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Nobody knows, anything

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PHOTO: Niyi Akinmolayan

“Nobody knows anything” was coined by American Novelist and Screenwriter Steven Pressfield in his 1983 book, “Adventures In the Screentrade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting”.

Goldman chronicled his years as a screenwriter in Hollywood, a period he won two Academy Awards for screenwriting. Wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and the beloved and quotable film, The Princess Bride (1987).

Nobody knows anything, is the summation of how Hollywood works, with a brilliant screenplay, A-list actor, a hit making director and a huge budget, a film can still fail. An example – WaterWorld (1995), a $175m budget film with one of the biggest stars in the world at the time. It failed spectacularly and critically. On the other hand, My Big Fat Greek wedding (2002) a film by an unknown screenwriter, unknown lead/cast and moderate budget was one of the biggest films of the year.

For decades of commercial cinema, movie stars sold movies; a person who you could put on a poster and it put butts in seats who probably didn’t even check the premise. But in the late 60s when audiences got tired of rom coms with Doris Day Rock Hudson and even previous box office star, Julie Andrews. Low budget films like Easy Rider (1969) with a $400,000 budget broke the dam making $41m and blazed a path for the American New Wave. Allowing studios to finance young filmmakers with new stories to tell, introducing the world to Robert DeNiro, Jack Nicholson, Brian DaPalma, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg etc actors and filmmakers who would redefine American cinema.

Just three years before Easy Rider, if you had mentioned a low budget film having such a huge impact, and a film starring American sweethearts tanking, you would have become the joke of the town. Nobody knows anything.
Nollywood is not that different. Star power in 2019 is not what it was circa 1994 – 2004, when certain names sold out VHS/VCDs units within days. When certain names caused marketers to empty their pockets because casting that person brought more than 100% profit in some cases.

Does comedy sell more than all other genres because that is what people want or are other factors responsible for the disparity? Is there research to back up that people love comedy more, or they simply don’t trust Nollywood filmmakers to deliver on action, horror, thriller etc? Nobody knows anything.

What’s the guarantee a big budget film with the best available gear and popular stars would make its money? In 2016 two highly respected filmmakers Izu Ojukwu’s and Steve Gukas released, 76 and 93 Days respectively. They had big budgets and fresh stories but performed low in the box office. So why didn’t audiences who have asked for something different show up? Nobody knows anything.

During an interview with the Chicago Tribune while promoting his book ‘Which lie did it tell’. Goldman stood by what he had written “It’s always a crap shoot. That’s what causes the insecurity that pervades this industry. The only thing that sells movies is word-of-mouth, and you can’t fabricate that. It drives the executives mad”

The Blair Witch Project (1999) – $60k budget, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) – $5m budget , Paranormal Activity(2007) – $11,000 budget, Get Out (2017 )- $5m budget became box office hits, clocking $248m, $368m, $193m, $255m respectively.

None of these films had big names, all were by first time directors and none had an A lister to put on the Marquee and promote the film. Nobody knows anything.

There are factors which increase the probability of a film being financially successful marketing being a huge factor but there is no guaranteed formula.

I personally look forward to a time when a Nigerian film from an unknown director and cast can have similar reception of The Blair Witch Project or My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Banking N100m from word of mouth and repeated viewing by those who see it and return with their friends to see it.

Who will it be? It may you or it may be someone by your side. Nobody knows anything.


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