With the opening of three new production studios, will Nigeria generate a production ecology with real pulling power?

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Outside of South Africa, there is no country on the continent that has a full-service production ecology. This elusive full-service ecology is a mixture of production and post-production facilities, skills and talent that draws film and TV makers like a honey-pot. It may sound ridiculous now but Nigeria has a chance to become a contender for this role with three new production and post-production complexes opening, the latest being Hi-TV’s Paradise Studios which opens this week. Russell Southwood sees which way the wind might blow.

The three new production facilities that have opened (or will in the near future) are: Rapid Blue’s Within the Box; MNet Nigeria’s production facility; and Hi-TV’s Paradise Studios. Rapid’s Blue’s In the Box was set up to handle its format productions for Nigeria and has a 1,200 sq metres studio space. At present, it only post-production for its own shows but will add in post-production for others later.

DStv is building a big studio complex in Lagos to produce local content for Supersports and MNet. Supersports’ Head of Africa Gary Rathbone told us:” We’re going to be doing Supersports with new local presenters in Kenya and Nigeria. My focus is to take what we do in South Africa and customise it for the rest of the continent. So there things like live rugby from Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria (with the Black Stallions). We’re trying to maintain production standards across the continent.” The studio will also produce magazine programming from Nigeria.

But the biggest of three announcements is Paradise Studios from Nigeria’s Pay TV challenger Hi-TV. It has taken Cross River State’s Tinapa Studios in Calabar, built as part of the Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort and is re-launching it.

According to Edmund Olotu, Head of Strategy and International Business Development at HiTV:”..the vision is for it to be the hub of TV and audio-visual production. We came in with a working knowledge and want to make it a more noble affair.” It is a 7,000 sq metres complex built over five stories and is capable of accommodating anything from live concerts and shows to sitcoms. Apparently Cross Rivers State is trying to create an “enabling environment” and Calabar is only a 50 minute flight from the madness that is Lagos.

So why take your production all the way to Calabar? According to Olotu, “…there’s a lot of new talent in Nigeria and we need to find a place to have that talent. Currently post-production goes to South Africa, New York or London. This will enable us to offer studio production and post-production in Nigeria. We can help release productions made there via our Pay TV channel. HiTV itself will do reality shows, sitcoms and music videos there.”.

But what about the talent? ”We have bought in Sanjay Das from India. He set up one of the first studios in India. You know the quality of output from India and we want to learn from that.”

At this moment, the contrasts between South Africa and Nigeria as production destinations could not be greater. South Africa attracts both international advertising and Hollywood production work. It has small but well developed national film production sector with films that win international prizes. Its Government provides funding for production and industry development agencies and it has a number of high profile film festivals. Its film-makers travel across the continent to work. Nevertheless, Africa’s media market is now DISCOP in Dakar and Nairobi, not the now-closed Sithengi in Cape Town.

By contrast, Nigeria seems rather unpromising. Anyone who has been caught in Lagos traffic will tell you how it makes getting anything done (let alone on time and on budget) near impossible. Its hotels are outrageously expensive and the place is not overflowing with great restaurants. Costs are high and the power is unreliable. The Government is beginning to realise that Nollywood is an asset but there is no vision to turn that into a way of bringing this kind of work to the country.

That said, it was a wise person who once said, never underestimate a Nigerian. As those who have produced there will tell you, there’s no lack of talent. The arrival of external production companies will create a more demanding atmosphere for it to work in. The scale of its home market and the unique business model of Nollywood gives it a couple of pragmatic advantages that would be hard to replicate elsewhere. So maybe, just maybe, Nigeria will become a continental contender that can attract production and post-production from elsewhere.