Home Features Ghana movie industry needs structure & distribution, not money – Leila Djansi

Ghana movie industry needs structure & distribution, not money – Leila Djansi

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“Slayers will always slay! Yvonne Nelson is totally wrong and she misunderstood the Era we are now! The Era of showbiz glamour sparkling across the Oscar’s, Grammy, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film festival, Berlin Film festival, AMVCA, etc.

The sum total of everything that’s wrong with the Ghana film industry presently can be found in this quote above.

I’d like to start by asking, which Ghanaian films, or films by Ghanaians have made it to Globes, Oscars, Cannes and the Venice film festivals? Unfortunately, the answer is none. Sinking Sands played at Marche Du Film at Cannes, but Marche due Film is a market where you screen for potential buyers. It’s not official. We wore jeans and T-shirts.

The Oscars and Cannes have earned the right to honor glamour. Ghana film industry has not. Cannes and Venice film festivals have become avenues for companies; automobile companies, event companies, fashion houses and brands to advertise their products. That is why Gucci will dress an actor on the red carpet. That is why Audi will chauffeur Sophia Coppla at Cannes. The glamour and fashion at these high profile events are all enshrined in advertising, product placement.

If my memory serves me right, the Ghanaian filmmakers and filmmakers of Ghanaian descent, who have been blessed to officially walk red carpets at industry recognized film festivals did so in clothes sewn by their seamstresses in Ghana. It did not diminish them in anyway.

This is how I presented Like Cotton Twines at the Bentonville film Festival.

The Ghana film industry does not need financial injection; neither does it need slayers, neither is it dead.

Ghana filmmakers have money. I say that because I see their lifestyles. Affluent lifestyles. If you are able to purchase and drive a range rover, you should also be able to finance a film because Ghana is cash and carry and that’s a 70,000 dollar car. I think.

The problem is not money, the problem is distribution.

Ghana has a mere 6 -10 screens at the cinema level. You are competing with foreign films for those few screens. You are also dealing with biased cinema bookers. Producers are negotiating the screens themselves, not through a distributor. The share is 70/30 in favor of the cinema after 2 weeks.

Nigeria currently has 60 plus screens if I am not wrong, and they use distributors to aggregate their films to the cinemas. It’s not a walk in the park. It has its pros and cons. The dividends are shared from the top and the producer is at the bottom. But, it saves the filmmaker some hustle.

Nigeria has the population to back it up. You’ll fit Ghana into Nigeria 6 times and there’ll be overflow. But filmmakers from both countries make films on comparable budgets and Ghana has less distribution. It’s not easy when they take their films to Nigeria either because publicity becomes another cost they have to incur.

Nigerians are very good at investing and supporting each other. Ghana is not the same. If Bank A sponsors a Nigerian filmmaker, he tells his friends and they all go to bank A for sponsorship. If Bank A sponsors a Ghanaian filmmaker, he hides that information from all his colleagues. He doesn’t want anyone to know bank A sponsored otherwise bank A will sponsor others and maybe leave him out. Trust and insecurity. That’s the crabs in a bucket mentality. The mentality you have when you have very little and you’re afraid to share.

Ghana needs distribution structures. Opera square works for opera square. Opera Square cannot accommodate or does not want to accommodate evolving markets and forms. They are used to a certain way that guarantees them profit and some under the table gains from government, levies and bully taxes. They are not going to change. Opera Square is bread. Asking them to conform is taking away that bread.

Distributors do not pay well. Ghana and Nigerian filmmakers will have an advantage if they start looking into sales agencies. It doesn’t matter what part of the world they’re in. Do not worry about sharing your sale. It’s the nature of the business. Film festivals are not for recognition. Sales agents are there. Seek them out. Whether your film is selected or not, you should go and look for buyers and reps.

 

THE SLAYERS

Yvonne Nelson has a point.

An actor is called to play someone who grew up in small town Volta Region. The actor wants to wear designer shoes, change them often, speak with an American accent, and behave as someone exposed to the elite of the world. The character calls for the exact opposite of what this person wants to do. What then happens to the film? It fails to have soul.

It’s all about the red carpet. It’s all about the delusions of grandeur. The fear of playing something that is not grand. The fear of connecting to ones core because that is not the ‘slayer” image. The fear of connecting to a real human being because that is not the instagram persona created.

I once had an actress tell me the make-up used on her was too dark, that people knew her to be light skinned. I said, “You’re not playing yourself though”. She was not happy!

Another time I had another actress give me a hard time with her performance. I got tired and decided to move on. With the close ups, she did great! When I asked her why, she said “I saved my best performance for my close up”. I stammered, “What about continuity in the edit? Did you consider that? On big screen, everything is close”.

Then you have the actor whose rendition of a Ghanaian accent was to speak like a toddler. But yet she was born, raised and lives in Ghana.

I use these examples to say these actors were all thinking about one thing: Others. The fans. The slayer worshipers. The Instagram followers. The social media persona they needed to abide by.

The focus on slaying takes away from delving deep and becoming someone else. Unless of course that someone embodies Olivia Pope. Those are the roles slayers like. Range rover driving, high heels wearing, Gucci purse carrying. Rich girl. Those are the roles slayers like to play. When you ask them to do what Ama K Abebrese did with Pabi, or Adepero Oduye in Pariah, you’ve asked them to find someone too close to who they really are. It’s too much work, too much sacrifice.

There is nothing wrong with slaying. But earn it. Earn it by doing amazing work so Cannes will INVITE you. VENICE will INVITE you. Oscars will INVITE you. Buying your own ticket and renting cars and clothes to go slay, there’s no reason in that.

What are you seeking the attention for? Is it because you have no love? Trust me, someone loves you. That’s why you are here.

The last thing you want to become is a narcissist and this industry easily turns us into that. “Narcissists are consumed with maintaining a shallow false self to others. They’re emotionally crippled souls that are addicted to attention. Because of this they use a multitude of games, in order to receive adoration”. Sharon Alder

Remember, there is danger in overexposure. You lose interest.

IS IT DEAD?

Not exactly. The Ghana film industry is going through a phase. It’s looking for itself. People are looking for the best way to survive. There’s hate, there rancor, there’s jealousy, there’s lies, there is sabotage, there’s fabricating stories to ruin anyone doing well, there’s greed. Till date it baffles me that someone spent time, called studios to ask whether Ties That Bind was a Hollywood film. The sabotage. But, in all of these, there is hope.

Ghanaians abroad are coming home to work from outside in. Ghanaians within are looking for lucrative forms.

 

I believe if the distribution issue can be solved, things will get much better. Netflix opening up in Africa offered hope, but there seems to a buying bias and some deception. Which is why sales agents will be a way out. Keep your budgets low enough to recoup, remember, the distributors need your content. Don’t settle for 5000 dollars for your brand new film from any of them. Push them. They have more. If filmmakers have to unite and come up with a rate card, so should it be. I know, some will go behind the united front and take the 5000. You always have those.

Here is a link to some film sales agents: http://www.ifta-online.org/member-directory. Reach out to them.

PIRACY.

You can’t close this out without talking about piracy. The youth own computers not for their assignments, but for pirating films. They own hard drives for storing pirated films. The internet is for torrent, facebook, etc. TV stations show pirated films with impunity. No one holds anyone accountable. You can’t ask filmmakers to make better films when in the end you will not buy but pirate the film.

You can’t ask for films about Kwame Nkrumah and Yaa Asantwaa when you will not buy but rather pirate.

Then you have the “Ghana films lack creativity” people. What does that phrase even mean? If I paint rainbow colors on my nails, that’s being creative. You can never, ever accuse Ghanaian filmmakers of that. Ghana has been making films since 1967. Ghanaian filmmakers have been creating since that time.

If you mean the films are not ‘good”. That’s a better word, and your opinion. Good is relative. If we continue to lump all films as one and brand them as not good, we’ll have the lemon problem.

So much goes into making good films. It’s teamwork. You need financial resources, human resources, and emotional resources. What the industry needs for making good films is training and watching good films. Our francophone neighbors make the best films out of Africa. Those are the type of films we need to consume.

Above all, art is life, if your motives are not right, it will not breathe for you. Your motives behind the story you’re telling need to be pure. It should not be abut the money and the praise you stand to gain. Tell an honest story. The crew needs to be committed to the project, not jump on because it’s a red camera. Respect the project and it will reciprocate.

The industry is not dead. It needs reform. It needs people like Yvonne Nelson and Juliet Ibrahim talking and engaging folks on twitter. It needs a lot more people talking, because I kid you not, we are all listening!

Leila Djansi