30 Days in Atlanta grosses over N100 million in box office sales
IF Nigeria had twice the number of standard cinema screens it currently boasts, (only 70 digital screens as against South Africa’s 1,100 and India’s 13,000), then 30 Days in Atlanta, the feel good comic movie by stand up comedian and actor Ayo Makun (AY) would probably have grossed twice the amount of money it reportedly made from the 3-month theatrical release.
The movie, which featured AY, Ramsey Nouah and some top American actors sold out and shattered previous box office records held by Nigerian movies. It opened in major cinemas across the country late in October 2014, but by the close of December 2014, the distributors – Silverbird Distribution Company, an arm of Silverbird Group – was already posting N90 million as gross ticket sales. For most observers, the N90 million saes figure is in itself is unprecedented considering that movies that get to the theatre in Nigeria hardly make more than N60 million gross.
Sometimes, gross earning for a movie is as worse as N100,000. However, as at last December the distribution company had projected that 30 Days in Atlanta could hit another unprecedented N100 million mark if it screened in the cinema after Christmas and New Year holidays. And that was what played out. By close of last week, the distribution company declared N135 million for the well-helmed movie, making it the highest grossing Nigerian movie ever.
Before now distributors either mentioned critically acclaimed movies like Ije by Chineze Anyeane (which reportedly grossed N60 million), Jenifa by Funke Akindele (grossed N50 million), Figurine by Kunle Afolayan (grossed N50 million) or Tango With Me by Mahmood Ali-Balogun as the highest grossing Nigerian movies at cinema box offices. Ije made about N60 million showing in less than 50 screens while Mahmood Ali Balogun’s Tango With Me grossed almost the same amount, but in about 60 screens.
But that narrative has changed with AY’s 30 Days in Atlanta, a simple story about the exploits of a first time visitor to the United States. Nollywood has been celebrating the success of the movie at the box office. However, the said amount will be taxed and the distributor and cinema owners get a chunk out of it, what the producer’s eventual take home would probably not cover the cost of producing and promoting the movie shot on locations in Nigeria and the U.S. Nevertheless, analysts say it is an encouraging development because it shows a growth pattern in the number of moviegoers, especially those who pay to see a good Nigerian movie. Moreover, it proves that Nigerians will go out to the theatre to see movie once it is a good one.
Analysts also say that the success of the movie at the box office will inspire filmmakers to invest in the production of quality films with appealing stories. But they also argue that what would likely keep many filmmakers away from theatrical releases is the heavy tax on gross revenue and the small number of screens available for them.
“The tax that government charges and the service charge and percentage that we have to pay the distributors and cinema owners is killing,” lamented a filmmaker recently, who preferred anonymity. “Government charges 15 per cent as tax, the distributors take another 15, then the cinema owner grabs 25 or 30 depending on the negotiation and you that made the goose that laid the eggs will be left with about 35 or 30 percent. I doubt if AY will get half of the amount they declared as take home money. It is that frustrating”.
The issue of heavy tax and the percentage that the middlemen draw from the gross revenue aside, one other problem that makes theatrical release unattractive is inadequate number of digital screens. Critics have opined that Nigeria needs more movie screens for the sales figures for theatrical release to make meaning to filmmakers.
Former President, Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Madu Chikwendu, argues that Nigeria, even though regarded as the giant of Africa, is a cinema-deficient country. According to him, “We are deficient and there is no doubt about it. What we have here is almost one cinema screen per million people whereas in places like India and the United States there are 20 and 120 screens per million respectively. Meanwhile, new cinema houses are still being building because the population is ever increasing. So, the number of theatres here is not enough. We need to organise the retail side of cinema so that more and more people will come to the cinema”.
Leading filmmaker and chairman of newly licensed Audio Visual Rights Society of Nigeria (AVRS), Ali-Balogun also stated that the screens were too few compared to the volume of ongoing film production and Nigeria’s population. “Almost twenty years after the boom we are still talking about 70 screens when South Africans are looking at adding to their 1,100 figure. People need to be encouraged to invest in cinemas, especially community cinemas. We should have them in various towns and villages and not just keep all of them in cities. Most of those who enjoy and love seeing Nollywood movies are in the town and villages. We must reach out to them too in their locales because at the moment cinema is too elitist even in terms of pricing and that has kept many of them away”.
He added that the trend in most developed and developing societies is to establish multiplexes not only in the big cities, but in council areas and villages.
Of the few companies involved in cinema retail business in Nigeria, one company that is keen in establishing cinemas not just in the big cities but also in smaller towns is the Kene Mkparu-led Filmhouse. With its commitment to roll out 25 cinemas in Nigeria by 2018, and take cinema entertainment to every region, Filmhouse – by far the fastest growing cinema chain in Africa – has added a 5-screen 2015 super digital model in Lagos at The Apapa Mall, Apapa. Filmhouse Apapa has five digital screens including two 3D screens. All screens have 7.1 Surround sound, High Frame Rate (HFR) and stadium luxury seating.
Promoted as the first of Filmhouse cinemas’ 2015 models to be launched and located at The Apapa Mall by Liverpool Road, Apapa, Mkparu, was full of gratitude to God for the launch. He said, “Setting up a cinema is quite an arduous task. So, seeing this brand new cinema, and more importantly, seeing our guests happy to get their own local cinema makes me give thanks to God for making this possible. In addition, this cinema will also contribute to the all-important distribution outlets that Nollywood film producers need to realize more revenue from their films”.
Mkparu later told The Guardian that as part of the launch, Filmhouse was offering moviegoers the opportunity to experience cinema entertainment by introducing what he called ‘Everything na N100’. He explained that “every day between 10am and 12noon everything, including cinema ticket, popcorn, ice cream and groundnut at most Filmhouse cinemas, including Apapa, is priced N100’. He also said “cinema is no longer just for a select class of the population. We aim to ensure that every Nigerian adult and child living within five-mile radius of a Filmhouse Cinema will visit the cinema at least three times a year. With the N100 everyone in our neighbourhood can now enjoy our cinemas non-stop”.