“Why fix what is not broken?” This is the general attitude Nollywood filmmakers seem to show, especially at this point when they think they have cracked the code to getting massive box office viewership.
For the industry, the comedy button is not broken, so why fix it? The real question is – are audiences not clear enough on the fact that the jinx does not last? Data clearly shows that they are but it seems the filmmakers see only what they want to.
For many, the last decade was great for Nollywood. From the success of movies in the cinema, to better production, Netflix deals and international festival screenings, the world was roused to pay rapt attention to the biggest film industry in Africa. For several years in the decade, ample work was done.
In 2016, something happened that showed filmmakers that the cinema was a goldmine if they tapped correctly. Mo Abudu and her EbonyLife Films made ‘The Wedding Party’, a romantic comedy directed by Kemi Adetiba which caught fans by surprise.
It was a classic rom-com plot with several Nigerian slangs and troupes, funny characters and cute lead actors embedded in it. To cap it all, a large wedding party was shot. The film remains the highest grossing Nigerian film till date, raking in N452 million.
From then till date, audiences have been subjected to the ghost of ‘The Wedding Party’. It triggered a new formula for cinema – have a star cast ensemble, party theme, splattering of comedic scenes and all would be sold during the holiday season, especially Christmas.
The bad news is that the formula only worked once, in 2016 and never again. This is a hard pill for industry stakeholders to swallow. It is even harder when they think they can argue that audiences love the formula and it has made them money back-to-back in the last four years.
The denial is laughable because records clearly show that every year, the total gross for individual film reduces. In 2017, ‘The Wedding Party 2’ had some novelty peel off and it made N435 million. By 2018, Abudu and crew released ‘Chief Daddy’ which grossed N387 million.
At this time, the faith audiences built in the Nollywood films had dwindled as it was clear that there was no respect whatsoever for their taste. The beauty about audiences is that they communicate in viewership. Adetiba seemed to have taken some notes and she released ‘King of Boys’. Grossing N242 million, it remains the highest grossing non-comedy in Nollywood. It was a great start and a clear proof that audiences wanted diversity of genres, especially in peak periods. But the lesson went unnoticed as filmmakers have remained stuck to the ghost of ‘The Wedding Party’ and the success of Ayo Makun’s comedies. It still was not clear that the formula was fading.
In fact, director, Niyi Akinmolayan (who worked on the second ‘Wedding Party’ film), lists laughter as one of the audience requirements for a good film. He wrote on twitter, “We were all laughing in the hall, we could not predict the movie. If Nigerians are saying either of these two phrases about your Nollywood film, it is most likely going to be a hit. So think about that when you are writing your next blockbuster.”
This statement, targeted at filmmakers, means that more nonsensical comedic troupes will fill the cinema in the new decade. How else can audiences scream that they are tired? If comedies must be made, they should be made well and written better.
Commenting on the box office performances, producer and writer, Naz Onuzo said, “A key challenge for Nollywood is to maintain a strong Nollywood slate all year round. I am hoping for at least ten N100 million grosses in 2020 and for ‘The Wedding Party’ record to finally fall.”
The aspirations are high but nothing will change if the approach is not changed. Even Abudu, who invented the formula was bitten by her own bug in 2019 when ‘Your Excellency’ struggled to cross N100 million mark in box office takings despite the marketing gimmicks.
What then works? The answer is embedded in the places that filmmakers have refused to look at. Audiences want diversity of genres, better written stories and better production. Cue in ‘Living in Bondage’. It was released in a season usually characterised by cinema viewership drought , but it pulled in N160 million.