The changing reality is mainly down to more filmmakers and production companies making bigger commitments to movies in budget and scale, says Tope Oshin, director of Up North. “There used to be limits to spending [on production] and effort based on demand,” she says. “If your budget is low, you have to cut back on a lot of things and it shows. Owing to recent success, we can spend a bit more knowing that audience is responding to quality.”

These days, big budget Nollywood movies can cost up to 300 million naira ($820,000) to make—a vast increase from previous years when filmmakers pegged budgets given lower demand, Oshin says.  Beyond the adoption of better equipment, Chris Ihidero, writer of Hush, a popular drama series, attributes much of the improvement in the quality of Nollywood films to the presence of more skilled crew members in production across areas like cinematography and lighting. “There’s been an uptick in production value and in cinematic range of what producers are taking on,” he says.

It’s worth investing more upfront in better-trained crew, upgraded equipment and higher production values as there are more international licensing avenues than ever to recoup investment over the longer term from cable and satellite TV distribution to airlines and streaming partners like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Crucially, profits from cinema runs also open up an important revenue stream for filmmakers in comparison to other existing earning models. DVD and VCD releases, the model for Nollywood’s early success, are hampered by an enduring piracy problem. Unlike cinema runs which offer the promise of open-ended profits, licensing to television channels like the MultiChoice-owned Africa Magic come with capped, one-time earnings.

Meanwhile, the long-term success of licensing deals with video on demand platforms like iROKOtv and Netflix (the global streaming giant acquired its first original Nollywood film last September) will depend on solving internet access and connectivity problems.

But the cinema model also has its limitations. With fewer than 50 theaters across the country, there’s a major shortage of screens for filmmakers to maximize profits. However, there’s progress on that front as increased investment in cinema chains suggests filmmakers will soon have more options.

On set.
On set.
Image: Up North/Anakle Films

In addition to bigger production budgets, Imoh Umoren, an indie film director, also attributes Nollywood’s recent success at cinemas to better promotion and marketing. But the next level, he argues, lies in exploring more movie genres and story ideas beyond comedy and drama. “We’ve established that we can achieve the basics—good cinematography, good technical quality and good performances—but we’re still making borderline safe stories,” he says.

Wilfred Okiche, a movie critic, shares similar sentiments: “In the last couple of years, the pictures have gotten better in technical terms but are the stories better? No,” he says. “It’s been a matter of smart marketing and giving people what they want to see.”

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