GMB vs NOLLYWOOD – HOW TO WOO GEJ LOVERS

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By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

From the head-scratching of members of the 19-man Transition Committee set up by the President-elect, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), we know they are looking desperately for projects, policies and actions that will translate to immediate, resounding and impressive vibrations in the hearts of change-hungry Nigerians. So, the incoming government must device jobs, jobs and more jobs…. Well, with sober reasoning and inventive contemplation, we present one of the idyllic public spaces where a common-sense-driven administration can intervene effectively and glowingly while keeping jobs from disappearing and creating new and numerous jobs.

 

During the closing phase of his electioneering campaign, when GMB was asked his government approach to Nollywood, he promptly threw the napkin to Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos. That act represents his shocking lack of understanding (I take that back, no shock at all) or sensitivity to a critical section of a vital mass within Nigeria’s geopolitical super-structure. I very much doubt if Fashola had ever written one full page of legal opinion of entertainment law in his illustrious career – nor has his administration, generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in Nigeria, done more for entertainment than tokenism of rehabilitating some ill-fated entertainers and a handful of carnivals and seasonal countdowns!

 

For the benefit of the doubt, it is quite possible that a swashbuckling young army infantry hot-head in his late 30’s (1984 HoS) would not have heard of the terror and devastation that Pa Moses Adejumo’s Orun Moru suffered in the hands of profiteers barely two years earlier. It took another ten years after his forced retirement before some semblance of what we now call Nollywood emerged. So, we should not take it for granted that GMB ought to know ‘something’ about Nigerian entertainment – if we insist, we overstretch our sense of importance.

This is why thoroughbred practitioners snigger when government plays the ostrich in its engagement with the creative enterprise… for a single mid-level Nigerian production with a capital outlay of N5-10m, the long line of operatives work out like this: behind the cameras/gadgets are at least 15 people; the major sets will accommodate from 20 to 500 role players, big and small. Further down the chain of production, are scores of tens of people working in the editing studios, sound studios, photography and graphic designs, printing press, publicity and liaisons, etc. Ancillary outlets also queue up for post production activities that may help the producer recoup some investment before the almighty pirates swoop: Hall rentals for premiere, contacts and mobilization, DVD discs for mass-dubs, cinema house and its complex of leisure shops, transportation for promotion or road shows, voice-overs for jingles, TV commercials, comedians, DJs and MCs for serial launchings, marketers, video sellers, etc…. On this single work, we have partially identified more than 1000 people directly or indirectly eking a living. Multiply that work by the proverbial 700-1000 movie products we proverbially drop into the unwieldy markets every year. The opportunity is begging to create a minimum of 2m jobs within three years in the creative industry alone if hedged with a strong government support, legitimate structures and ultimately international financing and exchange of expertise.

To bring the cattle home to rest, we merely need to study the growth and growing stature of India’s Bollywood (derived from film-makers’ activities in Bombay city, now Mumbai). You see, Nigeria and India find important indices of commonalities beyond the different shades of colour that distinguish us. Our history as a nation, as British colonized people, with relatively similar huge population of diverse tongues, religions and cultures meshed in a melting pot of blurring political and economic turbulence …among many other surprising relatedness. So, what can our men of power learn from Bollywood and its billion dollar climb to global prominence?

 

Bollywood is basically a regional hyper Hindi exercise (one expert says 20%) of the huge Indian film activity. Bollywood’s global brand image dwarves the other Indian language film sectors and simply equates it as the national jewel, especially in jaundiced international media. As an aside, it is even debatable that Bollywood comes behind Nollywood, even without the additions of Kannywood, Yoruwoods, and such other ‘woods. Their story reads like ours: There is low cost of production; millions of Nigerians work and live all over the world; very high demand for quality Nigerian entertainment; expanding demographics. However, that is as far as similarities go. Bollywood’s key revenue outlets as at 2012 were: Domestic Theatre (74%), Cable/Satellite Rights (11%), Overseas Theatre (7%), Ancillary revenues like endorsements, brand ambassadors, etc (5%)…with Home Video trickling in at 3%! That statistics emanate from its 2012 total annual revenue of $3.5b!

 

Just as the new deal dawned on the Central government of India about eight years ago when it granted Industry status to Bollywood – the dalliance of Nigerian federal government with the movie business since the coming of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan six years ago should now be concretized (“gazetted”) and serious attention given to institutionalizing key sectors of the burgeoning industry. We have similar population dynamics (though our middle class is almost wiped out in contrast to India’s 300m – almost a double of our country); we have the passion to sustain flourishing markets of quality works; we have the landmass to build giant multiplex theatres and other viewing centres in both rural and urban centres (Lagos alone can start with two multiplex theatres in each of her 57 LG/LCDAs…and other states can pitch in at least one or more multiplex in all LGs, thus delivering over 1,500 centres of exhibition/distribution/commerce and information – which will trigger high income from product placements, high returns on investments, increased and widespread ‘follow-follow’ erections of theatres and viewing centres thus igniting an explosion in job creation; promoting the flow of communication between the government and its people…. Instead of wasting billions on a gigantic stadium that is used once or twice in two years in a landscape of poverty and economic erosion; if the flailing ‘king’ of Akwa-Ibom had built ten multiplex of entertainment/leisure outlets across the state, there would still have been some sort of thriving legacy of commerce and roll-over employment for young Ibomites… but I digress…

Good sensible government policies that allow entrepreneurial capacities of its people to roam and flourish, have a way of attracting major investments. When we get our distribution and exhibition channels right and running; when the right people drive a commonsensical pro-people agencies of government with a crusading desire to promote and project the creative endeavours of Nigerians, we shall begin to witness fantastic collaborations with Hollywood moneybags the likes of which Bollywood is now enjoying.

 

Major Indian media conglomerates, Reliance Big Entertainment has acquired about 200 theatres in 28 American cities to screen Bollywood and other regional movies; it earlier signed a 36-film, six-year deal with Steven Spielberg’s Dream Works SKG worth $1.2b. Walt Disney is reputed to have invested over $300m with Yash Raj Films, apart from Warner Bros collaborating with People Tree Films and Tandav Films. Other interventions are Sony’s Saawariya (a Dostoyevsky story) in 2007; Disney’s Roadside Romeo (animation), Warner Bros’ Chandni Chowk to China; 20th Century Fox’s Dum Maaro Dum and the recent most successful flick locally, My Name Is Khan ($16m in India/$44m globally). By the way, wither the Nigerian data on the much-vaunted third global power in movie-making?

The point is, most of these stupendous deals began just after government took Bollywood seriously… and around the 2009 India-set mega-hit, Slum Dog Millionaire (a British/American/Indian collaboration shot mostly in India) which was produced with $15m but grossed $377m box-office! Of course it won eight Oscars out of 10 nominations! Another word for breakthrough.

 

However, none of these can be attained without the help of government. Though an intrinsically private enterprise, the sum-total of creative efforts is the elucidation and documentation of people’s culture, lifestyle and struggles through the lenses of their defining citizens. Great nations recognise that their insular confluence of diverse economic, informational and strategic interests are best enunciated by a collaborative creative community – for exports to the farthest reaches beyond the motherland. Perhaps GEJ saw the fringes of that great promise, but history will record that he took the stuttering steps (embracing and recognising the power of creativity) that galvanized successive administrations to ascend and catapult the great promise of our Creative Enterprise to the zenith of global ascendancy. Don’t snigger and wrinkle your nose – for this is how America cockily began to surge outfield 95 years ago…it is not late for us to start climbing.

 

To lavishly buttress my point, this is how an Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University and a notable chronicler of Hindu films

(Bollywood), Dr. Tejaswini Ganti puts it in a 2012 interview:

“Until the advent of what is referred to as ‘corporatization,’ which really started to take shape in some sort of serious manner about five years ago, there was no integration between production, distribution, or exhibition, although that is beginning to change now. Finally, a very important difference between the two industries is that Hollywood has always had the support of the US government, since the early 20th century, to help its goals of expansion, unlike the Hindi industry, which first took shape under a colonial power. The British were trying to figure out how to promote their own films in India and had no interest in fostering Indian film making. After Independence, the Indian government treated films akin to a vice in terms of its censorship and taxation policies….

The U.S. government from the early part of the 20th century saw the economic and ideological potential of film exports and Hollywood was often referred to as the “little State Department.” In fact, Will Hays, the head of the MPAA in the 1920s asserted, “every foot of American film sells one dollar worth of manufactured products somewhere in the world.” So the issue of expanding market reach has to do with political and economic factors rather than simple content…. “.

 

So, this is not a time for dogmas and crass partisanship. This is a venture where everyone wins – the government, practitioners, business people, consumers, the media, distributors, and allied sectors. The Nigerian Creative Communities deserve our full and wholesome support, and a watchful encouragement to soar beyond its current supine status. I believe it!!

 

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