Film making is tough business. It requires a lot of capital yet comes with significant uncertainty in terms of profitability even among the best of producers. But in a developing industry like that of Ghana’s, fraught with challenges of inadequate capital, copyright infringement and piracy, the ability to make profits is even dimmer.
The history of the industry traces back to the 1920’s when the British colonial masters first introduced cinematography as a form of entertainment among the elite. By 1960 the government had inherited the industry from its colonial masters and established the Ghana Film Corporation. It trained promising filmmakers purposely for education and socio-economic development. By the 1980’s films were made independently after government sold its majority interest in the state film industry.
The popular movie ‘Love Brewed in the African Pot’ produced by the legendary Kwaw Ansah was the first independent movie to hit Ghanaian cinemas by 1981, however the absence of government support plunged the industry into turmoil with producers depending on the appeal of their movies to raise funds. Decades on, the Ghanaian film industry has weathered the storms and continues to be a major player in film making on the continent with hundreds of popular films produced each year. However, the growth of the industry has been stalled with persistent issues of poor infrastructure, inadequate finance, breakdown in distribution and marketing channels and the biggest of all, copyright infringements and piracy. Together, these factors erode profits of stakeholders in the film industry.
“Assuming you invest about GHC 5,000 into a production, you would expect to in the least, break even. But achieving that currently, is a huge hurdle in Ghana ” exclaimed Cecil Sunkwah-Mills the Managing Director of MultiChoice Ghana, one of the four speakers in a webinar organized by the National Film Authority (NFA) under the theme “Prospects of the Pitch Series for the Ghana Film Industry”.
He recounts how MultiChoice as one of the few internal investors in Ghana’s film industry had battled with copyright infringements and piracy over the years “we often spend loads of money fighting to protect the copyright of content we buy both locally and internationally. Even if arrests are made, the legal process is really slow and frustrating. If we really want to attract investors, we’ll have to get the courts grinding on issues of right protection”.
Very often government and industry authorities garner efforts to address the challenges and streamline activities in the film making industry. In 2016 for instance Parliament passed the “Development and Classification of Film Bill’ to regulate and advance the country’s film industry.
At present, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) has also intensified efforts of drawing needed investment into the industry. According to the CEO of the Centre Mr. Yofi Grant, a number of investors have been engaged to explore opportunities in the country’s film industry. “ a group from Los Angeles has expressed interest in setting up a state of the art film studio and a theatre in art school here in Ghana, having identified a potential market in the sub-region and continent that warrants such investments”. He disclosed on the same NFA webinar Others he said, have expressed interest in projects in the Eastern Region and in the provision of technologies for film production.
But to make these investments succeed, Mr. Grant pointed out that some teething problems in the industry had to be addressed. “There are three things investors want to be sure about before putting their money forward i.e. Returns on investment, Sustainability and Growth”. I daresay “it’s time we moved from potential to actualization” he emphasized.
Across the globe, the film industry has proven to be a major contributor to economic development of many countries. The American film and television industry for instance paid out $49 billion to local businesses across the country and supported 2.1 million jobs in 2016 according to data from Motion Picture Association of America.
In Africa, Nigeria’s Film industry, Nollywood, is recognized as one of the largest film producers in the world. The Industry has been identified as one of the priority sectors in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan for the West African Federal State with a planned US$1 billion revenue in 2020 according to a PWC report on “Perspectives from the Global Media and Entertainment Outlook 2017-2021.
Although the Ghanaian and Nigerian movie industries share some similarities in terms of potential and even challenges, it is evident that Nollywood has outpaced the Ghanaian film industry due to a number of factors including, the larger size of the Nigerian market and the growing financial sector support for the industry’s activity.
Despite lagging behind its biggest competitor; the Nigerian film industry, Actress and Executive Secretary of the National Film Authority Juliet Asante, opines that the challenges inherent in the Ghanaian film business, though troubling cannot derail the industry which is rich with talent. “One thing I saw from submissions for the NFA Pitch Series is that there isn’t a lack of talent or creativity in content for multiple platforms”. She was right. Multi Choice Academy Director Femi Odugbemi shares the same sentiment about the wealth of talent in the industry having coached participants in the NFA Pitch Series.
But talent may not be enough, for the CEO of the GIPC Yofi Grant and the MD of Multi Choice Ghana Cecil Sunkwa-Mills. Both agreed that consented effort by industry players and government to fix structural challenges in the industry is crucial. This includes addressing of copyright and piracy infringements, infrastructure development, fixing of distribution and marketing channels and data collection.
With these measures in place, Yofi Grant admitted, , it becomes easier to woo investors. “once you put out your project and can properly define it, you can then make it sell to potential investors”. Meanwhile the State, he adds, must create an ambient condition with laws and incentives to help develop the industry to its full potential seeing as it’s a part of our cultural process, identity and pride.
The Pitch Series on the other hand according to Multi Choice Academy Director Femi Odugbemi will put efforts into amassing premium projects in different genres which can attract investment funding in the long run.
The NFA Pitch Series is an all film-related pitching event intended to bring filmmakers and the Ghanaian film ecosystem to the attention of investors, broadcasters, distributors, sponsors and platforms around the world for potential collaboration, sponsorship, sales and advertising opportunities. It is a combined effort by the National Film Authority, the Ministry of Arts and Culture, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre and MultiChoice Ghana to attract investments necessary to chart a brighter course for the Ghanaian film industry.
Moving the Ghanaian film industry from its nascent state to a more booming one with the right structures, incentives and investments will see the industry become a major contributor to economic development with spill over benefits such as job creation and revenue generation from local patronage and export of content.