“Low budget films put a wall in front of you and only creativity will allow you to figure out how to get around that wall. The less money and/or resources you have the more you are forced to be creative” – Robert Rodriguez
Nine out ten kids experienced this growing up. You are engaged in something; watching a great show, reading a great book or playing a video game, and just when it gets to the best part, your mom asks you to go and bring for her an item from her room. As you don’t want to get up, you respond, “I don’t know where it is.” She insists, and you get up to go look for it, and as you go, you’re saying to yourself, on the walk from your sweet spot to her room, “I don’t know where it is” over and over. You get to the room, open the cupboard and you are proven right, you can’t see it. You go back and forth as she insists it’s there and you say, “I’m looking inside the wardrobe and it’s not here”. Annoyed, she comes over, and picks it up; it was right in front of you the whole time. This is what’s called a Scotoma, a figurative blind spot in a person’s psychological awareness.
Basically it means that you can miss out on seeing something that is right in front of you because you have programmed yourself to believe that it isn’t there.
There is an epidemic of Scotoma in Nollywood (Nigerian cinema). We have programmed ourselves to believe that we can’t make certain types of movies. We can’t achieve certain quality of filmmaking and certain things are unachievable because of the Nigerian environment. Now, I’m not talking about movies that need a certain type of financing; that’s a different matter. I mean quality, within what we do have.
“All film is intelligent compromise; that’s the process. No matter what your budget is, you never have enough time, you never have enough money. It’s weird, when you’re doing a huge film, you’re in the same position as you were when you were doing a tiny film, and there’s a reason for that. You’re always trying to get on screen as much as you possibly can, beyond whatever the box that’s built for you by the economics of the project. You’re always trying to push up against those walls, so you need help from your team in order to make that work” – Chris Nolan
Filmmaking is HARD. It’s hard anywhere in the world for independent filmmakers without much financing ; take that difficulty, throw in power issues, hooligans, and untrained crew and a dash of Murphy’s Law, and that’s just half of how hard it is, getting it in the can in Nigeria, let alone making a great film.
But it’s become a go-to defense to justify a film turning out poorly in terms of execution. “We don’t have Hollywood budgets,” is a common expression; not enough money for rehearsals, multiple drafts, multiple takes etc. So that is why the film is not as good as it should be. But we can all point out Hollywood films with budgets northward of $100m with bad writing, bad acting and are overall, disappointing. We can also point out films made for anything from $7,000 to $6m that have become classics, and launched the careers of their directors. While the budgets do play a part, a big budget is no guarantee of a good film, as also a low budget is not a limitation from making a good film.
“When you don’t have money and are working self-sufficiently, your problem solving skills are challenged, your creativity has to work and you fix your problems creatively. And that can make all the difference between something fresh and different and something processed and stale” – Robert Rodriguez
“Confusion Na Wa” (2013) is film that won multiple AMAA (African Oscars) and Pan African Film Festival Jury Prize. It was made for N3m (about $10,000) and is a far better written, directed and acted film than some of the films with budgets of well over N50m. “Confusion Na Wa” has taken its director, Kenneth Gyang, across the world, invited as a speaker by African Studies Departments in Universities around the globe, while most of those other films end at the cinema run.
This Scotoma has stopped creative thinking and innovation, reasoning a way out of/around a situation; the kind of innovative storytelling and cinematography that will be necessary for the N6m budget you have, rather than the N30m you wish you had.
Alternatively, write for the budget you can raise, rather than what you wish had. That rule worked for “El Mariachi”/$7,000 (Sundance Audience Award), “Clerks”/$30,000 (Cannes, Award of the Youth), and “Primer”/$9,000 (Sundance Jury Prize Winner). It also worked for “Confusion Na Wa,” wherein the filmmaker managed with what he had, when some of the funds he had been initially promised never came through, proving that a local film, with a moderate budget, and with the right script and director, can go places.
“The creative person with limitless imagination and no money can make a better film than the talent-less mogul with the limitless check book” – Robert Rodriguez
Our environment is not going to transform into a filmmaking paradise anytime soon, where everything falls perfectly into place and runs smoothly. Even American productions go to Canada for film and TV, because its financially friendlier, better logistics and much more.
Every environment has its own unique set of challenges and difficulties, whether it be a multi-million studio shoot in Hollywood, or a micro budget film in London, Lafayette, Lisbon, Lahore, Lima, Lusaka, Luxor or Lagos. Wherever it is in the world, every location has its own unique set of challenges; human, bureaucratic and well, Murphy’s law.
For Nigerian filmmakers, several factors beyond our control will remain constant for the foreseeable future; infrastructure, few helpful policies, little government aide, etc. But what is within our control is our vision, and our creativity. So we have to battle the psychological scotoma that has limited us for years, and think, despite the terrible hand we have been dealt, we still make kick-ass movies.
We are an incredibly resourceful people that have found ways to overcome all the lousy barriers, hurdles and potholes of making films in our country. It was that same resourcefulness that has made the industry comes as far as it has. It’s time to refine it, and use it to make the kind of films that amaze the world.
Olu Yomi Ososanya is a writer/director and film nerd living in Lagos, Nigeria. He has written for and worked on shows for Mnet, Ebony Life TV. Films he has written and directed have screened internationally, including the Cannes Short Film Corner. Follow him on Twitter at Oludascribe. He also blogs at oludascribe.com.