‘Nothing Sells Countries' Image Better Than Movies’ -Mildred Okwo

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Well-Known Member
Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mildred Okwo expected to find fulfillment in law but got bored after just a few years' practice. Her heart was still in the arts, which she calls her first love. She's back to what she loves doing and that has given birth to the movie, 30 Days. Okwo, founder of Pom Pom Entertainment Group and Native Lingua Films (NLF), speaks with Bem Adoor about the movie

What motivated you into writing 30 Days?
When I came back to Nigeria in 2003, I was so depressed, everything looked so gloomy. I remembered we still had certain things when I was here. And I still remembered going back to the eastern states and still seeing the neglect there. I could remember that the only thing that was vibrant in Nigeria then was the press. They were writing and writing. And that was very intriguing to me. That amongst all these at least the press was talking. I remembered picking a copy of THISDAY and at the back page, it was Simon Kolawole’s article captioned "Do they know it is Christmas?" He was so upset that there was electric power outage during the festive season and other problems people are facing in the country. That inspired me to write on corruption which I considered the bane of the society. In 2003, I thought what if a group of people decided that they must do something about this issue of corruption. I also wanted to write a story that won’t be just indiscriminate violence, I wanted it to have some kind of romance, politics, violence, and everything about the Nigerian society in it. So I intertwined it into a political story. And it seems what I wrote about is coming true, because a whole lot of corrupt people have been disgraced since then by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But really, the story is entertainment to me. I didn’t go all out to fight corruption, I balanced it, remember it is a film that should entertain as well. I am not writing about anybody, it is just a fairy tale.

You lived in America for sometime, what do you find compelling about Hollywood?

We can learn a lot from Hollywood. Initially, they had some of these problems Nollywood is facing right now but what they did was to work together to fight a commom cause. You can’t have fragments all over the place. You can’t have Actors Guild, the producers, marketers and other stakeholders somewhere else. You have to come together and create an infrastructure that works. And once you decide that this is the infrastructure that will work, you have to sell that infrastructure to the government. You can’t wait for the government to come and tell you this is how to do it. You have to sell yourself to the government so that they would implement the laws that would help you grow and sustain your business. So, one of the things we can learn from Hollywood is the fact that movies are first screened. There are network of screening rooms of cinemas. By that way, you make a whole lot of money before you go to video. Once you go through the screening process, the next is video which is now DVD. It goes through DVD release and the next is, you might sell it to cable companies to show it on cable, and then you sell it to TV stations.

With proper records and effective marketing and distribution network, any producer can recoup whatever resources invested in a film. That way, film becomes a big business. You realize enough profit from it to pay people playing lead roles well instead of peanuts. It is a good thing that the National Film and Video Censors Board with Nigerian Film Corporation are trying to do that now. They are trying to make laws that would mirror what is happening in the industry in other parts of the world.

How did you get your sponsorship?

I am the kind of person that feels that people only learn by example. I feel that I have to show you what I have done in order to attract you. I don’t like going and begging people who don’t even understand anything about movie-making. So, I was able to talk to people who understand movies. People like Ego Boyo, Toyin Daodu, and say let us invest in making something of quality, and if we do so, everybody will follow. That is what we did. We went to banks and some companies to do product placement. When we talked to some of the public relations people in some of these companies, they didn’t understand the first thing about product placement. Only recently Motorola started giving out money. Two years ago when we started this, they were looking at me like, what are you talking about? It was only companies like Oando that saw the need to do product placement with us. We have all kinds of products that we use. And we were hoping that we could go to these companies and convince them on the benefits of doing the placement with us in a film that is going to be very popular. None of them replied. So why should I waste my time trying to convince these people. Until they see what I have done, then I feel they would come to me and say we want to be a part of this project.

How do you hope to tackle the issue of piracy?

I think it is necessity that causes piracy in Nigeria. People were not being served, so pirates served them. You cannot say you are going to make a movie that has Genevieve Nnaji, Joke Silva, Segun Arinze among others in it and then print 20,000 units of that product. That is murder. Who is going to service the over 120 million people who want to watch it? Pirates of course. So what happens is that when you release these films, they will sit in Idumota, Alaba, Onitsha and nobody is servicing Abuja, Kano, Jos among other parts of the country, these people are watching films a year and half after they have been released. But some of the marketers are realizing this now. They have realized that even in Lagos, people are watching films six, seven months ago. I think the whole thing about piracy is that people are not being served. It would be blunder for Ego, Toyin and I to say we are printing only 5,000 or 10,000 units of 30 Days. That is stupid. If you want to do marketing the way we are doing, you have to make sure your product is close to the people. That means you have to print enough copies and that people know where to go and get it. It is a question of studying your market. MTN is on the streets, Celtel and Globacom are on the streets. Why can’t we be on the streets too. Apart from that, you can’t tell somebody who is selling video in Kano to come twice a week to Lagos to buy products from Idumota. They can’t do that because our roads are bad. So they might come to market once a month, and he doesn’t even know if the products will move because there was no national advertising for the products. So he comes to the market and pick the ones that parades notable artistes. When he gets to Kano and discovers that the film was a hit, he will turn around and start making copies of that product because he comes to market once in a month. But if you cut down the travel time, you have someone from Jos going to Abuja or Kaduna and they know within an hour or two they can have this product, they won’t waste their time pirating the products.

Are you saying the law as it is at present is deficient?

There seems not to be effective laws and where there is, implementation is always the problem. The sanity in the banking industry is because some people were committed to the implementation and sustenance of efficient financial policies and laws as obtainable in developed countries. It has been almost a year and half we have been doing 30 Days You have to be patient enough to do something good.

Hollywood has worked so hard in creating enabling laws for the entertainment industry in the US. When people start pirating products in the US, you have over six or seven organizations that would be after them. You have SAG, Actors Guild, Directors’ Guild, Producers, Lighting Union among others. In the US, people belong to all kinds of union and if you mess around with them, they will go after you. But in Nigeria, the downfall of the black people is that we are greedy to a fault, we never think of tomorrow. The success of Hollywood today is because they always think of long term, they don’t think of themselves. Things are not changing and we must change them, which is why I made this movie and said I am not going to distribute like everybody does. I have to find a way to make it work better than others have done.

Is distribution the major challenge of the business?

The biggest challenge has been the distribution aspect of the job. Now you have a product, how do you distribute it? How do you trust the available distribution network? In America once a company releases a movie, they send it on DVD. It is based on trust that once you sell, you bring back the amount of money you realized. But it is not so in Nigeria. What we are working towards is to make people know that we are creating an industry, and everybody will make money - the actors, producers, costumiers, photographers. So the challenge has been this distribution process; knowing how to distribute so that we can get to the people, make our money back and even do a better film.

What process do you intend to adopt in the distribution?

This is something we have been working on for about six months. We are going to do it ourselves. We are also going to distribute through a channel that we don't want to make public now. One of the things we are doing now is putting a lot of money behind our publicity so that once we start rolling out; our fans would know where to get the movies. Right now, we are negotiating with City Mall Cinema and Nu Metro, but it is taking too much time to screen it. We might screen it for a few weeks so that we can get to the people. There are not much cinemas in places such as Zamfara, Onitsha, Enugu and I want people there to start seeing this movie.

What is your background like?

I come from an artistic family. I think from my mother’s side. My maternal family are very artistic people. But I think it is inborn. I have never written a screen play before I wrote 30 Days. My first degree was at the University of Benin where I read theatre arts under the likes of Femi Osofisan and Muyiwa Awiniya. I did my national service in Lagos with Akeem the Dream Nigerian Limited before I left for the United States of America. Prior to leaving for the US, I ran a magazine at a very young age called Travel Africa for a few months in England, though I did only one issue and left.

In USA I read law at Nixon’s where I obtained my degree in law. I didn’t practice immediately because I was much into entertainment. After a while, I decided to practice and I did that for a few years and I got bored. My main area of practice was civil rights and employment discrimination. After a while it wasn’t fun sitting in an American court room arguing people’s civil rights when things are not right in your own country. So, I decided to go back to the arts which is my first love.

What inspired you to come back to Nigeria ?

I think it was the emergence of Nollywood. I still remember when I first watched my first Nollywood film, Living In Bondage, in the early 90s. I saw it by chance and at that time, I knew I will come back to this someday. I did not watch it again until after four years. My interest picked up then because I said there were things we could do better. Another inspiration was because film sells the image of a country faster and better than anything. So I decided that it was time I also did my own part of the African story to the people that matter.



Active Member
1. Very logical responses, particularly on the issue of piracy/distribution.

2." But in Nigeria, the downfall of the black people is that we are greedy to a fault, we never think of tomorrow. The success of Hollywood today is because they always think of long term, they don’t think of themselves. "

She is on point. If we do not address these unpleasant realities, we will not move forward as African people, and others will move in and control our prize. We are destroying the only thing that we as Africans have produced alone because of greed. This problem is not only in Nigeria, it is throughout the African world.
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