Learning from failure in Nollywood

Everyone loves stories. They are basic to our survival as a people, regardless of culture and nationality. But eeking a career out of telling stories can be a thankless task. Most people fail; a reality that hits even harder in the chronically volatile Nigerian film industry teeming with the young and old, eager and passionate, most of whom are, sadly, broke. It is easy to fail and many stop after a few attempts at battling the tide.

Nobody sets out to fail, and while that grim eventuality is nothing anybody wants to be rooted in,  the truth is we can learn from failure and actually become better versions of ourselves. The greatest people in history were failures at some point in their journeys. Different fields are rife with stories of inspiring comebacks from setbacks that we can always check out to glean some  confidence and encouragement at low moments. Nollywood is by no means left out. There are many examples of fighters to pick out but I choose to consider two personalities.


Niyi Akinmolayan is a producer, director, media consultant boasting an impressive filmography that includes Wedding Party 2, Chief Daddy, The Set up, Arbitration, Elevator Baby and many others.

The year was 2010. Niyi Akinmolayan was a commercial and visual effects director with a debit film titled Kajola that had just bombed at the box office. As he writes on his blog:

“People were expecting the Matrix and I gave them Kajola. They stormed out of the hall. Threatened the ticketing guys. Demanded for their money back. People found me on Twitter and Facebook and cursed me to death. At a press conference, a reporter threatened to slap me, a small boy, for claiming I made a movie. After two days, the movie was taken off cinema. If I had a gun, I would have ended it all”

Niyi Akinmolayan did recover from this. There were prolonged bouts of self doubt and near suicide but he refused to be buried beneath the collapse and has since gone on to become one of the top film directors in Africa.

He writes:

“While I had thought I was a failure, Kajola was stirring up some young people. In all these experiences, I learnt some vital lessons that would change my approach to filmmaking forever.”

Key Takeaways

-Understand the reality of the film business
-Find people who share your passions and build things together
-A commercial failure is not the end of the world. Begin again

Akindele-Bello Olufunke Ayotunde is a foremost Nigerian actress and producer with a credit list that includes Jenifa’s Diary (Tv and Film), Maami, Your Excellency and many others.

Funke is easily one of the most recognizable faces in the entire Nigerian film industry today, but she had to wait for her big break. She recalls in an interview, “I started attending auditions in 1998 and I remember struggling to get any roles. I was the queen of auditions and extras called “wakapass” roles. I would do well in auditions, get commended by the directors but would only end up as an extra.  I would trek to all my auditions, had just two shoes and very few clothes. I  remember crying a lot and leaning on my loving mother who repeatedly encouraged me. This was the story till I Need To Know happened”

I Need to Know was a Nigerian family-oriented television series aired on the NTA network from 1998–2002. Funke was cast in a major supporting role on this show. She continues, “After that, I thought I was going to the top, that I had arrived, but no, I went back down. I got no roles, no calls. I went back to auditions, lobbying. I felt I had missed my chance. I would travel long distances, sleep in danfos just to act in two scenes. I felt like quitting at various points but I was encouraged by mentors in the industry to keep taking those parts. I kept at it till I produced my first film titled Ojo Ketala and I haven’t stopped since then.”

Key Takeaways

-Understand that failure is useful. The brilliance of failure is that you still inherit a network of people.

-Don’t do it for money, do it for passion, or you are never going to grow.

-Be patient. It takes storytellers time to find their voice and to find their confidence in what they know they do well.

I say hard work and perseverance pay off eventually, but don’t just repeat the same thing over and over; keep looking for ways to improve.

See you at the top.

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