*My dad caned me mercilessly for announcing my admission to study film in London
By Fred Iwenjora
If your regular celebrity is a star actor, popular musician or sportsman who is easily identified in a crowd then the name and photograph of Chris Ekejimbe does not fit. In that case he easily could slip through red carpets of big events unnoticed.
In the rough, tough and esoteric business climate of Nigeria’s audio visual and creative industry, the name, Chris Ekejimbe, sure reverberates across lines as a real don and big time player.
In this chat, the founder and convener Film4Life, the largest group of film makers and stakeholders on social media in Nigeria discusses all those things that give him audacity to talk critically about Nigerian films and television content while very strongly espousing the gospel of the importance of right funding in any business, film making inclusive.
As a film consultant, could you make a personal assessment of Nollywood, the industry you have played great underground roles since inception?
My personal assessment of the Nigerian movie industry is that it has come a very long way and enjoyed a very great reception worldwide. But I don’t want us to be deceived by this reception and rest on the oars, dwelling on what I call deceptive success. The time is now ripe for us to change our direction, substance and technical character. It is now time for our industry to transcend from being a mere sympathy by our diaspora families who wish to keep in touch with home to the one of conquest and competition. So far, I see a great revolution coming in Nollywood. I call it the Third Force made up of a group of people who do unusual things and do things differently from the normal. These people are pushing third force innovations because Nollywood has changed from the way it has been.
In what ways and what places are we likely to see this change?
Before now, the industry had been challenged in many ways including funding and technological short comings and our distributorship system had been archaic and even completely collapsed. Nigerians used to go to normal markets for our needs but not anymore. The behaviour of the normal Nigerian consumer has changed, yet the film industry refused to see this change. The question has always been how to re-engineer to suit today’s people. And I see light at the end of the tunnel.
Your colleagues in Nollywood seem to think your many ideas are outlandish and inapplicable in practical terms. They often charge that you couldn’t criticise films if you have no films…
Don’t mind them. These ideas work for me. I am not one to give excuses concerning failures of any kind. Several of my colleagues do know I have done a film and live by and in the film business. I did a movie; Bottleneck with a marketer which involved both cast and crew from US and Nigeria but I got my fingers bitten, causing me to swear never to make another film until I am sure of how the distribution will go. I had sold my rights in the movie believing the marketer’s promises but got nothing from it. So, I resolved to distance myself from the impoverishment of making movies in Nigeria without a guaranteed distribution plan like most of my Nollywod colleagues would do. I am not interested in making films for myself. I decided I was not going to be absorbed and influenced into absolute nothingness but to continue to develop my business of providing both high tech support in equipment for audio visual production and television and film content for those who could give us a try. We have continued to improve and shape the studios to international standard gauge and many corporate establishments are relying on us. I laugh at those who say I have no film wondering whether they have fared well in the business as it has been. I can only call a spade what it is. I am very critical about not faring well because it bothers me. Poor quality production is caused by low funding while distribution is also an issue to a good international standard production in Nigeria. However, I will make a film soon especially now I am beginning to see hope for return on investment. My colleagues know that I am a member of the global body for the arts and business of film , FIAPF and a board of trustee member of the Association of Nollywood Core producers ANCOP. Of course they do know that I am convener of Association of movie producers of Nigeria and also in the advisory board of Silicon Valley African Film festival California that I have come a long way.
What hope do you see please?
I see hope because of the entry of Bank of Industry BOI into the creative industry and indeed some other financial institutions. Before now it was business based on money from friends and family which has several limitations. I am glad that banks in Nigeria have started seeing the economic importance of the creative industry. Bank of Industry set up Nollyfund to support the industry to develop further than it has been. They have armed the third force tremendously to grow. Due to BOI intervention, many people may not readily rush to South Africa to do post production as we have the resources to reasonably do unusual films which can stand international standard test. Without the BOI facility which I took, my studio would not have been top rated, doing unusual things. I must state here that BOI has fast-tracked the development of Nollywood in no small measures as discerning people can see. There is no doubt about this. Without funding, many ideas may return with the originator into the grave.
But many see the measures and conditions of the Nollyfund as very stringent…
(Cuts in) Let me quickly tell you that Nollyfund is for those who have a true sense of purpose and not for those who will divert it into other uses. It is arranged in a triangular form. We have the studio, the distributor all funded by the fund. The studios are equipped to international standard to handle the productions while the distributors and exhibitors market them, guaranteeing return on investment. In that case all the producer does is walk into the set with his artistes and crew and walk away with his master product to the distributor to continue from there. Indeed the advisory board looks out for excellence in all its ramifications. But even rejected projects are guided and mentored to develop further. I dare say that no one who goes through the selection process remains the same in the industry in terms of competence and expertise.
Just as easy as that…why are people still saying no to the loan?
I may not know why my dear friend. BOI still remains the bank with the lowest interest in loans, especially the Nollyfund. The interest is as low as 10%. I have taken facilities from several other banks with interests as high as 25%.
It has a very smooth process which starts with the selection of a project with special note on bank-ability that is guaranteed return on investment, national interest and global appeal. Then the film maker is referred to a studio and advisory board for consultation before returning to BOI for final decision. Or do Nigerians want BOI to dash them money? Funding is business of which the lender must be repaid.