A lot has been said about the difficulty of breaking into the Nigerian Film Industry. Professionals at the gates of entry are always regaling hopefuls with tales of how tough it can get. The popular idea is that it’s a long game and nothing is guaranteed. Go in, have alternatives, or be ready to bail when it gets too hard. The expectation would be that the uncertain reality of the industry should discourage interest and limit the profession to the few with means to persist, but the very opposite continues to happen. Year after year, young hopefuls continue to flood the industry, honing dreams of making it big.
Are the grim stories true? Is it tough for the Nigerian filmmaker? Yes, to both. Hopefuls don’t have to climb the ladder for too long before doubts about the future start to form. The industry successes are always there to provide inspiration, from the rarified space they belong, but it’s the overwhelming uncertainty that continues to thrive, especially at the lower levels.
Nigerian Filmmaker Tunde Olaoye (TO) takes a stab at offering strategies young filmmakers can take to the top. It’s no easy to place to be, trying to make sense of so much chaos, but the prolific filmmaker has spent enough time around to know what gives you chance and what literally ruins you.
So, what does work?
1. Earn your luck
TO: A lot of luck is required and you must be willing to work out your luck. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy or lazy to bank on luck. With luck on your side, you can shoot to the top very quickly. But this must be done with the knowledge that only a very small percentage of people are lucky. So be prepared to slug it out for as long as possible and give yourself a chance at being lucky. You have advantages on your side if you are young and single. There’s an abundance of the energy required to disrupt the status quo, experiment and prove yourself without risking the meal of any one dependent on you.
2. Be ready to be anything
TO: Yes, you want to be a cinematographer, producer or director, but viable opportunities at that level are not likely to come immediately you’re in. You must be willing to do other things while you wait for your turn. Even if it’s the position of an errand boy that’s available, take it and be the best errand boy in the history of filmmaking. The closer you are to where you want to be, in whatever form, the better for you. It’s also important that you master a number of roles apart from your primary role. This ensures you are employable in a wide number of capacities. Read wide, watch every and anything, try to know everything. No knowledge is wasted.
TO: The industry thrives a lot on word of mouth, cliques and who you know. So, it only makes sense to be as visible as possible in the industry you claim you want to be a part of. Attend events, take advantage of social media, introduce yourself and what you’re all about. Don’t remain in some obscure corner and expect people to telekinetically figure out what you do. However, there’s a word of warning as you go about networking— don’t be a pest. In a bid to network and be seen, young people go around hounding people with their presence. Don’t do it. It will harm your chances faster than anything else. Also be ready to back up your claims with evidence. Don’t be a talker alone.
4. Don’t get used to complaining
TO: Maybe it’s as a result of the way the industry is configured, but there are lot of complainers and pessimists, especially at the entry levels. You probably have met them before. These people are in little caucuses here and there, always in the negative, always spotlighting some trivial issue to whine about, but are never angry enough to quit and find something else to do. Don’t be like these people, it’s too easy to be that way. And if you’re already like them, stop it. Yes, the industry is tough, but don’t let that colour everything you do or how you think. Don’t encumber yourself with unnecessary luggage. I have worked long in the industry to know that the people things work out for are the optimists. The complainers just keep complaining till they get tired.
5. Grab it all
TO: A common error people make is to play below their abilities because conditions of certain opportunities are not perfect. They keep waiting for that big opportunity where they can show what they are all about. But it doesn’t work that way. Every opportunity that comes your way, big or small, must be approached with the same mindset of excellence. The problem with underdelivering in supposedly “ordinary’ projects over a long period of time is that you unconsciously accommodate lower standards. So when the supposedly worthy opportunities arrive, you can’t raise yourself to the required level to deliver. It’s a bad place to be. You never know which job is going to grab the attention of clients or collaborators. Give your best all the time, always look to impress.
6. Open your mind
TO: The industry isn’t a cocoon for you and your kind. It’s a confluence of people from all parts of the world with their diverse faiths, cultures, beliefs and more. The sooner you accept that you’ll probably have to work for and with people you’re nothing like, the better. Except, of course, you are looking to limit yourself to a sublevel of activity. There’s the beauty of learning more about the diversity of the human experience by just opening up your mind and exposing yourself to the realities of others. Why shrink yourself? Bloom!
The above list is far from exhaustive, but what it does is give a rough idea of what is needed to give yourself a fair chance at winning— Tenacity, patience and humility.
Good luck as you keep pushing.