How lucrative is the acting business in Nigeria?
This article breaks down how much money Nollywood actors make, how most actors fund an expensive lifestyle, why there is a decline in earnings, and possible solutions.
It's often shocking when an actor, who has enjoyed years of stardom, comes out to say he is broke. Some actors either fade out of the limelight because the roles are no longer coming in, walk away from Nollywood on their own terms because the pay is no longer satisfactory, or even die because they couldn't afford their medical bills.
The poor state of their finances isn’t public knowledge until they are ailing and are in need of public financial aid from their fans, colleagues and the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria (AGN). Because of the decline in actors' fee, several Nigerian actors have relocated, and even more, are considering it.
Earlier this year, Femi Ogedengbe, who was once a 'successful' actor in the Yoruba movie industry, revealed that he currently makes more money as a security guard in the US than he did as an actor in Nigeria.
Ali Baba, commenting on Ogedengbe's decision to relocate, said that Nollywood is a make-believe world. "That’s why many who jump in get frustrated because they missed the memo: it's a huge labour of love," he wrote on Instagram.
For his role in "The Wedding Party," the highest grossing Nollywood movie ever, Ali Baba who is one of the most successful comedians in Nigeria, said he charged for a month on set what he charges in four hours as a comedian.
In 2017, Stanley Aguzie, an actor and producer who has appeared in series such as "Tinsel," landed a role in the hit foreign TV series, "Vikings"and "Into the Badlands" after he moved to Ireland.
While he was still working in Nigeria, the highest pay he received was N200,000 for a TV series that required him to work on set for three months. But as an actor in Ireland, it's a different story for Aguzie, who made millions of Naira for featuring in one movie.
"I made over Five Million Naira from one film. Not as a lead actor, but just as a professional actor," he told Pulse.
How much do actors really make in Nigeria?
Very few actors can still command the kind of deal that was more prevalent over a decade ago. Genevieve Nnaji, for instance, will still receive over a million naira for appearing in a Nollywood film, according to a source who spoke with Pulse. However, there are not so many producers who can afford big stars like her.
In 2014, Obi Emelonye was quoted to have said that Nnaji and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, two A-List actors he worked with on "The Mirror Boy" and "Last Flight to Abuja," respectively, have become too expensive as they cannot afford to charge less than their status.
He advised them to fund and star in their own productions. And in 2016, Nnaji, five years after her last lead role in the 2011 "Tango with Me," produced and starred in the film, "Road to Yesterday." And in 2017, she made her directorial debut with the anticipated star-studded comedy-drama, "Lion Heart."
Currently, most B-List actors are paid less than N400,000 per movie, and even in some cases, N200,000 per movie, a Nollywood insider tells Pulse. What they do is try to make four or five films in a month to be able to make up to N2 million. Or, they are offered N2 million to star in, at least, four films.
"There are producers paying people 50 and 100 thousand naira, which is unbelievable. But you see, those people don't care, they just want to appear in a film. A lot of the girls then get boyfriends they can collect money from, and next thing, they are producing their own film. That's why you see a lot of people, out of the blues, are producing their own film," the insider said.
Why is there a decline in actors' fees?
There are several factors that could have caused this decline, and the recession that hit Nigeria in 2016, forcing several companies to either fold, lay off staff, cut cost or take a pay cut, probably added more misery to an already bad situation.
In November 2016, the Managing Director, MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe, told ThisDay Business that the entertainment company was facing tough times.
They couldn’t increase subscription rates after the devaluation of naira, despite the fact that they bought a lot of international content in dollars. However, to keep offering those content, they absorbed costs on behalf of their subscribers.
For a while, the entertainment company wasn't able to pay their bills and was supported by MultiChoice Africa.
It has been years, but quite a number of industries, individuals, businesses and investors are yet to recover from the infamous 2016 recession.
In 2016, Saidi Balogun told Encomium Magazine that the decline in earnings is because Nollywood is no longer what it used to be and most actors can no longer charge professionally. The actors just settle for whatever the producers are willing to offer, he said.
Yemi Solade, a veteran and well-known actor in the Yoruba film industry said that when actors demand a certain amount from a producer, they drop them and go for their untrained friends.
Going for their "untrained friends" is why there's a pay gap between both the English-speaking actors and the indigenous film industry, Kabat Esosa, a Yoruba filmmaker, tells Pulse, reiterating Solade’s point.
According to Esosa, while the English speaking sector handles acting as a business, the Yoruba industry still operates the "helping one another" model, hiring ‘actors’ based on personal relationships.
While actors in both sectors don't make as much money as they would love, it is worse in the Yoruba film industry. According to a source who asked not to be named for this story, most Yoruba actors collect as low as N50,000 for lead roles. "Some will owe you when you finish filming," he says.
Speaking to Pulse, Jim Iyke said Nollywood is still at the mercy of so many people who don't care about the industry.
"We are at the mercy of DSTV, we are at the mercy of theatre owners, we are at the mercy of the guys in the East," he says.
'The guys in the East'
'The guys in the East,' is a frequently used label for pirates in Nollywood. Piracy has been blamed for the extinction of the VCD/DVD market, which is arguably the biggest film market in Nigeria.
In 2014, few weeks after the release of "Half of a Yellow Sun," a big screen adaptation of the award-winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the movie, which was financed with a US$8 million loan from the Bank of Industry in Nigeria, was sold on the streets of Lagos for just N500.
In 2015, it was divulged to Kunle Afolayan, that his film "October 1" would be pirated. Days after he was notified, the movie was already being sold on the streets of Lagos for N500.
In February 2017, "The Wedding Party," which was then the highest grossing Nollywood film, was pirated and sold for N500. Before its release on the streets, an HD version of the movie with the TIFF watermark was illegally uploaded on YouTube.
While there were reports that the movie - a collaboration between EbonyLife Films, FilmOne Distribution, Koga Studios and Inkblot Productions - lost N200 million to piracy, the producers described the movie as a great success.
"The Wedding Party" movie has broken all records as the highest grossing movie in Nigeria cinema even with the recession and despite the piracy, it has been a great success," Koga Studios told Pulse in 2017.
Over the years, other movies and series including "Maami," "30 Days in Atlanta" and "Jenifa's Diary" have been pirated, costing filmmakers millions of Naira.
In 2016, Emeka Ike said he quit acting because he got tired of making money for DSTV without getting royalties.
"They pay all other countries but when it comes to us, they say we don’t deserve to be paid. They keep lying that we are just 10 million people who subscribed to DSTV, but I know we are more than that. If you multiply N10,000 by 10 million, that is N100 billion every month," he told The Point in June 2016.
In Hollywood, roles in successful shows and movies don’t only mean instant huge paychecks for the actors, but also a gift that keeps on giving. Whenever their works are redistributed, released on DVD or purchased by a streaming service, these actors get residual checks, also known as royalties.
In 2016, Drake received a $8.25 check for his role in “Degrassi” over a decade ago. According to a 2016 report by Daily Mail,Charlie Sheen who was fired from his role in “Two and a Half Men” in 2011, makes $613,000 each month from residual payments.
Osas Ajibade told Pulse in 2017 that she still receives residual payments for her roles in American shows -"Meet the Brown" and "Conviction." The actress, who starred in the Africa Magic hit TV series, "Tinsel," hopes royalties would one day become a thing in Nigeria.
AMVCA nominee, Greg OJ, who is known for his roles in “The Encounter” and “Tinsel,” believes things are getting better in Nollywood. But he still hopes to be active in the industry when featuring in just one or two films would not only rake in huge paychecks but also get him royalties.
While MultiChoice refused to comment on the nature of its business dealings and engagements with stakeholders in the Nigerian film and TV industry, a source, who works with the company, told Pulse that no two commissioned works are the same, and as such, contracts differ, depending on the deal being negotiated.
The G-8 Ban and its impact on Nollywood
In 2004, eight A-List Nollywood actors, including Ramsey Nouah, Jim Iyke, Genevieve Nnaji, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and RMD, were banned by marketers for charging huge fees Recalling the 2004 controversial ban, a source tells Pulse that, the industry never really recovered from that incident.
Back in those days, most Nollywood actors preferred market distributors to independent producers.
"They felt shooting with the marketers guaranteed them steady jobs compared to independents like us, who they felt added no value to their career,"Charles Novia wrote in his book "Nollywood till November: Memoirs of a Nollywood Insider."
The marketers who had their account numbers would pay millions into their accounts, even before negotiations. The richer marketers could afford to pay the A-List actors, while the others couldn't.
As a result of this, most actors had a backlog of productions to deliver on. Their unavailability despite collecting huge fees, infuriated the marketers, so a meeting was held, and the decision to ban them from acting for a year was made.
“They were making what you would call good money back then because you were looking at about four million per month,” a source tells Pulse.
Things got worse after the ban. The A-list actors who were once paid N1 million per film were now paid N400,000. And those who weren't A-List actors were making about N100,000 per film.
“The gap is still felt till tomorrow, they have not been able to fill it, I dare say. And it has brought a general decline in the prosperity of Nollywood,”Jim Iyke tells Pulse, repeating the source's view.
Ramsey Nouah tells Pulse that after the ban, most actors left the DVD market for the cinema.
“We started making movies for the cinemas since the DVD market was beginning to think that they owned it [all] and could decide to turn someone's life around," Nouah said.
"We just delved into it [cinema business] and as you can see, an alternative market. Now the DVD market is almost dead and gone. There's so much piracy going on there. It's not a regulated market so even if you make your big movies and you want to take it to DVD, it's selling little or nothing."
But, to quite a number of filmmakers, the DVD/VCD was Nollywood’s biggest market, which is yet to be replaced. “The economic driver of Nollywood profits,”Jason Njoku, the founder of the streaming platform, IrokoTV, called it.
“Nothing is there to replace it. Yet. Cinema won't. Internet TV won't. YouTube won't. Advertisers most definitely won't,” Njoku recently said on Twitter while talking about Nollywood’s financial problems.
According to Njoku, most cinema movies and their investors are ‘nursing massive losses.’ In 2015, his company lost $120,000 - an approximate of N23 million at the time - on a cinema movie, “Never Again.”
How then do most actors fund an expensive lifestyle?
Most actors don't make money off their acting jobs. So how do they afford to live it up in expensive apartments and drive expensive cars?
There is the pressure they face from their fans, who expect them to be as rich as they appear on the screen. They have to make ends meet to meet up to the status they are trying to build as actors and superstars.
"Everyone sees them [actors] on TV and think they should be rich or put up the appearance of a superstar. So they have to live up to it, and then they do and bite more than they can chew," Ramsey Nouah tells Pulse while talking about what he misses about Nollywood of the 90s.
Aremu Afolayan, an actor and brother to Kunle and Gabriel Afolayan, told Punch Newspaper in June 2018 that people tend to think he is the richest Yoruba actor because of the way he lives.
"But that is a lie. Nigerians assume a lot. I live in a rented apartment because I cannot afford to build one. When they see me buy a new car, they don’t know if I paid for the car in instalments; instead, they call me a big boy. What type of big boy lives on N50,000 or N100,000 income per film as an actor?" he says.
According to Afolayan, most actors and producers are connected to influential people in the country, who give them contracts, while some others have side businesses.
In 2017, Stephanie Otobo alleged that Nigerian pastor Apostle Suleman had bought a Mercedes-Benz 450 GL worth $76,000 for Nollywood actress, Daniella Okeke.
Defending Suleman, Nollywood actress Georgina Onuoha described him as a kind man, who has helped several Nollywood actors, including Leo Mezie, who suffered kidney failure in 2016. Suleman reportedly gave the ailing actor eight million naira for his treatment.
"He is known for blessing actors with cars and starting businesses for them. He is a friend to a majority of us, including me. Majority of Nollywood players travel to his events home and abroad," Onuoha wrote on her Instagram page in 2017.
Jim Iyke, who is no longer as frequent as he used to be on TV screens, told The Net NG during an interview in June 2018,that most producers can no longer afford him.
But he has been busy, creating opportunities and jobs for Nigerian Youths via his several business ventures which includes ‘Oga Work,’ a new App that makes it easy to find quality service providers and job recruiters.
He told Pulse that after his ban in 2004, he started to look for other opportunities, do things that he didn't think was conceivable meet people that he didn't know wanted to do business with him and travel the world.
Quite a number of Nollywood actors make extra money from being ambassadors to big brands, while some others own businesses that bring in cash. Very few depend on just their acting fee for survival.
How can this decline be fixed?
Earlier this year, John Okafor told Vanguard that the Nigerian film industry would surpass the oil industry financially if a structure is set up.
In an Instagram post in July, Vimbai Mutinhiri also attributed low earnings to the absence of structures and unions in the industry.
One of the most popular unions in Nollywood is the Actors Guild of Nigeria, currently headed by Emeka Rollas. The guild, which has been in the news more for its political activities and drama than issues affecting the industry has repeatedly come under attack for ignoring its members.
Recently, Ernest Asuzu, an actor who, during his active years, starred in several popular films, called the union out for abandoning him to face a severe illness alone.
If Asuzu's filmography is anything to go by, he should, at least, be comfortable enough to cater for his own medical needs. But that's not the case with most 'popular' Nollywood actors.
"There is a medical scheme available for any actor that is a member of the Actors Guild of Nigeria. That, I think is applaudable,"Judith Audu told Pulse in 2015.
However, a filmmaker who refused to be named for this story doesn't think that's enough. Unions like AGN fail the actors, not by 'abandoning them during their sick days,' but by failing to represent their interests during their active years," the filmmaker said.
A producer, who has been in the industry for decades, thinks distributors going into production has reduced the chances of independent producers to make more money.
In 2017, "The Wedding Party" was distributed by FilmOne Limited, the distribution company which owns Filmhouse cinema and also doubles as one of the producers of the film.
There were conversations online about the movie enjoying favourable marketing techniques and showing times in cinemas, unavailable to other movies. For its pre-screening, free buses were provided for moviegoers from Ikeja to Filmhouse Surulere.
Another producer argues that since Africa Magic started producing their own films, they have reduced the rate at which they give independent producers the opportunity to produce their own films.
"And this is where the Government comes in and says, 'no, you can't do this.' You do business in our community based on us. We give you the opportunity to do business, you can't cut off the industry because you're competing.' The government can come in and say, 'if we let you do this, every week, you must show us proof that you gave everyone equal opportunity' as you gave your own film," a producer tells Pulse.
Jim Iyke also believes that the Government isn't helping enough with proper grants. "Even the ones that they say is available via the Bank of Industry is buried under layers of unattainable conditions," Jim Iyke says.
The actor believes that when you have an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds, and even contributes to the country's GDP, yet, it isn't supported as it should by the government, and the policies that have been set doesn't favour it, and the people at the helm have absolutely no idea how to manage it, there would be a decline in financial gain.
"The government just don't care about entertainment, they don't care about it enough to bring in proper experts to regulate it and speak to Nigerian finance houses to be far more supportive of initiatives that are created by the industry," the actors says.
The Nigerian film industry is growing, but until there's a proper structure, regulation, infrastructure, accountability, welfare and punishment for defaulters, there would be no financial growth, especially, for actors.
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