If you’re looking for the answer to that question let me stop you here. The answer is pretty simple in and of itself. The answer is not by any stretch of the imagination, an absolute one in favor or against.
If you don’t know what nollywood is or how it started, Ace veteran comedian ALIBABA gives a first hand insight in this Facebook post.
From his post, you get confirmation of what a good number of us knew about the formation of the industry and the metamorphosis of ‘patrons of the art’ into stakeholders and marketers. Of course there’s also the parallel story of the industrious ibo man who came in with a container full of empty video cassettes and decided to shoot a movie to be mass produced so his investment would not entirely be left to the dogs. Now these stories have an underlying theme, which is that our indigenous movie industry was birthed in one random collision of fate and magnanimous benevolence. Long story short, it exists without structure that would normally define an industry in the economic sense of the word. In the midst of these patronage by ‘business’ men some films did bring in a healthy turnover and suddenly a business worth investing in was born.
Then what about piracy? Others have argued that it is the biggest single cancer eating away at the potential earnings of the cxreatives. I recall the experiences friends of mine narrated to me regarding music business in Nigeria. One’s experience was that after all the effort spent getting an artist recorded and a distribution deal needs to be signed, the marketer starts playing funny, begins to devalue the artist’s work after initially raising hopes. His next excuse becomes “I can’t force acceptance of your work on the audience” and by the time the wind has been knocked out of your sails and you’re accepting their offer, they will gladly receive money from another marketer who’s promoting a ‘rival/competing’ artist’s work to impede sales of your own album. I was just there, mouth agape (or sucking in air because the pepper in the gizzard we were eating was Legendary!) while my friend told me this story. By the way, piracy was not his issue, maybe it was before these artists and labels got an understanding with the Alaba ‘marketers’ but not since 2010.
And why does piracy work? Well there are a lot of reasons, but let me quickly say here that it’s more often than not, the filmmakers not their marketers who scream piracy. Odd? My little run in with marketers/pirates/executive producers revealed something which I like to believe is common knowledge. In fact, they like to believe it is common knowledge.
One guys’ opinion went thus “guy money dey this business but na cabal.” Annoyingly this individual went no further than that, kept speaking cryptically and talking about how if you were in with their ilk, operations could move smoothly and profitably. So why are the marketers not as vocal about piracy? First of we must understand that piracy is a business, a very profitable albeit illegal business, and the players, especially in Nigeria would not be in it without any intention of not making money via exploiting loopholes in distribution and that more often than not, these pirates can also be the film marketers with shops in Alaba and Iweka road. A filmmaker whining about piracy eating into his sales is simply regurgitating the lies his marketer has told him in order to stall whatever payments said filmmaker should have earned. With the release of the last project I worked on late last year, I realized or rather it was re iterated to me that piracy is not the problem of this current generation of filmmakers, funding and proper valuation of a project when looking for distribution deals both on payTV, online platforms and direct to DVD sales are. I’ve had friends sell their films for the exact same amount they shot it and some even less, just so they can let it go. In fact, let me introduce you to a phenomenon here in Lagos called ‘Alaba movies.’ An Alaba marketer calls an upcoming director, gives him a shoe string budget and a three day window to shoot a movie with said marketer’s house, cars and sundry resources.
This method affords said marketer the following benefits; he tells his own story, no matter how crappy, he spends less in acquiring content for mass production than if he had to buy content from others, finally, he has first mover advantage, if his film is a run away success for any reason he’d have recouped his investment before his fellow pirates swoop in on his material (after all, it is always going to be a lot easier to take someone’s DVD and mass duplicate) . So when a pirate can fund a film for let’s say #700,000 and know that by the time he pushes his first 200,000 copies (and they do reach these figures) he’s covered, anybody looking to duplicate fake 1000-10000 copies of a movie with the jacket is looking for chump change when you consider the burden of printing that quantity with a single 10 loader duplicator and I-betta-pass-my-neighbor generator
Any distributor fighting piracy and loosing is akin to shrimps swimming among piranhas (this is geographically impossible because their habitats are quite different but yeah). Point is distributors falling prey to piracy are (1) naive in the ways which these seasoned colleagues of theirs have been playing, and they have been playing dirty to say the least. (2) Do not have the necessary financial acumen to cater to a potentially large market (3) have no structure to ensure that their merchandise is sold only where they designate it to be.
So if piracy exists because marketers are carnivorous and prey on each other’s work, why not just arrest them all? Who outside of these marketers have viable means of widespread distribution? Yeah, I thought so.
Piracy also exists because of availability and price. Where a recently released film on DVD has not found its way into all its potential markets for whatever reasons, pirates will swoop in on the opportunity offered them and make money off your sweat. A distributor who is unable to make a film accessible for any reason -of which there are many and valid- inadvertently creates a loophole for pirates. To draw this close to home, how many of you use genuine windows OS versions on your PCs and not cracks? Especially if it was purchased second hand or refurbished, or if you had to reformat the system. That right there, that’s piracy. This is because a crack windows OS will set you back two hundred naira, not so a genuine activation. And where the bootleg is more ubiquitous than the original, well you get the idea.
More so, piracy is a culture, I find no other to put it than that, how do you explain all the movies and netflix series you can download for free off torrent sites who want nothing in return from you (except maybe dash you a few Trojans and associated malware)
So how do we tackle piracy? The world has been asking that question for a while and the answers have varied from clime to clime.
The suggestion that legislation to sorely punish offenders should be enacted is good, but only half good. The threat of punishment is not as good a deterrent as making a process nigh impossible to subvert. Plus, knowing the way legislation works in Nigeria we are better off sorting this issue outside of legislation than waiting for a special anti piracy task force and an anti piracy act that will be enforced without compromise.
Technology offers up quite a few solutions on both physical and digital piracy that coupled with some creative sales and marketing might persuade pirates to start hawking koko garri on the lekki expressway.
Read only DVDs can be had at a more cost effective price these days, making the task of duplicating DVDs a bit harder for pirates, me I’m currently working with some tools to see if I can recreate such locally rather than outsourcing, I’ll let you in on how it goes.
Elaborate yet cost effective packaging that will have our pirate comrades discouraged at the sheer sight of it should e thought out, especially when they realize it’s no longer ‘seal am for nylon, use sealing machine join the head’ kind of packaging.
Tiered Sales. Imagine selling a movie only DVD with the basic jacket for #200 naira, a box set with an autograph of cast for a little higher and a collector’s edition with merchandise from the movie and sweep stakes of some sort or the other. If the PR is engaging enough and makes the case for purchasing such tiered products so strongly that I feel like I have a vested interest in the project(like kick starter except in reverse, kinda) a cynic like myself would not mind buying something more than just the basic DVD. Sha do market research before you try this one O.
How about Digital piracy? How do we make streaming work? Look at what iroko is doing, (you can download media to your android device from the iroko app once yoy subscribe but you can’t send it elsewhere or view it outside their app) and also try a bit torrent bundle package, even works with movies too.
Also we can bring new life to video clubs, imagine if one of these online services decided to go through the video club owners association and bring them up to speed with the twenty first century, making them hubs where I can go with my laptop, plug in to their WiFi to specifically access that services catalog of film and related media content and download, pay my monthly subscription fee and go consume my media.
So back to the question, could nollywod have done without said fund? Lets look at what project ACT nollywood really is about and what they might have gotten wrong with the whole funding issue in my subsequent post.
P.S if you are going to be at the iREP film festival tomorrow, let us meet up! we are finally taking the film project community a step closer to reality, interesting plans underway, too lazy to type out here, but if you are ambitious enough to make a film, we are crazy enough to want to support you