DSLRs will kill Nollywood…or come close

filmsetNot too long ago, I used to say that Nollywood will shape up the day Clarence Peters and the new edition music video guys get into producing feature films for Nollywood. The conviction was strong. In my head, it made sense. Nollywood, after the days of Living In Bondage (the very beginning) has lost it’s way a little bit – hundreds of low quality movies are churned out every year, mostly lacking in depth and plot, but that really is a story for another day. Let’s stay on Clarence Peters. After seeing a few Capital music video productions, I believed there were a few people who could actually make decent productions in country, and it was a good day, when I finally met Clarence.

The meeting itself was nothing major – a friend was shooting his label artiste’s video with Banky W and Ice Prince featuring, so I stopped by. It turned out to be a Clarence Peters production, so I thought I might as well wait around to see how he does it. Judging from the productions I have seen on TV, I expected to see top quality equipment, all rigged up to fire. I was a little disappointed. Aside from a small hand operated crane, all that I saw was a mid-level DSLR camera and a big boom box. The studio was set up on three corners to shoot different scenes, and that was all.

Three hours later, with the shoot going decently well, I had completely gave up hope of seeing the big camera make an entrance. It did not. Three weeks later, the music video was delivered in a hard drive to the label – a full HD video, ready to go anywhere.

Over christmas 2012, I started experimenting with video on my DSLR. By tweaking my settings – the same settings I use to shoot photographs – for video, and setting the camera to shoot up to 30 minutes, I was ready to make short films on my casual pro camera. Of course moving from still photography to shooting video is not the easiest pivot to make, but what mattered at the moment was that I could shoot good looking HD videos just like Clarence Peters. All I needed was a high capacity memory card, which I already had. Joy.

Of course my original love for still photography meant that I wasn’t running out into the street shooting videos everyday, but it was good to know that I could, if I really wanted to. Fast forward to February, 2012 and we were expecting this film crew for an interview in the office. Again, I expected big video cameras, but again was surprised by a crew that showed up with a tripod, basic lights, microphone and a DSLR. After the interview, I had a conversation with with the head of the crew, who told me as a matter of fact, that he shoots everything with his Canon 7D. Everything including films, music videos, and weddings.

I have since met three film makers who shoot everything with their DSLRs. One of them, is a lady I met during social media week, who has a film shortlisted in the finals of Afrinolly short film competition. Yes, films shot on a DSLR could go that far.

So why am I spending all this time talking about people shooting films on DSLR cameras? Well, because Nollywood keeps disappointing, and has barely grown form where it was 10 years ago.

The major problem with Nollywood, has always been depth. There is a shortage of depth in the stories told via film. This is surprising because there are too many Nigerian stories waiting to be told. There is a story waiting to be told at every street corner in every Nigerian city, town or village. Yet, we have consistently been fed with the same tired lines, which do not seem ready to change. Many moreissues exist in the movie industry, which have limited the growth of Nollywood, but none of those should prevent us from telling real Nigerian stories.

The stagnation of mainstream Nollywood is an opportunity though; an opportunity to disrupt (yes, it’s that word again). I started with examples of films made on DSLR cameras for a reason. I thought it would be good to know that it is possible to make decent films using these simple pieces of equipment, which are becoming (relatively) cheaper. A standard $500 DSLR camera can shoot 30 minute HD films! So equipment can’t stop small independent film makers anymore. DSLRs can shoot in HD, and any decent laptop computer should help with some editing, however crude that may be.

There are tons of stories to be told, literally. No, we’re not talking big budget films – small films are a good place to start. Short films, 5-15 minutes could tell powerful stories. That’s why there’s a category for them in the Academy Awards. There are are entire awards dedicated to short films.

There is even better news for indie film makers – YouTube; it is there to get eyeballs and recognition. Better still, it’s all free. So if you ever dreamed of making films but have very little budget, this note is for you. Go out and get a DSLR camera.

At this point, I guess I should toast Nigeria’s indie film makers of the future. May your stories be great, and may the folks at Iweka Road put your name on a hit list. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

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The trouble with Nigeria’s education problem

I’ve just finished watching the Super Eagles reception. It was great fun watching our leaders pander to the footballers they had nearly abandoned. On a personal note, I couldn’t help wondering if the leaders would give that much time of day to the ordinary footballer on the street trying to make it. Even more to the point, Sunday Mba was just another struggling footballer three weeks ago – do the many struggling sports men and women in our country occupy any little patch of thought in the minds of our leaders, especially people whose jobs it is to administer the institutions of sports in Nigeria.

Let’s get it straight – I am not against the awards. Darn it, the boys made the nation proud, and united us all, albeit for a few heady hours. They deserve all they get. However, the question must be asked: have we built the foundations that are needed to produce more winning teams? All the little boys in the villages painting “MBA” on their green jerseys of all shapes and sizes, do they have the facilities to play on in order to become competitive? Does the Nigerian Football Federation have a program that allows these newly inspired children to be discovered and groomed for the future?

We keep failing when we hop on to reward one-off results, neglecting the building of foundations and institutions.

Worse still, we are in danger of painting a very bad picture of what really deserves rewarding in our country.

Awards. How many teachers have we honored nationally? How many engineers or doctors, doing brave things everyday in the face of harsh operational conditions get mentions at national level? When will we reward Mathematics teachers to make them feel valued, so kids see and want to become maths teachers too? The grassroots coaches who brought Mba up, they will never be on national TV, and that is a problem.

If we do not build institutions and a clear progression path for education at all levels, including sports, and reward the people who build those institutional pathways, we will continue to have sporadic results. Sadly, however the institution and foundation gap is widening.

Boko Haram is a clear result of the education gap, along with poverty and social inequality. Militancy and oil thievery in the Niger Delta is also a result of that education gap.

But the trouble with education problems is that you can’t just turn a tap on education and knowledge just flows. Education thrives on systematic planning and nurturing. The fruits do not come immediately. Fruits one wants to see in 15 years, the seeds must be sown today.

So one must ask the question: are we too late? Is the time frame within which we should have built a proper education system for the future expired? Maybe not, but certainly we have gone where past where we could have done it easily; when teachers were heroes, and Youth Corps members could go everywhere.

These days teachers are being hunted by terrorists for being Haram, and young graduates are too afraid to go teach in remote villages where they could wake up a pile of ashes for daring to do exactly what their country expects of them. In sports, in football, the people who should be building foundations have found that their bread is better buttered in Glass Houses and have no incentive to slave in inhuman conditions training kids for long term development.

So the time we could have fixed education easily passed a while back. But we have no options but try still. To rescue the little hope that remains of the future of Nigeria, we really must try to fix education. If it means arming teachers with guns, as well as chalks, so be it. But by all means, our education problem must be solved. If we can’t, the consequences are too horrible to imagine.

Mobile Number Portability: Lessons Etisalat needs to learn from GTBank

So far this week, I have confirmed from three respectable sources that the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) project is gathering serious steam and should be going on stream in Q2 2013. It looks like Nigerian mobile subscribers will finally be able to get value for their money on their networks of choice, failing which they have an option of switching to other networks which actually offer value to them. It’s great news all around, considering that the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission (NCC) is finalising plans to begin communicating the expected changes as early as next week (first full week of February 2013, from what I have heard).

I expect MTN to be the biggest loser in a post MNP environment . Nigeria’s biggest mobile communication services provider has had abysmal performance in recent years, and the last couple of months has been almost like taking the mickey. With this expected loss of customers (my view of course), other providers will be making big gains feeding on MTN numbers. The biggest winner, I expect, will be Etisalat, the emerging darling of young mobile phone users, build mostly on their more than decent play in the handheld data offerings.

When Etisalat got into the market, they made a strategic gamble to pitch their tent with the youth market, and pushed services which sought to tie in young people to their networks. So far, that gamble has been paying off, and Etisalat’s numbers are growing. I have only recently switched my iPad to Etisalat, and now my iPhone is enjoying great data speeds from the 0809ja people. So apparently they got me too. I’m actually waiting for MNP so I can also switch my main number.

Despite my belief that MNP will be a win for Etisalat, they need to be wary of this growth, while enjoying the prospects of sudden jump in their subscriber base. Here’s why:

I recently did a story on the state of GTBank services. As a result of that story, I got to sit down with GTBank’s people to review a number of the issues that were identified in the blog. As I listened and looked around more, the bits of the story began coming together. It began to look obvious that GTBank was trying the best they could to scale up services to meet customer requirements, but they had been broadsided by unexpected growth in customer numbers.

Because GTBank became the brand the cool kids used, and every kid wanted to be cool, it was only a matter of time before all the kids went over to GTBank. The growth was expected, but not exactly in the numbers they came in. That is the primary explanation for the queues customers had recently been complaining about.

Of course GTBank has been working to fix services across channels, including the very popular online banking platform which had been having timeout problems. The E-Banking service, which allows customers to perform transactions without getting into a real banking hall, I think is a great product. There is a bit more road to cover, in order to get back the A-grade services the brand started with, although one hopes they get there soon.

So how does this tie up with Etisalat?

The parallels between GTBank and Etisalat may not be very striking, but many points stick out. GTBank introduced itself as a cool, hip brand, attractive to a young and mobile generation, based on a foundation of great service and modern technology. Etisalat is doing mostly same. Their services have been stellar since they opened shop, and they are winning a lot of hearts with their internet services. This explains my thinking that they will get an explosion of new customers, migrating to their platform, which could muddy their stellar services if they do not take a few lessons learned by GTBank to heart.

Whatever changes they have to make should target 10 – 20% rise in capacity; it should be done and needs to be done now. The network capacity needs expansion, customer service unit needs upgrade and training to expect higher request volumes, and service strategy should be updated to cater seamlessly to people who were used to a different carrier. For example, I’ve been looking around for a welcome centre on my SIM applications menu to show me all the fancy shortcuts to do service requests with, and there’s none. Well, there should be one. Migrating to a new network is difficult enough a decision, the service should not be difficult to get used to after the fact.

More importantly, however well Etisalat prepares for the expected influx of new customers, something will go wrong. It’s Murphy’s Law. When that happens, their technical teams need to be ready. While they try to fix the problems, their PR people should respond to hiccups in ways that will make their customers proud. They need to.

At this point, I would say I may be wrong. The big winner may be some other network. But whichever network it is, they should probably look up at GTBank and learn how to deal with a post surge environment, cut out the missteps, and build on the genius.

Whatever happens in the post MNP climate, true competition is coming to the mobile telephony ecosystem, and the ultimate winners are consumers.