With recent efforts of daring and brilliant Nollywood movie directors, producers and scriptwriters to raise the standards, industry players believe the era of poor content and production quality may soon be a thing of the past
It began slowly. Then the pulse grew into a chill and finally climaxed with a crushing jolt. At the end, the audience at the March 30, 2012, Lagos premiere of Lancelot Imasuen’s new movie Adesuwa reacted with their feet in a spontaneous and rousing applause inside one of the halls of De Renaissance Hotel, Agidingbi, Ikeja. With Adesuwa, an epic about the war between two monarchs and their kingdoms over a love affair gone sour, Imasuen may have amply shown the rules of cinematic engagement through storytelling, suspense and an encouraging display of special effects, which is gradually becoming the fad with Nollywood movies lately.
Although it must be said that a lot more could still be done to improve on its cinematic quality and scriptwriting, Adesuwa may be the pointer that Nollywood has probably come of age in terms of content. Notably, only a few directors have dared, like Imasuen, to dig into the archives of Nigeria’s rich history to produce a truly compelling piece of work. “As for me, I am in competition with filmmakers all over the world, not just in Nollywood. I produce stories that tickle my fancy and tell our history and how we can forge a better future. Although the major problem of Nollywood is the production quality, but it also depends on individuals,” Imasuen said, while adding that professional training cannot be compromised. Interestingly, he noted that Adesuwa has also enjoyed the same positive reaction in its other premieres in Europe. No wonder it garnered eight nominations and won three at the 2012 edition of the prestigious Africa Movie Academy Awards, AMAA.
Like Adesuwa, Kunle Afolayan’s Phone Swap has continued to attract a growing cinema audience, as well as AMAA nominations, including the Best Nigerian Film Category and Achievement in Production Design, which it eventually won. Aside from the sheer force of quantity which has been Nollywood’s major propellant to global acclaim, the new generation of directors and producers appear to have also improved on their production quality and content. “The script is the foundation, as well as the production value. These are the two elements that describe whether a film is really worth watching or not,” noted Afolayan, who also directed the critically acclaimed Irapada and Figurine.
And it could not have been otherwise. Besides being the son of pioneering Yoruba film and theatre director, Ade Love, Afolayan’s success as a renowned film director and producer could also be traced to his professional roots. Unlike many so-called Nollywood ‘directors’ today, Afolayan undertook professional training having done a six months course at the New York Film Academy, US.
In addition to Imasuen’s Adesuwa, Afolayan’s Figurine and Phone Swap, other Nigerian productions such as Tunde Kelani’s Arugba and Maami; Tade Ogidan’s Family on Fire (shot on locations in Lagos and London); Lonzo Nzekwe’s Anchor Baby (shot on location in Nigeria and Canada); Obi Emelonye’s Mirror Boy; Chineze Anyaene’s Ije; Jeta Amata’s Amazing Grace and Black Gold, Andy Amadi Okoroafor’s Relentless (starring Nigerian-German artiste Nneka); Stephanie Okereke’s Through the Glass, and Uche Jombo’s Damage; may have raised the bar with their notable success in premieres outside the country’s shores.
While their works show a high quality of content and production value, sadly, the same cannot be said of eight out of 10 Nollywood movies. “This lack of professional expertise in the industry must be urgently addressed,” Afolayan said. Besides other mitigating factors, it is this lack of professionalism that has made the likes of 71-year-old Eddie Ugbomah – pioneer film director and producer of globally acclaimed celluloid films such as The Rise and Fall of Dr Oyenusi; The Death of the Black President and Oil Doom – one of its fiercest critics since the Nollywood machine started its laboured journey into global consciousness almost two decades ago. “This is creativity. This is art. It has to have style and finesse. Those days, we had what we called ‘script conferences’ where you bring story lines and turn it to storyboards. From storyboards, you put scripts which turn to dialogues. Then from 15 scriptwriters, you cut them down to 10, then five. At the end you have three,” Ugbomah explained.
The celebrated septuagenarian labels Nollywood as ‘Nothingwood’. “The world is fooling us that we are number two, or number three junk makers in the world. They are so shocked how we can do films with no style or finesse,” he argued, while describing some, especially the marketers who drove the Nollywood boom in the early 1990s as ‘movie illiterates,’ despite their academic degrees. These marketers, he said, dictated the tune and shut up the professionals because they controlled the money. This, he said, may be one reason why, a few years ago, some Canadian movie makers left Nigeria still wondering about the Nollywood ‘miracle’, where most of its directors take on almost superhuman powers by being the scriptwriters, producers and stars of their own films; thereby compromising on professionalism, content and production quality.
That status quo however seems to be changing. Tai Obasi, a civil engineering graduate, has majored in scriptwriting for about 12 years. He says he has written an average of 60 scripts in the last seven years. The only snag he identifies at the moment is the fact that there are few scriptwriters who are overworked, leading to fatigue and identical scripts.
This lack of originality is also another reason for Ugbomah’s criticisms. “If you start a Nollywood movie, you already know the end of the story in 10 minutes; because they don’t buy scripts or hire professionals to do the job,” he said, criticising its many stereotypes and predictable story lines. Also, most Nollywood movies have been criticised for being a rehash of some Bollywood (Indian) and Hollywood (American) movies. This lack of originality has forced some renowned actors to choose scripts.
For Ebi Akpeti, whose book, The Perfect Church was adapted into a movie by Wale Adenuga Productions, with the same title; the major clog in the Nollywood wheel has more to do with packaging rather than content. “The major challenge we have is just quality. If you watch Yoruba, or Igbo stories, those traditional stories, you find exciting story ideas. So it’s not the story. I see some nice stories that could be developed into proper screenplays. The quality of production also matters and not being able to put the right people to act the right parts,” she said.
Despite the quantity of movies being churned out of Nollywood yearly and the fact that it has invaded many homes and screens across the continent, as well as the rest of the world; poor quality content and production value are major factors that have limited Nollywood’s global appeal, said Lloyd Weaver. He should know better, having spent 13 years as an editor, and producer with CBS News, New York, and also has 29 years’ experience of producing, directing, writing and training in Nigeria, including being the mastermind behind, I Need to Know, the popular television drama series that shot Funke Akindele, of Jenifa and Omo Ghetto fame into limelight. “Many of our film directors don’t really understand how important they are in the development of this society. So, we lack that sense of purpose. While they may be experts in screen writing, they are not experts in the art of how to influence people. We (directors) speak to millions of people every day. Even the president doesn’t do that. And we don’t take advantage of that to help shape the direction of the country,” he said.
Notwithstanding these issues, Nollywood movies still enjoy some sort of patronage, which John Njamah, a trained actor, director and producer, narrowed down to the sheer size of the country’s population rather than the quality of content and production. “While we tell our own stories, we seem to have more grassroots people than the elites. Some people (only) make movies for the grassroots and it works for them,” he said. Weaver also believes that it boils down to the education of the audience. “We can broaden our audience if our writings and scripts were more meaningful and more challenging even to the actors and directors,” he noted. Quality content must be married with technical directing and creative input in terms of interpretation, agreed Njamah. “Actors and directors need to get a better education, in scriptwriting and directing. They need to go to school. We need to get better script writers,” chipped in Omoni Oboli, star of Anchor Baby, who recently returned from a movie shoot in Ukraine.
If the works of the new class of globally minded directors are anything to go by, the future does look bright for Nollywood. However, on one hand, while there seem to be a rise of new generation of professional filmmakers producing movies shot on locations within and outside Nigeria, as well as starring foreign actors; it could take a long time for the few good hands to improve on an industry that has largely thrived on mediocrity over the past two decades.