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Online platforms for the distribution of Nigerian films are a welcome development. The producer/scriptwriter, Ms. Emem Isong, stated this while speaking at the May edition of the Filmmakers’ Forum organised by the Nollywood Studies Centre of the School of Media and Communication.

Ms. Isong acknowledged that some of her colleagues might not agree with her as to the opportune entrance of the online platforms. But she went ahead to state that “It saves me the trouble I used to have of fighting the marketers in North America and in Europe. I am not selling to those people anymore. They used to owe too much. Now, I’d rather just sell my films to Iroko or Ibaka that will cater to the people in the diaspora.”

The profitability of the platform for the filmmaker, however, depends, among other things, on his/her negotiation skills. “It depends on your bargaining power and how much you can get from these people for your work; how many years you can negotiate for them to have the rights. I usually negotiate for, at the very least, two years.” Ms. Isong added that she always restricted such agreements to just the internet rights since she prefers to handle the other rights herself.

In response to a question on the nature of her usual overall distribution strategy, Ms. Isong noted that she tended to distinguish between the straight-to-DVD films and those made for the cinema. “A lot of the time, I make straight-to-DVD movies. Sometimes, I try the cinema – with the advent of the cinema, it’s been quite encouraging.” Given that the numbers are important in the cinema, a publicity campaign is carried out to get as many people as possible to watch the film there. “After going to the cinema, we then go to the [online platform]. We release through those ones first before we go on DVD, which is the final stage.”

Ms. Isong revealed that she depended on her own distribution network to carry out the work at this final stage. “My own distribution that I have [focuses mainly on] DVD. I have outlets in Onitsha, Aba, Akwa Ibom, Abuja and mainly Lagos.”

Earlier, Ms. Isong shared with the audience how she entered the film industry. According to her, she got into filmmaking during “the golden age of Nollywood, when the home video phenomenon was still a phenomenon. The market was crowded; audiences were insatiable, and people were jumping on the film bandwagon from other industries…” She resigned from her job as a banker and entered the industry. Her first film, Jezebel, was an Igbo language film that she wrote and co-produced with Francis Agu, in 1994. Her first solo effort came in 1996 with Breaking Point, which she funded and produced. The funding came from her parents in the form of a sixty thousand Naira loan. She also got some assistance from Tunde Kelani, who hired out equipment to her on credit.

Ms. Isong recognised that there had been various challenges in the course of her journey through the industry. The first of these, she said, is creative. “Being a movie producer, our job is to find and tell stories that will stand with the many, many stories released everyday and sell enough to make money so as to make new stories. Where do we find these stories?” She went on to add that these stories had to be mined from one’s life and the experiences of others.

Funding continues to be a major challenge for the filmmaker. In response to a question as to how she is able to reassure investors of a timely return of their investment if they fund her film, Ms. Isong had this to say: “I am very hesitant when it comes to getting money from investors. If I do, I try to let the investor know that this business is quite risky. I’m not going to promise that I’ll give your money back in [a particular fixed period]. I won’t give you a timeline. I’d rather say, give it at least a year… It could take a year for you to get your money back, not to even talk of your getting profit.” Making the money back, she stressed, is the climax of the filmmaking process, and this is where the challenges of distribution come in.

The Forum ended with a cocktail during which the members of the audience had further opportunities to interact with Ms. Isong. The Filmmakers’ Forum is a monthly activity of the SMC’s Nollywood Studies Centre.

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