Former banker Afolayan shakes up Nigerian pic biz

LAGOS — He might be the hottest thing in Nigerian cinema right now, but Kunle Afolayan was disgruntled on a recent afternoon at the offices of his production company, Golden Effects.

That morning Silverbird Media had pulled his third feature, “Phone Swap,” from its screens. Afolayan was convinced the chain — Nigeria’s largest — was retaliating for recent comments he had made that criticized the company’s revenue splits. Silverbird argued that ticket sales had dropped, and it was time to make way for new releases.

The film had grossed about $125,000 during its five-week theatrical run, a solid figure for a local pic. Afolayan felt the decision was personal. A frank, stocky man, he had the look of someone spoiling for a fight.

It was just one of many headaches for a director who has been at the forefront of a movement to raise the artistic bar for the Nigerian film biz. Since the helmer’s sophomore effort, “The Figurine,” met with international acclaim, he has been one of the industry’s leading lights.

But in many ways, Afolayan, a former banker whose father was the celebrated helmer known as Ade Love, is still learning the industry’s ropes.

Last month, he clashed with his distributor over the DVD release of “The Figurine,” which he called “a nightmare.” He thought the marketing strategy was poorly executed; nearly four months after the release, he still has no idea how many copies have sold.

Financing also remains a challenge. Afolayan estimates that roughly 40% of “Phone Swap’s” $370,000 budget came from corporate placements, with 40% from personal loans and the rest financed out of his own pocket.

A loan application for a Nigerian film fund that was announced in 2010, and just recently began disbursing funds, was rejected, because the banks wanted too much collateral.

“I didn’t have a dime, which is why I had to search for the money elsewhere,” he says.

In spite of the challenges, Afolayan is confident in the future of Nigerian film. While he has struggled to get DVD sales figures for “The Figurine,” the half-a-million print run reflects his confidence that original DVDs will still sell, in spite of Nigeria’s prolific pirates. The construction of new multiplexes across the country is also cause for optimism.

“With the rate at which cinemas are beginning to develop, if your budget is (around $310,000), and your film is good … I believe strongly that a film can actually gross $1 million,” he says.

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