The Corona Virus outbreak is disrupting entertainment events in Nollywood, Hollywood, Bollywood, and every other hood around the world. The virus has affected theatrical releases, and led to industry wide delays in production timelines, release date changes, postponements and cancellations of movie launches and premieres, cancellations of film festivals etc.
As an actor, businessman and entrepreneur, I and my businesses, like most other people have been affected in more ways than one. I’ll be looking at the effects, current situations, and future realities of the Covid19 pandemic on various industries and how we can adapt and transition to a new normal.
In this video, I’ll be focusing on my first constituency, the entertainment Industry, which includes performance artistes, comedians, musicians and with particular emphasis on actors and Filmmakers in Nollywood, the Coronavirus disruptions, and a possible way forward. What can we as actors, filmmakers, and entertainers, do to stay afloat now, and in the post Covid19 era?
Nollywood stars and producers like everyone else are anxiously waiting for such a time that they can go back to work doing what they love to do and what they do best. But like everyone else too, Practitioners in the creative industry must prepare for returning to work responsibly, and critical to our recovery, will be to figure out a safe way of returning back to work and bringing back filmmaking. Nothing is the same around the world and so it definitely won’t be business as usual on our movie sets.
As actors and creatives, we are members of the gig economy because our cash flow is always dependent on the next uncertain gig. So, since our income is tied in more ways than one, to the sectors that are not only the most affected by the restrictions, but will most likely be the last to see restrictions lifted, let us start by looking at how the Coronavirus pandemic affects and is affecting the DNA of Nollywood and the Creative Entertainment Industry?
1.Restriction of Movement and Curfew: Filmmakers depend on movement from place to place, from one location to the other, transiting intracity, intercity, intrastate, interstate, crossing borders, nationally and internationally in an attempt to get as close to realism as possible in story depiction and execution. The restrictions in movements and curfews mean that interstate, National and International travel to filming locations is now impossible and intracity movements have been reduced to almost zero. Actors and Filmmakers work long sometimes endless hours. Early morning shoots, Day shoots, evening shoots, night shoots. Sunrise shots. Sunset shots. Sometimes this shots have to be perfectly timed, and since nature is no respecter of curfews, this becomes a major dilemma for Filmmakers.
2. Physical and Social Distancing:
One of the sure ways to limit transmission of the Coronavirus is to stay socially or physically distanced from others. As an industry that depends on the movement of large members of cast and crew, and the use of real locations like borrowed houses, offices, restaurants, malls etc, it has become almost impossible to do that. It is no longer feasible to carry a cast and crew of twenty to fifty, or sometimes hundred people to someone’s private house unless some strict protocols (which we will discuss later) are adapted and implemented. And moving that amount of people at once while adhering to physical distancing protocols, now poses a greater challenge.
3. Face Mask:
The Coronavirus depends majorly on person to person transmission. As a result, regular use of face mask when in public, or in close proximity to others, is one of the globally recommended ways of combating the spread. It’s easy to implement and everyone is now required to wear a mask to work . But that is easier said than done if you’re an actor. An actor’s ability to interpret, internalize, and portray a character so vividly as to entrap the audience in the moment and carry them along into the imaginary world is at the core of every performance. An essential tool for making that emotional and psychological connection is the use of facial expressions. Without Facial expressions, all acting becomes flat, as life is full of an endless cycle of expressions in all our dealings. With a mask on, expressions are nonexistent and besides, art imitates life, and in reality we don’t wear masks while having conversations at home with family members, or while lying in bed with our spouses. But then, actors ore strangers, coming together to freeze a moment in time and mimic reality-and masks are required when two or more ‘strangers’ are gathered.
4. Ban on Social Gatherings:
We can already see how badly and deeply the entertainment industry is getting hit. All of the above mentioned restrictions mean that production volumes will be cutdown by at least 90% if not more. That means most practitioners will be out of work for longer periods than they are used to, leading to dire economic implications. But it gets even worse. The ban on social gatherings, and limit to 20 people at the most, at gatherings, means that even the movies that finally survive all the above odds and manage to get produced, can still not be launched; cannot get appropriate press releases. They Cannot be premiered or properly publicly screened, no cinema or theatrical releases. No film festival exhibitions and awards ceremonies, in the traditional sense. All of the above are the fundamental ways by which buzz is created, revenue is generated and job security guaranteed for creative industry practitioners and without which the industry is on its way into oblivion. For entertainment practitioners, a ban on social gatherings also means, No MC/Master of Ceremony gigs. No special appearance or guest appearance gigs, No hosting gigs, No Comedian gigs, No small, medium, big, or major concerts and shows, whether indoors or outdoors, locally or internationally. No revenue, No payments, No Thanks-For-Coming, Nothing, and for the fans, that will also mean No “giveaways”. So, without innovation, the celebs are about to become beneficiaries of “giveaways”.
A prolonged lockdown of film and TV sets would definitely Cause long term and probably irreparable damage for Nollywood and the Nigerian economy.
Stakeholders must as a matter of urgency and necessity, endeavor to engage with relevant government authorities, to map out the direct impact of the pandemic and also explore avenues to ensure the entertainment industry is included as beneficiaries in all ongoing deliberations and considerations for intervention funds.
What can Government do?
Before I get into my thoughts on what government must do, let me tell you why government cannot afford to neglect Nollywood and needs to intervene as a matter of urgency.
1: Nollywood is globally recognized as the second largest film producer in the world by volume.
2: As at the last debasing in Nigeria, Nollywood was contributing 1.42% to Nigerian’s GDP. As at 2016, the contribution by Nollywood arts, and entertainment sector, had jumped to 2.3% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To make it clearer, Nollywood is significantly contributing more to our GDP than Electricity and Gas, Insurance, Oil refining, Cement, and Air transportation put together.
3: At the 47th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) in Lagos, the Senior Manager, Intra-African Trade Initiative, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Gainmore Zanamwe, made it public that Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry has been estimated to generate a minimum of $1 billion in annual export revenue. He also noted that Nollywood also reportedly employs 300,000 people directly, and more than one million people indirectly. There’s no one better qualified than him to highlight the enormous export potentials of the entertainment Industry.
4: That Nigeria has any semblance of dignity or respect in the global community right now is because of the hard work and dedication of the Nollywood and Entertainment practitioners. We are the laundry room of the country, cleaning up and propping up our dear country’s battered image.
I could go on and on but you already get the drift, so, let’s cut to the chase.
Here are my thoughts on what government can do.
In the last couple of months, the Central Bank of Nigeria,CBN, has been speaking some of the language that we want to hear and have been yearning for. And I do take this opportunity, to commend the Federal Government, Bankers’ Committee, and the CBN for setting up the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI) as part of the Economic Recovery Growth plan. But the Coronavirus situation has presented fresh set of challenges that must be proactively tackled.
Interventions will need to be approached from multiple fronts starting with:
a.Creative Industry Palliative Package: Practitioners have been out of work for longer than everyone else. And considering the restrictions on gatherings, travel, movement curfews, the creatives are poised to stay out of work long after everyone else has resumed. So an out of work relief package will definitely be a lifesaver.
b. A Job Retention Initiative can be tied to the Relief package to enable fixed income earners employed by all the different support companies stay afloat. This grant can help employers pay their employees up to 80% of their monthly income while the lockdown lasts and help prevent massive layoffs. Eligibility can be limited to confirmed payroll employees who were already engaged prior to the lockdown.
c. The Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI) scheme should now be re-christened, the Creative Industry Recovery Initiative (CIRI) and it’s operational modalities reviewed, reworded and modified to suit the present reality. Modifications can include: Increasing the seed fund from N22.9billion to N100B. Funding for this can be pulled from Agri-Business Small, and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Bankers’ Committee, Bank of Industry (BOI), and State governments that presently benefit the most from creatives like Lagos, Enugu, Delta etc. Modifications can also include Reducing the interest rate to a maximum of 2% p.a all inclusive; Extending the moratorium by extra 2years to 3years; Reducing the equity contribution to a maximum of 10% and DMB (Term loan) to 90%; and Extending the tenor by 3yrs for each eligible sector. The loan repayment source can and should also be modified to include emerging distribution and exhibition platforms.
d. Lastly, government can initiate income tax reliefs and tax breaks for eligible entities for the duration of the Industry specific lockdown as well as review and reduction of VAT until such a time as consumer spending and confidence returns and recovery becomes imminent.
These liquidity incentives can, and, should be extended to Tourism, Aviation, Hospitality and Entertainment sector players as they all have symbiotic relationships with each other.
Some industry players, individual and corporate, might not be able to access these facilities and might not qualify for interventions because they have, until now, operated very informally, without structures meaning, no appropriate business registrations, lack of proper tax records, improper accounting habits etc. but this will be one of the gains of the Covid19 pandemic. A lot more people will be forced to learn how to handle the ‘Business’ part of ‘ShowBusiness’ and not just focus on the show. In return government will have captured a lot more responsible tax paying individual and corporate entities, and a more robust database. Win-win for everyone.
Government, Organizations and Parastatals can recoup, recover and offset some of these breaks and incentives, by collaborating in a batter arrangement with practitioners to provide services towards their PSA’s and inevitable post-Covid rebranding efforts.
The recent power tussle between the Saudi’s and the Russians dealt a heavy blow to global oil prices. As if that was not enough, the Coronavirus pandemic put the proverbial last nail in the coffin. And so, with the catastrophic crash in oil prices, States will discover that it is no longer viable to be making the monthly trips, cap in hard, to Abuja to receive handouts. Survival will mean looking inwards and diversifying. Every State has human, natural or material resources that are unique to it. State governments can partner with Nollywood entertainers and practitioners in their states to routinely develop and propagate content that will help market each states viability for any kind of investment, local or foreign. The State governors already “use” the entertainers to their advantage during elections. They can channel the same advantage, map out collaborative strategies aimed at positioning their individual States as preferred destinations for Business, Leisure, Tourism, and Entertainment, for the mutual benefit of all- artistes, indigenes and the State as a whole.
The loss for international travel, and tourism, can very well be transformed into economic boom for the domestic travel and tourism market. Domestic tourism, while being informative, educative, entertaining, is also cheaper, has less restrictions, increases IGR exponentially, creates jobs and employment, reduces poverty, and the rural-urban migration that comes with it, enhances the creative sector, and has a ripple effect across all other economic sectors. These can be easily achieved by partnering with the creative sector to create targeted promotional campaigns to encourage Nigerians not only to buy Nigeria, but to tour Nigeria.
If we think fast and act fast, in quickly adapting, adopting, and deploying the proper past-Covid protocols and strategies, the creative Industry, the tourism industry, and the hospitality sector, can emerge from this current crisis as an even greater contributor to Nigeria’s GDP. A GDP that now has to survive in the face of dwindling and uncertain crude oil prices.
You have probably run out of popcorn and soda, so I’ll let you go and hopefully see you on the next video, where I will be discussing in detail, my thoughts on when, and how the Creative, Tourism, Aviation and Hospitality sectors can return to work safely and responsibly.
My name is Chidi Mokeme, and I’m just trying to make #ChidiSense of our new-normal in a post-Covid world.