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Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Over the weekend, Tunde Kelani and his dedicated crew completed their 170th slate. And with many more characters and scenarios to shoot, the production of Dazzling Mirage is not even yet on the home stretch. This gives you an idea of how many minute fragments it takes to compose a feature-length film. As each “slate” identifies a new camera position, a new angle from which to gaze on the action of the scene, you can also get a sense of how much time is involved in capturing these small fragments. In the past, Nollywood producers could not afford to take the time on set necessary to shoot a scene in such detail, which gave early Nollywood films their characteristically slow pace: long takes with lots of dialogue. Kelani, on the other hand, who was trained as a cinematographer, has always had a particular appreciation for storytelling through image making.

Kelani adjusts the settings on the monitor, checks composition and lighting. © Connor Ryan

Kelani adjusts the settings on the monitor, checks composition and lighting. © Connor Ryan

A cast with notoriety: Lala Akindoju, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Manuel. (And Bisola Ojo - continuity.) © Connor Ryan

A cast with notoriety: Lala Akindoju, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Manuel. (And Bisola Ojo – continuity.) © Connor Ryan

Dazzling Mirage - Sarafa Abagun

Cinematographer Sarafa Abagun changes the lens before second take. (Seun, Sarafa, Jelili, Kelani.) © Connor Ryan

Sarafa Abagun, pictured above, got his start as an assistant cameraman at Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in 1979, almost three years after Kelani had become a cameraman for the nation’s only television station at the time. In 1995, Sarafa left NTA to freelance on commercial advertisements and to work with Kelani’s Mainframe Studios shooting footage for BBC and Reuters. I asked how shooting for a film like Dazzling Mirage differs from shooting an advertisement. As it turns out, there is no difference. In terms of capturing a particular style of image and using a certain set of standard shots, the film “language” is the same, as Sarafa put it.

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Kate Henshaw, Emeka Ossai and Eke Ume on the set of Crossed Roads.

In a recent conversation, Bond Emeruwa suggested that, in these tough times in Nollywood, some filmmakers might be returning to television production as an alternative. I jumped at Eke Ume‘s invitation to observe the set of Crossed Roads. Ume, production manager and associate producer of the program, has a long career straddling both TV and film production. When I visited the set, Ume and the crew were shooting for the upcoming fourth season of Crossed Roads. At the center of the scenes for the day was celebrity actress Kate Henshaw. who has accrued her fame from her work in Nollywood films. In fact, after asking around a bit, it became evident that nearly all the crew, from DP to boom operator, have worked in both video film and television.

The schedule was tight, and the crew worked professionally and efficiently to shoot twenty six episodes (half a season) in a matter of fifteen working days. Ume tells me that, when he shoots for TV, he is most concerned with conveying a compelling story, rich characters, and enthralling dialogue. When he works on film, he has more freedom to capture the camera movements and physical action that entice viewers. Financing of TV production is also virtually all from private investment, whereas films have more avenues for formal loans and alternative financing. This means financing for TV is harder, and since media outlets rarely fund production, the executive producer is left to absorb the financial risks. In the case of Crossed Roads, all the funding comes from Golden Pyramid, a private studio headed by Emeka Ossai (CEO). Besides acting as executive producer and producer for the program, Ossai also plays the lead role, a character named Vaugh. Crossed Roads will be aired on TVC, DSTV, and Africa Magic.

It is acknowledged often and widely that Nollywood videos bare a close relation to serialized television programming. Films are almost always split into part one and two, and the door is never closed on the possibility of producing a sequel if a film proves successful. The aesthetics of melodrama and the heavy reliance on dialogue as a vehicle of narrative development implies a consonance between video film and soap opera formats. And finally, the two mediums use the camera in a similar fashion. Shots are often stationary, and the use of close ups is intended to enhance the emotive impact of the dialogue. Alessandro Jedlowski might remind us, furthermore, that TV and Nollywood are both highly accessible, widely distributed (portable), and “communal in [their] modes of exhibition” (“Small Screen Cinema” 439), and that “Nollywood produces something that is located in between cinema and television” (ibid. 432). Jedlowski goes on to suggest that Nollywood’s recombination of cinema and television has engendered a “remediated” form he describes as “small screen cinema” (ibid. 439).

Beyond these aesthetic traits, we might also look to the specific history of television and film in Nigeria. In his essay “From Folk Opera to Soap Opera,” Wole Ogundele describes the evolution, or we might say the “remediation,” of Yoruba traveling theater into film, television, and later video film. He describes television as “a strong alternative and parallel medium that dramatists like Ogunde and Duro Ladipo used alternatively or in combination [with stage performance and film] (in Haynes 2000, p. 95). Indeed, we know that, in the earliest years of video film, those filmmakers who had formal training, like Tunde Kelani, were those who had worked for Nigerian Television Authority.

From Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Basi and Company to other popular television serials like New Masquerade, and The Village Headmaster, the medium of television has always existed as an important parallel medium alongside video film (see Haynes’s “What Is to Be Done?” [2010] and Adesokan’s“The Idea of Nigerian Cinema” [2012]). And the line between video and television has only grown more porous since the advent of M-Net’s Africa Magic satellite TV channels. (However, one must keep in mind that DSTV has only some 5 million subscribers in Nigeria, a nation of over 150 million.) I wonder if we should still think of television and video film as parallel media, or as two industries constantly at a crossroads with on another.

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Screening of 'O le ku' at LTV. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Tunde Kelani screened his romantic classic, O le ku (1997), for eager audiences on Saturday and Sunday at the LTV Station in Ikeja. Based on the popular 1974 novel by Prof. Akinwumi Isola, the film follows University of Ibadan student Ajani as he attempts to choose among three love interests: Asaka, Lola, and Sade.

Audience members were encouraged to dress “old school” to pay tribute to the film’s setting in the 1970’s.

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Sandra Obiago (Founder/Director, CFC); John Momoh (Chairman, Channels Television); Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye (Head of the Department of Mass Communications, University of Lagos); Olufemi Ayeni (Zonal Director, National Broadcasting Commission); Ngozi Iwere (Executive Director, Community Life Project). Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

Over 60 national broadcasters gathered at Terra Kulture yesterday for Communicating for Change’s (CFC) Broadcasters ’ Forum on the Role of Media in Successful Election. With support from the Ford Foundation, CFC premiered two short films–Game Over and One Voice is A Majority– that address such electoral issues as voter apathy and election poll violence.  (Click here for my on-location coverage of the filming of Game Over).  CFC created the storylines to address what its contracted professional research company uncovered about people’s views of the electoral process after conducting research groups and interviews in Kano, Enugu, and Lagos.

Sandra Obiago (Founder/Director, CFC) Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

Sandra Obiago (CFC Founder/ Director) presented the two films to the broadcasters in attendance with a challenge:

…unless you continue to rise up and create strong platforms for these kinds of messages to guide Nigerians in the right direction–empower them to choose democracy and good governance over bribery, corruption, and dirty politics –unless you work in partnership with us–your VERY OWN survival is not guaranteed. We are in this struggle together and as the saying goes, ‘one hand washes the other’.

Obiago also stressed that the media that supports the education of the electorate ensures that they can continue to operate properly and fulfill their role in a democratic system that protects freedom of speech.

John Momoh (Chairman, Channels Television) and Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye (Head of the Department of Mass Communications, University of Lagos). Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

The event continued with a panel moderated by John Momoh (Chairman, Channels Television) and included Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye (Head of the Department of Mass Communications, University of Lagos); Olufemi Ayeni (Zonal Director, National Broadcasting Commission); as well as Ngozi Iwere (Executive Director, Community Life Project).

After demonstrating that only one person in attendance had read the federal voting law, Prof. Akinfeleye emphasized the media’s role in the interpretation and education of electoral legislation for the general public. Iwere highlighted the difference between “public relations journalism” and “investigative journalism” by encouraging journalists to “scrutinize the candidates”. Ayeni referenced the National Broadcasting Code in his entreaty for the media to pay attention to their generated content and to “avoid praise-singing and denying access to contrary political views.”

The CFC production team. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

CFC plans to hold similar Broadcasters’ Forums to screen the films in Port Harcourt, Kano, and Abuja in the coming weeks.

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Go out and buy The Guardian today, everyone! My article on New Nollywood’s innovative distribution methods is published under the Friday Review section. I’ve pasted the text below, or you can read the original web version here. Many thanks to Gabe for lending his editor’s eye to this piece.
Friday, 14 January 2011 00:00 By Bic Leu 

THE domestic and international media have been buzzing about the emergence of a New Nollywood. A wave of recent features — including Kunle Afolayan’s The Figurine and Chineze Anyaene’s Ijé — flout traditional Nollywood conventions such as low budgets and poor production value and eschew the Nigerian film industry’s straight-to-video format for a theatrical run. It appears that there is a new vigour among filmmakers to tackle the rampant piracy and poor distribution linkages that have plagued the industry.

Beyond piracy
Pirates have usurped Nigerian filmmakers’ profits at the end of the distribution chain for years by replicating and distributing films within days of DVD release. According to writer and director, Amaka Igwe, “Piracy makes up 82 per cent of the Nigerian market.” However, she identifies the real problem behind revenue generation as distributors’ ignorance about market supply and demand: “If people had a choice of buying the real copy, they would buy it, but they can’t find it.”

Igwe laments that distributors often print fewer copies than what the customers demand in fear that surplus inventory will remain unsold. As a result, pirates fill the gap with illegal copies.  Despite having completed work on six films, Igwe refuses to release any until a massive distribution system that she has been working on is unveiled in March 2011: “I’m not doing any new films, because that’s like pouring water into sand; you don’t get any returns.”

Revitalizing cinemas
Other filmmakers have turned to cinemas. Kunle Afolayan’s Irapada (2007) was the first Nigerian film to be shown at Lagos’ Silverbird Galleria. Instead of relying on the traditional system in which the marketer serves as the production’s main funding source, Afolayan subsidized his budget by negotiating product placement deals — which recouped 50 per cent of expenses before the film’s release.  Irapada went on to gross over N5 million at the box office and changed the industry’s perception of cinema release, a custom that had died out in the 1980s along with celluloid filmmaking in Nigeria.  Afolayan also screened the film at small venues like the National Arts Theatre as well as campuses across the country.

Afolayan expanded Irapada’s distribution model when The Figurine premiered in 2009. On top of the cinema release and product placement, The Figurine was one of the first Nigerian films to tour the international festival circuit, gathering critical acclaim in Berlin, New York, Rotterdam, Tarifa, and Kampala.

Afolayan’s equal mix of the artistic and the commercial attracted audiences to theatres in record numbers. He claims, “Many people who weren’t cinema-goers started going to the cinema because they were interested in seeing the film”.

It raked in N30 million during its eight-week theatrical run and was recognized as the most successful Nigerian cinema release at the time. On the back end, Afolayan has experimented with new distribution schemes.  When Irapada was distributed on DVD, Afolayan enlisted the help of a China-based disc replication firm for the encryption, which he believed “cut out piracy by 80 per cent”. He has big plans for The Figurine’s DVD release in February 2011: a subsidiary of the satellite TV service HiTV will distribute one million copies domestically and more abroad via website sales.

If Kunle Afolayan re-introduced cinema culture to the Nigerian audience, then Chineze Anyaene cemented its viability with her directorial debut, Ijé (2010). The film made N50 million at the box office last year, thus displacing The Figurine as the highest grossing Nigerian cinema release of all time. Next, Anyaene plans to distribute Ijé in Kenya, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

A grassroots approach
Veteran director, Tunde Kelani is thinking beyond cinemas. Recognizing that most Nigerians cannot afford the average N1,000-N1,500 cinema ticket price in the only nine functioning multiplexes in the country, Kelani is looking for more accessible alternatives. On top of the regular cinema circuit, he is working with the Lagos State Viewing Sports Center Association to use their 700-1,000 viewing centers to show his next feature, Ma’ami (2011), whenever there is a free slot in the programming schedule.

Kelani’s team, which includes Production Manager Jamiu Shoyode, is currently reviewing the locations. With an average capacity of 100 seats per center, Kelani hopes to reach at least 70,000 Lagosians by the end of Ma’ami’s release — although this conservative estimate doesn’t account for multiple screenings per center.

Kelani plans to charge N150 per ticket, hoping that the low price will encourage whole communities to see his film. The egalitarian approach also extends to the series of free open-air screenings that he is planning in conjunction with the viewing center release.  Kelani already proved the success of this method in 2009 when he reached over 2,500 people in 57 local councils at free outdoor viewings of his last film, Arugbá. He hopes to attract another sponsor to cover the costs for Ma’ami and to help him accomplish his goal of capturing “the masses”.

A high-tech distribution solution?
The Internet is also becoming a viable option for distributing Nollywood movies. In December 2010, telecommunications giant Glo joined its counterpart MTN in giving their subscribers access to DStv Mobile, a service that enables users to watch DStv live on their mobile devices. Available programming includes the Africa Magic movie channels that broadcast a never-ending rotation of Nollywood films.

Supporting this new Internet platform are two international submarine cables that were landed in Nigeria in 2009: Main One, operated by privately-owned Main One Cable Company, and Glo 1, operated by Globacom. The cables link Lagos to Europe and other West African countries with the goal of providing affordable and high-speed Internet services across the continent (though the author has yet to notice any improvement in Internet bandwidth).  Main One commenced commercial services in July 2010 and Glo 1 followed suit in October 2010.

The World Wide Web has the potential to become a virtual Idumota Market, though with a more manageable distribution chain than the real Lagos bazaar. The New Nollywood may not need to look beyond its laptop to reach the masses both near and far. Ultimately, the defining trait is innovation since piracy has become a catalyst for reinvention. Rather than fight in the trenches, filmmakers are sharpening their business sense, creating models for exhibition and distribution that demand rebranding the industry precisely because up-and-coming Nollywood fits in a future that, for now, is still running to meet itself.

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When friends alerted me that they had seen my face on national television, I went out and purchased Funke Akindele‘s latest completed film, Omo Ghetto. Sure enough, The Making of ‘The Return of Jenifa’ teaser advert appeared before the opening credits (pay attention around the 0:40 mark). Since I’m not tech-savvy enough to upload the advert to YouTube, above is a fan re-mix of the original, so please excuse the substandard video and sound as well as the out-of-order sequence. I will replace it immediately once the original advert becomes available online.

Per my conversation with Funke before Christmas, The Return of Jenifa will hit theaters around Easter 2011.

On a side note, I purchased Omo Ghetto (which is divided into 4 DVDs) for N600, which is N100 above the official price (per Funke). Either I got the oyinbo special, or demand once again is outstripping supply in the Nollywood DVD marketplace.

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Ikechukwu Omenaye (Continuity), Leonard Nformi (Director of Photography), Mellamby Iloegben (Director), Solomon Emmanuel (Sound)

Yesterday, I took a break from The Return of Jenifa shoot to see a different side of film making in Nigeria. Sandra Obiago, Founder/Director of Communicating for Change (CFC), invited me to observe the production of a short educational film that CFC is producing to deal with electoral issues.

Leonard Nformi (Director of Photography) sets up the shot

Per Obiago, the concept for Game Over was generated by results from nationwide focus groups and interviews: “The films were created to respond to the knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of ordinary citizens regarding the upcoming elections. They are meant to entertain and at the same time challenge Nigerians to get involved in the elections and political process.”

Young men alert villagers of the chairman's arrival

Mellamby Iloegben (Director) directs the extras in the village square scene

Game Over addresses voter apathy by showing viewers that the power to create change lies with the electorate. Directed by popular director Mellamby Iloegben, the film uses the characteristics of a Nollywood-style drama to champion a social cause. The film unfolds in a fictional village during the reelection campaign of the negligent local government chairman.

Set-up for the village square scene

Along with Game Over, CFC is producing One Voice Makes a Majority– which will be shot over the weekend–to address election violence. Both movies are funded by the Ford Foundation. CFC plans to air the movies with all broadcasters nationwide from January to the elections in April. The organization is also partnering with three bus companies to screen the movies as on-board entertainment during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

Bolaji Fati (Production Manager), Chidiogo Uzuegbu (Production Assistant), and Odega Shawa (Location Manager)

According to Bolaji Fati (CFC’s General Manager), “Through strategic communications, we try to convince Nigerians that we must do our part and vote in order to bring about positive change. These movies show that the voice and the will of the people make all the difference.”

Sunset in Eriyo Amute at wrap time

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