Presently, there is a lot of excitement in the Nigerian film industry over the calibre of filmmakers springing up. These filmmakers are lauded for advancing the local and global cause for our film industry through an improved quality of filmmaking. Yet, a better part of the filmmaking populace in Nigeria still struggle to break through because of the poor structure – or really the lack of a working structure in the industry.
Realistically, the set of filmmakers producing ‘good films’ is a mere handful fortunate to have access to the resources necessary to deliver quality. Thus, when creatives such as Ejiro Onobrakpor, a Nigerian screenwriter and entrepreneur, are presented with an opportunity to access such resources, they gratefully accept it with both hands.
But, just as with Ejiro’s enlightening story about his journey to Silicon Valley from his participation in an Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) workshop, this sometimes means there’s a possibility we end up losing minds like his to foreign film industries willing to provide them with an environment where they can thrive.
In 2014, ten years after he started writing for screen, Ejiro Onobrakpor found himself in the same room – actually, under the same roof – with big players in the local and international film industries, such as Stephen Ozoigbo. The event was a “special meeting with representatives from Relativity Media” who were around to share a vision of building a media ecosystem to aid young Nigerian filmmakers transform their craft and work internationally across global standards.
Ejiro, a recent graduate of AFRIFF the previous year, was only too happy to be on board along with some of his peers, but a warning from a respected Nollywood veteran about the keen visitors changed his mind at the time.
“…We were all pretty excited about it until the veteran said that what they’re trying to do is what they did in Brazil.
“So, basically, right now, it’s like Hollywood wants ‘Telemundos’. The Telemundos you see now are being run by Hollywood studios [secretly]. So, what he was saying is we should not go that route because they want to own our souls. So, basically, everybody just threw the idea aside.”
At this point, it was understood that the veteran in question was in Ejiro and his peers’ corner, and was willing to offer necessary support to them. But, with the events that unfolded, as well as a sent script that received no response, that notion has been dismissed.
“So, we found out that he [the veteran] later went back to Relativity Media to tell them that if they want to do anything for anybody, they should be coming to them first, and they would choose who they should give it to… We found out way later that that was what they were doing – they went to their office in LA to try and basically… you know… You understand what I mean?”
The lack of trust and cooperation in the Nigerian film industry disheartened Ejiro and his colleagues. But Ejiro would have another chance meeting with Stephen Ozoigbo and Relativity Media later in 2014, and this time he opened himself up to the opportunities and eventually earned a scholarship from the Hollywood company to Los Angeles. Ejiro believes that this and platforms such as AFRIFF are crucial to the growth of creatives in Nigeria.
“AFRIFF is an amazing platform. Chioma Ude is an amazing woman. I would say it any time and any day. And she’s not just an amazing woman, she’s also humble. That’s just to show you her humanity. Her professionalism – what she wants to do is, she wants to connect people. She wants people to do things that are world class.
“She wants the movie industry in Nigeria to be recognised. She keeps bringing people that would help inspire and challenge us to do great things. Seriously, she’s doing more for the film industry than many so-called veterans.
With the help of Steve Ozoigbo and Chioma Ude, we [Relativity Media beneficiaries] met a lot of Oscar award-winning directors of some movies.
So, I would say I’m in a pretty good place. I’m happy. But I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t like to rush things. I wouldn’t want to – okay so just because I have proximity to Damon Wayans, I’d now abuse it by saying, ‘come and read this script’, when the script is not yet there. So, the platform they [AFRIFF] have created has given me access to these people, but then I have to make sure that I use it right.
So, that’s where I am now, and I realised something – in Hollywood, they don’t rush things. Things are done properly. They go through a process. I’m learning that process as well.”
According to Ejiro, the lack of structure in Nollywood will keep driving creatives such as himself out of the country to work, because they need breakthroughs and want to excel at what they do. That doesn’t, however, mean that he believes his current relationship with Silicon Valley is his big break.
Ejiro guesses that the entrepreneur in him who is dedicated to service is what endeared the Silicon Valley representatives to him. And services such as what he has to offer are ones that Nollywood needs to become more conducive for creatives. It is, however, a catch 22, as the current climate in Nollywood does not encourage up and coming creatives to be their best in order to ultimately improve it.
“Most people to learn how the process works. In Nollywood, you’ll have someone say, ‘Oh, I have a good story.’ ‘Okay, send me your synopsis.’ They don’t know what a synopsis is. As a screenwriter, all you need is your imagination and someone to believe in you. You need your mind, a software and a laptop, and you can create something amazing. Now, when you create that thing that you is amazing, the challenge most times is getting people to actually run with your screenplay.”
On the idea that making ‘good film’ in Nollywood, that is, one that meets international standard, can only be achieved with some level of foreign input, Ejiro disagrees that Nollywood necessarily needs foreign input. Some of the latest productions from the space have proven that much.
In his opinion, in an industry that does not provide a minimum wage, proper work hours, and standard production tools such as editing studios, the right connections are simply what most creatives need.
The entire Nigerian film industry needs an overhaul. But will the creative minds required to assist such a transformative event be able to work together and stick around long enough to see it materialise?
Ejiro insists he’s still a “Nollywood boy”, despite his recent achievements abroad. Along with a second feature film on the way, he has plans to do his bit in improving the ecosystem in Nollywood with his creative and entrepreneurial talents.
“Until the big studios see what you can do, they wouldn’t engage you in the big projects. So, my wife insisted that it’s about time I did one of the short films. A friend of mine gave me some money – and amazing friend of mine. I actually shot a film (Love, Sex, Religion) and it’s about to come out.
“By next year, I’m creating a platform called Synergy. It’s where investors meet filmmakers. It’s a transparent platform. Because one thing Nollywood needs is a system that can serve as an aggregator of information. I’m going back and forth with Steve and Silicon Valley, we’re developing the platform.
“I know the burden it takes as filmmakers to get the funding that we need. So, right now I’m working on something that is going to see filmmakers make films. I’m trying to work out something where about $100,000 would go into making at least two films. They’re not going to be made by me, they’re going to be made by other filmmakers. I want to be able to create that platform, that transparency to watch people’s dreams spring to life.”
In the meantime, Ejiro is savouring the abundance of opportunities that have lined up for him since he first came in contact with AFRIFF years ago. He stays home working on game changing scripts and taking care of his kids while his wife gets her double Master’s degree.