Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry is the second largest film industry in the world. Its rapid expansion is as a result of the innovative use and quick adaptation of new media and digital technology.
The AWP Network met with leading Nollywood writer, executive producer, and co-founder of the Royal Arts Academy, Uduak Isong.
Founded in 2009 with business partner, Emem Isong, the Royal Arts Academy offers courses on various aspects of the film industry with an emphasis on script writing, acting, directing, dance, and children’s theater. The academy’s mission is to train, develop, and improve the skills of actors, writers, and directors in Nollywood.
The Royal Arts Academy has produced films such as Bursting Out, Uyai, Edikan, Guilty Pleasures, Nollywood Hustlers, Waterfalls, Reloaded, Memories of My Heart,Timeless Passion, Kiss and Tell, I’ll Take My Chances, Okon Lagos, Holding Hope, Misplaced Affections, Okon Goes to School, Udeme Mi, and Kokoma.
Uduak Isong holds a degree in Communications from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a Master’s degree in New Media and Society from the University of Leicester, England. Her short stories have won international awards such as the commonwealth short story competition and her film, Okon Lagos was nominated for best comedy at the African Film Festival and Academy Awards. In this interview, Isong shares business tips, challenges, and how she continues to push herself to be better.
How did you come up with the name of the business?
The name of the business? do you mean the Royal Arts Academy? My partner, Emem Isong, came up with that. The academy is her idea.
What inspired you to go into the Nollywood/movie business?
I have always been a writer so it is only natural to go into the movie business. I write everything from poetry to prose therefore, it just made sense to make the transition. Nollywood is lucrative and I found that I could express myself easily and without limitations or restrictions.
Who is your target market?
Everyday Nigerians. I write stories that the average Nigerian can relate to. I try to do more family stories. There isn’t a lot of that so I am making an attempt to fill in that gap – movies that the family can sit and enjoy together. I find that I can hardly watch Nigerian movies with my kids because many of the movies are not family friendly. I am always reaching for the remote to forward some [explicit] scenes.
How have you financed your movies/business?
I finance my business through my personal funds and family. My first movie was financed by family and I don’t stop borrowing from them. I always pay them back, so it’s easy to go back to ask for more.
What is your competitive edge?
My experience, my passion, and my hard work. Also, I have a very good team. Everyone that I work with is very passionate and dedicated – I am glad to have them on board.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
My plan is to make ‘that’ movie and also, to expand our distribution network. I would like to own my own distribution network. As they say “content is king” but distribution is “king-kong.” I think that our movies can do so much better commercially but we have to do more to make sure that it becomes easily accessible to the consumer. People keep talking about better quality movies (I’m not sure what they mean) but I won’t raise my budget unless I am guaranteed my money back.
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
The lack of electricity is a major challenge. Generators make too much noise. We make a joke on set that the software to remove the background generator noise is yet to be invented. The next major challenge is funding. I always work with a tight budget, it would be nice to have more than enough money at one’s disposal.
What five (5) key things have you learned since joining Nollywood?
I don’t know about five (5) key things but I have learned that all things are possible. If you want it badly enough, and you are willing to work hard, you will get it. No one will give it to you on a platter; you have to fight for it.
What five (5) key things do start-up movie producers/writers need to know?
(1) Just do it.
(2) Work with what you have and take it seriously. Sometimes people think that the movie industry is still an informal sector and that they don’t need to work so hard. Even though I am self-employed, I am always on time and ensure that I am in the office before 9am.
(3) There are no shortcuts to success. Acquire knowledge – this is important for a writer. You cannot be a writer, if you are not a reader first. Work for free if you must, the experience will come in handy. Sorry, did you say 5?
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
Money is good but the lack of it should not stop YOU. Think of ideas that won’t cost much money. Save and work towards the big idea. Again, if you want it badly enough, you will work hard to get it.
I think young people want things to happen overnight. Well, it won’t. Tuface has history, so does Emem Isong. It’s a process, a journey, and young people must be ready to walk the walk. Okon Lagos was not the first script that I wanted to produce but I knew that no one would give a newbie like me more than a certain amount of money so I thought of an inexpensive script that I could easily raise money for. I still haven’t produced that first script – I am still waiting for the right time.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
I want young people to know that an encouraging word can go a long way. I met a young man at TedXIfe, he owns a platform called Insidify. I supported him by advertising his business in my movie at no cost. Musicians also collaborate with us and let us use their songs for free. We must support each other. We are all we’ve got.
How many jobs have you created so far?
We work with an average of forty (40) crew members on each set and we probably shoot every other month – so that is 40 by 6 (240) crew members every year. The Royal Arts Academy has twenty (20) permanent staff. We also create jobs indirectly. For example, we host our crew in hotels while filming. Currently, we are filming in Bayelsa and have reserved about twenty (20) hotel rooms for about three (3) weeks. We spend money when we film, and we help keep jobs.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
Less of the hate, more encouragement. We seem to concentrate on faults here, almost looking out for them. There are two sides to every coin, but we seem to prefer the complaints. We also need to remove the “class consciousness” from our minds. Class should not matter. If a good idea comes from Mushin or Victoria Island, a bright idea is a bright idea. I think sometimes we feel, if it didn’t come from us, we won’t support it or it can’t be good enough.
Contact Uduak here: