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Not all films are meant for the cinema


In 2017 there was a recurrent gripe from annoyed Nollywood patrons who saw certain films, “Why did they bother taking this to the cinema”, “some films should go to DVD straight” and similar gripes. They went in expecting an experience and did not get it, so, why should some films be seen in the cinema and others not?

The theatrical/cinema experience has been a core part of filmmaking and cinema history. Sitting in a room with 100+ strangers, staring at a screen, immersed in the world of the story and the journey it takes you. In the early days of cinema in the US, men would wear tuxedos and ladies gown, because going to “the pictures” was a big deal.

Suddenly in the 1950s the average American home could afford a television set, this reflected ticket sales.

Cinema patronage dropped as more people stayed at home and were entertained for free. The exhibitors and distributors realized that if they didn’t do something and do it fast, they’d go out of business, so they decided to give the audience something they could not get at home.

This was, Cinerama, a widescreen process that originally projected images simultaneously from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply curved screen, subtending 146° of arc. It filled the seats, sold popcorn and was the catalyst for Cinemascope, VistaVision, Panavision, all giving a more immersive experience, saving exhibitioners from going out of business.

Nollywood’s film history is the reverse. For the first decade films were made to be seen on a television screen; it was a home video industry as there was no cinema culture, save for some places in the North. VHS tapes were the sole source of distribution; the stories and shooting style worked for the square box on tube-based televisions and directors who came from TV or theatre brought that with them. But as cinemas re-emerged circa 2005, several Nollywood producers decided their films should be theatrically exhibited.

The problem?
Many of the films were still written and directed as if the TV screen was its final viewing platform. Another factor is that film is a visual medium; using images, light, shadow, mise-en-scène yet many of these movies still remain largely dialogue heavy, like sitcoms and soaps with little or no visual storytelling.

Not every film is meant to go to the cinema hall; some stories are best suited for home viewing and that is why there are; made for TV movies, straight to DVD options, video on demand & streaming. Internationally, the Hallmark and Lifetime channels are known for exclusively making films for their televisions channels. Locally, Ebony Life and ROK television commission television movies for their platforms.

There is a distinction between, made for TV and theatrical features, ranging from running time, act structure, star power and even the types of story being told. In terms of technical differences: the frame rate, aspect ratio (width and height of the image), the frame and how it is composed. Directors of Made for TV movies compose for the frame of a television which is inches; those for theatrical exhibition keep in mind a 45-50ft screen where it will be projected. This determines how the director positions actors, props for the screen.

One homebased filmmaker who understands the theatrical exhibition is Kunle Afolayan, particularly in his films October 1 and The CEO. The stories and cinematography were ambitious, had scope, scale, spectacle and the cinematography was used to give it a grandeur feel. Akin Omotoso’s Man on Ground and Vaya also provide this experience.

For the record, development has now made the technology used in television and film more indistinguishable than it was even 10 years ago. The same camera used to shoot a telenovela can also be used to shoot a N1OOm feature film. But who wants to sit in a dark cinema to watching a film that looks and feels no different from a television show?

Taking a film “by force” to the cinema just because a producer wants to have the bragging rights and a premiere covered by blogs and entertainment channels needs to end, as its doing more damage than good. Not all films are meant for the cinema and that should not be seen as a bad thing, the origin of Nollywood is home viewing.

When attending a concert, there is an expectation that the concert experience is different from listening to the CD at home, even if it’s the same songs. People going to the cinema want an experience that justifies the ticket price, leaving the comfort of their couch and sitting in a dark room with a 100+ strangers consuming overpriced popcorn and sugar water. Giving them that experience is part of that deal a filmmaker signs and once broken, they stop paying for tickets and go on social media to let their friends know not to waste their money.

Hopefully in 2018, patrons won’t have to wonder why a film was allowed to screen in the cinema. Happy New Year.

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