The year was 2018. Nollywood finally got wind of the impending arrival of Payday, a different kind of comedy, after winning big at the International Festival of Detective Films and Television in Moscow, Russia. Even more striking was that the director, Cheta Chukwu, was a relative unknown at the time of the film’s release. Critics praised the fresh attempt at humour, the cinematography, the creatively arrogant use of colours and a timely introduction into a relatively new world. Cheta’s sudden ascent into mainstream Nigerian cinema is one of many good examples available for upcoming filmmakers to study.
Prior to the big break, Cheta was the archetypal young filmmaker: passionate, energetic and swelling with big ideas to stun the industry. All that prevented an actualization of his big dreams was money. He’d gone from door to door, armed with his ideas and infectious energy, pitching ideas endlessly but it mostly ended in disappointment. A time came when a strategy rethink became imperative. This was the light bulb moment that would begin a chain of long events that lead to the making and release of Payday. Filmkaku sat down with Cheta Chukwu to talk fundraising for upcoming filmmakers and he left us with five tips:
1.You’re probably not ready: When I first started out, I felt like I was the next big thing and that my ideas were new to mankind. I went about with this mindset into meetings with several film suits, hoping to get them interested in my work but I got slammed with a lot of rejections. It took years for me to calm down and take retrospective looks at the early meetings with different suits and realize I wasn’t at the level I thought I was. The gap that existed between our understanding of the creative and business arm of the craft, back then, still hurts, to be frank. Most of the people I was meeting rejected my ideas, not because I wasn’t talented or passionate but I was just too green to take a chance on.
2.Don’t run around empty-handed: Filmmaking, like any business, is ruthlessly hinged on making the best decisions for survival and success. Money will only be invested in ventures that are certain to yield profit. The investors have to be confident that you know what you are doing. After running around on end, to little result, I realized my “insane” ideas were not enough to convince anybody to invest. I had to have something more tangible in hand to show. And this is what pushed me to make a short film.
3. Look inwards: Before going out to meet with investors in fancy buildings, you should try to convince your immediate family and friends to invest in your projects. It’s erroneous to conclude that no one from your circle can invest in your project, or that they won’t be interested in what you are up to. My short film was funded entirely by my family. I convinced them of the project and they showed interest financially.
4. Be excellent with the little things: I didn’t just make any kind of short film. It was important that all the skills I claimed to possess, that failed to convince the investors, was applied in making the short film. I guess this is the part where actually being good at the craft comes in. Being good at filmmaking follows the same pattern of being good at anything: persistence and hardwork. My short film was made and I still wasn’t very confident about the final product but I submitted to festivals anyway. And thank God I did. The screening at the Eko International Film Festival was what changed everything. The overwhelmingly positive reception was some sort of proof that, just maybe, I could dabble into this thing called filmmaking to some degree of success. This is what I took with me to meetings with people I was hoping would be interested in what I had to offer. Responses were different this time, very different. The suits didn’t see perfection; what they saw was just the intention. And sometimes, that’s just what they need to see, proof that you know what you are doing.
5. Educate yourself in the business arm of filmmaking: An unformed understanding that film is not just art but business as well was definitely one of the reasons why I felt way out of my depth in the earlier meetings with film suits. Understanding the business of filmmaking goes beyond knowing the different business terminologies; you must be able to unpack, in clear terms, the commercial viability of whatever you are pitching. It’s not just about your artistic merits anymore; the investor’s needs must to be catered to. And the best way to do this is to prepare a detailed pitch deck, not some bland proposal riddled with nothing but abstract figures. It needs to be appealing enough to make the investor want to get started on the project immediately. This is easier said than done. It takes serious practice. And I’m still practicing.
6. Talk to people: This is perhaps the most important tip for young filmmakers because there are really no blueprints to follow in pitching ideas/fundraising. This is a struggle that extends to the very top of global filmmaking. Recently, I was in a session with filmmakers in the country, and an executive from Hollywood while addressing us echoed these same struggles with pitching and fundraising. This is a man that worked in the industry for over twenty years! This explains why a lot of Hollywood films spend so much time in preproduction. Bringing it back home, how long do you think it took Ramsey Noah, a Nigerian legend, to get investors for the Living in Bondage Sequel?
Every day, filmmakers all over the world meet with investors, hoping to communicate both the artistic and commercial viability of their projects in clear terms. There are more failures than successes but they don’t stop, they keep at it. And so must young filmmakers too. We must continue to prepare on our end and hope for the best as we walk from door to door. Talent is never enough. Celebrity power isn’t always enough. We have to be ready to roll our sleeves and be willing to get our hands dirty. Hopefully, someday, we will meet people willing to take chances on our ideas and then proceed to make magic.
Check out the trailer for Payday here