That Screwy, Ballyhooey Nollywood

Recommended reading: a great article in The Economist on Nigeria's film industry, a.k.a. Nollywood, which "churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world's second most prolific film industry after India's Bollywood." The report covers everything from the way movies are produced and consumed in a country with no traditional studios and hardly any conventional theaters...

The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema--a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. "Films are made on the run, sometimes literally," says Emem Isong, one of Nigeria’s few female producers, during a shoot. "Some of the guys are hiding from the police."

All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in a vast, chaotic market called Idumota. It is a maze within a labyrinth. Crowds push through narrow, covered alleys. The sound of honking motorbikes is drowned out by blaring television sets showing film trailers. The flickering screens light up dim stalls lined with thousands of DVDs on narrow wooden shelves.

...to the reactions of Africa's cultural and political elites:

Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about "macabre scenes full of sorcery" in the films. The more alarmist describe Nigerian directors and producers as voodoo priests casting malign spells over audiences in other countries. They talk of the "Nigerianisation" of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to "snap its fingers the Nigerian way".

Governments can be hostile, too. Several have brought in protectionist measures, including spurious production fees. In July Ghana started demanding $1,000 from visiting actors and $5,000 from producers and directors. The Democratic Republic of Congo has tried to ban Nigerian films altogether.

And for anyone who wonders how the absence of effective copyright protection will affect the incentive to produce, Nollywood turns out to be an interesting laboratory:

It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight, known as the "mating season", before their discs become commodities. As soon as the mating season is over they start thinking about the next film.

The article also includes the phrase "itinerant writers trawling the market." So read the whole thing. If you're like me, it'll make you want to see a bunch of the movies -- and maybe spend a few week in Lagos watching the crews and financiers at work.

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  • Old Mexican||

    Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about "macabre scenes full of sorcery" in the films.

    Nag, nag, nag.

    It takes the pirates just two weeks to copy a new film and distribute it across Africa. The merchants must take their money during that fortnight, known as the "mating season", before their discs become commodities. As soon as the mating season is over they start thinking about the next film.

    But it was copyright which was supposed to spur innovation and creativity, not competition.... Oh, well.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Btw, Rouch passed away in 2004. So this cultural scolding is not a new development.

  • ||

    Where would the incentive go if the producers didn't have even their meager two weeks to exploit their work? What if it took pirates, say, two hours to "copy a film and distribute it across Africa"?

    How healthy do you think the innovation and creativity would be at that point?

  • ||

    Assuming the technology that allows 2hr duplication and distribution doesn't also allow the producer to act even faster.

  • ||

    Huh? What would that have to do with anything?

  • ||

    Moves the goal posts for the incentive.

    When disney gets IP extensions at the same time as the man-hours-required to produce their work has decreased (thereby allowing them to produce more work for the same resources) skews the incentive in the opposite direction.

  • ||

    You're missing the point. It doesn't matter how many "man-hours" it takes to produce how much "work"; if the profitability is completely undercut out of the gate, then the incentive is gone.

    As it stands, these guys get a two-week window to try profiting from their own work, then it's back to the grindstone. Why would they bother going back to the grindstone if there were basically no window at all? At that point they'd be charitable organizations, making movies merely for the benefit (and bank accounts) of others.

    You can talk all you want about input/output ratios. But in this hypothetical, that's moot, because zero is not a fraction of anything. It's zero.

  • Yeah||

    Such reasoning is meaningless to anarchists and parasites who don't create anything of value.

  • mr simple||

    I love the tears of the uppity liberals when third world citizens cast off their meager lifestyles for modern things. "No, you must stick to dancing to primitiv instruments, living in grass huts and eating dirt. The western world is evil!"

    Then again, there are comments after the article from people purporting to be Africans who say the industry could be good if the government would just regulate it, so I guess it's not just a western sickness.

  • NoVAHockey||

    It's ruining their photo-op.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Nollywood doesn't have the budgets to create anything worth copyrighting, like Transformers or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Fist of Etiquette,

    Nollywood doesn't have the budgets to create anything worth copyrighting, like Transformers or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

    I though copyright was a right, according to IP-monopoly advocates; that is, valueless.

  • ||

    IP drives innovation. Say I invent a great new mouse trap and receive a patient for it, if you want to create and sell mouse traps, you'll have to come up with an even better idea.

  • ||

    patent not patient

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Enough About Palin,

    IP drives innovation. Say I invent a great new mouse trap and receive a patient for it, if you want to create and sell mouse traps, you'll have to come up with an even better idea.

    Which tells me you're very unfamiliar with patent law and the patent process - let's say nobody has invented mousetraps, ever, until you: if I came with a better mousetrap, you could then sue me for patent infringement since your patent is for THE mousetrap. This is not mere theory, it has happened before and it still happens today. henry Ford hat to fight a patent in court (and prevailed) as the patent purported to give the patent holder rights to THE automobile. NO innovation spurred after the invention of the Watt steam engine until HIS patent ran out - and HE could not use the "crank" (the fucking crank!) because someone patented that thing before.

    IP does NOT spur innovation - it is nothing more than a state-sanctioned protectionist scheme.

  • Old Mexican||

    Henry Ford had to fight......

  • Pip||

    I can't speak for EAP, but my experience informs me that patents do spur innovation. And I think EAP's mouse trap example is apt.

  • ||

    I can't speak for EAP, but my experience informs me that patents do spur innovation. And I think EAP's mouse trap example is apt.

    An argument, this does not make.

  • Jersey Patriot||

    That is not how patent law works. You can patent the particular construct of a mousetrap. You can patent the method by which it traps a mouse. But you can't patent the very notion of a mousetrap.

    For example, let's say I invent the first mouse trap. It's a spring that sends a bar, at very high speed, to trap a mouse that touches the spring. I get a patent. Someone else creates a mousetrap that has a mouse fall, unharmed, through a trap door. The spring mousetrap patent doesn't prevail over the trapdoor patent. Similarly, if you also create a mousetrap with a spring, but make some genuine improvement in the mechanism, the original patent does not necessarily prevail.

    If you're against IP, that's a defensible position, albeit one I don't share. But if you're against IP and don't know how it works, don't just make shit up.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Jersey Patriot,

    You can patent the method by which it traps a mouse. But you can't patent the very notion of a mousetrap.

    Ah, the "can't happen here" syndrome. It HAS happened before, JP:

    http://www.thefreemanonline.or.....-monopoly/

    http://blog.mises.org/10316/th.....r-patents/

    The RIM case is especially egregious, as it shows exactly what you say can't happen.

    Similarly, if you also create a mousetrap with a spring, but make some genuine improvement in the mechanism, the original patent does not necessarily prevail.

    The fact that ownership depends on the whim of an arbitrer obviates the rights aspect of IP.

    Second, the fact that you would still have to allocate baldy needed and precious resources to FIGHT a patent infringement case is not seen. How does that spur innovation?

  • ||

    Second, the fact that you would still have to allocate baldy needed and precious resources to FIGHT a patent infringement case is not seen. How does that spur innovation?

    We were talking about legal innovation in the field of patent trolling, right?

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    IP drives innovation

    RTFA?

    As soon as the mating season is over [TWO WEEKS] they start thinking about the next film

    That is, "IP" expiring drives innovation, at least in this case.

  • CavMedic||

    So, just who is the Michael Bay of Nollywood?

  • ||

    Idi Amin?

  • ||

    I bet all the films have the same plot... A former general being held as a political prisoner seeks help from foreign citizen.

  • ||

    Come on, I've heard sometimes it's about the widow of a cabinet minister who will give you access to the Swiss bank account where her late husband put his millions if you just send her five large.

  • Dylboz||

    I've seen that one. It doesn't end well.

  • affenkopf||

    In Nollywood Nigeria created a booming, vibrant industry employing thousands and influencing millions. I wonder why the country is still poor.

    The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people. (from the article)

    Oh. That's why.

  • Matrix||

    I guess all those nigerian millionaires had to spend invest their money in something.

  • ||

    What kind of films do they make? Instructional videos on how to get gullible people to give you their account numbers?

  • ||

    This is really quite a neat situation; I wonder how many good writers a system like this can expose? Because unless something shot this fast is well written, it's going to suck.

  • Jesse Walker||

    My educated guess is:

    1. There's a lot of really formulaic movies;

    2. there's a lot of really weird movies; and

    3. from an American perspective, the formulaic ones might seem pretty weird, too.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I've seen a couple of these movies - my sister-in-law is from Ghana, and her relatives have sent her a few.

    They are odd, by Western standards. The traditional beginning / middle / end story structure rarely applies. They are episodic - things seem to happen without direct causality from previous events shown in the film. (This doesn't mean the events are implausible; just that there is no dramatic lead up to them.)

  • BakedPenguin||

    This doesn't mean the events are necessarily implausible...

  • crazyfish||

    I am Nigerian, and I don't like the ones I have seen. On youtube, you can find many of them.

    I find in the English-language films, the dialogue sounds very strained. Maybe that is because Nigerian English sounds more formal because of our British overloads or bad scriptwriting skills. For the record, the movies I have seen in my dialect(Yoruba) are a little better acting and scriptwise.

    The stories are also too dramatic and pedestrian in terms of their content. I would liken them to Mexican soap operas, hence marriage problems, a lot of evil paternal mother-in-law themes, a lot of rags-to-riches stories dominate. There are a lot of movies that try to copy the American culture (for some reason, Nigerians like to emulate the black american culture with respect to their music and clothing, even speech style.)

    The stories very often involve of a lot of deus ex machina silliness. Many lack the basic plot structure. Very often, the movies end abruptly because the movie makers want to you buy the sequel.

    Also the movies try to enforce a simplistic moral universe using mystical or divine methods. So we get a lot fairy godmother interventions so to speak, but in this case fairy godmothers are traditional deities. There is a lot of magical elements, e.g. an evil step-mother could resort to sorcery to frustrate the business efforts of her step children. A lot of the films also are cheap christian evangelizing movies, where a protagonist being saved or being "born again" overcomes a sorcery that was hexed on him.

    For my westernized mindset, I find the movies too fatalistic. Bad things happen because someone in the spiritual world has cursed you, good things happen because you made a sacrifice to so and so god, or it can be ascribed to divine providence. Even in the Christian movies, things end well because God was trusted in the end.

    The non-magical movies are the garden-variety dramatic silly stories.

    What strikes me in Nollywood movies, is the level of conspicuous consumption. We have fancy, large houses, very luscious fashion, very fancy cars, (I remember seeing a hummer in a film) against a background of poverty, and dirt roads.

    The refreshing thing in Nollywood movies are the women, they are beautiful, black and for the most part plump. They are not bony supermodels, or the generic size 4 women in western movies.

    Artistic movies are lacking in Nollywood. It is a shame because it does not have be that way.I have yet to find a Nigerian equivalent of a film like Karmen Gei (a very nice Senagalese version of Carmen). Nollywood will not be a source of creative ideas for western filmmakers like Hong Kong cinema did for the west (Think John Woo.)

  • Yonemoto||

    sounds a lot like hollywood movies!

  • Jeff P||

    If we spin this right, we can get all the burdgeoning directors who clog up the interstitials on IFC and make bad commercials to follow the money to darkest Africa.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  • ||

    Now, if only we could come up with a scheme that's just as effective at getting statists to move to China.

  • ||

    This sounds like a great idea for a Vice Guide to ...

    And just how do I learn how to snap my fingers the Nigerian way? Do I have to take a class?

  • Name Nomad||

    YouTube gives a number of excellent Nollywood trailers. Here's an example: Baby Police. There's also one for Baby Police 2.

  • Pip||

    Two films about Michelle Obama? Weird!

  • ||

    Okay Billy Babyface?

  • Hank Williams||

    Interesting take on civil liberties and politics in general. Also a refreshing definition of the classic liberal and traditional conservative

    http://confederateunderground......ional.html

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