Nollywood: the trend and the future

Filmmaker Daniel Ehimen on the Cinema EOS cameras helping him maintain the pace in Nigeria's fast-moving film industry – and his hopes for the future.
Filmmaker Daniel Ehimen in an orange patterned shirt, operating a camera.

Nollywood filmmaker Daniel Ehimen initially worked in sound production for live events, but realised there was a "disconnect between lugging around the amount of speakers it took to set up a stadium and the pay that comes from it". He honed his eye for composition with fashion photography, before learning the language of cinema on a mentorship programme. © Daniel Ehimen

Filmmaking is big business in Nigeria. According to a UNESCO Institute for Statistics report, developing countries accounted for 59% of global movie production in 2015, with the 'booming' cinema industry in Nigeria helping to drive this growth. Back in 2010, the country produced 1,074 films over the course of a single year, making the Nigerian film industry one of the most prolific in the world. It's for good reason that it's known as 'Nollywood', and often cited as second only to Bollywood in terms of output.

But what's behind this success? How have filmmakers in Nigeria been able to maintain such a fast pace of production? And what does the Nollywood moniker actually mean to the people who work in the industry?

"An independent collective consciousness is how I would describe it," says Daniel Ehimen, a director and cinematographer who's worked across features, commercials and documentaries. "In Hollywood or Bollywood, there is a structure with a lot of specialisation, various guilds, unions and codes of practice. We don't have that. When it comes to Nollywood, you have to put on many hats."

Daniel Ehimen on set, standing beside a Canon EOS Cinema camera.

Daniel says the fingertip controls of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II have allowed him to become a more intuitive filmmaker. "It's a press of the S&F buttons and you're done," he explains. "It means you can react much faster on a shoot." © Daniel Ehimen

Filmmaker Daniel Ehimen adjusting a camera on set.

Daniel enjoys using the Canon EOS C300 Mark III because of the low-noise output delivered by its DGO technology. "It means that I don't have to think about noise reduction when I'm shooting in low light," he says. © Daniel Ehimen

"You can have a director who's also a producer, a writer and a camera operator. But that's why we are able to work so quickly. We've become accustomed to finding the most efficient way to get things done. This is an industry that doesn't receive any assistance from government or the private sector, so it's purely driven by entrepreneurs who take risks. Most of the time they fail, but those failures have led to progress. There's now more attention to detail."

Daniel explains that the majority of content coming out of Nigeria takes the form of conversational drama or thrillers. "You're not going to find an entrepreneur or producer trying to pull off a Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible blockbuster or some Lord of the Rings-style epic, even though we have stories that could actually be told on that scale. It's more about the kind of movies we can make as opposed to what we'd really like to make. There's still a journey to go in terms of figuring out how to close the gap in terms of visual effects and that kind of thing."

Staying nimble with the EOS C500 Mark II

When starting out, Daniel says there were three things he was looking for in a camera system. "First, I needed something that was dependable. Second, I wanted something with easy to adjust settings – I don't have time to look for something that's buried in the menus. And third, I needed an amazing dynamic range that would enable me to achieve my artistic intent. The Cinema EOS system satisfied all three aspects, and I knew I could use it as a foundation to build from."

The original Canon EOS C700 was Daniel's go-to camera before the release of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II. He says that while the Canon EOS C700 is "beautiful in a studio operation, where you have maybe two assistant cameras and a couple of other people to help operate it," the more compact, modular design of the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and EOS C300 Mark III is more suited to his guerrilla style of filmmaking.

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Filmmaker Daniel Ehimen in an orange patterned shirt, operating a camera with a light box behind him.

Daniel attributes his success in Nollywood to being bold enough to embrace failure. "Try not to stall the process," he says. "Because the quicker you fail, the quicker you learn how not to fail." © Daniel Ehimen

"To run the Canon EOS C700, we would have to rent equipment, but with the smaller cameras, we're able to use very inexpensive gimbals that we can afford to buy outright. Having the equipment to hand means that we can get creative on set. For example, deciding whether to rig a camera to a car comes down to its weight and whether you'll be able keep everything safe. But the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and EOS C300 Mark III are so light and modular that you can put them on any rig.

"The Cinema EOS family has expanded to a point where there's almost a camera for every scenario. I can have the Canon EOS C70 for my dash cam and other very tight spaces. I can use my EOS C500 Mark II or the EOS C300 Mark III as my main camera, and if I run a bigger crew with dollies and tracks, I can go with the EOS C700 FF instead."

The DGO sensor and Cinema RAW Light advantage

The improvements in sensor technology and processing introduced in the Canon EOS C500 Mark II and the DGO-enabled EOS C300 Mark III have also opened up new opportunities for Daniel.

"I had to shoot a film in a village where there wasn't much power, and there was a moonlit scene that I had to supplement with lanterns," he recalls. "In the early days, I couldn't even have contemplated shooting that, because anything above ISO200 on a night scene would either have been way too noisy, or needed a whole lot of firepower to light it. But shooting on a Canon EOS C300 Mark III with its DGO sensor meant you could see detail in the blacks. You needed a minimal amount of light and you were still able to get clean resolution."

DoP Patrick Smith with a Canon EOS C500 Mark II cinema camera.

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Being able to record in Cinema RAW Light has also enabled Daniel to become more efficient and increased the quality of his productions. "In terms of storage alone, I probably filled 8-10 drives when I shot a movie on the original Canon EOS C500. Now, with the Mark II, I don't go above two drives. That's the entire movie, in 5.9K Cinema RAW Light.

"It's just a lot more fun now. I can create LUTs during the post production test phase, and load those into the camera as a guide to help me make creative decisions. Before, we'd shoot flat and fix in post, but now we can see what it's going to look like – and if it isn't going to work we can change it there and then. That saves on reshoots and cuts production costs.

Filmmaker Daniel Ehimen operating a Canon EOS C700.

Although Daniel now mainly uses the Canon EOS C500 Mark II when shooting commercials and drama, he still goes back to the Canon EOS C700 for product shoots. "I can get a whole range of high-speed frame rates out of it," he explains. "The unique colour science means that the Cinema EOS cameras are all interchangeable, and there's no weird shifts in gamma." © Daniel Ehimen

Next steps for Nollywood

So, with the freedom and quality offered by the Cinema EOS cameras, what excites Daniel about the next chapter in the Nollywood story? "Personally, I would like to make more folk stories – films that show our identity, who we are now and remembering who we were," he says. "We have over 200 tribes with unique histories and origin stories.

"I think we will begin to have showrunners, based on incomes sourced from distribution on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. We're going to have people with greater spending power thanks to the savings that can be made from shooting with smaller-scale outfits, and that will allow us to tell stories independently, without being censored. It's going to open up that box called freedom.

"I believe you're going to see more bold and unique films, and that uniqueness is actually going to turn the wheels of commerce in the artist's favour, bringing diversity and freshness to the global market. In turn, I think this will help the next generation understand who they are and their place in the world."

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