Filmmaking is a passion and a business – Kunle Afolayan

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“Filmmaking is a passion; I give it all. It is sad because I compromise on everything, even family. That’s why it’s sad.” Thus began Kunle Afolayan while speaking at the last edition of the Nollywood Studies Centre’s Filmmakers Forum. But he went on to add that filmmaking has to be more than passion. “We have to feed,” Afolayan stated, “and that is where the business comes in. If money doesn’t come in after the film comes out, then the business will close.” Thus the need for a sense of business.

Speaking on the topic of “Successful filmmaking: The art of combining creativity and a good business sense,” Afolayan shared with the audience the various business approaches he had taken in the production of his films. He drew out key lessons from his experience with each film. Beginning with his first film, Irapada, he narrated that the idea for the film was not originally his; he was invited to take part in the production after the original producer found he could not continue on his own. However, disagreements due to distrust from the other party involved led to the eventual dissolution of the partnership, and he purchased the full rights to the film. This experience, he said, taught him the importance of documenting the entire process, especially the agreements.

The Figurine, Afolayan said, was the most difficult film he has ever worked on. One of the challenges was that of raising funds. The original budget for the film was fifty million Naira. To obtain this sum, he sought to get product placements as well as interested private investors. However, he ended up taking personal loans because banks and private investors were not ready at that time to give loans for films since the guarantees they required were not there. From the production of this film, Afolayan said, he understood the importance of pre-production publicity. Holding a press conference at the beginning of production is a means not just of creating general awareness but, more importantly, of generating interest on the part of investors. In the case of The Figurine, as a result of the pre-release publicity, MTN offered to sponsor the premiere of the film. The film went on to make a gross of over 20 million Naira in the cinema. But Afolayan stressed that the gain from The Figurine was not the money; rather it was the fact that it served to establish his production company, Golden Effects, obtaining international recognition for it. Afolayan’s third film, Phone Swap, presented a challenge of a different sort – the challenge of having to compromise artistic integrity for money.

Phone Swap had its genesis when a telephone company approached him to make a ‘bright’ film that would appeal to those between the ages of 25 and 35 years. However, the company eventually decided that the budget was too high and backed off. Eight months later, Afolayan decided to go ahead with the production of the film and went shopping for sponsors. He made presentations to various telephone companies, but none of them accepted to sponsor it. However, he was made an ambassador of Glo at about this time, and the company agreed to put in fifteen million Naira. But when the film was finished, and just before its premiere, a disagreement arose over one of the actors. The company insisted that the actor be removed and replaced with someone else. Afolayan refused to do this because he saw the actor as right for the part and, besides, this would have damaged the professional opportunities of the actor. In the face of his refusal, the company withdrew its support.

October 1, Afolayan’s latest film, also had its beginning when he was approached by a company that wanted to have a film made for fifty million Naira. Afolayan agreed that it would be a ‘small film’. He called for scripts but did not get anything worthwhile. He reached out to Tunde Babalola who came up with a treatment for October 1. It was clear that the film would require a budget larger than the proposed fifty million Naira. To raise more money, he tried to use the same tactic of inviting brands that could identify with the film. The setting of the film, however, was a challenge as few of the current brands were in existence at that time. But he had the opportunity to make a pitch to the Lagos State governor, and he got a  commitment for support after the project was assessed. Based on this, Afolayan stressed the importance of being able to pitch one’s film or project – and to seize the opportunities to do so when they crop up.

Kunle Afolayan went on to list other key points that facilitate success in filmmaking. Due attention must be paid to production values. This, he said, is an important aspect for promoting one’s film. Also, it is essential to define one’s audience as a means of choosing the adequate stories and defining one’s budget. He ended by saying, “Build a team – no one is an island. There is a need to have people that one can count on, competent hands that will get the job done.” This, he stressed, is all part of the process of balancing the creative aspect with the business side.

The edition of the Filmmakers’ Forum was sponsored by Coca-Cola. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Clem Ugorji, Coca-Cola’s Director of Public Affairs, stated that the company had been involved in the Nigerian story for many decades. Coca-Cola’s desire to support the film industry, he noted, stems from the fact that it is a channel to tell the Nigerian story. Nigeria, Mr. Ugorji said, is a strategic market for Coca-Cola, and the company is always desirous that its host communities be both prosperous and successful. It is for this reason, he concluded, that the company seeks to always contribute in whatever way it can towards ensuring such success.

The Filmmakers’ Forum is a monthly activity of the Nollywood Studies Centre of the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University.

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