2ndlook

Film Industry: American Muscle To Chinese Skeleton

Posted in China, Desert Bloc, Film Reviews, Pax Americana, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on May 27, 2012

US and China gang-up to save their film industries.

Piracy by China on IP rights of Hollywood. Cartoonist Clay Bennett takes a swipe at China and Hollywood. Sourece & courtesy - claybennett.com  |  Click for source.

Piracy by China on IP rights of Hollywood. Cartoonist Clay Bennett takes a swipe at China and Hollywood. Sourece & courtesy – claybennett.com | Click for source.

Davids & Goliaths

The two biggest economies in the world, US and China have at least one ‘threat’ in common. And the threat is actually from much smaller economies.

US and China have allied to ensure that the threat is ‘managed’.

The Chinese and the US film industry have no answer for old warhorse Bollywood and the upstart Nollywood.

Between Bollywood and Nollywood, they occupy the Top-2 positions in the world film industry. Bollywood with little support from mainstream banks, and Nollywood with no support at all have left Hollywood and the Chinese trailing far behind.

Boom Time In China

Even though

Cinema in China is booming. In 2010 box-office revenues grew by 64% to just over 10 billion yuan.  |  Image source & courtesy -  economist.com  |  Click for image source.

Cinema in China is booming. In 2010 box-office revenues grew by 64% to just over 10 billion yuan. | Image source & courtesy – economist.com | Click for image source.

Cinema in China is booming (see chart). In 2010 box-office revenues grew by 64% to just over 10 billion yuan. More than 520 films were made—about as many as in America. Only India produces more. (via China’s film industry: Kung fu propaganda | The Economist).

What The Economist does not mention is that India alone produces as many as China and US together. And that Nollywood comes in at No.2 position.

Globalized and organized Hollywood is finding that Bollywood and Nollywood is increasing their leadership in viewer and production numbers – without the advantages that Hollywood has.

The only relief that Hollywood has, is from China.

Hollywood is already doing well in China. Blockbusters like Avatar have been hugely popular and foreign films – usually big-budget Hollywood fare – account for about half of the country’s box office takings.

For the past decade, China has only permitted 20 foreign films to be shown in cinemas. A new deal agreed last month allows a further 14 movies to be shown in cinemas, provided they are in Imax or 3D formats.

China is certainly rich in potential. Box office takings surged 29% to $2.1bn (£1.3bn) in 2011 and are expected to see similar growth in 2012. While that’s only a fraction of the $10.2bn taken at the US box office, US ticket sales are declining. (via BBC News – Hollywood plays China card as audiences dwindle at home).

In the last ten years, mainland China has promoted its domestic industry – and taken control of it. Using various front companies, the Chinese Government has bought out and put up studios that will increase production along Party lines.

Along the way, Chinese actors and directors have found traction in Hollywood. And Hollywood blockbusters have gained significant market share in China.

Where the Japanese have gone before

In turn China, with its bulging foreign exchange reserves has decided to take a stake in Hollywood. Much like the Japanese bought in Hollywood back in the 1990s. Sony into Columbia Tristar (1989) and Matsushita (in 1990, Matsushita Electric bought MCA+Universal Studios for $6.5 billion)

BEIJING — Hollywood studios, facing steep challenges in the North American movie market, are taking more interest in China.

The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Studios, a division of Disney’s Marvel Entertainment subsidiary, are producing “Iron Man 3” in China. An agreement with Chinese authorities will allow more American companies to distribute more movies and reap a greater share of the box office in China, the world’s fastest-growing economy.

But at least one billionaire businessman is betting that the American movie market is still the ticket to international success. And he is Chinese.

Wang Jianlin, a rags-to-riches tycoon, is taking over AMC Entertainment, North America’s second-largest movie theater chain behind Regal Entertainment. And he is promising to integrate it into a new, made in China, global brand called the Wanda Group.

Wanda is a private company in a nation dominated by state-owned enterprises. But the AMC deal is closely aligned with the Chinese government’s priorities, which include encouraging Chinese companies to “go global,” pushing an overhaul of Chinese media and entertainment properties and placing greater emphasis on consumer spending. Policy makers in Beijing also want to bolster China’s “soft power” capabilities to extend its cultural influence internationally, and the film industry is considered one of the most promising avenues for doing so.

Which raises the question: Why invest in the United States cinema market at a time of weakness, when box office receipts are sluggish and American film producers are looking to China?

Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Wang’s acquisition of AMC was political, an effort to curry favor with Chinese leaders, who are pushing their nation to enhance its influence by exporting cultural products. Others contend that Mr. Wang is eager to establish himself as China’s first global corporate chief.

But to pull off the deal, Wanda needed plenty of that: more than $3 billion in cash, including $500 million it has promised to invest in AMC in North America. In the end, much of the cash came from China’s big, state-controlled banks. (via China Tycoon Places Risky Bet on U.S. Movie Market – NYTimes.com).

Soft Power – China?

China’s expected rise as a global soft-power has been beset with unexpected difficulties and slower if not zero growth. From the time that Joseph Nye coined the term soft-power, China has been positioned, by Western media as the challenger to American (& Western) soft-power. To Western media, India, seemed like an unlikely candidate as Emerging Soft-Power, has been ranked highest among emerging economies.

But curiously, the more China tries to become a soft-power, the more incapable it finds itself. Most recently, the Chinese President, Hu Jin Tao, lamented the lack of Chinese soft-power – and cautioned the Chinese nation of the dangers from Western culture.

To add heft to China’s quest for soft-power, the Chinese film industry has been significantly supported by the Party and Chinese banks. Investments into construction of film exhibition theatres, studios, animation labs, have been liberal and copious. At the same time, severe restrictions have been on import of films – to twenty in a year, from all sources.

On left y-axis read the zero at top as 100. On the right y-axis, percenetages are based on 2005 as base year with 1 deal.

On left y-axis read the zero at top as 100. On the right y-axis, percentages are based on 2005 as base year with 1 deal.

In 2009, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television promulgated the Interim Provisions on the Qualification Access for Operating Film Enterprises, Interim Provisions on the Administration of Chinese-foreign Equity and Contractual Joint Ventures of Radio and Television Program Production and other policies in succession. In the capital operation process, Chinese film industry ushered in the market reform, mitigating the problem of capital shortage and vitalizing the market.

There has been a continuous increase in the number of Chinese home-made films since 2003. In 2009, the number hit 456, up 12.32% on a year-on-year basis. The year 2009 has been a banner year in the output of home-made films since 2006. In certain sense, the year 2009 was a critical period of development for Chinese film industry. In the very year, the gross revenue of the Chinese film market reached RMB10.67B, up 26.47% compared with RMB8.43B in 2008.

Huayi Brothers Media Group and Beijing Polybona Film Distribution Co., Ltd. (Polybona Films) are the leading private film bodies. Take Huayi Brothers Media Group as an example, under the flagship of Huayi Brothers Media Group, Huayi Brothers Pictures Co., Ltd. realized the complete industrial chain system from screenwriting, direction, filmmaking and marketing to distribution.

The films, including the Rabe’s Diary and The Message, which Huayi Brothers Media Group invested in and participated in the operation in 2009, acquired good box-office takings in succession. Furthermore, the film, such as Tangshan Earthquake and You Are the One 2, which Huayi Brothers Media Group invested in 2010, are expected to obtain the good box-office takings and worth waiting for.

On Oct. 30, 2009, Huayi Brothers Media Group listed on Shenzhen’s ChiNext Board. The rapid development of the private film bodies, including Huayi Brothers Media Group, Orange Sky Entertainment Group (International) Holdings Ltd. and Polybona Films, not only aggravated the market competition between state-owned film enterprises and private film bodies but also vitalized Chinese small-and-medium-budget film-making market.

The Chinese film-making market showed a sound development gradually. PE/VC took a wait-and-see attitude towards the Chinese film-making market in general. According to the latest China Film-making Industry Investment Research Report 2010 issued by Zero2IPO Research Center, there were 28 investment deals in Chinese film industry from 2005 to 2009, including 26 deals whose investment amount was disclosed with a total investment of US$256.00M and US$9.85M in average. There were nine investment deals in Chinese film industry in 2009, which has reached the peak since 2005. (via Investment in Chinese Film Market Strong in Words but Weak in Action – PEdaily.cn – Zero2IPO Group).

Since 2004, the number of Chinese animation production enterprises has been on the rise, with the number of enterprises engaged in the production of TV cartoons rising to 200 in 2010 from 15 in 2004. Meanwhile, a host of registered animation film production institutions have emerged, with the figure increasing to 68 in 2010 from 25 in 2008.  |  Caption & image via researchinchina.com

Since 2004, the number of Chinese animation production enterprises has been on the rise, with the number of enterprises engaged in the production of TV cartoons rising to 200 in 2010 from 15 in 2004. Meanwhile, a host of registered animation film production institutions have emerged, with the figure increasing to 68 in 2010 from 25 in 2008. | Caption & image via Global and China Animation Industry Report, 2011 – ResearchInChina.

Echoes from Japan

Interestingly, animation films in China have been a big success – unlike India. Vastly different from the traditional lines of Chinese films.

Keep in mind, that Japan is a big consumer of anime, gaming, cartoons. 

Kung Fu Panda, a 2008 American computer-animated action comedy film is enough proof of this.

“Kung Fu Panda,” the animated movie about a bear named Po with a passion for martial arts is a huge hit in China.

The film, from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures, has already grossed more than $12 million after less than two weeks in release.

Globally, the movie has brought in $275 million (via ‘Kung Fu Panda’ is a success at the box office in China – The New York Times).

Was the success of Kung Fu Panda and its sequel, in China a flash in the pan?

Kung Fu Panda and its sequel are arguably the most successful Chinese-themed Hollywood movies to date, and the movie’s screenwriter, Glenn Berger, says Hollywood’s China infatuation is not necessarily a passing fad. (via BBC News – Hollywood plays China card as audiences dwindle at home).

Quiet Flows Buddhism

For long the Chinese needed and used Buddhist story props and ideas in Chinese films – especially made by the centurion Shaw Brothers – Run-Run and Run-Me. Based out of Hong Kong and later Singapore, the Shaw Brothers was the global face of Chinese cinema from 1950-2000. Devout Buddhists, their story-lines incorporated Japanese colonialism, Buddhist monks, great belief in the Chinese identity. Some Chinese dynasties like the Manchu, Ching and Mongol Yuan dynasty of the 14th century was a favorite target.

But in the last 10-15 years, the Buddhist monk has disappeared. Instead gangsters and underworld have become dominant themes in Chinese films.

The pre-occupation of Hollywood with death, war, violence, crime is well-known. Is that the way Chinese will ‘progress’?


Nollywood – New Kid on The Global Filmi Block

Posted in America, Business, Film Reviews, Media, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on January 18, 2012
Ulzee, a Nollywood pioneer maker of big Nollywood hit “Osuofia in London,”  |  Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com

Ulzee, a Nollywood pioneer maker of big Nollywood hit “Osuofia in London,” | Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com

A Story From Nigeria

In 2003, an unknown Nigerian Azuka Odunukwe, landed in London, with a ‘venture’ in his mind.

His investment in the ‘venture’ was less than US$10,000. In this venture, with him, was his lawyer wife. Over the next few months, this ‘venture’ succeeded – and with his ‘partners’, he netted more than US$500,000.

This was not the usual Nigerian banking scam,  that is now so famous across the world. Popularly known as

Ulzee, a Nollywood pioneer who decided to make movies after getting a science degree. His wife, trained as a lawyer, joined him along the seemingly crazy journey. His biggest hit was “Osuofia in London,” one of the first Nollywood films to get international attention. He shot it on location in London and it cost about $6,500 to make– a jaw-dropping investment for a Nollywood picture back in 2003. But it grossed more than $650,000. (via You Think Hollywood Is Rough? Welcome to the Chaos, Excitement and Danger of Nollywood | TechCrunch).

Together, director Kingsley Ogoro, and ‘marketeer’ Azuka Odunukwe ‘Ulzee’, made the world sit up and take note of Nollywood.

Miracle’ in Nigeria

Nigerian film-makers (collectively, Nollywood) have done what Germans, French, British, Japanese, even the Chinese, have not been able to do.

Challenge – and leave Hollywood behind.

Without support from the Nigerian Government. Even with State-support, the Chinese have difficulty in sustaining a film industry. Chinese film production, across 4 production centres (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, or mainland China), cannot match Nigerian production. The entire Islamic world produces negligible footage. Based on revenues, a 2007-report, notes that,

Still from the Nollywood movie - Osuofia in London|  Image source & courtesy - ImageShack  |  Click for source image.

Still from the Nollywood movie - Osuofia in London| Image source & courtesy - ImageShack | Click for source image.

The Nigerian film industry is the third largest in the world, after Hollywood and Bollywood. Outside its native continent, Nollywood remains relatively unknown. Yet millions of African fans can’t get enough of its movies.

Unlike their international counterparts, the films coming out of Nollywood aren’t intended for the big screen. Nigerian filmmakers use a mix of quick-and-dirty digital technology, shooting their movies entirely on digital video, editing them on home computers and delivering them to the market on VHS, DVD and video compact discs, or VCDs.

Since its inception in the 1990s, the burgeoning Nigerian movie scene has bloomed into a $286 million business annually, despite the fact that films have minimal budgets (ranging from $10,000 to $25,000) and sell for just a few dollars apiece. What this industry does have is volume, with some 300 directors churning out an average of 2400 films annually. (via Nigerian Film Industry Mixes Digital Tech, Homegrown Scripts).

For media,

It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood. The Nigerian business capital, Lagos, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people.

Nigerian films are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian television. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagosian screen goddess, to join him on the campaign trail he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, many more than see American fare. (via Nollywood: Lights, camera, Africa | The Economist).

All this, in less than 20 years.

Nigerian film posters seen at Idumota market in Lagos, Nigeria.  |  Image source & courtesy - cbc.ca  |  Click for larger image.

Nigerian film posters seen at Idumota market in Lagos, Nigeria. | Image source & courtesy - cbc.ca | Click for larger image.

The secret ‘chutni’

Some in Western media, quick to deny credit, think that Nollywood’s success is probably linked to that ‘most of the movies are in English, allowing for the widest possible crossover appeal.’ But English language, may not be the biggest reason for Nollywood’s success. As the UN report confirms,

The survey also revealed that about 56 per cent of Nollywood films are made in local languages, while English remains a prominent language, accounting for 44 per cent, which may contribute to Nigeria’s success in exporting its films. (via Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world’s second largest film producer – UN).

However, actors in Igbo and English Nollywood films do seem to be paid more than the Yoruba language films.

For most, especially in the Yoruba movie sector, the wages are lower. Their names are considerably bigger than their bank statements.

There are Yoruba movie actors with more than 50 lead roles who remain anything but wealthy. Yemi Solade, a big name in the sector, once told this magazine that many of his colleagues may die in poverty. “The industry is not organised and there are few professionals. Everybody wants to produce, direct, and at the same time, act. As a result of this, they do what I call man-know-man, a system whereby when I work for you, you won’t pay me and vice versa. It is absolute rubbish and the industry and individuals will never grow with that. Also, I detest the idea that everybody must produce films. It is only in the Yoruba sector that you will see a generator man claiming to be a producer because he managed to get some coins from a marketer in Idumota,” he said.

According to Solade, an actor, who co-starred with Yinka Quadri in the award-winning film 150 Million, got only N15,000 for his role in the two-part flick. (via Nollywood: Sex Glamour And Fake Life | The News Nigeria).

Probably, since English films have larger markets outside Nigeria, the returns are better. Even then, there are large number of films made in Yoruba.

Why?

Nollywood viewers seem to see African stories, told differently.

Shooting past Hollywood without the world noticing, Nollywood has made it to second place with films about family, love and honor, about AIDS, prostitution and oil, and about ghosts and cannibals.

In other words, films about Africa.

Nollywood movies with limited budgets use locations instead. |  Image source & courtesy - esquire.com  |  Read more: http://www.esquire.com/the-side/NOLLYWOOD/nollywood-part-3#ixzz1jqJhGB3y

Nollywood movies with limited budgets use locations instead. | Image source & courtesy - esquire.com | Read more: http://www.esquire.com/the-side/NOLLYWOOD/nollywood-part-3#ixzz1jqJhGB3y

The ‘Bigness’ of Nollywood

Nollywood is the apparent African iceberg, much of which is hidden out of sight. Post-colonial Africa, emerging from the shadows of its population and cultural destruction, films are the new narrative form.

But Africa’s most populous country Nigeria 18 years ago burst into production with affordable movies now shot with digital cameras that shun the more expensive classical 35mm format.

Nollywood has in recent years galloped ahead of Hollywood to be ranked second in the world in production terms after India’s Bollywood.

Nollywood “has taken over completely” from Hollywood, said Nigeria’s film producer and director Teco Benson, saying it is the latest “superpower” in the movie industry.

“It’s Africa’s new rebranding tool”.

One reason for Nollywood’s popularity lies with South Africa-based pay television MultiChoice. It has four 24-hour channels dedicated to African content, predominantly Nigeria productions. Two of the channels run movies in two of Nigeria’s main languages, Yoruba and Hausa.

But in poor neighbourhoods, shacks with old TV screens placed on dusty alleys or verandas pass for video viewing centres. Bootleg copies sell for a couple of dollars across the continent.

In central Africa, Nollywood movies are the only ones sold by market vendors as “African movies”, with the Nigerian productions dubbed into French in such countries as Cameroon and Gabon.

In Kenya, Nigerian films are also a hit – many of them broadcast on terrestrial networks – but face competition from Bollywood due to a historic large Indian population in the eastern African country.

Nollywood films are also immensely popular in Sierra Leone, to the extent of choking the growth of the country’s own movie industry, said Thomas Jones, a radio play scriptwriter.

“Nollywood has hampered the growth of the local film market because my contemporaries have just resigned themselves to watching these films from Nigeria,” he said.

More affluent South Africa on the other hand has seen a growth in its movie sector since the end of apartheid, and Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction “District 9” was this year nominated for an Oscar.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nollywood is “very popular on television” after being dubbed into the local Lingala dialect,

even in the tiniest of African countries such as Gambia, “Nollywood is ahead of Hollywood”, said Nigerian businessman Barnabas Eset, who since 2000 has been renting out both Nollywood and Hollywood movies. (via Nigeria’s Nollywood eclipsing Hollywood in Africa – Films – Arts & Entertainment – The Independent).

Nollywood – the birth and growth

If the market was so big, and the need was so great, why were other film makers unable to exploit this opportunity. Behind Nollywood were seemingly random events and coincidences, that triggered this seminal rise.

The Nigerian film industry emerged in the late 1970s, as the nation’s economy collapsed. Public funding of movies and original television programming vanished, and crime made cinemas too dangerous to visit. European and American shows soon dominated national television. But, disturbed by the absence of black faces on Nigerian television, the country’s fledgling filmmakers began spinning vibrant tribal plays onto the screen. By the early 1990s, filming on celluloid had become too expensive and production shifted to video.

Unlike African art films, which appear on the global film circuit and are commonly financed by European investors, Nollywood films are backed by African merchants. For instance, a merchant-investor could pay a director $10,000, covering the production costs and procuring the film’s distribution rights. About two weeks later, the merchant-investor gets the film’s master tape, then sends it to one of many mass-dubbing centers in Nigeria. The movie is copied onto a Video Compact Disc, known as a VCD and widely used across the developing world. VCDs cost $1.50 to make and are usually sold to consumers at outdoor markets in Nigeria for $3, or less.

Borrowing the style and structure of American soap operas and Bollywood films, Nigerian movies had gained popularity across sub-Saharan Africa by the mid-1990s, even in French-speaking countries. Soon, Nigerian expatriates were stuffing their suitcases with videotapes and VCDs on trips back to Britain and, eventually, the United States. Some of the films were passed on to relatives. Others, however, wound up in the hands of distributors, who have copied an unknown number of DVDs and sold them to stores or over the Internet. (via Nigeria On-Screen – washingtonpost.com).

The Case of The Missing State

While Australia, Europe, Japan, China subsidize domestic film-making, Nollywood success is without the support of Nigerian State.

Government film subsidies are almost nonexistent in Nigeria, and if there are any subsidies, most people assume that the money never leaves the pockets of those at the top echelons of industry unions.

Using basic filming technology,

The (Nigerian film) industry is in dire need of investment, however; presently, it self-finances through cable deals and street sales of DVDs. Churches often finance films to spread their message and many production companies are happy to take their money, particularly as competition is getting stiffer from countries like Ghana. (via Welcome to Nollywood: Nigeria’s Film Industry Is More Prolific than Hollywood — and Faces Even More Piracy – TIME).

If piracy, funding are Hollywood’s problems, these are bigger problems for Nollywood. State supported academia and critics ignore or pan Nollywood – even as

The brash populism of such Nollywood fare sits in sharp contrast with movies from Francophone Africa. The latter, frequently backed by French funding, often secure critical success, and get an outing at Fespaco, the continent’s premier film festival held every two years in Ouagadougou.

Nollywood films rarely secure Fespaco praise. But nor is this an industry reliant on subsidies: although plagued by piracy, it remains popular, independent and accessible. In a continent with few cinemas, an ever-changing selection of video CDs are sold for a few dollars a pop on street corners. (via Nollywood comes of age – FT.com).

Story-telling is worth big money and Nollywood made the world sit-up and note that

Africa is a gigantic market, with 150 million people living in Nigeria alone. Nigerian films are exported to other African countries, like Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Africa, but also to the United States and England, and to Germany, where they are sold in African shops — in other words, to places where they can capitalize on the nostalgia of a large African Diaspora.

Lagos from the Okada backseat - the Nigerian motorcycle taxi.  |  Image source & courtesy - esquire.com  |  Click for larger image.

Lagos from the Okada backseat - the Nigerian motorcycle taxi. | Image source & courtesy - esquire.com | Click for larger image.

Let numbers do the talking

More than entertainment, Nollywood has given Africa reasons for satisfaction.

For post-colonial Nigeria particularly ‘next to the oil industry, Nollywood is the second-largest employer in Nigeria.’

It has its own stars and its own red carpets, even its own version of the Oscars: the African Movie Academy Awards. Hundreds of thousands of the home videos it produces are displayed on dealers’ shelves, in the form of VCDs and DVDs, and the films are also broadcast on television channels like Africa Magic. Hollywood films play almost no role at all in this country. (via Nigeria’s Silver Screen: Nollywood’s Film Industry Second only to Bollywood in Scale – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International.

By 2009, the UN noted that the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) was the second largest in the world – based on number of films released.

The three cinema heavyweights were followed by eight countries that produced more than 100 films: Japan (417), China (330), France (203), Germany (174), Spain (150), Italy (116), South Korea (110) and the United Kingdom (104). (via Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world’s second largest film producer – UN).

Ahead of Hollywood, behind only after Bollywood, as the Indian film industry has become known.

In 2006 Nigeria made 872 films (in video format, with about half of them in English), about 200 less than Bollywood and roughly 400 more than Hollywood.

Nigerian films took off in the early 1990s, helped by the availability of cheap video technology. Already massive in Africa, Nollywood is now gaining a reputation elsewhere. (via Nollywood comes of age – FT.com)

Rather surprising, when the larger Chinese market is having difficulties. Hong Kong, which led Chinese film-making from front is in trouble.

In the mid-90s, the Hong Kong film industry ate itself alive. In 1993, it had produced a record 238 films and its doyen director, John Woo, was about to dive, twin guns aflame, through Hollywood’s doors. Six years later, production had crashed to just 40 films a year and not even the local triad gangs could prevent their own films from being pirated: there were bootlegs VCDs on sale everywhere of Casino, a gangster pic about and financed by the notorious Macau hoodlum, “Broken Tooth” Koi. (via Back in action: the fall and rise of Hong Kong film | Film | guardian.co.uk).

German publication, Der Spiegel wrote of

Nollywood is the massive, pulsating film industry in Nigeria, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared the world’s second-largest film industry, after India’s Bollywood, based on the number of films produced.

Mysterious puzzle

How did Nollywood leave Hollywood behind?

Without the benefit of funding or technology, that Hollywood has? Nollywood has achieved, what ‘advanced’ economies like the British, German, French, have failed at.

Sustain a viable, domestic film industry.

Even the oil-rich Islamic world, equally, has little to show. For instance, the film industry in Iran, Turkey, Egypt has sputtered for decades – without success. Pakistani film industry has been slowly asphyxiated as the ruling elites deny their Indic roots.

As have the Japanese and the Chinese.

The surprising growth of the Nigerian industry, without State support, direction or promotion, seems to be rooted in a deeper cultural streams than the apparent coincidences. Africans want to hear different stories, told differently and Nollywood directors

make films with plotlines that reflect the rapidly changing political and cultural climate, often weaving in aspects of current events. Whether revolving around corruption, prostitution, folkloric legends, HIV/AIDS, cautionary tales, romantic comedies or even epic period pieces about slavery and civil wars, the films present an unfiltered view of African culture, intended for an African audience.

As Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima, founder of the Africa Movie Academy Awards, puts it in This Is Nollywood, “It’s not about quality at the moment.… Africa still has people living on $1 a day, and these are the people that really watch these films.” (via Nigerian Film Industry Mixes Digital Tech, Homegrown Scripts).

Drawing deeply from the well-springs of their civilization, film industries seem to die out, when cut from their inspiration.

And what are Nollywood’s inspiration?

A typical story line went something like this: poor boy meets rich girl; they fall in love; rich girl’s parents strongly disapprove of union; boy and girl fight all obstacles and true love prevails in the end. Other typical story lines included voodoo tales, historical epics, religious conflicts and economic hardship.

The average flick sold over 50,000 copies. Some even sold as many as several hundred thousand, while a few hit a million. And at $1.50 per disc, they were affordable for most Nigerians and generated astounding returns for the producers. (via Hollywood, Meet Nollywood – Forbes).

Adding to this melee is the Christian Church, saving Nigerian souls from getting corrupted

Fire-and-brimstone evangelical preachers set up keyboards and microphones in the middle of the street to save souls, only adding to the chaos.

Bollywood & Nollywood

Thoughly vastly different in form, and substance, there are some who think that Bollywood and Nollywood may have similarities. Some Nollywood viewers from West Indies, now living in America are

struck by the similar good-versus-evil themes often found in the Indian Bollywood film genre she became fond of growing up.

Borrowing the style and structure of American soap operas and Bollywood films, Nigerian movies had gained popularity across sub-Saharan Africa by the mid-1990s, even in French-speaking countries.

Many African intellectuals dismiss the movies for playing up witchcraft, which they argue perpetuates negative Western stereotypes of Africans, said Onookome Okome, an English professor at the University of Alberta and author of the forthcoming book, “Anxiety of the Local: From Traveling Theatre to Popular Video Films in Nigeria.”

Some film experts remain skeptical that the Nigerian movies will penetrate the broader U.S. market. Jonathan Haynes, a Long Island University professor and author of the book, “Nigerian Video Films,” noted the films’ heavy emphasis on the supernatural and said, “Culturally, they’re from someplace else.” (via Nigeria On-Screen – washingtonpost.com).

“That can seem weird to Americans, especially if it’s not being cast as part of some traditional African past,” Haynes said. “It’s an acquired taste.”(via Nigeria On-Screen – washingtonpost.com).

Even Hollywood is an acquired taste, sir. Distaste comes from too much of this acquired taste. Ask me.

Looking for Nollywood roots, outside from ancient African culture, one is stuck by Nigeria’s post-colonial literary success.

Nigeria has perhaps the most distinguished literary tradition in Africa; Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri and Ken Saro-Wiwa are the best-known writers, but it is clear that Nigeria’s home video industry has no pretensions to high art. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

Looking for threads of narratives and the dominant themes, Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood occupy different spaces altogether.

If Hollywood’s forte is jaw-dropping spectacle and Bollywood’s is heart-warming musical slush, then Nollywood’s special draw is a genre that might be described as the voodoo horror flick: films that revolve around witchcraft and demonic possession. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

After years of consuming foreign fare, Nigerian film-makers have finely chiselled their theme – away from other global narratives of Hollywood and Bollywood.

Ultimately, it’s the way the films are crafted, rather than their juicy content that gives them universal appeal, says Fry. “The storytelling is so good. Nigerian filmmakers really know how to entertain their audiences. They’ve studied the populist genres from other countries – Bollywood musicals, low-budget horror and Brazilian soap operas, for example – and reworked these to appeal to anyone with a love of drama.”

The process is tried and tested, and the main reason Nollywood is currently in such rude health, but how long can it stay that way? It’s hard to see how an industry that prides itself on producing so much in so little time won’t start to lose its momentum in the coming years. (via Hooray for Nollywood! | Film | guardian.co.uk).

How does Nollywood do so much, in so little time – and so little money.

Necessity – The mother of invention

Film production in Nigeria, is a different story.

The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema—a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. There are no studios and no film lots. Market traders double as financiers

“Films are made on the run, sometimes literally,” says Emem Isong, one of Nigeria’s few female producers, during a shoot. “Some of the guys are hiding from the police.”

All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in a vast, chaotic market called Idumota. It is a maze within a labyrinth. Crowds push through narrow, covered alleys. The sound of honking motorbikes is drowned out by blaring television sets showing film trailers. The flickering screens light up dim stalls lined with thousands of DVDs on narrow wooden shelves. (via Nollywood: Lights, camera, Africa | The Economist).

The Alaba market for Nollywood DVDs. |  Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com  |  Click for larger source image.

The Alaba market for Nollywood DVDs. | Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com | Click for larger source image.

The rise and rise of Nollywood

As Nollywood nailed its formula of TV screens, direct retail to the audiences, Africa-themed stories, acceptance and growth has been phenomenal.

Nigeria is home to one of the world’s youngest film industries, but it’s booming. In just 13 years it has gone from nothing to estimated earnings of US$200m (£114m) a year – making it the world’s third biggest film industry after that of America and India. The films are made on the cheap, but they are big box office.

Except that there is no box office, of course. In Nollywood, as it has inevitably been dubbed, movies are shot on video and copied straight on to tapes or DVDs and then sold on from thousands of street stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops, not just in Nigeria but across the continent, as well to the African diaspora via markets in the west.

“They sell a lot of our films in Peckham and in Dalston market [in London],” says Paul Obazele, the veteran producer.

Empty claim? How global is Nollywood.

an entrepreneur named Jason Njoku (whose) parents are Nigerian, but he grew up in the United Kingdom. Entranced with Nollywood a few years ago and bored with London, he moved here, stunning his family and friends. He started Iroko Partners to catalog this vast Nollywood inventory and give it a new global distribution life on the Web. It sounds like a recipe for a city boy to get fleeced, but so far that hasn’t been the case.

Njoku spent weeks trolling the Alaba markets introducing himself to producers and trying to explain to them how a YouTube channel could be an answer for revenues, not simply another channel for the pirates to steal their intellectual property. Once he sold a few of the bigger ones like Ulzee, word spread and more producers piled in. Just four months in to his business, Njoku has bought the online rights to 500 movies from 100 different one-man production houses. Last month his YouTube channel had 1.1 million uniques, 8 million streams, and is on pace to do more than $1 million in revenues this year from YouTube ads. (via You Think Hollywood Is Rough? Welcome to the Chaos, Excitement and Danger of Nollywood | TechCrunch).

What are Nollywood themes? How different are these stories?

So, what did I glean from titles such as Sharon Stone in Abuja, Beyonce: The President’s Daughter, Good Mother and Blood Billionaires 1 and 2? (Most titles have at least one sequel). A lot.

Good girls can lose their way in Lagos, village values trump city truths, corruption is rife, witchcraft is everywhere, and stepmothers are bad news. And every man in Lagos, as one character told his wife, has a mistress. These films were peopled by poor village women, business men in Mercedes and hardy entrepreneurs.

These were tales of love, money and betrayal. Buried within these at times fantastic stories were, I thought as the passengers around me laughed and groaned in recognition, African realities. (via Nollywood comes of age – FT.com).

What do viewers make of these films?

The movies can be read as fantasies; they allow the powerless to feel vicariously powerful. The stories tell of poor men getting rich, of errant husbands who find their penises shrinking, of love rivals who go blind or crazy and end up running naked and shrieking into the streets.

Not all Nollywood movies are about the occult, of course. Nigeria is a country of startling inequality; in Lagos, skinny fishermen in pirogues skim past the skyscrapers of Victoria Island, the palm-studded local equivalent of Manhattan, and slums sprawl under flyovers. But as is true of Bollywood, Nollywood likes to eschew the grit of everyday life for a more upbeat vision.

As well as occult movies, and gangster movies, another popular genre involves straightforwardly aspirational tales. American Dream is typical. it’s the story of a driven advertising executive who falls in love with an American woman and then jeopardises his high-flying career with increasingly desperate attempts to get a visa for America.

Nigeria’s home video industry has no pretensions to high art. What it’s all about is money. Nollywood movies were originally financed by importers of blank video tapes as a way of promoting sales of their product – and commerce remains king.

The heart of the story

Getting to know Nollywood, the usual and

first point of call in Surulere is the home of one of the most prolific and successful Nollywood directors, Lancelot ‘the Governor’ Imasuen, whose unbroken record of blockbusters includes such titles as Last Burial, August Meeting, Games Men Play, Games Women Play, Games Men Play 2, and Games Women Play 2.

‘I recently had the pleasure of shooting a film in Hollywood,’ Imasuen tells me. ‘And I told them, “I want you to know that 75 per cent of your budget and timing is wasted! Sixty days to shoot a film!”‘ He looks shocked, bemused. ‘How many working hours are actually in those 60 days? It’s all razzmatazz. You see endless trucks and trailers parked on their locations. How much of this equipment is actually used in the process of making films? You see, in Nollywood, what we’ve done is to do away with all that excess; what we’ve done is to simplify the process of making films.’

With its potholed roads teeming with industrious street vendors, feral urchins, and extraordinarily brave commuters – perched calmly on the back seats of the motorbike taxis nicknamed, with morbid irony, ‘Okada’ after a now defunct airline – Surulere is the birthplace and headquarters of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry. A far cry from Beverly Hills, Surulere is home to the Nollywood elite – the top producers, directors, marketers, distributors and some of the stars of an industry that has been blazingly successful where successive administrations, guided by the expert and combined wisdom of the IMF and the World Bank, have failed: not only is it a viable industry, it is the second biggest employer in Nigeria.

Although this is hotly contested, Nollywood saw its inauspicious beginnings in Living in Bondage: a tawdry, ineptly shot, earnestly didactic ‘home video’ that unleashed itself on the world in 1992. Many commentators believe Nollywood was born after the television industry stopped making popular dramas, which were infinitely better than the first several hundred Nollywood films.

Living in Bondage, filmed in Igbo, one of Nigeria’s languages, with English subtitles, had just the right mix of all the ingredients of a great soap opera

My first point of call in Surulere is the home of one of the most prolific and successful Nollywood directors, Lancelot ‘the Governor’ Imasuen, whose unbroken record of blockbusters includes such titles as Last Burial, August Meeting, Games Men Play, Games Women Play, Games Men Play 2, and Games Women Play 2.

‘I recently had the pleasure of shooting a film in Hollywood,’ Imasuen tells me. ‘And I told them, “I want you to know that 75 per cent of your budget and timing is wasted! Sixty days to shoot a film!”‘ He looks shocked, bemused. ‘How many working hours are actually in those 60 days? It’s all razzmatazz. You see endless trucks and trailers parked on their locations. How much of this equipment is actually used in the process of making films? You see, in Nollywood, what we’ve done is to do away with all that excess; what we’ve done is to simplify the process of making films.’

Imasuen, a theatre arts graduate, is shooting from the hip. Behind the braggadocio, though, lurk the aspirations of a filmmaker and a lover of film whose aspirations are embodied in what he had just pooh-poohed. ‘I had an experience in America recently,’ he says. ‘I went to Paramount Studios and was taken on a tour. I almost fainted at the sheer scale of it, the size of the place, the sound stages, the backlots. And I thought, Is this what they’re comparing us to? But we’ll get there, I promise you. We’ll get there.’

In a career spanning 12 years, the 36-year-old director has helmed more than 150 films – an average of one a month. (And there I was thinking Woody Allen was prolific.)

With its potholed roads teeming with industrious street vendors, feral urchins, and extraordinarily brave commuters – perched calmly on the back seats of the motorbike taxis nicknamed, with morbid irony, ‘Okada’ after a now defunct airline – Surulere is the birthplace and headquarters of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry. A far cry from Beverly Hills, Surulere is home to the Nollywood elite – the top producers, directors, marketers, distributors and some of the stars of an industry that has been blazingly successful where successive administrations, guided by the expert and combined wisdom of the IMF and the World Bank, have failed: not only is it a viable industry, it is the second biggest employer in Nigeria. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

About 30 new titles arrive weekly at Lagos’s giant open-air markets, where canvas banners with gaudy portraits of movie stars flap above the mediaeval hubbub. A new movie costs the equivalent of £1.80 to buy, and only about 27p to rent from a video club.

For the most part, Nigerians are proud of their movie industry and other African nations are envious. “I think there’s a lot of things that converge to make this possible in Nigeria,” says Femi Odugbemi, president of the Independent Television Producers’ Association. “By tradition, we’re a storytelling people. We have more than 230 languages, different cultures, all unique in themselves.”

Nigeria is an African giant – it is the continent’s most populous nation, with 133 million people. But it’s also a country that appears to be constantly on the verge of a breakdown. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | The Guardian).

Nollywood has travelled far in its 15 years of existence. Its revenues are estimated to be over $250m a year and its films – all digitally shot – have a captive audience of 600 million Africans and millions more in the diaspora, particularly in the Caribbean and even here in the UK. There are few places in south-east London, the heart of the Nigerian community in Britain, where there isn’t a Nollywood DVD stall. The cable channel BEN shows several of these films every night.

After Hollywood and Bollywood, Nollywood is the world’s third-biggest film-producing industry. It has achieved this impressive feat without subsidy or investment and – fortunately perhaps – without attracting the faintest glimmer of interest from the Nigerian government or any NGO. It has a long way to go to achieve its dream of catching up with Mumbai or Los Angeles, but it is perfectly capable of doing so. The will is there. And at the rate it’s going, soon, so will be the means. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

%d bloggers like this: