• Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Nollywood leaves money on the table over lack of profit sharing deals

Nollywood leaves money on the table over lack of profit sharing deals

Nollywood has seen significant growth over the years but its earning potential is being crimped by a lack of backend deals, which enable actors to participate in sharing profits from films.

This month, Funke Akindele’s ‘A Tribe Called Judah’ became the first Nollywood film to gross N1 billion. The Nigeria film industry has captured the hearts of audiences both locally and internationally.

It is widely recognised that actors, who are the face of the industry, play a significant role in determining whether a movie succeeds or fails at the box office.

When a highly anticipated film hits the cinemas, the spotlight naturally falls on the actors involved. They become the ambassadors of the movie, captivating audiences with their charm and talent. Through their interviews and appearances, they generate excitement and anticipation among fans, enticing them to flock to the theatres. The actors’ ability to connect with the audience and create a buzz around the film often contributes to its success.

Read also: ‘A Tribe Called Judah’ becomes Nollywood’s first N1bn film

Backend deals in Hollywood and other film industries allow actors to earn substantial sums if a film becomes a blockbuster. When a blockbuster film is released, actors often make appearances on talk shows and podcasts to promote their projects. In some cases, the producers may accompany them.

Iconic actors like Robert Downey Jr, who plays Tony Stark (Iron Man) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is one of the famous actors in the studio franchise and in Hollywood as a whole. At the end of his Marvel run, he made $421 million including backend profits.

In Nollywood, films are often produced on shoestring budgets, and most actors are paid upfront fees rather than receiving a share of the film’s profits.

“There is no payment structure. The guilds have no effect in this regard. Our industry’s informal foundations and business practices ensure everyone gets what they are able to bargain for,” Femi Odugbemi, veteran Nollywood filmmaker and head judge for AMVCA, said.

He said that the A-list actors simply ask for money based on the project’s capacity to pay their asking price and only few of them have managers who try to provide a cost structure.

The financial success of Nollywood is driven by a combination of factors, including box office revenue, home video sales, online streaming platforms, and international sales.

Box office revenue and film distribution play a significant role, with Nollywood films attracting large audiences in Nigeria and other African countries. The popularity of Nigerian films has also recently led to international releases in cinemas worldwide, further boosting revenue.

‘Battle on Buka Street’ and ‘A Tribe Called Judah’ by Akindele; ‘Ijakumo’ and ‘Born Again Stripper’ by Toyin Abraham; and ‘Mami Wata’ by CJ Obasi are among Nollywood films that have made it to the silver screens outside the shores of Africa.

The continued investment from international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as the recent partnership of MultiChoice and Comcast, via its subsidiaries NBCUniversal (US), and Sky (UK) have been leveraged to fuel the industry’s revenue growth.

Unlike in Hollywood and some other film industries, backend deals are not common in Nollywood. Backend deals typically involve percentage-based agreements tied to a film’s financial success, such as box office returns or revenue from home video sales.

“Organically, Nollywood grew as a commercially focused industry; the A-listers are its principal marketing assets. Notice that in promoting a Nollywood film, the emphasis is not on the story; it’s usually on the star-cast,” Odugbemi said.

During the promotion of a Nollywood film, attention is mostly directed at the cast of the film. At movie premieres, members of the cast arrive in glitz and glamour to generate buzz and anticipation for the film. Some actors showing up at cinemas during the early weeks of screening in a bid to meet with fans and share the experience with them.

When asked about actors promoting films, Dotun Olakunri, a filmmaker and producer of ‘93 Days’, said: “I think actors are developing in that themselves and it’s the responsibility of the actors to help promote their films because that makes them the biggest stars.”

Read also: Nollywood star, Ini Edo, empowers female entrepreneurs in Akwa Ibom

He cited Hollywood actor Danny Glover, the lead of ‘93 Days’, who came to Nigeria from the United States to help promote the film.

“Every festival, every event, every screening that we did during the course of promoting ‘93 Days’ around the world, he made sure he was there. All we had to do was take care of his logistics. He made his schedule available for us. And he made sure that he showed up,” Olakunri said.

Without significant production budgets, it becomes more practical for actors to negotiate upfront fees, ensuring a guaranteed income and leaving the bulk of the promotion and marketing to the producer.

“In this industry of ours, the films are promoted by producers and the distributors, at the end of the day, don’t give adequate support,” Olakunri said, “So it’s a risk for the producer who put money down to make a film and he/she must try and promote the film as best they can.”

“In our context, a successful film is a reflection of its box-office returns, not necessarily about theme, genre or innovative storytelling. Our challenge is to connect the dot between the commercial and the creative. It is not necessarily mutually exclusive. We know because other leading film cultures combine both. Artistic success and box-office strength. Young emerging talent combined with known stars. It’s the most sustainable model for our long-term stability as an industry,” Odugbemi said.

Olakunri highlighted the common situation where producers, uncertain about a film’s trajectory, pay actors while also taking on significant financial risks.

He said some actors negotiate for additional payment for promotional efforts.

While backend deals may be scarce, Nollywood actors who have become household names have found alternative avenues to augment their incomes. Brand endorsements and sponsorships have become increasingly popular, with actors partnering with companies to promote their products or services.

Recently, Michael Afolarin, who starred as the lead actor of Netflix’s ‘Far From Home’, got a commercial ad deal from MTN, one of Africa’s top telecom companies, after the success of the mini series on the streaming platform in 2022.

From appearing in commercials to becoming brand ambassadors, these collaborations provide actors with additional financial opportunities.