‘Acting is a borrowed line'
Though themes like money ritual, armed robbery, and prostitution have been flogged to death in Nigerian movies, some producers continue to highlight them. Kunle Busari's film, ‘Agbegba Aje', about a young man's attempt to become financially secure through a ritual, appears to toe the same line, though with marked differences.
Are these the only issues filmmakers can explore? I ask the director, also known as Mr. Energie in film circles.
"Movie making is a division of labour. There are directors, actors, scriptwriters and others but the foundation of the movie is the script. No matter how good a plot is, if the story is not there, it will be a poor production. If writers are well paid, they will be able to do thorough research. It might even take them more than a year to research a story, because they will have to go in depth to know what is going on in real life situations concerning the story they are writing on.
"Movie making is also described as make-believe; whatever story one is telling must be how it is in real life. So, knowledgeable scriptwriters are important for the survival of our film industry. Today, everybody believes they can write stories but the fact is that they are not attending scriptwriting workshops or courses on scriptwriting. This is why the themes are from a single angle, when there are a thousand and one angles to present a theme from.
So, until we have good scriptwriters and directors, the issue of producing a movie of a particular theme from the same angle over and over again will continue."
Upcoming and older artists
‘Agbegba Aje' features a mix of established and upcoming artists, but mostly the young ones. Jibola Dabo and Rykardo Agboh are some of the few tested hands in the film, which also features on-the-up players like Jerry Ade Idris, Esther Johnson, Laide Nasir, amongst others.
"I prefer the up-and-coming artists because they give directors more time to work on a story," begins Busari on the new acts.
"Acting is a borrowed line. What is being presented in a storyline might never have happened. So, because of this, the artists will be given time to read the story, digest it, and possibly do his own research on what he wants to present. By the time he is going on set, he would have mastered the emotional demands of the story, and be able to deliver a realistic interpretation of the role he is playing.
This is because among the audience, there are people who have gone through the experience the artist is delivering, and any false interpretation of this experience, they will be cut-off from the movie. So, I prefer the upcoming artists because they have the time to research their roles. The established stars don't have that time."
Marketing and piracy
Mr. Energie, who believes marketing is the biggest challenge facing the film industry at the moment, explains how so. "The market is not wide enough. Those marketing movies in this country do so from either Lagos or Onitsha, without extending their network to other parts of the country. Thus, a newly-released movie will not get to the people outside Lagos and Onitsha on time and this assists piracy to thrive.
If a movie is released in Lagos and in the next five days, it is yet to get to other parts of the country, pirates will capitalise on that."
He, however, suggests that partnership among marketers will reduce the menace.
"Marketers should go and update their knowledge on what marketing is about. Marketing is about collaboration. It is about extending one's network. If a marketer has a shop in Idumota, and in two years, the marketer cannot expand beyond Idumota, then it is best he partners with another marketer or organisation for the distribution of his movies. There are organisations that have networks all over the country, and a marketer can simply partner with them for the distribution of his movies throughout the country.
"If the marketer's distribution network is now so big, then the returns on investment for producers will also be so big that they will have more money to do research, and they will be able to pay their artists better than they are currently doing. Currently, the percentage of people getting manageable pay from film productions is not more than 20 per cent. These are the lead actor, the head of crew, director, cameraman, and a few other people.
All other people on the set of a production are not getting what they are supposed to get. If there is a wider market for movies, majority of those who are on location will be earning good salary that they can live on."
Way forward for Nollywood
Taking Nollywood to the heights of Hollywood and other great film industries, according to Busari, does not require rocket science but getting some fundamentals right.
"If we are to rival the world's best film industry, that is Hollywood, then our so-called big stars should be well-paid so that they can dedicate more time to researching their roles before coming on location. If a producer wants Muyiwa Ademola to spend one month on his location, then he must find the money, and if he cannot afford him, then there are a thousand and one up and coming artists, especially Theatre Arts graduates, who will deliver the role perfectly well.
"Bayo Bankole and Taiwo Ibikunle are two of the best artists in the Nigerian film industry. They are trained Theatre Artists and are good but unfortunately, how many jobs are they getting in the industry? The people directing them are not Theatre Arts graduates, nor have they been to the Nigerian Film Institute, so they just can't know how good these guys are.
"Most of the time, Bayo Bankole is cast as Alinco in every movie he is featured in, while he is a really good actor that can switch roles. There are many artists like Bankole who are also in the same situation. It is unfortunate that education is not respected in our film industry, and that is why the industry is not developing as it should. This is also why the industry is not using the latest technology to promote movies.
"Again, our audiences are the commoners who are struggling to survive and they are the same people we are bombarding with films every week. This is the reason the video clubs are thriving, because we can't expect these people to buy all the movies that are being released every week. If we must take the industry to greater heights, these are some of the issues to address."
Kunle Busari's film, ‘Agbegba Aje' is out now.