NOLLYWOOD, Nigeria's film industry, is certainly going through a trying time. For some industry insiders, this present lull had been predicted based on inadequacies in the system.
Prime among the glaring laxities were the gaping flaws in a non-exerted effort to set the fundamental structures in local and international distribution and an abject disregard for new internet technologies which stood to undermine our simplistic forms of distribution.
Today, the realities of Nollywood are as follows: An average producer spends between $15,000 and $25,000 to produce a Nollywood film. Some people may find this level of investment commitment ridiculous, accounting for the apparent low quality of the film products, but indigenous film producers in Nollywood argue that based on the present available distribution opportunities any increase in the production budget renders the project non-viable.
Fortunately, Silverbird and Genesis cinemas in Nigeria have both opened up an African theatrical release lifeline for more qualitative Nollywood films with bigger budgets of $50,000 or more. New breed filmmakers such as Stephanie Okereke, Kunle Afolayan and a few others are challenging earlier held opinions. They are taking bigger risks and taking advantage of the theatrical release opportunities offered by these two companies in Nigeria and generating some respectable numbers.
The critical question though is that can Nollywood films be viable within the scope of present local and international distribution? Here are the numbers: Theatrical release revenue for a "good" film released through the present theatre route in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya combined is approximately N10 million. Less cost of advertising and other distributor's incidentals, a producer can expect about N6 million ($40,000) from the distributor. Local DVD (Video CD) distribution in Nigeria and Ghana revenue is an additional $15,000. United States distribution rights are bought for a maximum of $15,000 by the "Big Three": Sanga Entertainment, Executive Image and Franco films.
European rights usually go for a maximum $5,000. Therefore a "good" Nollywood film can net $75,000 (Seventy Five Thousand Dollars).
To boost these sales numbers, Nollywood producers have pleaded with the Nigerian government to curb piracy of their films when they are released on Video CD or DVD so that they can increase sales to at least 100,000 copies at a dollar each in Nigeria alone. These are very attainable numbers. Nollywood movie titles have been known to sell between 250,000 and 400,000 copies during the hey days prior to the so-called "20 in 1," where pirated copies of their films enter Nigeria from China in packages of twenty films recorded on one DVD and sold in the mainstream Nigerian market for One Dollar.
This singular act remains the albatross of Nollywood and the only institution capable of putting an end to it is the Nigerian government. Unfortunately and for unknown reasons, the government has not been able to curb the piracy. Recent moves by the Nigerian Copyright Commission may hopefully reduce the copyright infringement menace.
But until then, Nollywood may remain in its present lull, unable to save itself, heading speedily to the eventual demise of Nigeria's only indigenous industry.
Interestingly, some Nigerians residing in the United States of America may hold the key to Nollywood's sustenance in the future. The Filmmakers Association of Nigeria, USA (FAN) has initiated a comprehensive program and if well executed stands to benefit Nollywood tremendously. All new Nollywood film titles starting from January 2010 are now being copyrighted in the US.
The main reason why the Nollywood film distributors in the US offer relatively low distribution fees is that immediately the films are legitimately released by them in the US, internet criminals buy a copy and stream it for free on the World Wide Web to over 100,000 free viewers per title. Over 20 illegal internet sites have been identified by FAN, owned and operated mostly by Nigerians, Ghanaians and some Caribbean nationals living in the US and the United Kingdom.
Some of the website owners falsely claim that the Nollywood films are free of any copyright because they are not represented by any authorised distributors in the US.
By registering the copyrights of the films in the US, FAN can now officially litigate all infringers. FAN has entered joint agreements with African Artists Collaborative (AAC), a non-profit institution in the US, which has gained the full support of Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA). The joint initiative between FAN, AAC and PIIPA provides unprecedented support for Nollywood by supplying top US attorneys to help register and litigate copyright infringement of Nollywood films in the US Pro Bono Publico.
Immediately Nollywood films are copyrighted in the US, Cease and Desist letters are issued to infringing websites and store locations from these reputable US law firms, demanding immediate removal of the copyrighted works. It is disheartening to note that the main infringer of Nollywood film content in America has been identified as onlinenigeria.com. The website, owned and operated by Mr. Chuks Nnaemeka, a Nigerian, is a notorious, willful infringer of Nollywood films. Mr. Nnaemeka falsely claims that the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board issued his company Devace Inc. a license to distribute ALL Nollywood films worldwide. When contacted by FAN, Mr. Emeka Mba, Director General of NFVCB, vehemently denied ever issuing such a license. He declared that the copy of the license provided by Mr. Nnaemeka was a forged document, and the NFVCB proceeded immediately thereafter to state clearly on their website that onlinenigeria.com was in clear violation of Nigeria's copyright laws and consequently reported the case to the appropriate Nigerian security authorities. To date, onlinenigeria.com continues to willfully infringe on the rights of all Nollywood producers with impunity, deceiving US advertisers who place advertising banners worth millions of dollars on their website because of the unprecedented global traffic generated. Presently, the US department of Justice has been notified and a lawsuit is being prepared against Mr. Nnaemeka, Devace Inc. and three other websites owned by him.
As soon as the US market is swept clean of these criminals who have no regard for the hard work and sacrifice of their fellow Africans, DVD sales of Nollywood movies will increase exponentially, easily selling an average of 100,000 to 200,000 copies at Five Dollars per copy. Nollywood producers will in turn be offered commensurate fees for their film distribution rights in the US territory. Then producers can embark on presenting worthy authentic stories with quality technical formats for their teeming audience worldwide.
On another level, FAN, USA has also signed mainstream American distribution rights deals with three American distributors for United States theatrical and DVD release. All films geared for that mega market must be shot on a minimum Hi Definition format advisably with some relatively known American actors or entertainment personalities injected in the cast to facilitate American mainstream interest.
A few Nigerian producers have taken advantage of that opportunity. Producers such as the writer of this article and Pascal Atuma (Hurricane in the Rose Garden), both based in America, have their films distributed in both the Nollywood niche market as well as mainstream American mega stores such as Walmart, Blockbuster, Redbox and Amazon selling for $20 per DVD copy.
Other prolific Nigerian filmmakers such as legendary Ola Balogun, Eddie Ugbomah, Tunde Kelani, Kingsley Ogoro, Tade Ogidan, Zeb Ejiro, Don Okolo, Ngozi Onwurah, Mahmoud Ali Balogun, Peace Anyiam Osigwe, Andy Amenechi, Paul Obazele, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen, Don Pedro Obaseki, Ebbe Bassey, Vigil Chime, Chris Ekejimbe, Fidelis Duker and many others have the potential of making mega movies if given access to the right budget.
Young, talented filmmakers such as Stephanie Okereke and new-comer Chineze Anyaene, both graduates of the New York Film Academy, are set to explore a global niche market with their new genre of Nollywood cross-over films. The same positive results can be achieved by the next generation of Nollywood producers who embrace quality over quantity and have access to relatively modest budgets of at least $100,000.
These uniquely crafted films if distributed through a global niche market have the potential of grossing a minimum of $500,000 each. Hence the clarion call to the Nigerian government for a national film fund to jump-start the process.
Nollywood has amazing potential. For the industry to be truly viable, it will require a deft understanding of a specifically targeted niche market in the United States. It will take an aggressive approach towards copyright enforcement, creative budgeting, an astute application of new Hi Definition digital technology and a mastery of specifically tailored storylines targeted towards an Afrocentric niche market of at least fifty million people in the United States of America alone, with an estimated active consumer spending power of $900 billion per annum. Nollywood is in a very good position to access that market. The ultimate benefit ato the Nigerian economy is unimaginable.