Nollywood and coronavirus – The way forward by Chidi Mokeme

As actors and creatives, we are members of the gig economy because our cash flow is always dependent on the next uncertain gig. So, since our income is tied in more ways than one, to the sectors that are not only the most affected by the restrictions, but will most likely be the last to see restrictions lifted, let us start by looking at how the Coronavirus pandemic affects and is affecting the DNA of Nollywood and the Creative Entertainment Industry?

  1. Restriction of Movement and Curfew: Filmmakers depend on movement from place to place, from one location to the other, transiting intracity, intercity, intrastate, interstate, crossing borders, nationally and internationally in an attempt to get as close to realism as possible in story depiction and execution. The restrictions in movements and curfews mean that interstate, National and International travel to filming locations is now impossible and intracity movements have been reduced to almost zero. Actors and Filmmakers work long sometimes endless hours. Early morning shoots, Day shoots, evening shoots, night shoots. Sunrise shots. Sunset shots. Sometimes these shots have to be perfectly timed, and since nature is no respecter of curfews, this becomes a major dilemma for Filmmakers.
  2. Physical and Social Distancing:
    One of the sure ways to limit transmission of the Coronavirus is to stay socially or physically distanced from others. As an industry that depends on the movement of large members of cast and crew, and the use of real locations like borrowed houses, offices, restaurants, malls etc, it has become almost impossible to do that. It is no longer feasible to carry a cast and crew of twenty to fifty, or sometimes hundred people to someone’s private house unless some strict protocols (which we will discuss later) are adapted and implemented. And moving that amount of people at once while adhering to physical distancing protocols, now poses a greater challenge.
  3. Face Mask:
    The Coronavirus depends majorly on person to person transmission. As a result, regular use of face mask when in public, or in close proximity to others, is one of the globally recommended ways of combating the spread. It’s easy to implement and everyone is now required to wear a mask to work . But that is easier said than done if you’re an actor. An actor’s ability to interpret, internalize, and portray a character so vividly as to entrap the audience in the moment and carry them along into the imaginary world is at the core of every performance. An essential tool for making that emotional and psychological connection is the use of facial expressions. Without Facial expressions, all acting becomes flat, as life is full of an endless cycle of expressions in all our dealings. With a mask on, expressions are nonexistent and besides, art imitates life, and in reality we don’t wear masks while having conversations at home with family members, or while lying in bed with our spouses. But then, actors ore strangers, coming together to freeze a moment in time and mimic reality-and masks are required when two or more ‘strangers’ are gathered.
  4. Ban on Social Gatherings:
    We can already see how badly and deeply the entertainment industry is getting hit. All of the above mentioned restrictions mean that production volumes will be cutdown by at least 90% if not more. That means most practitioners will be out of work for longer periods than they are used to, leading to dire economic implications. But it gets even worse. The ban on social gatherings, and limit to 20 people at the most, at gatherings, means that even the movies that finally survive all the above odds and manage to get produced, can still not be launched; cannot get appropriate press releases. They Cannot be premiered or properly publicly screened, no cinema or theatrical releases. No film festival exhibitions and awards ceremonies, in the traditional sense. All of the above are the fundamental ways by which buzz is created, revenue is generated and job security guaranteed for creative industry practitioners.
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All of the above are the fundamental ways by which buzz is created, revenue is generated and job security guaranteed for creative industry practitioners and without which the industry is on its way into oblivion. For entertainment practitioners, a ban on social gatherings also means, No MC/Master of Ceremony gigs. No special appearance or guest appearance gigs, No hosting gigs, No Comedian gigs, No small, medium, big, or major concerts and shows, whether indoors or outdoors, locally or internationally. No revenue, No payments, No Thanks-For-Coming, Nothing, and for the fans, that will also mean No “giveaways”. So, without innovation, the celebs are about to become beneficiaries of “giveaways”. A prolonged lockdown of film and TV sets would definitely Cause long term and probably irreparable damage for Nollywood and the Nigerian economy.

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Stakeholders must as a matter of urgency and necessity, endeavor to engage with relevant government authorities, to map out the direct impact of the pandemic and also explore avenues to ensure the entertainment industry is included as beneficiaries in all ongoing deliberations and considerations for intervention funds.

What can Government do?

Before I get into my thoughts on what government must do, let me tell you why government cannot afford to neglect Nollywood and needs to intervene as a matter of urgency.

1: Nollywood is globally recognized as the second largest film producer in the world by volume.
2: As at the last debasing in Nigeria, Nollywood was contributing 1.42% to Nigerian’s GDP. As at 2016, the contribution by Nollywood arts, and entertainment sector, had jumped to 2.3% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To make it clearer, Nollywood is significantly contributing more to our GDP than Electricity and Gas, Insurance, Oil refining, Cement, and Air transportation put together.

3: At the 47th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) in Lagos, the Senior Manager, Intra-African Trade Initiative, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Gainmore Zanamwe, made it public that Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry has been estimated to generate a minimum of $1 billion in annual export revenue. He also noted that Nollywood also reportedly employs 300,000 people directly, and more than one million people indirectly. There’s no one better qualified than him to highlight the enormous export potentials of the entertainment Industry.

4: That Nigeria has any semblance of dignity or respect in the global community right now is because of the hard work and dedication of the Nollywood and Entertainment practitioners. We are the laundry room of the country, cleaning up and propping up our dear country’s battered image.
I could go on and on but you already get the drift, so, let’s cut to the chase.

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