By Abiodun Obisesan
The class struggle which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels canonized as Marxism has, no doubt, swirled the course of human history into a pseudo era of free trade and free enterprise. No thanks to the very capitalist tools of trade, entrepreneurship and foreign investment, the power of one social class to control the means of production enables its exploitation of the other classes.
In the Nigerian film industry, too, the forces of Marxism, skewed in hydra-headed throes towards monopoly of scarce resources, are playing out in unimaginable dimensions between film makers and supposed bourgeoisies. The daring narrative of one of Nigeria’s finest and creative film producers, Kunle Afolayan, typifies the stormy, howbeit, cautious path to filmic glory.
Kunle Afolayan, who is a graduate of Economics and currently the CEO of Golden Effects, used to work with City express Bank in 2004 before setting up Golden Effects a year later. He reflected that ‘‘I was going to do Figurine when I came back from school before Irapada. Irapada was meant to be a pure Yoruba story because that was what everyone was doing at that time; it was either you are a Yoruba film maker/actor or you are doing Nollywood. Kannywood was on then but it wasn’t branded as such.’’ In 2006, he made his debut as a film producer and one of the brains behind Irapada.
He maintained that the idea of the film was not originally his. ‘‘Originally, I was invited to be a part of Irapada as an actor. The producer had a huge challenge with the logistics of the project and I didn’t hear from him after some time. Six months later, they came back to inform me of their readiness to continue the Irapada project. We couldn’t film again because they got permission from someone who wasn’t the rightful owner of the property we were using for our location. We were thrown out’’.
Afolayan was invited to take part in the production after the original producer found he could not continue on his own. But two weeks after, the producer requested that I join him on the project as a co-producer. That was when Afolayan told him that if he came on board in that capacity, everything would have to change. ‘‘I told myself that I didn’t want to go the conventional way; so I decided to do a blend of several cultural codes. That was also the period that business permutation began. I inquired how much has been spent to which he replied “N800,000”. This sum was bad debt because I couldn’t use the footage. I proposed to inherit N500,000 out of the N800,000 bad debt which would be his investment in the project. The budget then was about N8 million. I inherited a bad debt of half a million naira and raised N7 million. We had an agreement that after we recoup our investment, he would take his N500,000 and I, my N7 million. Then we would share the profit in the ratio of 30:70.
This is because I brought other investors on board who were silent investors. The film was a success and featured in London Film Festival and Los Angeles. 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. ‘‘At some point, the Igbo man became envious of my frequent trips to film festivals. I got him an invite but he was not granted Visa. He got upset and got a lawyer who wrote me when we were about to release the DVD of Irapada.
He revealed that the Igbo man got a court injunction before the DVD release of the controversial Irapada film. After several attempts to broker peace, the man opted to sell the film to a marketer. ‘‘All the Igbo marketers offered him was around the sum of N500,000 because it was seen as a Yoruba film. I shrewdly told him that I have a buyer who wants to buy for N2 million. He agreed to sell and I bought the film. I had to apply wisdom because my reputation was at stake.
I am not only a consummate film maker; I am also a shrewd business man. This lesson taught me to do proper documentation and due diligence in my business transactions’’.
After the drama of releasing his first film, the last thing Afolayan wished himself was a repeat of the Irapada controversy. This was why he put Figurine together himself. Afolayan admitted that ‘‘Figurine was the most difficult film I ever worked on in my life. I believe it deserves all the accolades it has been getting. Our original budget for Figurine was $350,000 which was around N40-50 million when converted to the naira at that time.
When we got the script, I tried to see how I could subsidize the budget through product placements and sponsorship. Advertising agencies have budgets and are looking for the right channels to put it but you have to speak the right language to them. Sometimes, even if you know the right person but don’t know how to speak the right language, it is always difficult to get a favourable result.’’ It was a very tough call as he reached out to a lot of companies but Maicom Hotel & Resorts, which is situated in Osun State, were the first to come on board. ‘‘I was lucky that I had a friend who was the PR & Marketing Consultant for Maicom. They agreed to sponsor to the tune of N10 million but told us that they didn’t have cash. Then I proposed that the Hotel incurred the cost of taking care of the crew and cast of Figurine as exchange for the N10 million. I have also inculcated the strategy of doing a press conference before I release a film in order to attract brand sponsorship. I took some journalists in print, electronic and bloggers to Maicom such that for some weeks Figurine was well reported in the media.’’
He stressed on the need for filmmakers like him to always maintain friendly relations with the media. ‘‘I also try to build a good relationship with the media, because in as much as everyone wants good content, if you have a good relationship with them, you can buy into their goodwill. Press conference is a fast means of attracting brand sponsorship. I did what we called ‘business opportunity’ at the presentation of Figurine. We did a trailer for the film and got a marketing person to make a presentation.’’.
‘‘We invited brand executives, advertising agencies, corporate affairs persons in banks and multi-nationals. We showed 30 minutes of the film at the cinema. After the presentation, we gave out CDs which were a snippet into the actual film. A few weeks after, MTN invited us for a presentation and I did the presentation myself. That was how we got MTN to sponsor the premier of Figurine. We agreed to do the premier in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The film became a success, grossing N25 million.’’
Still ruminating about his filmic trajectory in Nigeria, Afolayan spoke about his third film, Phone Swap. The film, according to him, presented a challenge of a different sort – the challenge of having to compromise artistic integrity for money. ‘‘Phone Swap had its genesis when Samsung approached him to make a ‘bright’ film that would appeal to those between the ages of 25 and 35 years. I invited Femi Adetoye who wrote the final script. 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. Fortune would later smile on him when he was made an ambassador of telecommunication giants, Glo, who agreed to commit N15 million to the project. This subsequently opened a floodgate of treasures as big brands like 7Up, Blackberry, and other brands, began to throw their weights behind the brand-centered film.’’
All was set for prompt action before the forces that-be came calling. ‘‘We agreed to do the premier in Eko Hotel, Lagos. ‘‘While that time got nearer, I got a call from a senior executive at Glo that Chief Mike Adenuga wanted to see me. He insisted that the actor be removed and re-shoot the film. He spoke frankly that although he loved the film, each time he sees Hafeez Oyetoro (aka Saka) he gets quite uncomfortable. At that time, Glo owed me around N4.5 million and I was still their brand ambassador.’’
As expected, Afolayan was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. He could have decided to jettison his friendship with ‘Saka’ for the juicy deal of the Globalcom boss. “Saka was not big then in the entertainment industry. He had only an ad for Etisalat. I was more worried for him and I asked him if he had any deal with Etisalat. I warned of the complication that could arise from such double dealings; he denied that he had such dealings”.
Clearly, this story gives one an idea of compromising situations that filmmakers and actors contend with on a daily basis. Uncharacteristically, Afolayan called the bluff of the Glo boss who eventually pulled out of the deal. ‘‘Thankfully, the film took a life of its own and was a success. I don’t regret it, even if they did not pay my balance. The lesson in this entire saga was that MTN saw the gap and capitalized on it. This was an opportunity I gave to Glo and MTN made Saka an ambassador. When I saw the advert, I was crying because I knew. After Glo pulled out, Blackberry agreed to do an additional £50,000 support for the film. They intended to kill the career of my good friend, Saka, for me. It is more of relationship than any other thing.”