Hollywood makes most of its money from theatrical releases. Through well-structured systems, a new film is distributed all over the world to movie theatres spanning from L.A to Hong Kong, from Sweden to South Africa in no time. But can this mode of film consumption make commercial sense for an African filmmaker whose primary target is Africa?
It is this curiosity that led me to a film distribution workshop the other day organized by One Fine Day Films. It turned out to be a very eye-opening, yet depressing session that laid it bare just how futile this process can be.
Lets take the example of Kenya. In Kenya there are are about half a dozen cinema companies (Cineplex, Nu-Media Cinemas, IMAX, Fox Capital, Starflix Cinemas and Nyali Cinemas) with about twenty screens between them spread over three cities: Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Naturally, Nairobi, the capital, hogs the lion’s share boasting of 16 screens. Generally, one screen has a capacity of about 150 people and it costs an average of about Ksh 550 per head to watch a movie. Bearing in mind that a cinema hall on average accommodates about 150 -200 people, lets do the math and find out what it would take to recoup a filmmakers investment.
Let say it costs me Ksh 5m (USD 60,000 – an arm and a leg by Kenyan standards) to make my film, this will be the most likely situation: About 4000 Kenyans can watch the movie in a day, assuming, of course, that all halls were sold out and that the movie was screened once in every screen available in the country. Thats Ksh 2.2m in a day, sounds enticing right? especially since this means you can get your money back in 3 days! You might want to hold your horses because this is where the real maths starts. The cinema halls want their cut which is usually a BIG CUT and the distributors need to be paid too. If that Ksh 5m did not include marketing costs it is even worse!
Something tells me that by now it is safe to assume that I will be making about Ksh 500,000 or less per day. Consequently, it would take about 10 days of sold-out cinema halls all over Kenya each screening the movie once a day to recoup my money and more if I’m to make a profit; definitely not an easy feat to pull off in Kenya considering our cinema culture that is so poor Kenya Cinema closed shop a few months back.
The good news is that it is not all gloom and doom for our industry, the recent burst of theatrical releases in the country cast a timely and much needed glimmer of hope. Films such as The Captain of Nakara and Nairobi Half Life attracted quite a number of movie lovers in the country. If there is anything that we should deduce from these two movies is that urban Kenyans not only love quality films, they would also gladly pay to watch them, even Kenyan movies. They had for a long time been misunderstood to be ‘haters’ for not supporting local films while all along it is the filmmakers that needed to up their game.
I do not know whether any of those two films I have mentioned got their money back from the box office, but they have shown that is possible. A consistent growth in quality Kenya films in the cinemas is likely to attract more Kenyans to the big screen. It’s this simple, we do a good job, and the money will follow.