‘Ooray for ‘Ollywoods The US doesnt quite have a monopoly on film production movie industries in Asia and Africa are striving to match Hollywood, says Sophie McBain
‘Ooray for ‘Ollywoods
The US doesn’t quite have a monopoly on film production — movie industries in Asia and Africa are striving to match Hollywood, says Sophie McBain
CHINA HAS NO problem manufacturing cruise missiles, but could it ever produce a Tom Cruise? The US can fear the decline of its economic and military prowess, but when it comes to the film industry its soft power remains unrivalled. Global box-office takings for Hollywood films — without DVDs, TV or online sales — reached $32 billion last year, up 35 per cent on five years ago; Bollywood movies only took $3.25 billion in total.
The late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il considered the US an annoyance second only to South Korea, but this didn’t stop him amassing 20,000 videos, many of which were Hollywood films. And while the quality may vary and the copy may well be illegal, whether you’re in central London or the Central African Republic, you’ll always be able to get your hands on the latest Hollywood action movie.
The Hollywood name has spread to other national film industries too now, from Bollywood to Zollywood (in Zimbabwe), but there are only two countries that beat the US in volume of films. The first is India, which produces more than 1,000 films a year, and the second is Nigeria, estimated to produce nearly 1,000 films a year. While Nollywood is simply a term coined to describe Nigeria’s film industry rather than an actual place, its business centre is the crowded, chaotic Alaba Market in Lagos. Nollywood is the second largest employer after the government in Nigeria, but unlike in Hollywood, there are few execs in suits.
Filming conditions could hardly be more different between Nigeria and America. While it takes around 36 months to plan a film and twelve to produce it in Hollywood, Nollywood films are shot on digital videocams and only take around ten days to produce. A film costs £10,000-45,000 to make in Nigeria and the average Hollywood film over a thousand times more. With few cinemas, the vast majority of Nollywood profits come from DVD sales, and because piracy is so widespread, film-makers only have a window of two weeks to sell their goods before the market is flooded by counterfeit copies.
This doesn’t mean that Nollywood films are not influential. Nollywood DVDs are distributed all over Africa and the African diaspora, which is no mean feat on a continent where average disposable income is tiny and the infrastructure is, to put it kindly, unreliable. ‘Even if you go to Zimbabwe, you will find people dressing like Nigerian film stars,’ says Cornel Onyekaba, a PhD student of Nigerian cinema at the University of Lagos (Unilag).
Jessica Hope, global communications manager for Iroko TV, which streams Nigerian films online, believes the cultural aspect is an important factor in Nollywood’s international success. The plots have satisfying moralistic elements, too — church funding is partly accountable — as the worthy poor always eventually overcome the morally and financially corrupt.
When Iroko TV was established in 2010 it opened up a new source of revenue for the Nigerian film industry, as each film producer is paid between £3,000 and £10,000 for the film streaming rights.
Widespread piracy and unpredictable profits mean that there’s been little bank lending in the sector, but Duro Oni, a professor of theatre arts at Unilag, is optimistic that this will improve with time. ‘The growth potential is tremendous,’ he says. Improved funding will raise the quality and professionalism of the industry, and could eventually free up resources to combat piracy.
In many ways, Bollywood bears much more similarity to Hollywood than Nollywood does. Technically, the term Bollywood only applies to Hindi films made in Bombay, as India also has vibrant regional film industries where local languages are spoken. But, for the sake of simplicity, Spear’s is using Bollywood as an umbrella term for Indian cinema.
UNLIKE NOLLYWOOD, BOLLYWOOD has had access to bank finance since 2000. Until then, banks were not allowed to lend to films because of doubts regarding the commercial viability of film and a fear that Bollywood enjoyed too cosy a relationship with the mafia. After a legislative change to allow bank funding, Bollywood can now put on much grander films, with budgets running up to £13 million. Two large Indian studios are now listed on London’s stock market, which Rakesh Jariwala, a partner in tax and regulatory advisory services at Ernst and Young, says has increased the professionalism in the sector by introducing a studio model similar to that of Hollywood.
Despite increasing similarities in the way films are made, funded and distributed, Bollywood still faces challenges that Hollywood doesn’t. For instance, India has a low income per capita, poor infrastructure and over 300 languages. It does help, however, that cinema-going is extremely popular in the country: 3.3 billion cinema tickets are sold annually, more than anywhere else. India is also one of the few countries where Hollywood accounts for less than 5 per cent of box-office sales.
As with Nollywood, culture is important. While some Bollywood movies are ‘going the Western way’ in Jariwala’s words, in that they may feature sex, violence, strong language and grittier, more realistic plotlines, beyond the large metropolitan cities the typical musical, colourful, emotion-laden ‘Bollywood masalas’ still dominate.
Ernst and Young forecasts huge growth for the Bollywood industry, predicting that its total revenues will grow from £2.1 billion in 2010 to £3.2 billion by 2014. This will be partly fuelled by a doubling in the number of cinema screens in the next few years, says Jariwala, as well as increased collaboration with Hollywood, greater revenues from satellite rights and advertising, and improved technology and film education.
Illustration by Femke de Jong
WITH THE NIGERIAN and Indian film industries set to expand and mature, and given that they already command large international audiences, one wonders if they could compete with Hollywood internationally. Even the most optimistic spokespeople for Nollywood and Bollywood don’t think this will happen any time soon, however. ‘Hollywood and Nollywood are so different, you can’t compare them,’ Hope said. Jariwala also doubted that Bollywood could yet compete in the same market as Hollywood, saying: ‘I’m still waiting for a typical Bollywood film to go out and adapt itself to an international audience.’
Edward Jay Epstein, the author of the Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies, suggested several big lessons for Nollywood and Bollywood if they want to compete directly with Hollywood. ‘The first thing they need to learn is that the movie business is not a movie business, it’s an intellectual property rights business, in which you create these intellectual property rights and sell them over a range of platforms,’ he says. This means stamping out on piracy, and also finding ways to tap more potential sources of revenue, including TV and online distribution rights.
The second lesson, according to Epstein, is that these intellectual property rights need to have truly international appeal, and one way of doing that is to reduce dialogue. ‘If you look at the big-selling films like Avatar and The Avengers, you need very little dialogue to understand them. The number of words in them is practically less than in The Artist. Hollywood has built a very skilled community of artists that can show people what they should feel or emote.’
Given this second point, one might start to wonder whether Bollywood or Nollywood should try to steal space from Hollywood, if instead they can provide a culturally distinct alternative that literally and metaphorically speaks to its audience. Perhaps, like cruise missiles, there are more than enough Tom Cruise films in the world. For many, Bollywood and Nollywood can provide welcome relief.
Read more by Sophie McBain