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Nollywood Filmmakers Usually Hide Production Costs. Don’t They?

Non-disclosure of production costs has led to the false accusation of “withholding with malicious intent.” There is more to it than meets the eye.
March 8, 2024
8:50 pm

Sometime in January, during the “A Tribe Called Judah” frenzy, I tried assessing the profitability of its then N1 Billion gross. To do that, one had to–obviously–first know how much the project costs.


And that, folks, is where I hit a roadblock.


Getting wind of the production budget of the biggest Nigerian movie in history shouldn’t be that hard, right?


That’s what I thought too–until I started my inquest. All attempts to get a hold of either the production or marketing budgets of the movie turned out not dissimilar to a wild okuko chase. It seemed like the budget didn’t want to be found.


The non-disclosure stance is not peculiar to Funke Akindele’s hit as the elusive nature of production budget details is in a near-ubiquitous status in Nollywood. And what was supposed to be a Box Office analysis turned into a “why-can’t-I-find-this?” article.


A Tribe Called Judah

At first glance, it may seem that there are few reasons to conceal a movie’s production budget. But as pointed out by “Black Harvest” director, James Amuta, financing movie productions is a complex process so much so that pinning down the budget to a specific number is not so easy as say shooting a music video or slamming a price tag on a new Bugatti.


“Outside of the production budget, there are so many costs – running costs that the studio incurs from the conception of the idea to years of development, even before pre-production begins,” the director says.


This, he continues, does not usually include other miscellaneous expenses incurred by the studio such as the overhead costs, running costs, staff, utility, IP, legal services, and administration fees (think about the cost of moving a film crew from Lagos to Toronto for a screening at, say the Toronto International Film festival).


He couldn’t have couched it better.


Ancillary costs such as these, coupled with structural challenges within the industry, sometimes prevent filmmakers from accurately tallying the complete financial outlay, rendering the actual budget elusive.


Thanks to the notorious (I’d say “creative”) bookkeeping practices of Hollywood–so much so that it earned its name: “Hollywood Accounting” – studios can manipulate financial outlooks and arbitrarily place charges on the value chain, leading to discrepancies between actual and purported costs.


Such a move carries strategic significance in the chess game of negotiations where knowledge – or the lack thereof – about financial investment can influence discussions with distributors and sponsors.



In a 2016 study, UK-based film industry expert Stephen Follows observed that after reviewing confidential data for 29 major blockbusters in comparison to their publicly listed budgets on Wikipedia, he found that “90% of the films cost more than their Wikipedia budget with only three costing less than is declared on Wikipedia.”  The effect of this is that “official” budgets should be taken with a grain of salt.


The consequences of this strategic move aren’t limited to board meetings. You see, public perception can be and is always a thing. Like Henry David Thoreau said, “it’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” A movie seen as cheap won’t be met with the same enthusiasm as an expensive one.


But that’s Hollywood.


To assume that the dynamics are the same with Nollywood is, in Amuta’s words, “like sleeping on a bicycle traveling at 200 miles an hour.”


In contrast to Hollywood’s deliberate financial secrecy aimed at strategic marketing and fulfilling contractual obligations, Nollywood’s opacity often stems from systemic challenges and the lack of tax incentives or rebates for film production, leaving filmmakers with little reason to disclose their budgets. “Independent producers and studios are essentially improvising, navigating the industry as they proceed,” he notes.


Despite the contexts of Hollywood and Nollywood being as distinct as individual snowflakes, parallels in practices of nondisclosure and dishonesty can be observed, particularly concerning the widespread use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).


I would imagine a bombardment of these legal instruments on signees, restricting the disclosure of information concerning financial details, salaries, and unique production techniques – all to maintain a competitive advantage.


An anonymous insider from a well-known film production company hinted that individuals with Funke Akindele’s “status” prefer to keep budgetary information under wraps to fend off criticism from both the public and industry peers regarding the allocation of funds for talent fees and other compensations.


Gabriel Oyatokun, Assistant Director of “Black Harvest,” describes this tendency to withhold budget details as indicative of the industry’s often disorganized production processes.


Opinions among filmmakers on the value of secrecy are mixed, yet there’s a growing agreement on the detrimental effects of this transparency gap and the need to close it.


The Black Book

James Amuta points out that such an environment not only stifles Nollywood’s expansion but also opens it up to exploitation. “Hollywood entities engaging with Nollywood often promote this silence on financial matters,” he explains, highlighting a tactic that prevents a unified and open discourse within the industry. “Without open sharing of information, it becomes easy for external forces to implement a divide and conquer strategy.


To be fair, getting information as to a movie’s budget in Nigeria is difficult … but not impossible–something even the award-winning filmmaker acknowledges. His advice? Knowing the right place to look.


He’s right.


Not all production outfits are so concealed. Some production houses, especially those commissioned by major streaming platforms like Netflix, maintain a degree of openness about their finances.


The challenge lies in accessing this information with the same ease as our counterparts in more transparent markets. When a journalist like me has to look thrice as hard at what my American counterparts take but a glance, it’s not really “open information” now or is it?


There’s a saying in Hollywood that “nobody knows anything.” While William Goldman’s adage reflects the unpredictable nature of film success, this uncertainty fuels the argument for greater transparency rather than secrecy. The insistence on transparency is not merely a call for openness but a strategic imperative for nurturing a more vibrant, sustainable film industry.


To continue with this culture of misinformation and exploitation is – apart from being counterproductive – akin to “killing the industry with our own hands.”


Gangs of Lagos

Information sharing creates structures, and structures create standards – principles that have underpinned the success of the American film industry. And although Hollywood accounting “accounts” for some portion of the blame (no matter how small), you still get at least a rough estimate of movie expenditure via the “official budgets.”


So, what started out as an accusation turned into an eye-opener and a shift in focus from the filmmakers to the systemic and environmental hurdles they face.


Because, at the end of the day, Amuta ends our conversation thus: “Ask yourself. Who does hiding the information really serve?”


It’s a food-for-thought that journalists like me may need a whole week to digest.


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