If there is any institution where you can readily get the verdict on how well or otherwise Nigerian films have performed at the box office, Silverbird Cinemas is one of the first places to go. The reason is that it has been in business for 10 years, thus being one of the oldest and most consistent in recent times. And the company’s General Manager, Mr. Ayotunde Bababunmi, has much to say in this regard.
For instance, he does not mince words on which film has mostly succeeded at the cinema in recent years. According to him, Ije broke the box office records within a week of its cinema release.
“Asides the fact that we have had many fantastic premieres at our cinema, we witnessed a major Nigerian movie that competed favourably with the foreign movies showing at that time. That is Ije produced by Chineze Anyaeze. It grossed over N50m and the figure was not made up. Other Nollywood movies have the potential to make close to that or more but none has been close. Jenifa raked in over N30m .An indigenous movie can make a lot of money if the production is top notch. A few of them (producers) know that with a very good storyline Nigerians will watch it,” he says.
While some persons argue that the near-monopoly being enjoyed by Silverbird Cinema through the years has come under threat from the new wave of cinemas that are springing up in some strategic locations across the country, Bababunmi calls their bluff.
“It is possible for new players to come into the system but they have to sit down and do their homework well, because the standard we put in place over time cannot be compromised. That being said, the market is big enough for all.
“We can’t be everywhere even though we aim to be sighted in major areas of the county. We all know that Nigeria is one of the emerging markets and it will remain so for a long time. We are in advanced stages of opening cinemas in different African countries,” he tells our correspondent in his review of the first decade of the cinema’s existence.
He reels out the score card of the outfit to include satisfying the yearnings of the cinema-loving populace.
“We also plan to have a cinema by the first quarter of 2015 in Festac Town, Lagos, and we will also be commissioning our third cinema in Ghana as well. We make sure we don’t compromise standards because we are very proud of how far we have come. As we speak, the Silverbird Galleria is being renovated to meet the global standards which have since gone digital. We have begun our own conversion today to digital projectors down to the floor.”
Despite the role it is playing in the advancement of Nollywood movies, the outfit still receives some backlash from aggrieved producers, unhappy about what they allege to be the 80-20 sharing formula on proceeds of movies it screens. For instance, in a recent interview with this correspondent, actor-turned filmmaker, Desmond Elliot, alleged being paid only 20 per cent of cinema earnings.
Bababunmi, however, attributes such claims to ignorance on the part of some ‘uninformed’ producers.
He says, “The problem stems from the ignorant ones among these producers. Some producers, who want to be knowledgeable, ask relevant questions and understand the process completely. You will notice that those who complain still come back to us at the same time because we give our local titles more preference.
“Some release movies and expect to make all the money from the cinemas. Overseas, if you spend $10m on a movie, you expect to make $3m from cinema, another $3m from the pay- to-view, another $ 3m from free-to-air and about $1m from DVD sales. You almost can’t make $10m from just the cinemas but if it happens in theatre release, then consider yourself very lucky.
“Our partners overseas know how much we rake in the first few days of release, so when you send the final statement, they are comfortable with it. These numbers don’t lie because there is a trend. When the Nigerian titles complain we simply ask them to study the trends. It is cheaper to declare what you made than cheat because the latter is too stressful.”
A popular saying has it that desperate times require desperate measures. This saying is true with regards to how the firm manages to curb activities of pirates, who have grown to be a ‘terror’ to many entertainment players.
Describing how the activities of the pirates are handled at his end, Bababunmi reveals that they simply resorted to investing in cutting-edge technology.
“We are proud to say that our products have been pirate-free. Even though they try to bring in their camcorder to record a full-length movie in the cinema hall, it is impossible to do so, except an internal person is involved and that is what we try to avoi,” he adds.
He shows the correspondent a laser-beam equipment which detects the slightest move of a would-be-pirate while a film is showing on the large screens. He says, pointing to the object, “With this, we can spot a pirate whether he is using a camcorder, pen or mobile phone. We have put these in place to guard against anyone trying to record anything.”
Like every business venture, the Silverbird Cinemas does have its own share of worries too.
“A major challenge we face is with the Censors Board and its classification. Where they rate a movie already rated 15 as 18, it reduces the number of viewers . When this happens, we cut out a lot of geography that can’t watch the film,” Bababunmi adds. (Punch)