• Monday, December 04, 2023
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The Black Book: When tech founders turn Nollywood producers

The Black Book (1)

The Black Book, Netflix’s latest Nollywood movie will go live on the streaming platform on 22 September but there is already a high viewers’ anticipation thanks to the social media mileage it generated when the announcement was made with a trailer in August.

Aside from being a directorial debut of Editi Effiong, CEO of Anakle Film, and revealing a different side of the 62-year-old veteran actor Richard Mofe-Damijo who plays the lead character Paul Edima, the movie comes with a remarkable list of executive producers.

Of the sixteen names listed as executive producers, at least eleven are tech founders, CEOs, and investors. These include Kola Oyeneyin (CEO, Opportunik Global Fund), Adesunbomi Plumptre (co-founder of Volition Cap), Ezra Olubi (co-founder of Paystack), Odunayo Oweniyi (co-founder and COO of Piggyvest), Somto Ifezue (co-founder of Piggyvest), Joshua Chibueze (co-founder and CEO of Piggyvest), Gbenga Agboola (founder and CEO of Flutterwave), Kola Aina (founding partner at Ventures Partner), Olumide Soyombo (cofounder Blue Chip Technologies), Nadayar Enegesi (co-founder Eden Life), and Prosper Otemuyiwa (co-founder and CTO Eden Life).

Kola Aina (founder of Ventures Platform) and Editi Effiong on the set of The Black Book

“The Black Book was brought to life by a group of investors and entrepreneurs from tech, VC, and finance ecosystems,” Effiong, who doubles as director and executive producer of the movie wrote in a LinkedIn post. “EPs do not often get recognition for celebrating art. But it is important to acknowledge those who believed in our vision long before the world got to see it.”

After posting the list on X, former Twitter, Effiong said he has received countless investment calls, explained the deal structure to institutional investors, and helped an international investment bank restructure its creative sector fund. The objective for him is to find more transparency in the way film projects are funded.

The Black Book is a guns-blazing action thriller that follows the story of a bereaved deacon, Paul Edima, who takes justice into his own hands and fights a corrupt gang to absolve his son after he is framed for kidnapping.

Set in the 80s, the film takes a deep dive into the dark world of drug trafficking and how those events shaped Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria.

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It features an eclectic cast of the old and new of Nollywood, including Richard Mofe-Damijo, Olumide Oworu, Sam Dede, Shaffy Bello, Iretiola Doyle, Taiwo Ajayi Lycett, Ade Laoye, Ikechukwu Onunaku, Patric Doyle, and Bimbo Manuel.

“Nigeria has a history of drug trafficking and The Black Book explores that from the 80s and how those events in the 80s affect what we have today. It also pays a lot of homage to young people who have borne the brunt of that violence,” Effiong said.

As breathtaking as the action scenes in the movie appear from the trailer, it is what the movie accomplishes in its ability to attract a new segment of investors to the movie industry that makes it stand out. Effiong’s experience and deep fraternity with founders in the tech ecosystem may have a lot to do with it.

His company Anakle began as a tech company, being a digital agency that builds experiences for online and offline audiences., before branching off into movies. He still describes Anakle as a tech company.

Nonetheless, as much as Effiong’s experiences as a tech bro count, his movie is not the first one that tech founders and investors are hopping on. There have been a few titles that attracted the dealmaking signatures of these investors.

“Nigeria is changing; I invest in films and startups and never have asked where the founder, actors, or producers are from,” Kola Aina said in a 2021 post on X, formerly Twitter. “My last 3 Nigerian movies and companies are mainly from the northern and eastern parts of the country. It’s happening and I am glad for it.”

Gangs of Lagos, the action movie directed and produced by Jadesola Osiberu, also received funding from a few tech-focused investors such as Olumide Soyombo and Kola Aina. Other movies backed by these investors include ‘Finding Hubby’ directed by Tunde Leye (2020). Odun Eweniyi reportedly invested in ‘Ile Owo’ directed by Dare Olaitan.

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Oo Nwoye, co-founder of Techcircle suggest that the objectives of investments in movies by tech founders may not necessarily be profit-driven.

“The reality is that when people have capital they want to invest in certain projects that they deem viable. It might be commercially motivated or because some people are patrons of the art. It doesn’t necessarily mean they make money from the arts, but they want certain things to exist. Supporting things like this is not necessarily commercially motivated,” Nwoye said.

Financing big movies is typically an expensive venture, with budgets ranging from $1 million and above. Financing can come from a variety of sources, including studios, distributors, production houses, and even private investors.

Movie financing shares a few similarities with startup funding. According to experts, people who invest in movie productions receive their return mainly from the distribution of the movie. It is similar to exiting a startup when it is acquired.

The difference, however, is that movie investors are more accurately referred to as creditors. This is because, like a loan, their money is against the finished product, the film, and the value of that is factored into the return of their capital. Thus, technically, it is called financing and not funding a film.

Making money from a movie investment is very tricky because it often depends on the audience’s reception. If a movie is considered poorly done, the chances of its success revenue-wise are very slim. According to a 2019 Forbes report, about 80 percent of films lose money mainly because most people who produce films are driven by the conscious or subconscious sexiness of the industry. It also noted that the worst position to be in is an independent film producer who hands over films to a third producer for a fee. Conversely, the best position to be in is a distributor of other people’s films for a fee, without paying any advance.

“The film industry is a form of gambling, like wildcat oil drilling. The problem is that a lot of capital is required to make enough films to obtain the rare blockbuster, and few companies have the financial stamina to make it,” the Forbes report noted.

Anakle Films, the film company behind The Black Book has produced some notable movies. These include Up North (2018), The Set Up (2019), Fishbone (2020), and Day of Destiny (2021). The company’s biggest success is Up North which grossed N94 million at the Box Office. Titles like Day of Destiny earned only N18.6 million and The Set Up came in at N53 million. Fishbone was a short movie that didn’t go to the cinema.

Effiong, importantly, also has social capital that enables many people in the industry to respect his drive and ambition.

“If Editi Effiong says it, he will do it. Nollywood is blessed to have his audacious ambition,” said Isioma Osaje, a filmmaker. “The Black Book – A Netflix original is here.”

Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD) also narrated how he had to embark on a gym regimen to bring his body up to shape for the character he had to portray. He has only praise for Editi.

“To my director, son, and friend, @editieffiong, you did it. You made the plunge, did the impossible, and fought to make this film everything you had dreamed it would be. The world is about to witness your genius. They think they are ready – they don’t know what is about to hit them,” said Mofe-Damijo. “This is the film. This is my film. This is Nollywood’s biggest film yet. Brace yourselves; it’s going to be a wild ride into the depths.”

The movie budget was $1 million making it one of the most expensive movies shot in Nollywood. Part of that cost was due to the location difficulties the crew encountered. The Black Book was shot in Tarkwa Bay, an artificial sheltered beach located near the Lagos harbour in Nigeria. Due to its island status, it is only accessible by boat or water taxi. Effiong said they had to ship in a power generator because there was no electricity source on the island. Other equipment like heavy trucks had to be shipped to the location.

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In order to get people to invest, Effiong said he had to put in his money first, making him the biggest investor in The Black Book. The movie was in post-production for two years. Also, although most of the people invested were his friends or people he has worked with, he still needed to make a formal pitch and sign papers with all.

“Also, I didn’t have an unlimited budget. In fact, I ran out of money right as we were leaving for Kaduna. I first liquidated 2 BTC (thankfully) to keep the production going, before the investors agreed to extend funding,” Effiong said.

“I wrote over 50 investor update emails during this project (the last one was a few days ago). On set, however hard it got, I wrote at least once a week. Investor confidence is important, whether you’re running a startup or making a film, whether the investor is a DFI or friend.”

Netflix makes money using its subscription model. The platform offers viewers three different subscription plans to choose from: Basic, Standard, and Premium. Both the Premium and Standard cost more than the Basic and each allows for streaming and downloading on a different number of devices.

Netflix usually acquires content from distributors and studios through direct purchases, revenue-sharing agreements, and licence agreements. It pays licensing fees to stream movies that already premiered elsewhere. That’s why movies do not stay on the platform indefinitely.

The case of The Black Book is different as Netflix acquired the rights to stream it exclusively. The producers of the movie say this is the first chapter which means there are plans for the second chapter.