The Motion Picture Industry in Nigeria today, faces unprecedented challenges that have brought a once thriving Industry to its knees, in a choke hold that is part self-inflicted and part due to neglect and under-utilisation by Government. At the same time, the industry is facing immense prospects and commercial opportunities provided by the digital revolution.
The phenomenon called Nollywood in 18 years, has positioned itself as the most viable information dissemination and image-making tool in Africa, as well as a veritable vehicle for social change, providing jobs for over 250,000 Nigerians, in all spheres of the production and distribution process.
The challenges hampering the full potential, accelerated growth and development of the Nigerian film industry, can be categorised, but not limited, to a number of broad headings, as follows.
Absence of a formal regulated structure
A well defined, organisational structure, with enabling laws backed by legal instruments, is the bedrock of any profession. The absence of a formal structure in the Nigerian Film Industry, can be traced to the way the industry evolved and developed from the combined efforts of a few business men and creative TV producers, in the early 90s
The Nigerian Film Policy of 1992, did not take into consideration, or anticipate the "explosion" of creative ingenuity that resulted in Nollywood. Recognising the inability of the old policy to address the peculiarities of the blossoming film industry, Government in 2006 reviewed the film policy to bring the motion picture industry in line with international best practices and prepare it for sustainable growth
Following the review, it was recommended, amongst others, that a Practitioners Council be set up to administer, regulate and professionalize the practice of making motion pictures in Nigeria.
This Council, anchored by the establishment of National Guilds and Associations, backed by the necessary enabling laws, is to ensure proper organisational structuring, entry criteria, rules/regulations, discipline, and set standards, thereby driving the potentials for quality productions.
Today, though there are conflicting and divergent views about governmental involvement in setting up the Council, including its independence and control, the various bills which have been in abeyance for whatever reasons since 2007, have been revived with a view to getting Presidential assent, public hearing, lobby and ultimate passage in the National Assembly.
This "feat" has been achieved by the cooperation of the Presidency, the various supervising M.D.A's and an industry that is today united, organized and self driven, speaking for the first time with one voice, one direction, one focus. The unified Coalition comprising D.G.N, A.M.P, F.V.P.M.A.N, M.O.P.P.A.N, C.D.G.N, N.S.Ed, N.S.C, I.T.P.A.N, A.N.T.P, and N.A.N.T.A.P has been largely instrumental to this spirit of cooperation
It is my considered opinion, that the establishment of the Council will be pivotal to the foundation of a regulated, professionally oriented industry, the much needed catalyst for the development and rejuvenation of the Nigerian Film Industry.
Over the years, the existing traditional distribution system has been stretched to its limit, unable to satisfy the ever-growing audience Nollywood has generated, all over the world.
The absence of a structured and wide spread distribution network, has accelerated the incidence of piracy and encouraged bootleggers, whose activities magnified, as the distribution problem worsened.
Filmmakers' return on investment has dwindled so drastically, it has become impossible to sell 20,000 copies of any released title, with almost all returns going to the pirates. This, in my opinion, is tantamount to Economic sabotage, and a threat to National Security, considering the over N10 billion Nollywood contributes to the Nigerian economy annually.
Piracy has become so rampant and unbridled, that what was previously done in secret, under the counter, is now done openly on street corners and markets, in the full glare of law enforcement, with people selling 20-in-one DVDs of pirated titles
The first logical step in this direction is to frontally tackle piracy. This can only be achieved by stringent, concerted efforts of all concerned, including film makers and other stakeholders in the entertainment Industry, with the full backing of the Federal Government through the relevant statutory/regulatory Agencies.
For a start, I suggest the establishment of a special, combined Anti-Piracy Task Force consisting of representatives of the Police, Copyright Commission, EFCC, SSS, SON, Customs, Corporations with an I.T bias, Ministry of Justice, Film makers and Musicians, to map out a short term agenda, for a multi faceted offensive against copyright infringement and piracy and for the long term; a broad based strategy, that would Include amending and strengthening existing inadequate laws.
While the legal framework of formalising the Industry is being finalised, one of the biggest challenges, the rejuvenated motion picture industry will face is distribution.
Again, the evolution of the industry in Nigeria, through the financial efforts of "local businessmen", must be put into perspective and applauded. They, however, did not anticipate the changing dynamics of distribution in the new dispensation.
Distribution in today's era of technological convergence means that it will become more dynamic, needing constant reappraisal. Traditional distributors will need to present creative business plans/models,that take cognisance of the digital revolution, to stimulate alternate distribution channels and generate new revenue streams.
Digital convergence implies a world where information and content is digitized, personalised and accessible ‘on-demand' via multiple fixed and mobile platforms and devices. It is a world where the user is actively engaged, contributing to and interacting with services rather than passively consuming them. This has resulted in a fundamental shift in the way that users consume, perceive and value content and services.
Ironically, this challenge also offers the most outstanding opportunity and prospect that has ever presented itself to NOLLYWOOD.
With the advent of purpose built cinemas; (from community cinema's, to multi-screen Multiplexes,) the chain of distribution is slowly, but surely turning to the vertical model of distribution - Cinema/theatrical release; DVD release, VCD release; Satellite, terrestrial, cable, Internet, and free to air TV transmission, to residuals, etc. There are already successful examples to buttress this trend.
With the landing of the Glo One, Main One, WASC and other Submarine broadband cable systems in Nigeria, Fiber Optical and high bandwidth providers have opened the doors to the world in the digital realm, to us. From IPTV, 4G Smartphone's, iPad's, Androids and other advanced digital devices, to Pay TV/Video on demand, Pod casting and triple - play (phone/broadband internet/cable) packages about to come on stream, the traditional distribution system is poised to witness a revolution in the discerning consumers demands and tastes for high quality content, to feed this new media.
With exploding Social media providing access to over one billion users on the internet, the content provider must be prepared to adjust their modus operandi, to meet the projected increased demand for quality media content. The fundamental question therefore is, as producers and distributors, are we prepared or ready to meet these challenges?
Funding has always been a bane to the development of the film industry. Hitherto, financing Films was ad hoc, based on bottom line profit margins, with a very limited access to Corporate and institutional finance, due to a dearth of statistics and figures, to generate projections or structured growth potentials, that could lead to multi-lateral, but diversified revenue streams.
Successive attempts to establish a film fund for Nigerian film makers, have not materialised. However, recently, some Finance houses, Institutional investors and Venture capitalists, have shown more than a passing interest in the film Industry, wishing to further explore the potentials of this lucrative industry.
The Presidential $200 million Entertainment Intervention Fund, from the $500 million World Bank Small Growing Business Loan Scheme, is therefore, a welcome development. However, contrary to widespread belief, this Loan is very accessible. Industry practitioners must change their ways of doing business, to access this fund. We have to be corporate in our approach, if we want to stand a chance. We have to be proactive by consulting experts in drawing up business plans/financial projections and tax papers, to meet the stringent requirements for the loan. The most important key to note, is that our films and intellectual property, are our greatest asset.
The initial practitioners of Video films in Nigeria, emerged from the NTA, when the popular T.V Soaps of the 80's and early 90's were in demand. These practitioners took the location based T.V production style, creatively utilising digital ENG Cameras of the time and created a genre, that has today become a film style of its own.
These early practitioners, were well trained technical personnel, some of whom trained in the best film schools in the world. This is reflective in the technical quality of the early productions, in comparison to some of what is presently produced.
However, because of the lack of formal or functional training facilities in the Country, subsequent technical personnel, had to learn "on the job", gathering "hands on" experience, as they systematically climbed the production hierarchy ladder.
Again, due to the loosely regulated environment, some of these home-grown personnel started cutting corners on core production values, to meet budgetary expectations. This resulted in the breeding of creatively inventive, but informally trained production personnel, who urgently need formal updated technical courses, across board, in the production value chain.
Training and re-training of practitioners has therefore become an absolutely necessity, to meet the demands of a very perceptive and exposed audience and the challenges of the digital revolution.
Finally, the motion picture industry, is the only sector in Art, culture and entertainment sector, that is under the Federal Ministry of Information, while all the others are under the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This has caused a major disconnect between the industry and other sectors in the Arts.
This is a dilemma, as only the Ministry Of Culture is empowered by law, to sign and implement International treaties, bi-lateral agreements, and access to global film funds, on behalf of the Federal Government, which are very much needed for the sustainable growth of the film industry. So, where do we rightfully belong? The debate continues.
Andy Amenechi is gunning for Presidency of the Directors Guild of Nigeria in the association's elections, to be held this week. See Page 42 for more