‘Just do it’

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A message from Nollywood: ‘Just do it’
Last year, 2,001 movies were made in Nigeria. On average, production takes about 6 weeks and costs in the region of $10,000 - $100,000. About 60 new movies are distributed to the ‘army of retailers’ who sell them to the public for about $3 on streets throughout the country. The Nigerian film industry is the third largest in the world and is worth about $4 billion. And most interestingly: this industry was developed without the aid of strict copyright enforcement.

How did Nigeria become so successful in a world where Hollywood owns 90% of the world film market? Executive producer of Nigerian ‘da Big Picture Ltd’, Charles Igwe, gave us his insights at the Cultura Livre seminar at FGV, Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Below follows a summary of this great story:

In 1957, Nigeria started the first television station in Africa
. 19 years later, the Nigerian government nationalised foreign interests that were investing in the then-apartheid South Africa. This cut off supply of United States films to Nigeria and established the Nigerian television industry with a mandate to develop Nigerian local content. The 1970s and 80s saw a rich mixture of Nigerian television being developed as oil prices spiked and Nigerians used their new-found wealth to buy consumer electronics. This coincided with the invention of video in 1976. Having a VCR became a status symbol for Nigerians and they were purchased in large numbers. The economy took a downturn in 1979 and the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme recommended that the government withdraw funding of the national television agency and privatise the body.

In the early ‘90s, after the DVD was invented, “old-technology” VHS tapes were ‘dumped’ by suppliers on the Nigerian market and people started recognising the potential for local content on video. It was at this time that “Living in Bondage” was produced in the style that has come to characterise the current Nigerian film market. In 30 days, the film had sold over 200,000 copies. On the back of the success of “Living in Bondage”, entrepreneurial electronics merchants began financing local films and the demand for local content grew exponentially.

Today, the $4billion industry has perfected the workflow of films from concept to finished product. Movies are currently distributed at four major markets in Nigeria’s major cities but there are plans to increase the footprint of electronically-linked distribution centres so that the movie industry’s army of retailers can easily get access to additional copies.

“We’re not worried about piracy. We realised that the only reason why people would make copies is that they can’t easily get to the cities to buy more. We know that with every illegal copy you create a new market.”Demand for local content is growing and Igwe says that Nigerian film producers have plans to move into the African American markets of the US.

“This market spends 42% of American revenue on entertainment, but owns less than 5% of Hollywood.”

Already, Nigerian films have had huge success with the South African satellite broadcasting company, Multichoice’s ‘Africa Magic’ channel which carries almost all Nigerian films and television programmes. Says Igwe: “Usually it takes about 18 months for a channel to become profitable. ‘Africa Magic’ became profitable in just 3 months.”

Igwe is determined that success shouldn’t stop here. He says that countries like Brazil and South Africa can have the same economic success is they are brave enough to start producing in a style relevant to their country’s needs and to stave off “arrogant” criticisms that these films ‘aren’t good enough’.

He said to the audience of students and filmmakers: “You have to decide whether you want to defend your cultural space or not. In the words of Nike: ‘Just do it’. You have no excuse.”

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