Exploring the Feasibility of Crowdfunding for Nollywood Projects
Stories to tell are abundant and so are the directors and actors to tell them. However, creativity and artistic vision alone are not what brings stories to life on the big screen.
Seemingly inconspicuous is an important but often relegated ingredient without which all hopes of movie crafting would wither: Funds. Without exaggeration, if money makes the world go round, it makes the movie industry spin like a gyroscope. Considerable funding is key. And it never comes easily.
Funding is even harder to come by in an industry like Nollywood. Director Desmond Ovbiagele, lamenting the scarcity of high-quality movies, once said: “There is a minimum level of investment in terms of funding required to be able to compete effectively with our contemporaries such as Hollywood and Bollywood.”
Emerging from the ruins is a new force poised to make movie funding easier and assist filmmakers in realizing their dreams. This new force is Crowdfunding. Owing to this innovative financing approach, Nollywood filmmakers who want to see their ideas on the big screen now have some hope. It might just be a small help to the more established film industries, but it might save the Nollywood industry.
We discover a world of possibilities as we begin our investigation into whether crowdfunding is feasible for Nollywood films, where the talent of Nigeria’s renowned film industry combines with the strength of its mass market.
What is crowdfunding?
The concept of crowdfunding is as old as human society itself and therefore not alien to us. At one point or another, within or without social media, we have seen, heard, or personally witnessed pleas from various sources soliciting funds for some unfinished project.
Crowdfunding –one of the humblest methods of funding– entails asking a lot of people for modest donations, typically online, in order to raise money for a cause, business concept, artistic activity, or philanthropic initiative. These many people willing to band together and donate money or contribute their small amount to a cause are not entirely motivated by goodwill and sheer generosity –a good majority are– but by incentives. This motive gives birth to rewards-based crowdfunding, the practice of donating funds to a cause in return for an experience, assistance, or item.
The departure from conventional funding comes with its benefits.
Firstly, since crowdfunding transcends traditional funding models, filmmakers break free from the constraints imposed by limited resources and conventional gatekeepers. Obtaining capital remains easier than ever before without these intermediaries and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe help them achieve that.
Secondly, by relying on public funding, creators may avoid sacrificing their vision to satisfy the requirements of conventional bankers and investors, thereby retaining their creative license and independence. Moreover, it may be used as a scale for gauging public interest and demand for the product in question before investing significant resources.
These diverse funding sources may also add other unintended gains like free publicity, which is crucial for a movie campaign. Besides, the proceeds are not restricted to ticket sales alone. Individuals who partake in crowdfunding a movie are unlikely to abandon the project when it eventually comes into fruition –at the very least, the feeling of participation and community involvement is unlikely to diminish. Thus, a new and loyal fan base is born inadvertently through crowdfunding.
Ultimately, the visibility and possibilities outside of crowdfunding campaigns themselves are, to put it mildly, enormous. For young filmmakers seeking an alternate source of funding for their work, crowdfunding has proven invaluable.
Exploring the Feasibility of Crowdfunding in Nigeria
Before delving into the details, let’s establish some background as to how fundraising in moviemaking works.
There are several established sources for raising funds for filmmaking globally and these sources may vary depending on the country or the specific project.
One of the most common avenues for funding movies is film production companies. Established production companies often finance film projects themselves or partner with other companies to fund productions. These companies may have their own development funds or access to financing through investors, distributors, or co-production agreements.
On another end of the funding spectrum are private investors. Seeking funding from private investors is remarkably similar to crowdsourcing – since individuals in the latter are essentially private investors – with the noticeable difference being that while private investors expect a financial return on their investments –for instance, a compulsory share of the film’s profits or other forms of return on investment– crowdfunding campaigns offer non-monetary incentives rather than direct financial returns.
Film grants make a fine addition to the funding options available to global filmmakers. The grants are graciously awarded by governments, film organizations, and foundations to support emerging talent or specific projects and genres. In some cases, filmmakers secure funding by pre-selling distribution rights for their films to distributors or streaming platforms. These deals provide upfront financing that can be used to cover production costs.
This exposition would be deficient if it fails to recognize Nigerian filmmakers’ resourcefulness in sourcing funds and tapping into diverse funding avenues –especially in the face of a harsh economic climate.
The ever-steadfast reliance on personal resources and family –the latter in a way that would embarrass Dom Torretto – is perhaps the finest illustration of this resourcefulness. Many Nigerian filmmakers rely on their own funds as well as financial aid from friends and family to fund their productions –independent or low-budget projects in particular. Corporate sponsorship and product placement are not out of the question either for Nigerian filmmakers –the latter involves companies paying to have their goods displayed in movies.
While these techniques have undeniably helped these creators realize their dreams, it hasn’t and won’t be an easy journey for the filmmakers involved. The scant support from the government and an increasingly hostile economic landscape means that Nollywood filmmakers have limited funding sources compared to their Western counterparts. And even when governmental aid arrives, accessing it can sometimes be hectic no thanks to the bureaucratic process and fierce competition involved. Furthermore, attracting investors can be challenging, especially for emerging filmmakers without a proven track record or industry connections. Co-producing projects with production firms and foreign partners may seem like a clever approach to avoid these hassles, but the solicitor must deal with the intricate legal and financial arrangements that are contained therein.
Another possibility that exists for aspiring Nigerian talents is –you guessed it– crowdfunding. When one considers its popularity, it has amassed both domestically and internationally, this proposition becomes much more enticing, giving filmmakers a potent alternative avenue to raise funds. However, like the rest of the alternatives highlighted above, this move is not immune to setbacks. Evidence suggests that success in crowdfunding campaigns depends on factors like the project’s appeal, marketing strategy, the filmmaker’s ability to engage the audience, and –often overlooked– the economic situation of the target audience.
This leads to yet another question.
Is crowdfunding an option in Nollywood?
Crowdfunding has gained traction in Nigeria in part due to its success in foreign nations and the realization of it as a reliable economic aid. Movie productions and web series happen to be one of the most common kinds of projects on reward-based crowdfunding platforms. This is because initiatives in this sector demand enormous sums of money for various production phases. Interestingly, Kickstarter reported 28,583 and 47,337 film projects that were successfully and poorly supported as of December 2020.
The rise of social media has helped to fan the flames of interest in crowdfunding investment with Nigerian filmmakers, artists, entrepreneurs, and social innovators using the medium to successfully finance their initiatives and engage with a broader community of backers. Yet, the nation still lags concerning crowdfunding especially when contrasted with their Western counterparts.
As highlighted above, crowdfunding is not a silver bullet. There is the misconception that it is as easy as a child opening his palm and receiving a pack of sweets. Not quite. There are many issues to contend with when crowdsourcing some of which are aggravated by the Nigerian social legal and economic space.
One thing folks need to understand is that they’re not the only ones crowdsourcing. Thousands more are doing the same almost simultaneously. Therefore, standing out in a crowded market is one of the biggest obstacles. Furthermore, the fact that crowdfunding necessitates a sizable time and effort commitment is another difficulty. Designing and promoting crowdfunding initiatives is not something done in mere minutes. It’s even worse for filmmakers who have to produce engaging material, such as films, visuals, and textual pitches to draw investors and maintain their interest during the campaign –costing time and money.
These obstacles don’t stop here. For Nollywood filmmakers, the biggest headache might just be the lack of a comprehensive legal framework to manage the myriad of crowdfunding campaigns. Some of these regulations, such as those released by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in May 2020 and the Companies and Allied Matters Act of 2021, limit who and what can be crowdfunded by requiring the firm to be a small and medium enterprise (SME) and to have a track record of at least two years. Although these rules are put in place for a reason – such as curbing corruption or use for political agenda – they should be changed to make crowdfunding suitable and easy for private enterprises. Speaking of corruption, the regulatory framework in place still seems incapable of properly shielding potential investors.
This lack of a crowdfunding-friendly climate in Nigeria is further exacerbated by the deficiency in the awareness levels of ordinary Nigerians of crowdfunding. Then there’s the economic situation. The rule of thumb in crowdfunding is to Know Your Crowd. To put it plainly, crowdsourcing from a population with shallow pockets is going to get you nowhere. And we truthfully know Nigeria’s position on the global standard of living ranking.
Regardless, the future of crowdfunding is not bleak.
Despite the practical details of crowdfunding in being one shrouded by uncertainty (especially in Nollywood), there have been successful attempts at funding movies in this way.
One such example is Kung Fury (2015). Director David Sandberg played it smart by doing the heavy lifting first (shooting most of the film beforehand) and brandishing a trailer on Kickstarter to lure backers. And it worked. The outcome, an incredible tribute to 1980s action films, was so positive that a sequel starring Michael Fassbender and Arnold Schwarzenegger is planned.
The Babadook (2014) became the best horror film of the decade thanks to crowdfunding. Like David Sandberg, the filmmakers needed to convince donors that they needed assistance for what was basically an already finished movie: only the special effects and money for the art department were missing. In a brief video, director Jennifer Kent poured out her heart on Kickstarter about her love of classic horror films and how she plans to incorporate those influences into her own project. The Kickstarter campaign featured some set photographs from the making of The Babadook. And the rest is history.
Nollywood too is not devoid of its own successes.
Nosa Igbinedion’s Oya: Rise of the Orishas was funded in a similar manner. To keep supporters interested, the filmmakers sent them frequent updates on Indiegogo. The film’s crowdfunding effort was successful in raising money to assist its production, demonstrating the value of crowdsourcing for independent filmmakers.
Small Town Burnouts, a Romi Studios production that is expected to be Nigeria’s first web3 film, is currently being crowdfunded on web3 through NFTs, holders of which would receive an NFT that grants them access to a variety of specialized services. A December 2023 release is planned. And thus far, the endeavor is showing promise.
Yet another example of a successful ongoing crowdfunding campaign is that of Founder and CEO of Gidi Box Office, Kike Moronkeji’s movie Alaga which has received over £1,900 –10% of its intended goal– on Indiegogo as of the time of this writing. Although most of the contributors reside in the UK, they are Nigerians sympathetic to her cause.
Nosa, Romi and Kike’s successes are a testament that there are minds in Nigeria –and the diaspora– willing to support upcoming filmmakers in their endeavors no matter how trifling. A group of university students we met indicated they would gladly support a filmmaker’s cause despite their skepticism, especially if the movie emphasizes the advantages on a worldwide scale –since Nigerians love a good “Naija to the world.”
The older generation, on the other hand, could appear a little more resistant to persuasion due to years of being scam-weary and their “oh well, let the government handle it” mentality.
There are even local crowdfunding sites like Naijafund and Nollywoodcrowdfund that make crowdsourcing more suitable for indigenous movie projects, a better option than going for saturated platforms such as GoFundMe and Indiegogo.
It is evident from the success stories that have surfaced, that crowdfunding has the potential to transform Nollywood. As we’ve examined its viability and advantages, this is becoming increasingly clear. In addition to obtaining the funding required to realize their artistic goals, Nigerian filmmakers who harness the power of the public may also build a devoted following of fans who have an emotional stake in their success. Besides, who says two legends – top-down film financing (public funds, co-production) and bottom-up (crowdfunding) – can’t coexist?
However, the road to a successful crowdfunding campaign must be plied with careful planning, strategic marketing, and effective communication to attract prospective supporters and establish confidence. They must exhibit their originality and make the argument for why their initiative is special and worthwhile of funding. The difficulties of keeping commitments, controlling costs, and guaranteeing the prompt completion of projects must also be navigated by Nollywood filmmakers.
Thankfully, Nollywood filmmakers often have reflected the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit of the industry in their search for funding sources. What remains to be seen is whether the legal restrictions for crowdfunding in Nigeria would be loosened up and the level of awareness raised. Time will tell. Nonetheless.
As technology advances and crowdfunding continues to evolve, the possibilities for Nollywood filmmakers are limitless. A possibility that The German King could soon find out is true.
Additional reports by Praise Oguntan and Joan Irabor