next thing, it’s in the record book! AY landed heavy and made a major statement.
A Trip to Jamaica I didn’t like; it felt like a series of skits stitched together. But part of what I think made it a hit was because Funke Akindele was cast in it, and her crowd came to see her. I have not met anyone who has seen 10 Days in Sun City; are you guys too traumatized to re-live the experience? If you have, please let me know what you thought about.
So here is my audience theory about the ‘AY experiments’, 1. People like comedy 2. A new player with a massive followership will turn heads 3. They will forgive your bad story telling if they get enough laughs to pepper the experience 4. Casting an equally popular celebrity will bring people out of their houses (they don’t need to like you, they are there for their person) 5. If you don’t improve your story telling, they stop being forgiving.
The Wedding Party 1 was groundbreaking in every way; amazing cast, story was not bad (but nowhere near great), marketing was on point. It had my two most important ingredients that make for good content “Context and authenticity”. Was the movie a commercial success? Hell yeah!
The Wedding Party 2 has come and is smashing records left, right, center and abroad. Personally, I didn’t like it. Some performances were cringe worthy, some parts of the story were all over the place, and a few staging was pretty chaotic. What happened to the sound? Overall, the movie would have profited from better editing. It however did have its positives. It deployed the classic Amaka Igwe ‘Igbo soup theory’ for making a successful commercial content; ‘put everything in that delicious steaming pot’. You really don’t have to like the soup, but you go sha see wetin you go shop inside. It’s making millions! People are still seeing it and this ticks my box as a successful commercial movie project.
Which brings me to another important observation about the audience for whom we create the movie experience, they will come if the movie promises something different and awesome; stars, action, naija drama, scale, ‘abroad things’ etc. Will the movie deliver on all of these? The audience must take the risk. If it doesn’t, producer will still make money form the “One-timers”, who will see the movie that one time and then go on to rant about how they are never getting back the time they spent watching a deception. The producer might also make money from people who will lie to other people about how great the movie is just so they will not be the only ones to have suffered said deception (Why do people do that though?).
So “How to make a successful commercial movie” in Nigeria begins with first understanding the audience and constantly gauging their preferences and expectorations. Unless you just want to make a ‘great movie’.
It’s a new year, go make that film!