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The power of collaborating in films

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Over the course of the history of cinema, there have been several milestones created by artists who came together to collaborate and create something special. Now, while all of filmmaking is collaborative, what is referenced here particularly is when artists live out the definition – Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM), putting aside ego and selfishness, and leaning on each other to allow each individual achieve his goal with the support of the team.

In Hollywood, one of the earliest examples was United Artists, an American film and television entertainment studio, founded in 1919 by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. The premise was founded on allowing actors to control their own interests, rather than being dependent upon commercial studios. This was to allow them create and control their own projects and gain more financial benefit. It was a Joint Venture and each held a 25 per cent stake in the preferred shares and a 20 per cent stake in the common shares of the joint venture.

In the 70s, several directors, labelled, The Movie Brats, burst into the scene in Hollywood. Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Copolla, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese all came out, revolutionizing the cinema experience. The old school Hollywood filmmakers and studios couldn’t find the pulse of the audience and were making films, which didn’t appeal to theatre patrons.

Copolla founded, American Zoetrope with Lucas, their friends and fellow filmmakers. Carol Ballard, John Millus, Walter Murch, Caleb Deschanel are the legacy of that collaboration. The ideals of Zoetrope were to empower filmmakers to make the films they wanted to make, on their own term, very similar to what United Artists set out to do. While AZ went under, it was the gestation for some of the most influential screenwriters, directors and editors who changed the way films were made American Cinema, a ripple effect still felt this day.

Similar to American Zoetrope and in a less official way the 3 Musketeers from Mexico; Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim) and Alejandro Innaritu (The Revenant) are all friends from very early in their career. All Oscar winners now, they gave each other feedback on their projects, from script to post production and supported each other all the way. It’s safe to say, without this kind of support they gave each other, they probably won’t have achieved as much as they have today.

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino forged a friendship and creative collaboration when they met at a film festival when Rodriguez made his film El Mariachi. Rodriguez would go on to direct From Dusk till Dawn, from a screenplay written by Tarantino, and Desperado, where Tarantino appeared in a minor role to deliver a manic monologue. They also made their Grind House movies, while not financially successful; it was a love letter to the cinema of their youth.

Collaboration is more powerful than the lone wolf or lone ranger (even he had Tonto). When creatives collaborate they are able to lean on each other, help shape their work, chip away non-essentials and give tough critical feedback before an expensive mistake is made.
Members of the Yoruba travelling theatre who ventured into the home video era, practiced this, working on each other’s films, sharing the cost, bartering time and sweat equity.

Trust, however, is a factor, which stops a lot of collaboration amongst many of today’s filmmakers. Some have been burned when they tried it, some are too short sighted to see the long term vision and only want to get the benefits and soon the partnership dissolves, often in anger and destroyed relationships.

On a bigger level, the ELFIKE group was the formation of EbonyLife, Filmone, Inkblot, Koga to make The Wedding Party; a film, which would have been to much of a financial investment for one studio alone to bear. While not the same as individual filmmakers coming together for a singular vision, it’s a good example of the possibility in Nigeria.

Regardless of what you think of The Wedding Party, the shared resources were invaluable to its profitability; Ebony Life’s TV platform to bombard viewers with information, trailers and promotions of the film: Film One, as a distributor and exhibitor, Koga’s studio and equipment and Inkblot as a production company supplying the screenplay.

What if as individuals, rather than making multiple low-budget films which struggle to make a profit, have a micro short shelf life and are quickly forgotten; how about shared risk and profit?

Young filmmakers who don’t have visibility, a reputation, family commitment and other entanglements will benefit from such collaborations, whether it be in short films, web-series or feature films, who knows, they may go on to make the same impact as American Zoetrope, as Copolla and the company he co-founded was credited with launching the career of young filmmakers; kicked the door off its hinges may be a more appropriate description, however temporary it may have been!Collaboration may just be what is required to jumpstart a new wave of filmmaking in Nigeria, creatively and financially.


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