“By virtue of the kind of story, the actors, the team and every element of the film to a large extent, embraces who we are as Africans,” said Kunle Afolayan.
The camera rolls from left to right on a dolly as the actors, go through their lines, a sound operator holding a boom steady over their heads under bright studio lights.
It could be a scene from any film set but Kunle Afolayan hopes “The CEO” could drive change in Nigeria’s hugely popular and prolific movie industry, Nollywood.
“‘The CEO’ represents Africa as a continent,” said the 41-year-old during a break from filming at a luxury resort outside the financial capital, Lagos.
“By virtue of the kind of story, the actors, the team and every element of the film to a large extent, embraces who we are as Africans,” he told AFP.
The film’s plot is about a telecoms firm looking to replace its boss. Five members of the company’s management are dispatched across Africa to find the best candidate. Cast members include Benin’s Grammy award-winning singer Angelique Kidjo, as well as actors from South Africa, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Morocco.
“It’s a fairly great mix and I think it’s a mix that’s like Kunle himself,” said Moroccan television and film actress Fatym Layachi.
“(He’s) a totally Nigerian director in the sense he’s proud of being Nigerian and proud of his culture… and at the same time he’s part of something completely universal.”
With a budget of more than $1 million (880,000 euros), “The CEO” is a far cry from the shoestring productions that characterise the bulk of Nollywood’s output. Some cost as little as $25,000 to make—a fraction of the $250 million average in Hollywood—and can be turned around within a month from filming to sale.
Afolayan has secured financial backing from Air France in a first for the French carrier, which is banking on his reputation to drive up its brand in Nigeria. The company has provided tickets for shooting to take place in Kenya, South Africa and even at Paris’ main airport, Charles De Gaulle.
Better financing, it is hoped, will change Nollywood’s image of poorly made films with wobbly cameras, poor sound and often rudimentary editing.
His ambition fits into a wider context of a greater role for Nollywood in Nigeria’s economy and recognition of its value for the country.
In April last year, Nollywood was included in Nigeria’s economic data for the first time—a sign of its growing power and influence. The film industry was estimated to be worth 859.9 billion naira ($4.3 billion) or 1.2% of GDP.
With an average of 2,000 films produced every year, Nollywood, which developed out of the digital boom of the 1990s, is one of the biggest cinema industries in the world.
That puts it in the same bracket as movie-mad India, although revenues—thought to be about $590 million a year—are considerably less.
In 2013, the United Nations estimated that Nollywood, which releases about 50 films a week, employed some one million people and could create one million more jobs if better managed.
Many of the movies tackle social and cultural problems—corruption, drugs, love triangles—and rely heavily on melodrama. Most are sold as DVDs at the roadside, either at market stalls, from wheelbarrows or by hawkers at traffic lights.
Online distribution has started through Internet platforms such as iROKOtv and via cable and satellite television, expanding their audience and appeal across Africa.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari earlier this year ordered a crackdown on bootleg copies, to regularise sales and give actors and producers a fairer deal of revenues.
For Afolayan, better quality films, as producers and directors hone their skills, and with actors from across Africa, will boost interest on the continent and beyond. The filmmaker has already shown his films at a Nollywood festival in Paris, which has become an annual fixture since 2013.
“Some people are very comfortable in making low quality products because for them it is only a means of livelihood, for them they only make money,” he said.
“For me film is not about earning a living, film is life for me. I breathe film, I sleep film.”