HOW TO MAKE THE NIGERIAN BLOCKBUSTER: 9 LESSONS FROM KUNLE AFOLAYAN’S ‘PHONE SWAP’

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So you are a budding film maker looking to make and market the great Nigerian blockbuster film, let me help you get on your way with some lessons culled from actor/producer/director Kunle Afolayan’s experiences with his new event film, PHONE SWAP.  Here are 9 lessons to learn from to become the next big thing in NOLLYWOOD.  Bookmark this page or make notes in your notepad or diary or journal.

Lesson 1: Get a corporate organization to sponsor your film.
Truth is, good movies cost money, we are not even going to lie about it. Whether it is for paying the cast’s salaries or attending to technical details, a healthy cash flow is important. The kind of money you might need to make your dream movie is not circulating in today’s Nollywood.  Hell, there is barely a structure in today’s Nollywood. Take your spectacular screenplay, draw up a business proposal (yes, it is a business) and do the corporate rounds. Solicit, bargain and if necessary, be prepared to beg. You might have to mortgage the house, the car, your life, but hey! think of the ultimate goal here. Telecom, beverage companies and banks have been known to show some interest, even some state governments have been known to come around eventually.

Lesson 2: Product placement.
Remember it is a business, so when these sponsors ask for their pound of flesh, don’t act all virginal. Be prepared to give them screen time in your film (sometimes, visibility is all they want). We are not saying put in full paid ads like ‘The Return of Jenifa’ (that’s just tacky- and all levels of wrong), we are thinking more along the lines of ‘Tango with me’ and ‘The Figurine’; visible enough to impact but subtle enough that it does not draw attention from your film. If we want to watch commercials, we’ll do that in the comfort of our homes thankyouverymuch. And if the very title of your film sounds like a product placement in itself, it’s surely no fault of yours, the film is clearly about a ‘Phone Swap’, what would the critics rather you title it, ‘The Missing BlackBerry?’

Lesson 3: You don’t need A-list stars.
We all love to see our A-list movie stars but if their financial demands are too steep (understandably so), find other actors who need that star making turn or those who just need the money-or both. Foreign based Nigerian actors are a good place to start, they always need the work- and the money too, plus you can now hype the film as having some Hollywood connection even though said actor hasn’t worked in a decent movie in like, forever. Trust us, people love hype.

Lesson 4: Get the New York Times to do a feature.
Now this could be tricky, especially if you don’t have connections to The NY Times. Don’t worry, the UK Guardian seems to have recently developed interest in all things Nigerian. Better still, scout for more credible media powerhouses-online or print, invite them to watch you while you shoot, give them an oral history on Nollywood, bore them with your peculiar challenges, sway them with your never-say-die spirit and don’t stop until you have impressed them enough that they subtly hint you could be Africa’s Steven Spielberg.  Do you know what a praise/comparison like that can do for your career?

Lesson 5: Plan a première. Scratch that, plan 3 premières.  
The ‘Phone Swap’ model is the perfect example. If the Hollywood people can do multiple premieres, why not you?  Besides how can you convince the people your film is really the next big deal if you are not ready to do really big things? So Lagos, Abuja and Ghana it is, throw in Port Harcourt and Akwa Ibom for good measure. If you really want to shake things up, take Kenya  and South Africa (If they will have you).   Movies that should have gone straight to DVD are being premiered across the country these days so if you want more, do more.  Also scratch the cinema premiere, it’s been done to death, think Eko hotel’s Expo hall or somewhere as epic.

Lesson 6: Premiere it the same week AMAA announces nominations.
Nothing sells a movie like good old word of mouth and (credible) award nominations have a way of giving a movie exra publicity.  In Africa, it doesn’t get any bigger than the AMAAs so if your film premieres the same week and it goes on to receive a couple of nods, then people must take note right? Right.

Lesson 7: Make a not-so-little boast, Oscar anyone?
Grant lots of interviews and in one of them, let it slip that your perfect film will bring home Nigeria’s first Academy award.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a clue as to how to make this boast come to fruition, by the time Oscar season comes around, we would have forgotten anyway. 9ice once promised us a Grammy and years later, he is as close to winning one as Kim Kardashian is to scoring an Oscar nomination. Point is if your film and the Oscars are put in the same sentence (even if you are the only one doing it), more people will be persuaded to see it, especially those who otherwise swear they do not watch Nigerian films. It does not even matter that your film barely got mentioned at the AMAAs (what do they know anyway?). Everyone knows the Oscars is where it’s at.

Lesson 8: Launch a massive advertising campaign.
Now this is very important. The student in Nnewi, the corper in Sokoto has to be as in-the-know about your film as those Lagos cool kids. Flood the media-old and new, with dates, information and material about your film. Get a Twitter, Facebook, My Space account for your film. Get as many media sponsors as space can allow you. At the end of your media assault, when the poor superstitious folk start whispering Illuminati, then you know you have begun.

Lesson 9: Make sure it is a decent film.
This may be the most important of them all. It is what will make the corporate sponsors give you a second listen, what will get you the award nominations and what will get you that all important word of mouth. You don’t want to start a media frenzy for a film that dies at the box-office once those pesky critics put out their reviews (and you know they will!).  Your film might not be ‘The Godfather’, but we’ll take a ‘Spiderman’ if that’s all you can offer (we’re not that picky). Take care of the little details; light, sound, picture, screenplay, acting and we are usually satisfied. If you want to go all ’Avatar’, great but not really necessary.

And that is how to make the next Nigerian blockbuster. If after going through all these processes and your film still finds a way to flop at the box-office, err, this writer cannot be held responsible.

Written by Will F

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