HOW TO BE A CONTEMPORARY INDEPENDENT NIGERIAN FILMMAKER, ON A BUDGET

As with all things Nigerian, for no just cause there seems to be a massive influx in the multimedia content creation industry. Many are called but few are chosen. Hence to stand out you must follow these guidelines properly. Failure to adhere to them would result in consequences better experienced than explained. Now ladies and gentlemen, kindly read on, your filmmaking career in this our Nigeria, depends on it.

In no particular order here are the things you must do.

Admission that your swag is still on fire and have not cook finish is key here. As such, every one else you meet is ‘boss’ or ‘chairman.’ Also use said pseudonyms in instances where you’re too drunk to remember someone’s name or just genuinely can’t remember an individual’s name because, contrary to their claims, you really haven’t met them. Calling people by the above pseudonyms would also amount to people thinking you’re a humble people person.
Since we’re still on the subject of swag that is still on the fire, go to functions dressed like a rebellious artist, no accomplished people tuxedo dressing or ball gown rocking attire. Wear shorts and Ankara tops. You, for the moment, detest the laziness and laxity and lack of creativity that has consumed the industry. If you genuinely believe that then go ahead, it’ll be easier to sell if you actually believe that. Hence, you must also be thin and team beard gang. How else can you preach the revolution if you look well fed?
Hence, your dress code should be in sharp contrast to the prevailing norm. Also, you can’t be bald, wear your receding hairline with pride until your swag have cook finish.

Next, whenever you’re watching a Nigerian film at the cinemas always complain loudly and decry the big budgets the film makers say they spent on the feature. We know you don’t have money, but sha still complain, there will always be a legitimate reason to complain. They won’t throw you out of the hall, especially if you have a commanding voice like mine and can also ask incredulously to whoever is challenging your opinion this simple question ‘who are you?’ However, don’t always chip in that you, the obnoxious film critic, actually happens to be a filmmaker, it could get tiring really quickly.

Blame your unimpressive or non existent show reel on the fact that you are an auteur, whatever that means. Point is, you only undertake projects that aspire to much more than commercial interests, your concepts are thought provoking imagery that incite introspective thinking, and the Nigerian market is not intellectual enough to absorb that hence no one wants to fund your project thus you haven’t done squat.

You have to be a feminist, not just any kind, but you must use feminism as a cudgel to bash the likes of Clarence Peters and co. Decry the state of our music videos, not because they look like soft porn gone wrong or women objectifying wank-aids but because it pushes your agenda. Talk about how the Clarence who shot the “You go Wound O” video with a camcorder that had tha suspect, illbliss, and kel is no longer around and has been replaced by a capitalist (see what you did there?).

If you shoot with camcorder or a DSLR you must remember to extol the virtues of less is more, how the story is about the script not the tool used to capture the story. Again, we know you don’t have money, so talk about how almost all of nollywood is typecast, but sha famz just one, only one nollywood medium to big actor to do waka pass for your short film or web series, on that one star, famz away, tweet at them, let them know their collaborating with you in waka pass was and is the height of your career.

Form a clique. Men and brethren, women and children, observers and practitioners alike, there’s no union greater than the clique. The established people have one, why not you. Find fellow film practitioners of like mind and become their leader or mouthpiece. The benefits of these are immense. Because you people are click, sorry button, sorry clique, you can borrow equipment without down payment and never pay sef after usage. Plus, a lone voice crying from the rooftops means nothing, you’re not John the Baptist men, but a multitude of voices screaming blue murder, now that can ruffle a few feathers. Plus if you guys ever have a falling out, it’d make for good drama on Twitter or anywhere else your fame spread reach. See Jay Z and Kanye.

Owe people. You need drama in your life and business to ensure people know about you. If a whole presidential aspirant can owe his employees how much more you, a fast rising filmmaker. Engage in tweet fights, if the thing sweet small Linda Ikeji will use it for content people will view it and in a convoluted turn of events actors will send you their demo reels, marketers will want your number. Did you say you only do thought provoking introspective whatnot? Hungry never catch you yet.

Be heterosexual. In the spirit of going against the norm I’d have suggested being homosexual but there’s this rumor that our politicians and top nollywood people already swing that way, what would you, an outsider now gain by being gay except for hemorrhoid?

Be spotted around Lagos with a DSLR hanging from your neck and then be incredulous when people ask if you’re a photographer. You’re clearly not a tourist, you are not a photographer, you’re a filmmaker, play it right and it can be a chick magnet (hopefully not chick for chickens but chick as an euphemism for babes which is an euphemism for, if you don’t know by now even I can’t help you)

Talk about how cool using apple computers are for post production, forget that you don’t know squat about it, jump on the bandwagon and proclaim final cut x was revolutionary (like seriously?) How you wouldn’t touch windows with a ten foot pole.

The end result of these ladies and gentlemen, is that when you’re career have cook finish, you get to start wearing tuxedos and LBDs to functions, sipping fine wine and dinner with governors and all that, basically, the end result is to become that which you started out hating, or pretending to hate.

Follow these steps dear friends and see your career blossom.

P.S I originally wanted to write stuff along the lines of learning to manage relationships between cast and crew, giving up micromanaging and delegating responsibility to others not because you initially trusted them enough, but because you’d break down trying to do it all by yourself, leading your team by putting in work on your own end, sometimes letting the people you hire know you’re capable enough to assume the roles you’re paying them for doing their work when they start to act up for one reason or the other, or trying to handle covering multiple events for clients on the same day and all that,but you know how boring those can get,so I opted for this instead.
Anything I forgot? Let me know, thanks.

THE FILMMAKER CAREER TRAJECTORY

So i think this post is probably a year premature, I initially wanted  to write this article and base my final opinions on where I’d be in another twelve months time which right now,is still twelve months away. Thing is, I read stuff on Ryan Walters blog recently and I realized that one’s career trajectory can not be absolutely determined by prevailing trends or circumstances or handicaps (this is my way of saying this is a disclaimer, take my words with a grain of salt and blah blah blah). That being said though there is a prevailing trend in Nollywood or our film industry, and it is predicated upon accessing a larger income over time. There really is nothing wrong with this, especially given the economic situation of our country (the rebased GDP Stuff is yet to impact me so I’ll just say it’s all ‘wash’). But when it begins to steadily shape an artist into an amoebic mass of mediocrity therein lies the problem.

I have often wondered if like Thelma Schoonmaker or Emma Thomas, a non linear editor could rise to popularity within our revered film industry in Nigeria, or if it were possible to accord a cinematographer in Nigeria the kind of respect accorded to the likes of Roger Deakins. Moreso if they stayed put in respective fields for decades without crossing over to directing or producing or any other such thing. The answer to that question, in my opinion as far as Nigeria is concerned remains an emphatic ‘NO.’ The answer to this question is based on these observations of mine.

Cinematography, editing, set design are still somewhat considered as semi-skilled endeavours as far as the making of a film and other related content is concerned and as such continue to command sub par wages. In other words, it is the kind of stuff Emeka can ask his nephew Jide to come around a set a couple of times or have him sit in a post production studio for two months and presto! He becomes a cinematographer or editor or whatever Emeka intended for him to be. Of course that’s why this new breed cinematographer doesn’t know what the histogram or zebras displaying on the camera means as long as the image looks good enough in HIS eyes. It’s the same reason the editor can’t fix crippling mono audio, establish continuity or cheat with shots to make up for errors during the shoot.
I once had the opportunity to talk to a camera man on the set of a production a couple of years ago and I caught a whiff of the passion he had for the job. However, the young man, who had only just ‘graduated’ from the position of a camera assistant (mind you camera assistant here does not refer to the focus puller. The camera assistant in this clime carries the camera bags and changes/charges the camera batteries) could not navigate the settings on a Sony EX3 camera! He knew how to pull the zoom, change the card slots, and press the very obvious record button. His very words were “give me a camera,any camera, and I will shoot for as long as is required.I may not know about settings but I can hold the camera steady.” At a point where all I wanted to be was the best editing hands on this side of the Atlantic and nothing more,I found his spirit commendable and hoped he would improve. It’s been three years now,and I sincerely hope he has, and if our industry trajectory is anything to go by, he would probably a production manager in another three to five years.
I firmly believe this apprenticeship mentality that goes into training would-be editors and cinematographers is responsible for the shortage of necessary skill set needed to excel in the industry and is the reason on the whole that such members of the creative community are treated like bricklayers on a construction site; overworked and underpaid. The instructor deliberately fails to comprehensively instruct his/her pupil so that they go out into the field incomplete. This enables them to remain relevant in the market and command somewhat respectable prices than their pupils who had they had all the knowledge would have undercut their instructors on price and knowing how producers love a bargain the instructors would have lost out to their pupils in the job market. At least I think that is what they are thinking. How else can I explain being financially and intellectually handicapped at the second studio I interned in as an editor until they noticed me display initiative outside their borders and then decided to make me their new workhorse. If that is truly the reason behind such actions though then I’d say it is rather asinine. Experience trumps knowledge anyday. You can transfer all your knowledge to a pupil but experience is, well that is why they call it experience.
So how about those who went to film school? Let me put it this way, You’ve gone and returned from film school, whether it was after six months or two years, point is, you’re back with all this knowledge and idea and all that beautiful ‘crap’, and then you jump into the fray that is our film and TV industry only to realize that the sub par standard is the SET standard and nobody wants to wait for you to run calibrations with a light meter or any other fancy stuff you’re on about. Basically it becomes imperative that you shape in or shape out!
Then all that film school money you paid for? You’re not going to make up for it in your first year working in the film industry. Film school or not, you will be considered as a greenhorn and will be priced along the lines of ‘apprentice’ filmmakers.

Moreso, there is no differentiating factor hence competitiveness amongst Cinematographers or editors is usually based on price. This means whoever has the capacity to execute the job faster and for less gets the job handed to them. Of course we can argue that in certain instances (post production specifically) getting the job done properly means painstakingly going through the job with a fine tooth comb. And that will be time consuming.
This implies that the longer you remain a cinematographer or an editor you will be faced with the threat of reducing profit margins to stay competitive. You then have the option of ascending the ladder. Become a production manager, maybe a producer or a director. Even an EP, who knows? Just don’t get drowned out by hungrier, younger people who don’t have families to feed and can afford to earn less and doing that will be nearly impossible unless you offer clients a differentiating factor that makes you distinct – hint,it shouldn’t be price, obviously.

Lower entry barriers to filmmaking means that digital content can be shot for next to nothing as far as production cost is concerned, from $400 Gopro cameras that shoot as much as 2.5K in resolution to iphones and samsungs to Nokia lumia phones with 41 MegaPixel cameras. This is sort of a good thing right? Yes actually, but again I share Ryan’s opinions in this article. Where jobs which would have been shot with a medium sized budget requiring a P2 camera or the EX3 would now have the option of being shot with cheap DSLRs. Usually they(the producers) are tempted to carry on with this cost cutting measure and extend it to the talent, the crew and even post production. So the logic becomes; “I can’t pay you the same thing i would pay you for editing the last job because it was shot on a SONY professional camera and this was shot on a DSLR camera.” Maybe that’s probably why the editor decides to let the job go out with some heinous errors on the final edit, just speculating.

Finally, money. While some of us may want to pursue the meaning of life, arts,science, religion, seek escapism through the lens of a camera, We have to eat, have clothing and shelter (I’m liberally paraphrasing some guy’s words who happened to be the founder of socialism along with Karl Marx).
Ours is a struggling third world economy, with bills to pay and communal mouths to feed, art has to start paying off pretty quickly or it becomes a liability. In the same way, the editor,cinematographer, or set designer has to live off of something else to ensure that his/her basic needs remains catered to due to the erratic/inconsistent nature of the job.
Editing is basically drab if you are not working on a ‘passion’ project. If you have to do that for a TV station or stream live events it becomes a chore, even for geeks (raises hand solemnly) such are usually the kind of jobs that you can do without opening your eyes. They are also the kind of jobs with the potential for handsome remuneration. Now don’t get me wrong, there are people who totally love doing multimedia jobs for TV that have nothing to do whatsoever with film, drama or whatnot. I for a fact like love documentaries. But when people start to gravitate towards a certain aspect of multimedia because the pay is supposedly bigger, then we have a problem, the problem here is not even about fulfillment or other abstracts. The problem becomes saturation, individuals unnecessarily obfuscating other people with genuine passion for the job either by leveraging on their connections to gain an advantage (nothing wrong with that by the way) or lowering prices and still delivering below par. Then there’s that other stuff about not feeling fulfilled doing something that only pays the bills.

So, is there a solution? Well the thing is there is no purist way of making film, not in this clime or generation. The solution when oversimplified is basically this; adapt or die.
As a living entity, over time we evolve. Our bodies, down to their cellular contents adapts to external influences,reacting in ways that ensures our survival. In the same vein, filmmakers should see themselves as businessmen, your product is entertainment, propaganda, enlightenment, escapism, you want your product to draw emotion from the audience. Whatever side of the divide you exist in, treat your craft as a business. It’s now less about the film and more about the actual business that goes into the creation of film and related content. Negotiation, competitive pricing, differentiating factors, spurring customer curiosity, generating customer intimacy, engagement and retention are things you may need to consider as opposed to just doing whatever it is you’ve been doing. Whatever your niche in the film business you have to look at your sector, find out what you can offer that is sorely missing, meet that need and convince people of said need. Seems really easy in theory right? I thought so too until I started something along those lines.

Caveat though, if you haven’t perfected your skills in your specific endeavor as a filmmaker you might want to do that first, worse still, with new innovations cropping up ever so often you have to keep yourself in the know and constantly update your skill set, add that to trying to sell yourself from a unique perspective like I mentioned earlier plus actually working and you have a problem,but then there are people already doing that so no need whining about it eh. Go on and be successful then, but don’t hold your breath waiting for our economy to become more supportive of filmmakers. Besides, what art form exceeds the art of living life, and living it well?

THE ROLE OF FILM AND TV CRITICS IN AN INCHOATE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

While the argument that Nollywood has grown can be debated for and against for an indeterminate period of time, one can postulate that the initial buzz and hype around films like “phone swap’, “last flight to Abuja” that garnered the interest of major brands no longer accompanies the premiere of the more recently released works, and let’s face facts, art is capital intensive, brands pitching in to promote a movie significantly reduces marketing costs for the filmmaker and helps them get closer to breaking even while ensuring a greater level of media publicity than the filmmaker or the distribution company alone would have been able to achieve, plus our entertainment industry is no different from a bunch of spare parts traders occupying a street and collectively taking up a name by which they are identified, no visible structure beyond that point. With local movies jostling for space at the cinemas, from the Rukky Sanda kind of stories to Tunde Kelani and regrettably, Elvis Chuks (He makes good Soap Operas, just seems perpetually incapable of making movies that would pass for a high school student’s  first feature film project). There is a pertinent need for the cinema loving, the local cinema loving audience to have some foreknowledge of what they are about to belabor their eyes with. This is where film and TV critics come in.
In an entertainment industry where the west (Specifically Hollywood and US cable TV) is unfortunately the yardstick of choice, any attempt to create audio visual content is applauded, no matter how mediocre (Rukky Sanda darling, I’m looking at you, you’re not the only one though, but you readily come to mind is all). Flip the coin and you find those whose primary objective is to under the guise of constructive criticism throw the filmmaker’s work under the bus without remorse.
A film or TV critic is not a failed filmmaker, nor is [s]he  merely an informed audience, or a film  enthusiast. In an industry where critics serve as the medium that appraises a filmmaker’s work before it reaches the audience, a critic straddles the fence as a journalist armed with useful information that goes beyond what the audience sees on screen and a film enthusiast whose appreciation for the art of storytelling enables him sympathize with how the narrative is expressed and call out missteps made should his/her educated senses catch such.
The current crop of film critics in Nigeria leaves a lot to be desired. It is however, not entirely their fault though. A movie review is in the process of being made long before the clapperboard goes snap for the final scene. News bits, on location photographs and a lot of hype should hover around a movie before, during and after the initial release of a feature. Most Nigerian filmmakers do not bother themselves with such “nonsensities.” And a “settle first” kind of journalism will not carry such information as readership engagement is only a statistic used to impress prospective advertisers (ask Linda). For instance, the only place where I, personally, followed the pre production stages of the HALF OF A YELLOW SUN movie was via Indiwire.com. True enough, sponsored pieces to promote events and such are not bad in and of themselves, but where a movie being made constitutes a news worthy article on a site dedicated to that sphere, must it always be paid for before the reader gets to know of it? That aside, the filmmaker is usually rather unwilling to put out fodder for the press (who are unenthusiastic about their jobs to find out about what is going down where in the first place). That said, reading a review about a movie written out of the blues with no prior information leading up to it kind of feels incomplete to me, especially when I’ve had the opportunity to have read a lot of movie reviews by our local critics much to my dismay. Granted, not all movies released will see that kind of media attention I’m talking about, seeing as Nollywood releases an estimated one thousand five hundred movies a year, but when a Tunde Kelani, or a Kunle Afolayan film is in the process of being made, would your teeming audience, dear entertainment blogger not be a wee bit interested in reading about it? Just a wee bit? You know how I followed Tunde Kelani’s last work?(Guess the name) Two Fulbright fellows came all the way from the abroad (yes, this is normal Nigerian parlance) fuelled by their interest in the dynamics of our own Nollywood (I’m again looking at you on-the-couch bloggers).

Now on to my main grouse. A lot of what constitutes our movie reviews are single line verdicts. Things like “the movie was too predictable,” “the acting was bad,” “I expected more,” “The storyline was sappy,” and the likes dominate our local film reviews. In my uneducated opinion, these are not reviews but rants about how badly the writer received a movie. I should know though, as I have written a rant about a movie I had the pleasant misfortune of being involved in. A slightly more in depth explanation as to why a film’s storyline lacked punch would be highly appreciated. Was it the director’s interpretation, the cinematographers’ shots or the untested writing skills of the scriptwriter, maybe the poor editing or visual effects execution? Was it the horrible audio? How many of our current crop of reviewers can mention five award winning local scriptwriters off the top of their heads, just asking? How many can appreciate a [notable/noteworthy] Director’s signature in a body of work? We nod our heads and feel like part of the film enthusiast elite at the mention of names like Quentin Tarantino, Guilermo Del Toro and the likes, scream out PULP FICTION and Shawsank Redemption and I’m OK with that, really, but when we refuse to beam the spotlight on our local talent they will keep making mindless content for the bottom line and what they consider a mindless consumer who they believe cannot demand better and want to be fed high school drama team presentations on DVD.
Such lack luster reviewing skills is why the comment sections are filled with statements like, “Go and shoot your own.” “which one have you shot, hater oshi.” I haven’t seen a movie entirely lacking in positives, never. But a rant review robs you dear critic of your credibility. Was the editing pacey enough to keep you watching the said movie, were the colours vivid or soft, was the cinematography like a whole new vista into the creator’s mind? Did the score engross you? (Nigerian movies barely ever get the score right though, D’banj, bother you? Seriously, for Half of a Yellow Sun? ….walks beach across horse, sorry horse across, never mind, good song, just not for that movie, same way Quentin gave us rap music for Django).
My advice, dear critic, is to read indiewire, criticwire, rottentomatoes and the rest and see how reviews are written. Your review is an essay, one cohesively written piece of art that appraises a fellow art form. It must in itself be worth its weight, not denigrate another’s art while it in itself sorely lacks in form, standard, style and consistency. Enough with the formulaic style of writing that carries headings such as; SYNOPSIS, ORIGINALITY, PREDICTABILITY ( a movie review site bundled those two together and put them on a scale. Their math added up to 120 but they calculate in percentage none the less, so I’m wondering when percentages are calculated over 120) DIRECTING, ACTING, COSTUME etcetera. I am tayad (this again is me being deliberately Nigerian). I want to read your review and feel like it’s a conversation, not a freaking textbook titled ‘HOW I WATCHED AND APPRAISED FILM X.’ I’m not in film school, and if I were, your arguments reeks of personal opinion rather than universal agreeable truths (except of course when you say 80% of films made by certain directors are crap, indubitable truism that one). Dear Critic, the lazy movie reviews have to end, you really don’t have to watch all the movies nollywood spews, you’d be saner if you didn’t. when you do decide to watch and write a review on a nolloywood feature, a little foreknowledge such as notable works from the scriptwriter maybe, a little info about the director or the feature that you’re privy to, just a little something so we know you invested some form of energy into the endeavour where you can, and an appreciation of the art. Even Alaba people did not go into movie making solely for the money, some of us have deluded ourselves into believing that a real job where we punch time clocks is not our calling, suffer through our insufferable masterpieces, we hope to get better (waving at Tchidi Chikere), one day that is.
Why are film Critics even more important now than ever, the reason is so obvious it shouldn’t even be said aloud. Internet. DoBox, Afrinolly, Iroko are all jostling for a permanent allotment of the cyber pie that grows bigger and bigger, with data cost soon to come down, thank you SMILE, and people like me hoping to offer H.265 CODEC before it becomes that mainstream-Netflix already streams 4K content via said codec though, watching movies online will become similar to a pay TV subscription, not to mention LTE-A or Japan wanting to bring us 5G, or was it China’s HUAWEI? The internet will be quite the hub and the critics’ review will have a direct impact on who watches what on the net seeing as I can load up a page to read a review of a movie or a current series airing on some online TV site and then decide if I will waste bandwidth watching said content. Dear critic, you will become the reason why some people may not watch a certain film or rush off to the cinema wanting to see a movie, wield that power well, don’t put me off with one line summaries and reviews anyone who watched the movie while updating their twitter bio would write. Eventually, seek to get closer to Nollywood, create a culture where filmmakers can confidently send you links or mails for you to watch and appraise their work before it’s released, be honest, not patronizing and selling us misleading information because the filmmaker paid you to (Hi, Linda). Your art will thrive in doing so, and so will the filmmakers, and maybe with you breathing down their necks they will eventually get better (Yo Tchidi ma maihn!) or not make some glaring school boy errors (Baba Teco Ben… I no fit shout).
So there it is, I know you lovely guys watch the movies, so we don’t have to-some blogs tagline oh!- but your reviews seem to indicate scant attention or lack of passion towards film and TV, what parallels with modern society exist in the Hunger Games, what subtle nuance is being sold to us through the camera? sometimes, or rather most times the audience wants to relate to this, whether it’s a flight of fancy, fantasy, action adventure, comedy or romance, the relatability(eh ehm) to real life challenges (no matter how exaggerated) is what resonates with audienes. Spell it out for the audience who scroll through junk in varying degrees of decomposition on the internet to finally find you, seeking knowledge and at the end, whether it is a great or bad movie, tell them to com see the part where the filmmaker at least got something right.
P.S Dear Critic, sometimes the audience will totally love something you totally hate, like Tyler Perry’s movie adaptation of the Marriage Counselor(They called it one long name, temptations, confessions of a marriage counselor or so) or Think Like A Man Too. Sometimes they just want banal, numb, entertainment, suck it up and write another Review, your personal bias is your right.