Reaffirming the Director’s Role in Filmmaking Towards Quality Production: Examining Prevailing Issues in the Nigerian Film Industry (Nollywood)
Kingsley Oyong AKAM
International Multidisciplinary Research and Academic Society
Nsukka, Enugu State
GSM: +234-803-330-5087; +234-818-530-1430; +234-811-097-3026
The Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) had made appreciative impact to the society, but a lot needs to be done in order to improve the quality of production by infusing professionalism in the industry. The thrust of this paper lies in reaffirming the importance of film directing and the director’s role in a production. It argues that, the quality of any film is achievable through the collaborative efforts of all collaborators where the film director must show insightful sense of professionalism and skills. Data for this article are gotten partly from comprehensive reading of literature materials available to this writer such as, books, journal articles, conference papers, newspapers, and internet sources as well as from personal experiences of this writer as a passive participant. The data collected were arranged, reviewed, analyzed and presented through descriptive approaches. It was discovered that, besides unprofessionalism, indiscipline and unethical practices by some practitioners which have affected the quality of film production in Nigeria; this study identified and examined some prevailing issues bedevilling the progress of film production in Nollywood. These issues not limited to lack of casting, absence of production conference, lack of rehearsal, lack of shooting script, inadequate financial support, high cost of production, piracy, and insecurity. In conclusion, the paper was able to redefine the role and importance of the director in any film production. It is evident that if the level of professionalism, discipline, competences, content and creativity in Nollywood is increased and every member in a filmmaking project contributes his or her quota under the leadership of a competent and creative director, the production quality will increase as well. This will attract investors and sponsors, locally and internationally because Nigeria in particular and Africa in general have the market for the sale of films to maximize profit.
Key words: Director, Filmmaking, Quality Production, Prevailing Issues, Nigerian, and Nollywood.
The Nigerian film industry, which is also known as Nollywood, is one of the film industries in the world today that has contributed immensely to the reduction of unemployment and generated huge revenue for the country. In 2009, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) described the industry as being the second biggest film industry in the world after Bollywood in output and calls for maximum support for the second largest employer of labour in Nigeria. Kayode Animasaun affirms that, “Nigerian films are ranked third in the world after America and India” (354). Nollywood is one of the vibrant and largest film industries in the world. The Managing Director of Nigerian Export Import Bank (NEXIM), Roberts U. Orya also declares that:
The Nigerian film industry is widely adjudged as the most prolific in the world with consistent production of over 2, 400 titles yearly in the past three years-2,408, 2,514 and 2,621 in 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively. Provisional Data in 2011 from the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) indicated that 1,743 and 1,234 movies were respectively registered and approved…. Nollywood is also ranked third globally in revenue, with receipt over the years reported to range between US$300 million to US$800 million in the recent past (n.p).
The Nigerian film industry has made appreciative impact to the society; but a lot needs to be done in order to improve the quality of the productions by infusing professionalism into the industry.
The thrust of this paper is to reaffirm the importance of film directing and the director’s role in the production process. It argues that, the quality of any film is achievable through the collaborative efforts of all collaborators where the film director must show high sense of professionalism and skills. Data for the work are gotten partly from comprehensive reading of materials available to this writer, such as, books, journal articles, conference papers, newspapers, internet sources, as well as personal experiences as a passive participant. Data collected were arranged, reviewed, analyzed and presented through descriptive approaches. It was discovered that, besides unprofessionalism, indiscipline and unethical practices by some practitioners which have affected the quality of film productions in Nigeria, this study identified some prevailing issues bedevilling the progress of film production in Nollywood. The issues include, poor casting, absence of production conferences, lack of rehearsals, lack of shooting scripts, inadequate financial support, high cost of production, piracy, and insecurity.
The Concept of Filmmaking as a Collaborative Art
Filmmaking is the process of telling a story using moving images and the application of sound for effective comprehension of the story. It involves audio-visual elements, which begin from conceiving of idea, through script-writing, planning, auditioning, casting, rehearsals, shooting, sound production and reproduction, editing, screening the finished film before an audience or releasing the film direct to the market. Filmmaking is a collaborative art involving various artistic, technical and administrative experts contributing their individual and collective skills for the success of the final look of a film. Louis Giannetti and Jim Leach rightly posit that, “film is a collaborative medium, and many individuals – producers, directors, screen-writers, actors, technicians – contribute to the final effect” (10). While Robert Kolker affirms that, “collaboration is the core of cinematic creativity. From the most independent filmmaker to the largest studio production, people work together, divide the labour, and contribute their particular expertise” (67). Among these collaborators, it is the director, who is seen as the super artist, whose responsibility is for the coordination of the overall look of a production.
The Director’s Role in Film Production
The director is the author of a production whose vision or concept determines the overall meaning of the production through the collaborative effort of others. Going by his/her role or the definition of his/her office, the director in film production is the controller, captain or general overseer, having the responsibility of unifying the production elements, which often include the use of text, music, sound, and visual elements. He/she is the member of a film production unit, who is in control of all actions, sounds and its recording when the production is on. Emma-Owums Owuamalam declares that:
The director in a creative production is the artist responsible for the coordination of the artistic input of the other artists involved in an artistic presentation of a creative work of art. He is the controller of an artistic performance. He illuminates the script writer’s purpose and intent, to the audience (151).
This implies that, the director is responsible for determining the final look of the production through the melting and blending of all artistic elements into a seamless whole, just as Michael Rabiger submits that, “the director is responsible for nothing less than the quality and meaning of the final film” (86). This quality and meaning of a production could only be achieved through effective and professional collaboration of all elements into a unified form. Film directing is an essential aspect in filmmaking that runs through the three major phases of the film production process. It is organized into three critical phases, namely, preproduction, production and post-production. It is the responsibility of the director to coordinate and supervise these phases or processes of filmmaking, which is a collaborative art.
Irrespective of the size of a production, the coordination, supervision and controlling of the cinematic elements are undertaken by the director, who is responsible for the final effect of the film. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson maintain that, “the director coordinates the staff to create the film… he or she is usually considered the person most responsible for the final look and sound of the film” (18). Similarly, Bruce Mamer argues that:
It is the director’s choices that drive the rest of the crew’s actions. …the director is responsible for determining the look-the visual character-of the film, rehearsing and organizing the actors’ performances, selecting the set ups and all attendant details and marshalling all of the forces toward the completion of the material (28).
These responsibilities of the director in film directing as captured by Mamer start from the preproduction to post-production stage with the choice of a good script, which seems to be the starting point for directing a good film. In an interview with Nigeriafilm.com, Emeka Nwabueze says that, “we know that without an adequate script, there would not be an adequate film. A good script is the first step to a good film” (n.p). In view of the aforementioned, Kingsley Oyong Akam explains that,
the success or failure of a director starts from the selection of the script. It is imperative therefore, for a director to take great care in choosing a script, or a subject for a script for any production because he or she will live with his or her choice and its output (18).
Once the director is with the script of his or her choice, the next step in the preproduction is in-depth studying and critical analysis of the screenplay, which is a blue print that needs to be studied by the director. Through studying and analyzing the screenplay, the director would identify the theme, plot, characterization, setting, location, costume, lighting, sound effect, make-up, special effects, as well as deciding on type of camera angles, shots, camera movements and the overall directorial concept and visions. Rabiger is of the opinion that the director’s “concept should be non partisan, more embracing, and holistic, a surrogate for the future audience” (61). Thus, the director’s vision should be a unit of direction of all the elements involved in during the film production process.
Some Prevailing Issues in Nollywood
Despite the glamorous achievements in the Nigerian film industry, popularity and commendations from within and outside the country, Nollywood is faced with enormous challenges, ranging from lack of professionalism, indiscipline, lack of casting, absence of production conferences, lack of rehearsal, lack of shooting scripts, inadequate financial support, high cost of production, piracy, and insecurity.
- (a)Lack of Professionalism and Indiscipline
Lack of professionalism is a major issue bedevilling the Nigerian film industry, the Nollywood. This has affected the industry directly or indirectly; but most stakeholders seem to be unaware of this fact and the harm it had caused the industry. The issue of poor professional ethics in the industry could be seen during production processes where most notable film practitioners do not adhere to the rules or ethics of filmmaking. It could be debated that, Nollywood condones indiscipline in some quarters due to the level of unprofessionalism in the industry. Therefore, a lot needs to be done in order to attain the level of professionalism that would guarantee quality productions rather than quantity or voluminous films with substandard contents, technical and artistic faults. It is against this background that, Oliver O. Mbamara, as quoted in Animasaun, observes that, “after many years of popularity, the industry needs to be injected with fresh ideas, because of the development taking place across Africa as more countries join the league of movie makers” (354-355).
One may be right to contend that, based on the level of unprofessional and unethical practices in the Nigerian film industry, the position of the director is not accorded the necessary respect it deserves. Notably, the star actors have abused the office of the director, as Charles Okwuowulu reports:
the office of the director has been seriously abused in Nollywood. This is because many amateur directors rely so much on the technical and artistic competence of other crew members such as the director of photographers, nonlinear editors and the scriptwriters for good movie productions (335).
- (b)Lack of Casting
Going by the processes of professional filmmaking during the preparation stage, after the script has been chosen, casting of talents becomes the next thing to do. Unfortunately, casting is not given adequate attention in Nollywood. Actors and actresses are not properly cast for their roles. Nwabueze opines that, “interpretation can be realized by a good director when he has in his cast, talented and gifted actors who are able to realize interpretation through simulation and dissimulation” (n.p). In fact, after a good understanding of every detail of the screenplay by the director, auditioning and casting come net. Rabiger stresses that,
Good casting contributes massively to the success of any film…the objectives of auditioning is to find out… much …about the physical, psychological, and emotional make-up of each potential cast member so you can commit yourself confidently to the best choice. Doing this means initially putting many actors through a brief procedure that reveals the character of each, and indicates how he or she handles a representative situation (39).
Casting is a selection procedure in which the best performer, who is considered capable of playing an interpretative role in the clarification of meaning and signification of experience in an audio-visual production, is chosen. It is an essential ritual in film directing for the selection of the best talents based on credibility, competence, discipline and fairness on the part of both the talents and director towards good interpretation of the director’s vision.
- Absence of Production Conference
Once the director is through with the casting, the next step is the production conference or meeting, where, according to Jonathan Desen Mbachaga and Chimezie Uwoama Nwazue, the director communicates his/her vision to the crew and the cast. In their words:
In Nollywood, examples abound where the director never communicated his vision to the key members only to arrive on the shooting day to call the shots. By this time, the designer must have interpreted and designed what he feels likewise other crew members. The resultant effect of this is always a discontinuity between the vision of the playwright and that of the interpreters (film makers). On the part of the actors, a disconnect between the script and their interpretation is very rampant hence the industry lacks the culture of rehearsals before shooting. Some ‘‘popular faces’’ who parade much confidence from their experience arrived at the location to force their personal interpretation on the director and his crew (495).
Therefore, a production conference becomes necessary for the director to unveil his/her vision of the production as derived from the screenplay and transferring same to the casts and crew members during rehearsals in order to form a link or bound for a unified production.
- (d)Lack of Rehearsals
In Nollywood, most often, pre-productions or pre-shooting rehearsals are rarely done, despite its importance in filmmaking, without minding the adverse effect, as Rabiger posits:
To forgo rehearsal prior to film performance is often assured that film performance, unlike theatre needs little or no rehearsal, indeed, that rehearsal damages spontaneity. This belief may be a rationalization for minimizing cost (rehearsal greatly increase costs) or perhaps people think that theatre plays rehearse to overcome the problems of a continuous performance, such as mastering lines and movements. In truth, every piece of good theatre grows out of a radical and organic rehearsal process, even improvisatory theatre. So why not film? (49).
The Nollywood film culture has a structure where directors are engaged just as one of the technical crew members that come to the location when shooting starts and leaves the day it ends. The post production phases are handled by the executive producers (Okwuowulu 335). The problem of little or no rehearsals in Nollywood could be attributed to the financial implication as well as indiscipline among some actors and actresses. Some of them do not respect the director’s instructions on call time, and in most cases, they receive visitors on location. However, some of them with indiscipline attitude had faced disciplinary action leading to suspension for weeks and months at various times in the past. In fact, while on location, some actors direct themselves without taking instruction from the director (Okwuowulu 335). Rehearsals, therefore, are very important aspects in filmmaking, which should not be ignored for any reason. Avoiding rehearsals completely could be dangerous, as it affects the end product – the film. It is necessary to incorporate intensive rehearsals, with all seriousness and commitment, despite the cost involved, to ensure good productions.
- (e)Lack of Shooting Script
The shooting script is essentially a replica of the spec script. It consists of shot numbering, camera instructions, actions to be formatted and the anticipated accompanying sound plays vital role in the planning of shots, serving as a guide to the shooting process to the director and his collaborators as he/she envisages the final look of the film (Akam 22). It could be said that the shooting script is another version of the script that any professional director uses on location with details of scenes numbering, actions, type of shots, camera angles, sound and special effects. Owuamalam asserts that, “in film production, the shooting script becomes an important mapping for audio-visual experience” (141). In film directing, the director also uses the story board, script break down and shot list to facilitate the process of directing on location or set, as Mamer rightly maintains that, “shot list is a less format alternative to the story board” (61). It is a list of brief written description and graphic presentation of the intended shots. It also serves as story board of the screenplay. Rabiger espouses this view, thus: “the story board could be called a floor plan which will help the director to consolidate his or her intention for; blocking and to use the fewest and most effective camera angles” (113). Hence, the essence of the story board like the shooting script is to give the director and his/her collaborators a preliminary view on how the final shots would look like. It could be debated that, most films produced in Nollywood are without scripts. In such a situation, where there is no script, it will be hard to have a shooting script and story board.
- (f)Inadequate Financial Support and Cost of Production
Some other issues militating against the Nigerian film industry are inadequate financial supports from well meaning individuals, corporate organisations and government as well as high level of production cost, ranging from cost of high definition digital cinematic equipment, talents’ fees, welfare, logistic, insecurity, and unnecessary levies, among others. In their argument, Grace Bassey and Kingsley Oyong Akam submit that, there is need for creative and entertainment industries to be given financial support for the acquisition of audio-visual materials, equipment, permits and payment for services. Without money, materials and items for scene design, props, costume, make-up, lighting and payment for the services of artists would not be realised (630). They further opine that,
The issue of lack of money or poor budgeting could lead to the creation of unbelievable or meaningless setting, and poor quality of audio-visual elements in the final look of stage or film productions. Because when trying to cut down cost, vital part of creative ideas might be cut off and a desired result might not be achieved leading to poor quality production (630).
One could contend that inadequate funding and high cost of film production have affected the quality of productions in the industry because majority of the filmmakers in Nollywood are independent financers of their productions. They manage this from the resources gotten mostly from personal savings or borrowed from family members or close associates as the case may be. It is imperative to note that, while most filmmakers could get sponsorship through networking or connections with those at the helm of affairs or corridors of power, some independent filmmakers, with very brilliant ideas find it difficult to get funds from family members and associates, let alone from corporate organisations or government agencies.
Piracy, as an illegal and unauthorized duplication of films and copyrighted or patented materials, has bedevilled the film industry in particular, and the creative and entertainment industry, in general. Little wonder then that, Bassey and Akam describe piracy as, “the cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of intellectual, creative and entertainment sectors” (632). Nigeria has been losing lots of revenue to pirates because of the weak legal system and high cost of original copies of films. The issue of piracy is a global phenomenon, which has caused the creative and entertainment industry to lose billions of dollars to perpetrators. According to Frank Ahrens, “movie piracy causes a total lost output for U.S. industries of $20.5 billion per year, thwarts the creation of about 140,000 jobs and accounts for more than $800 million in lost tax revenue” (n.p). Back home in Nigeria, the ripple effect of piracy on Nollywood is terrible, to the extent of crippling the industry. Thus, Sunday Osanyintuyi posits that, piracy has “ripped off many producers, artists, marketers and stakeholders. It has prevented the industry from rapid financial growth and advancing in major areas, due to low income from their intellectual material” (n.p). Furthermore, Osanyintuyi reveals that, in December 2007,
Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) in a statement said that the film industry loses an estimated N4,200,000,000 annually to illegal digital duplication, on-line piracy and unauthorized rental of video works within the country. A report by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in August, 2008, estimated the total annual loss of the content industries (Music, Software and Video) within the nation to be well over N100,000,000,000. This is a great loss, no doubt (n.p).
It is imperative to state that despite the negative impact of piracy on Nollywood, it has equally enhanced the massive popularity of the industry across the world. This is based on the fact that pirated films are sold at cheaper prices than the original copies of such movies. It is evident that, movie viewers derive the same satisfaction from either pirated or original films. Since majority of film audiences are low income earners, they prefer to buy pirated copies at cheaper rates of less than one US$1.00, which could be is equivalent to N200.00, rather than purchasing original copies at higher prices of about US$2.00 which is equivalent to N400.00 per a copy.
Insecurity in Nigeria, ranging from armed robbery, kidnapping, and terrorism by the dreaded Islamist sect, Boko Haram, are causing serious threats to the Nigerian film industry. In the recent past, some Nollywood actors, in the likes of Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh (Osuofia), and John Okafor (Ibu), among others, have had their own bitter pill of the insecurity situation, having ‘tasted’ kidnap at various times. Thus, Bassey and Akam avow that, “even if some businesses can strive in insecurity prone areas, art exhibition, entertainment and show business will hardly strive well in unsecured environment” (632). In affirming the above submission, one could argue that, there is nowhere film production could be successful in a place with very high level of insecurity. Hence, there is need to tackle the prevailing security challenges in Nigeria to guarantee conducive environment for film production.
This paper has attempted to reemphasis the responsibilities of the director in film production and the need for professionalism in the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood. At present, Nollywood is facing a lot of challenges, which have affected the quality of productions. This paper identified some of these challenges, ranging from lack of casting, absence of production conferences, lack of rehearsals, lack of shooting scripts, inadequate financial support, high cost productions, piracy, inadequate training, insecurity, as well as lack of professionalism and indiscipline on the part of some practitioners, who do not respect the office of the director just as some directors who do not know their worth. Thus, the discourse was able to redefine the role and importance of the director in film production. It is a fact that, if these prevailing issues of professionalism, discipline, competence, content and creativity in Nollywood are addressed and every member in a filmmaking project contributes his/her quota under the leadership of a competent and creative director, the production quality will improve. This will attract investors and sponsors locally and internationally because Nigeria, in particular, and Africa, in general, have the market for the sale of films to maximize profit.
Based on the findings of this paper, the following recommendations are very necessary:
- In order to improve on the quality of film productions in Nollywood, there is need for improved financial support to the film industry in general and filmmakers in particular by well meaning individuals, corporate organizations and government at all levels. This could be done through granting of soft loans to filmmakers, with little or no interest, as well as with minimal or no collateral. In fact, policies or agreements that will make any beneficiary to make payments at the appropriate deadline or account for such money if not used appropriately for the purpose which the funds are meant for should be put in place.
- To combat piracy completely or minimising the level of piracy in the industry, original copies of movies should be sold at the same price with the pirated copies. This will discourage pirates from going into the dubious deals and encourage majority of the audience to start patronizing the original copies at affordable prices like the pirated copies. In order to curtail this menace, the nation’s legal system should be strengthened financially and constitutionally to fight piracy to ensure the survival of the creative industry in Nigeria.
- Attention should be paid to preproduction processes, such as, getting good screenplays, proper auditions, casting, and rehearsals. Casting should not be based on primordial sentiments, such as, tribe, religion, or familiarity; rather, it should be based on talents. Filmmakers should be able to discover hidden talents during such auditions.
- Practitioners should ensure regular train-the-trainer workshops to keep abreast of emerging trends in the global cinematic culture to enhance quality productions.
- Directors should exhibit their directorial prowess in collaborating with other practitioners for successful production. He/she should not be allowed to be used by other practitioners at the detriment of the directorial vision or idea in the production.
- Directors and other practitioners should exhibit high level of discipline and professionalism from preproduction, production and post-production stages.
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