Despite a difficult business environment, the Nigeria home video makers creatively re-engineered how films are made, while remaining profitable. The lessons learned from the key innovative methods utilised by this industrial cluster (a.k.a. Nollywood) are now proving useful to test if this could be the new way forward for Africa's development.
Nollywood is Nigeria's answer to Hollywood, Bollywood and all the woods of this world. Thanks to rare 'native intelligence' combined with common sense.
The fact that doing any type of business in a developing country such as Nigeria is a daunting task needs not to be over emphasised. Apart from lack of basic infrastructure - reliable power supply, good roads and transport facilities etc; there is wide spread corruption and bureaucratic incompetence. Although Nigeria with its over 150 million people could be the largest market in Sub-Saharan, the vast majority (over 60%) of this population live at the bottom of the income pyramid. So, how do you create and grow an industry for home movies in such a difficult environment?
This was what the Nigerian artists, directors, financiers and other supporters did in the last decade or so. The French Cultural Centre in Nigeria actually brought French movie makers to study their methods - and they asked the question: How on earth can you make a movie in seven days, at low cost, enjoyed by over half the population of your continent and still get noticed by the world? And Yes at a huge profit too.
Knowing that fixing all the socioeconomic problems to create an environment conduicive for film making may never happen - those who insisted on making a living from this way of life have to‘re-think’ how things are done in this industry. More over there was demand for home (local) content films that could tell stories viewers can relate to.
Since making films was their core focus, they set out to combine 'raw talent' with 'amateur technology' and improvised all the way. They borrowed, begged but they did not steal. Instead of building studios they used people’s homes that are already ‘in set’. Most of the productions were financed by individuals, families and friends – there were no institutional investors or government guarantees. They latched onto the already existing commercial distribution system for everything, to distribute and market their products. Films that were already released carried the advertisements of those in the pipeline. And several other innovative approaches that were used to by-pass critical constraints.
From the perspective of individual film makers or film production, the major challenges they faced were centred on the cost of production and project management.
The lack of adequate financial back meant that individual film makers had to rely heavily on ‘bootstrapping’ all along the way, as well as employing plenty of ‘sweat equity’. These were apart from using up all personal savings and all they could borrow from friends and relatives. In addition, there was plenty of ‘asset parsimony’ – begging for things they should borrow; borrowing what they should buy; buying old equipment rather than new; use of assets in return for acknowledgement of the owners; and other creative means of acquiring the use of assets. As much as possible, the financial burden of the cost of fixed assets was kept to the barest minimum.
Similarly, because no single organisation had the capacity to pull all the resources required to fund and manage a complex project such as film making – production management was organised as ‘collaborative networks’ or ‘strategic alliances’. This on its own presented another level of complexity in an environment where managerial culture was poor. Nonetheless, ‘social capital’ – specific forms of social relationships, which act as individual or group resources (actual or virtual) that facilitate collective action for mutual benefit – said to be entrenched in African settings proved useful in getting participants to work together towards a common purpose. Key elements of social capital, such as mutual trust, knowledge of each other’s values and discipline, and a sense of belonging were noted to be critical in holding such networks together to produce results.
Initially, the quality of the films were not very good, compared to what people were already used to - mainly due to the level of technology applied. But the artistry skills displayed by the actors and actresses were remarkable - and thus provided increase patronage. By learning from their mistakes; listening to audience reviews; and an expanded market across Sub-Saharan Africa and Africans in the diaspora, which help to generate more revenues – major improvements were made. This led to an increase in business confidence of both participants and supporters, as demonstrated by a high content of Nigerian films carried by major cable satellite networks.
Although figures are hard to come by, there is strong indication to conclude that the Nigerian home movie industry is profitable and has created several t thousand sustainable jobs. There is now a ‘celebrity culture’, where popular actors and actresses can be seen mixing with the high and mighty of society. Gone are the days when artists reign on TV shows and then fade away – and sometimes live hungry for the later part of their lives. There are also national and regional awards that encourage competition, as well as influence young and talented persons to consider this industry as a worthwhile career or business.
Irrespective of the business environment: it is feasible to grow and prosper, by creatively re-writing the insitutional rules that govern any industry. The fact that the home movie industry in Nigeria has grown to be one of the bright spots in the nation’s economy, is a demonstration that it is possible to make progress even in the face of non-existent economic opportunities. Some commentators have also noted that the Nigerian music industry has adopted similar approaches with huge success.
For a wider application to other sectors and other places: the message is simple - look for 'nollywood paradigm moments' that are taking place, and scale them up to overcome poor business environment or even economic recessions.
Me - I have been keeping notes of this emerging model since 2006. I even started a blog (Nollywood Paradigm) that is difficult to keep up, due to other pressing demands on my time. However, I have maintained a close watch in identifying 'nollywood paradigm moments', which in effect can be seen as 'market-based solutions' for most human needs in emerging economies.
Franco Sacchi, director of This is Nollywood, explains the Nigerian film business:
The Nigerian Film Corporation reviews film development from 1997 to 2003:
Lagos-based Tribune assesses Nollywood as artistry:
European Audiovisual Observatory has global film industry statistics:
As does UNESCO's statistical database:
A Nigerian movie site with reviews and order forms:
An African film site: