The Nigerian Film Industry – or “Nollywood” -- is the world’s third largest film industry, however many would have difficulty naming a single “Nollywood” film. The reason for this incredible situation is simple; Nollywood films are badly written.
Screenwriting is not respected in “Nollywood” – where the films tend to be rushed into production without properly written scripts in place. The writers are not paid well, or properly respected. The result of this neglect is that the films the industry produces are generally of a low quality – and worse often do not make a lot of sense.
Much of the reason for this is economic. In Nigeria, screenwriters are paid little or nothing for their work. To a producer, paying a screenwriter is considered an unnecessary luxury.
I have heard tales in Nigeria of how directors and producers expect a script to be written for them in days by a writer, who often has to support him or herself with a full time job in the meantime. The script is a necessary evil, something which has to be “gotten out of the way”, and is regarded as rather a “nuisance.”
On a more specific level, the culture of writing is not valued – directors frequently use first drafts as shooting scripts – or expect last minute revisions from the writer on the spot at no extra charge.
The Writer and The Director in Perspective
Teaching screenwriting class in Nigeria last summer, I heard how the most common fear of a local writer was to be over-written by the director or even the actors. I discovered an array of brilliant young writers, but many of whom did not even expect to be paid for their work – or in some cases – even receive credit for the script.
An entire resource was being wasted; at the summer workshop where I taught, some directors even chose to simply write the script themselves and ignore the writers at their disposal, regarding them clearly as “competitors.” In short, all of these things add up to one simple problem – a complete lack of respect for the screenwriter.
One of the deeper causes of this problem is a profound insecurity on the part of the director. In almost every case, the great directors of our time have usually been writers first and foremost.
They have been people conversant with the language of storytelling – skilled at weaving together plot strands and characters into a screenplay. They have been writers, before becoming directors of their own.
Screenwriting: Foundation for Good Filmmaking
Quentin Tarantino – the founder of modern independent cinema, was foremost a writer – his scripts being sold in Hollywood before he convinced anyone to let him direct. The same is true of almost any number of influential directors – such as Oliver Stone or Francis Ford Coppola or Ingmar Bergman.
The greatest training for any director is to be a writer. Of course, there are many exceptions – Alfred Hitchcock, for example was not a writer and never claimed to be, yet he worked closely with his screenwriters in order to achieve the vision that he wanted (a vision which he meticulously storyboarded himself after the script had been written).
Many directors today simply do not want to put the time in – or are unable to work collaboratively with screenwriters, who are regarded as unfortunate junior partners or as competitors in the enterprise of making a film.
In an age when the Director has apparently become a star in his own right – many young directors are simply impatient for fame. The unfortunate truth for them is however, that the visual language with which they work, must be written first on the page.
There is an even darker reason for “Nollywood’s” continual low quality – the fear of the Producer that Nigerian audiences will not “notice quality if they see it.” They fear that where quality is not even acknowledged or rewarded by audiences, then there is simply no incentive to attempt to produce it.
The truth of the matter is though, that brilliantly told stories sell themselves, and when the industry decides to rectify this problem and acknowledge the enormous talent base it is ignoring, Nigerian cinema will finally be able to compete internationally.