I wasn’t planning to make it to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) based on more important priorities on my plate, right now. If I did, my first agenda would be to beef up media coverage of African films screening at the event and African filmmakers in general, particularly Nollywood. For many years now, Nollywood has done a horrible job at: 1) being present at these important film festivals; and 2) telling the stories of their presence to the world.
Their Western and Indian counterparts roll out the media/marketing and promotions machine and boy do they sell their industries, talents and stakeholders to the world? You better believe it! We on the other hand? I don’t even know what we are really doing, seriously.
While African owned media houses or prominent blog owners may not think it important to cover the business of film, I think the very people who claim Nollywood practitioners need to re-shift the focus in Nollywood as well as educate consumers on the dangers of piracy i.e. the filmmakers and other stakeholders, should take the lead in telling their stories and educating the public through their own videos or personal coverage of their time at this important festivals.
In my view, I find there is an arrogant, myopic, and ignorant approach to the marketing and publicity arm of filmmaking that continues to leave me baffled.
If you don’t market and publicize your service or product, especially to your target audience, how do they even know you exist? Similarly, if you don’t market and publicize the issues that you believe severely cripples your livelihood, how does the public connect with you emotionally to change their behavior. Getting into a room with event producers, filmmakers, lawyers, accountants et al. does nothing than to engage in age ole’ intellectual dancing on the same issue, over and over again. Get out into the streets (the internet, social media, schools, colleges, local and international radio and push your message.)
I’ll tell you all a quick story. I began working, officially, at fifteen (15) years. One of the first jobs I got was retail sales. I loved sales and found that I was very good at it. I loved to open and close deals, I made the cut , statewide, for one of the stores I worked as the top sales person; and for other stores I subsequently worked at, I made my monthly goals and was sales employee of the month. During this time, I learnt a valuable lesson that I have found to be very true even till date. The lesson? It does not matter how great or amazing your product or service is. If you can’t sell whatever it is you are trying to sell to your target audience, pack up and go home. Bottom line.
This concept of selling is deeply saturated in American culture so much so that Americans have mastered it and successfully sold it to the world. America has successfully sold an illusionary and great image of our entertainment industry to the world. We have sold an image of a very powerful and formidable legal justice system and more, all through American cinema and full court press marketing and promotions. Newsflash as to the law, the reality is some injustices that happen in Nigeria are not necessarily different from what happens in the US, including the frequency of the occurrence. But, you would never guess with how well America has packaged and sold its legal justice system and everything else.
What amazes me is that the very people, Nigerians, who eat up this American consumer culture and are discontent with the present state of Nollywood; because it doesn’t quite mirror the US or even Indian cinema, cannot use the same publicity/promotions method/ machine of Americans to change the status quo.
What’s the use of discussing piracy and that the public has to be a part of the solution when you seclude and exclude the public from your story. What is piracy, how does it affect you the filmmaker? Show us. Let us feel it. Put the guilt in us. If the person telling us not to pirate is stuck in closed forums talking over and over, for the past decade, about the same issue, without real solutions with their click of fellow filmmakers, then which one concern me i.e. the public? Piracy will always be there. Deal with it.
Distribution will always be an issue regardless of the thousands of screens Africa has. Deal with. So really, it is about talking to the people, not constantly to yourselves about how their actions hurt you to reduce the bleeding. Therefore, common sense, to me, would dictate that a simple video by Nollywood filmmakers and practitioners at TIFF, discussing the issues they say impact their livelihoods at TIFF 2013, much the same way the Lancelot speech at Columbia was recorded, and placing it on social media i.e. Youtube, Keek, Twitter, Vimeo etc. is a HUGE way of educating the public, at a minimal cost, and getting the public to care. This video will keep rewarding the industry long after the TIFF festival because it lives online.
It doesn’t always have to be grandiose marketing and overanalyzing. For example, the Spanish company Zara is yet to really pay for any kind of true traditional or modern advertising; yet they are one of the most successful global clothing company. Everything is primarily word of mouth and careful brand affiliation. Hello?
How can seasoned industry insiders show up at TIFF13, have important meetings and be so clueless as to this basic point?
The same goes for the topics of distribution and more. Nollywood does not have a distribution problem. It has a marketing and promotions problem which fails to clearly define its identity and why anyone, including its people who pirate from it, should care. Feel free to quote me on that.
Until that happens, the status quo will be practitioners and stakeholders thinking they have achieved much by visiting or attending top film festival events and rehashing the same issues, with the same crew, over and over again, with nothing done.
This brings me to my final point which is a narrow focus on the film Half-of-a-Yellow Sun and its marketing and promotions at TIFF.
Okay, I have to capitalize on this one folks, so excuse me. HOW THE HECK DOES A FILM THAT IS SAID TO COST ALMOST $8MILLION DOLLARS TO PRODUCE AND IS THE HIGHEST BUDGET SPENT ON A NIGERIAN FILM, TO DATE, GO TO A FESTIVAL LIKE TIFF AND UNTIL NOW, HAS NO PRESS CONFERENCE, MARKETING OR PROMOTIONS OF ANY KIND FROM TIFF, WHETHER CONDUCTED BY TIFF OR INDEPENDENTLY TO SHARE ON AND OFFLINE, BUT ESPECIALLY ONLINE FOR MILLIONS OF VIEWERS TO ACCESS?
IS IT BECA– USE THE MONEY WAS PRIMARILY GIVEN BY NIGERIAN INVESTORS SO WE THINK THERE SHOULD BE NO REAL ACCOUNTABILITY OR WORK I.E. NO WORK AFTER YOU MAKE THE FILM? WHY DID THE FILMMAKERS AND INVESTORS NOT THINK TO WALK VIEWERS THROUGH THE FILM MAKING PROCESS AND ALSO EDUCATE THEM ON PIRACY AND DISTRIBUTION AT THE TIFF FESTIVAL???
I am very disappointed. There was an audience waiting, eager and longing for that information right then and there and it DID NOT deliver! Look at how viral Genevieve Nnaji’s picture on a TIFF red carpet went? She didn’t even make the cut for the official trailer and from my understanding, has a very minimal role in the film. Yet, she outshined everyone with the publicity she generated from a two second appearance on a red carpet.
TIFF was an opportunity to sell the movie, the filmmakers, the cast and more to existing and most importantly new audience, while trying to get distribution for the film. Did they even secure distribution? Anyone know? If you had a conference and a Q&A before or after the screening, it should have been up by now.
For the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, who cares if you promote them or not? They were promoted like it was going out of business on their other films. For the other Half of a Yellow Sun crew members, it makes a difference and it is also of significance or should be to the investors and filmmakers that this basic marketing and promotions methods were in place.
I seriously tire, really.
But, maybe I am missing something. So, AML people, y’all are a very enlightened community. Please educate me. I am always seeking to come up even higher.
Watch the red carpet that finally emerges from TIFF.
Sigh. Embarrassing and disappointing.
Photocredit: Getty Images