Content is King. How I ended up working for Mrs Njoku. Part 1.

So, ROK on DStv was one a few weeks ago. I thought it important to tell the story of how it came to be. How a new approach to movie making fundamentally returned Nollywood to its roots as a medium to tell our stories.

In 2011, when Mrs Njoku was still Miss Remmy, she told me that she would prefer, by 40, to end up behind the camera rather than in front of it. That was her dream. She always loved storytelling and felt that Alaba-led filmmaking was disconnected from the storytelling core which had popularised Nollywood. She had all these ideas but no-one would really listen. I was her boyfriend so I was obliged to. Everyone who knows me knows I am pretty much wrapped up in myself and I rarely bother about anyone else. So it pretty much went in one ear and out the next. Even though she had been in arguably the biggest hit of 2011, Blackberry Babes, the year was a dry period for movie making for Miss Remmy. For whatever reason, she just wasn’t getting scripts or roles. With the way Nollywood churns out starlets, it was super worrying. She implored me to lobby producers, after-all I was spending millions of dollars acquiring content from them. I asked a couple of dozen. Only two agreed. The rest, in someway or form, told me I should not spoil their job or that they required me to pay for the entire film budget for her to feature in. See I believe in meritocracy so that wasn’t even an option. Not to mention those who point blank told me to mind my own business. So I let it be. Miss Remmy wasn’t satisfied and I remember we argued when I told her I ‘was too busy’ to run around, too busy to be making these phone calls and jeopardising the relationship with my producers. Jeez, sometimes I wonder why she married me. I could be pretty brutal in those days. The frustrations of wealth creation. See, Miss Remmy was considered a wakapass. So she was always given random supporting or very small roles. And if you think Harvey in Hollywood is bad. What happens in Nollywood? Blood of Jesus. But we will come to that another time.

2011 wandered into 2012 and Miss Remmy became Mrs Njoku. Mid-year, we took our first gamble at financing original content. Let’s say out of five producers, we commissioned 10 movies (2-each), four were satisfactory, five were okay and one movie-budget was converted into a container-of-goods which never ended up reaching Nigeria from the high seas of China. Acting roles were here or there. So Mrs Njoku still had time on her hands (post honeymoon) so ended up going to London to attend the London Film Academy.

It actually had gotten worse post our wedding. Being pregnant and all. Every single marketer / producer / fellow actor etc. advised her to stop working. They literally couldn’t understand why she still wanted to work. What was she chasing? Abi her journey had ended. She had married a rich man (when we married everyone called her a gold digger). If you look very carefully across Nollywood, most actresses who marry, the first thing their new husband does is attempt to stop them from acting. Well, if they can afford to. For the life of me, I don’t understand this. Miss Remmy had me promise a thousand different ways that I wouldn’t force her to stop. But because ‘she had married a rich man and gave him a son,’ producers literally didn’t think of her as a candidate for acting. She was out of the industry. No matter how many times she or I told them to the contrary. They assumed she was gone.

So, now that Mrs Njoku had some time, she started storytelling. Developing a script which became Festac Town. See, Mrs Njoku grew up in Amuwo-Odofin (it’s part if not adjacent to Festac in Lagos) so it was easy for her to tell this story. Except this wasn’t glamorous Island living schleck. This was a pidgin-led, gritty 126-cast monster. And she was 5–7 months pregnant throughout the entire set. It almost broke her and was definitely the most ambitious thing she has done to date. For all those who are still waiting for Festac Town season 2. There it is. She is scared to do it. Youthful enthusiasm created the first 13 episodes. With wisdom, she dare not try again.

Fast forward late 2013. We were in the fight of our lives. The venture financing had not gone unnoticed, the use of capital to realign the entire Nollywood windowing had not gone unnoticed. We had awoken the bear, AfricaMagic (MNET) began waging a content war to price (read force) us out of the market. The price of content had, for no other reason than some distant strategy change somewhere in Randburg, exploded from $2.5k/movie license to $25k, within the space of six months. It was stupid. I was stupid and desperate so just kept on increasing the pricing until someone folded. Mrs Njoku had just returned from London with our first child, O. So she was surprised to walk into my office to see one of the biggest female Nollywood producers shouting. Not necessarily at me, but in disgust at the $25k we were paying her for a movie. A hit. A blockbuster blah blah bloody blah. And the fact that we structured it that she was still able to also sell to AfricaMagic. Mrs Njoku looked at her. Looked at who was in the movie. Did some quick mental arithmetic and decided the movie couldn’t have been made for more than $20k. No way. See, Mrs Njoku knew the talent. Being in front of the camera and around marketers, she kinda knew the prices. She called the BS.

After said producer left, she turned around to Bastian and I. Simply. Give me $25k for a few titles. Let me see if I can shoot this kind of movie. Bastian was sceptical. I was sceptical, the board were nonchalant.

(of a person or manner) feeling or appearing casually calm and relaxed; not displaying anxiety, interest, or enthusiasm.
“she gave a nonchalant shrug”

Right there and then, ROK was born. To be honest, I was as supportive as a husband has to be. But I wasn’t that interested. We were desperate and pressed against the wall. I had learned the hard way. Content is King. And now Mrs Njoku and ROK = leads content at IROKO. Does that make me Queen?

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