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By Aoiri Obaigbo

In 2004, Ben Murray-Bruce, passionate show promoter, established Silverbird Galleria on Victoria Island, one of Lagos city”s upmarket districts.

With five screens, the Galleria pioneered the Cineplex in Nigeria and reversed the nose dive of the big screen culture in the country.

On May 30, 2005, the 1st Africa Movie Academy Awards ceremony was held in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State, to set standards for the industry. The Nollywood friendly government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan gave business impetus to the industry in the form of grants to the value of 5 billion naira in 2014. Bank of Industry also came up with loans for creatives.

From this initiative, Kene Okwuosa and Moses Babatope co-founded FilmHouse, owners of Film One. They opened a three-screen cinema in the Surulere area of Lagos in 2014.

Pré production meeting of Beyond Blood

They have grown into the winged horse of distribution and production. Currently, exclusive licensees to The Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Empire Entertainment in Anglophone West Africa, FilmOne Distributions has 45% control of the Nollywood cinema market.

”Return on investment on Cinema is like between seventeen and twenty percent. What we want to set

up is a one stop shop. Creation, production, distribution, exhibition, media. We are creating our

content here, distributing it here and to other cinemas, exhibiting it in our own cinemas. Selling it to

other places where we can make money, putting it on TV, supporting it with radio, that’s the whole

value chain for us. Everything happens in here at Media City.

In 2019, with 218 screens, film exhibitors admitted 5,432,537 movie lovers into their cozy halls.

Last year (2022), the Gross box office was $6.4Billion with National films, making ₦6.94Billion ($16.65Million).

The days of grants went away with Jonathan, but Nollywood has become a sturdy, robust contributor to Africa’s largest economy.

The Buhari government’s support to the sector is in the form of the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI), a loan scheme developed in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide access to long-term and low-interest financing for entrepreneurs in the creative industry.

On the wings of this initiative, comes, not quite a dark horse, but new to the big screen circuit, Gregory Odutayo of Royal Roots Nigeria.

 

Roots Cinemall, in Ikota, Lekki

In a couple of weeks, Royal Roots  hopes  to commission a mall with a five-screen complex, sitting on two acres in the Lekki axis.A visit to Odutayo provided an opportunity to find out what goes into the cinema business in Nollywood today.

“We’ve gone through a lot to get to where we are,” he begins. “This project started just before COVID-19. We brought in investors and were able to acquire this place. Business school taught me that when you want to expand beyond yourself, you need other people’s money. My wife and I could to just stay in our cocoon in our small production company and we can be fine. But the minute your vision starts to expand, you need other people to come in with money, ideas, direction, energy… for so many things.

“So my wife came here and she couldn’t leave. I was abroad and she called me and sent me pictures. Her heart just connected with it and we were able to get it. We got it in 2016.”

To prepare for this most capital-intensive side of show business, the Odutayos enrolled at the Lagos Business School, “because it wouldn’t work if I’m talking from a trained business person’s perspective and my partner is not,” he explains.

Our main interest is the nitty-gritty of getting the CIFI loans and the hoops he has to jump from  getting the facility to erecting this complex.

“We started in 2018/2019”, he dates. “It was a lot of paperwork. Creative Industry Financial Initiative was starting and most of us creative people believe in grants. We don’t believe in loans. CBN used us as guinea pigs on the infrastructure side because some things that they did, showed that they hadn’t done this before. We were one of the firsts…”

Odutayo, TV Producer, evolves into a Media City Impressario

Royal Roots presented its proposal. “It was a learning curve for all of us. They gave us fifteen months moratorium but unfortunately, as soon as we got the funding, COVID broke out.

“By the time our moratorium ended, we hadn’t gone very far. In hindsight, we should have gone back to CBN to say look at COVID-19, see what it’s done to us. We’d probably get a fresh moratorium. But we didn’t do that. Inexperience, let me put it that way. We’ve spent a lot more than we got. With CIFI, you have to provide thirty percent of whatever they give you. So if your budget is let’s say, six hundred million, you have to provide one eighty out of it. Then they’ll give you four twenty for example. This is a big learning for us. Through COVID-19, through Endsars, through hyperinflation, it’s been crazy but it’s been God who got us this far because it’s been hard. When we started this project, cement was one thousand eight, two thousand. As at when we finished, cement was five thousand per bag. Where do you take care of the gap? When we started, exchange rate was four hundred and something. Today exchange rate is seven hundred plus. A lot of our components are imported. All of those dynamics have affected us. Otherwise, we would have finished this long ago. At some point I had to wear the cap of managing the project because I was the one who knew where the shoe was pinching me. However, we were lucky we took some decisions at the beginning. We hedged some of our risks. A lot of it has been a function of providence. The fitting out of the cinema for instance, we contracted it wholly to FilmHouse.

“We were to give them the skeleton and they were to come and do fittings, equipment and all of those things. Providence happened to us. When the facility started, CBN gave everything to our bank… We decided we might as well take and use everything. It was a loan you have to pay up. So we paid FilmHouse seventy-eighty percent, we paid them two years before they even needed to bring the equipment for us. Some of the other contractors, get to work. Almost a hundred million, two years ahead of when they were needed. As at the time we were going to install, it was already about a hundred percent more. So something we spent a hundred million on, we would have spent two hundred million. Exchange rate when we gave FilmHouse the money was four hundred and something to a dollar. As at the time we needed them, it was seven hundred and something. We had paid them and said go and procure, we had to procure and keep. If we didn’t do all of that, we would have been in too much trouble.”

So what business model does he plan to run with? We Were eager to know.

On the set of My Mum & I

“We try to be functional. Everything we have done has been born out of a need, out of filling a gap in the business chain. What we’re trying to do now is to set up our structure in such a way that we’re playing in the whole value chain from the beginning to the end. Production is what has brought us this far.”

It’s interesting that Odutayo speaks of value chain. A graduate of theatre arts from the University of Ibadan, he set up Royal Roots after a seven-year post graduation career in advertising, including time at OBM – Ogilvy Benson & Mather, SO & U. and Bates Cosse. Royal Roots formally took off in 1997, as a creative culture communication hub, with TV production outfit, Radio stations and collaborative agencies.

Some of the movies Royal Roots has produced include Beyond Blood, the widely applauded romantic drama starring Kehinde Bankole, Joseph Benjamin, Bimbo Manuel and Deyemi Okanlawon, directed by Odutayo himself, released in 2016 and Ìlékè, a Yoruba language full length feature co-produced with Deji Etiwe and Al-basit. Some of RR’s  TV Productions include House Apart, Tides of Fate, Edge of Paradise, My Mum & I, About to Wed and Soul Sistas.  The company has delivered on loads of  other kinds of programming. It produced Deal or No Deal Nigeria, Knorr Taste Questa Cooking Reality show, amongst others.

“WE HAVE BEEN BUGGED DOWN WITH BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE”, Odutayo says of the last four years of construction of the Royal Roots Cinemall, a Cinema and a Mall, located in the plush suburb of Ikota, in the heart of Lekki. The anchor tenant is the Cinema, but the Mall features 18 shops ranging from 5sqm to 267sqm. with spaces for Supermarket, Saloon, Beauty shops, Boutique, Bakery, Fast food etc.

So much for real estate.  

”We’re going back to production”, Odutayo contends. “Because production fed the infrastructure. How much has CBN given us? It’s less than twenty percent of what we have here now. And we’re like ninety-five percent complete.

”Return on investment on Cinema is like between seventeen and twenty percent. What we want to set up is a one stop shop. Creation, production, distribution, exhibition, media. So we are creating our content here, distributing it here and to other cinemas, exhibiting it in our own cinemas. Selling it to other places where we can make money, putting it on TV, supporting it with radio, that’s the whole value chain for us. Everything happens in here at Media City.

“We have a radio license for Lagos, we have one running in Ibadan. R2. Royal Roots station. 107.1 is Lagos. 92.9 is Ibadan.”

Still it’s hard to discuss any sizeable business idea in Nigeria without a nod to the daunting challenges of electricity.

“We’ve been on diesel since yesterday,” he informs us. “We have our own transformer. We had to be ingenious. We have a 350kv generator, a 250kv and a 27 kv to run off peak. It’s crazy when you look at it from that perspective. The market has no elbow room for you as an entrepreneur.

“We have started repaying. A year and half now. And we have not started business.”

We were interested in the safety of equities, of course.

“My wife and I own 60 percent. What LBS and street intelligence have taught me is that you have to be careful how you do business in Nigeria. I’ve seen too many take overs. You need to have directors who are in tune with you. Who have the same vision with you. Sometimes, investors may not start off as greedy. Greed may come in later.

Control room Deal or No Deal Nigeria

“We’re able to do this because we have directors who are entrusting. It has pros and cons. But you don’t want directors who are breathing down your neck, putting you under pressure. I’m lucky to have directors who said, ‘We like this vision and we’re buying into it.’ And they left us to do other things and we are confident. I’m not sure if we’ll get those kinds of people again. Which is why I’m not certain about divesting in future. If you’re going to do forty-nine percent, you must be holding preferential shares. If you’re not, they can take you out. It’s good to do business with people who are like minds, who share the vision with you and you can grow the business together.”

Nollywood is gaining traction worldwide. Hopefully, indigenous professionals like Greg Odutayo will continue to be worthy players who can grow our show business stakes in global film space.

Aoiri Obaigbo was editor, Mister Magazine, and Associate Producer, Energy this Week on Africa Independent Television. The author of Proverb Child, shortlisted for the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize in 1992, and a play, Re-incarnation, a BBC World Service finalist, Obaigbo attended the University of Benin and received his Masters in Literature from the University of Lagos. His novels include: The Wretched Billionaire and The Virgin Widow. He will be a frequent contributor to Bookartville.com

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