There has been a small and growing change in the Nigerian motion picture and television landscape over the last 10 years. It started with the revival of the film culture as the era of Nollywood cinema began. Then short films started to emerge and be recognized as an indication of talent, much like a hit single for a new artist. Then, at some point, there was the emergence of the Web series, longer than the short film, but different from the feature.
Web series started as a different, low cost means for writers, directors and producers to show what they could do outside of short films, telling stories the way they wanted to tell them, which likely wouldn’t happen if they were commissioned, or if the creators had to answer to a financier. Naturally, it was also a platform for upcoming actors – some of whom have gone on to be cast as leads in feature films.
To those in North America and Europe, web series and shorts might not be a big deal. But in Nigeria, some didn’t consider them enough of an indication of writing, directing or producing talent, which is why the success of their creators is so relevant to the evolution of the industry and the upcoming generation.
Web-series have allowed filmmakers to play in unexplored genres and to do things not often seen in Nigerian feature films; neo-noir (“Suspicious Guy”); procedural (“Inspector K”); horror(“Kpians: The Premonition”); satire (“Crimson”); breaking the 4th wall (“How she left my brother,” “Skinny Girl in Transit”); and asides (“Knock Knock”).
The web series “10:10” used a “24” style approach, with a clock counting down to the inevitable; “Crimson” had a noir-ish monochrome aesthetic; “How She Left My Brother” shot the whole series from the webcam of the lead character; ”Officer Titus” found humour in what terrifies the average driver in Lagos; via “The Interview” series, Frank Donga became the hilarious avatar of every Nigerian graduate who has desperately searched for a job; “Yawa”, through humour, shows the level of desperation poverty can drive the jobless, and it’s energetic execution, helped by its being filmed in the streets, made it stand out, as most other series take place entirely indoors; and “One Chance” explored – via found footage – the nightmare of kidnappings and ritualists during night-time public transportation scenarios.
Some of the creators of these web series have gone on to work in television as showrunners, directors and producers on some of most popular shows in the country. Others have produced or directed theatrically released feature films.
The game evolved further when a bank formed a production company and started creating its own web content as part of its branding to the younger generation. Two other banks have followed suit since, significantly upping the volume of high quality web content.
Like the short films, web series have proven to showcase some of the most interesting work being put in the Nigerian entertainment cultural eco system. I look forward to a time when web series are not just for a showreel, or a stepping stone to film and television careers, but a solid end destination, and a home for actors, writers, directors and producers. How that would happen? I’m not quite sure. But with the way content consumption all around the world has changed in the last decade, someone will soon figure it out.
Olu Yomi is film culturist, screenwriter & director with a Masters in Creative & Cultural Industries. He has written for television; drama, sitcoms, web series & telenovelas. Short films which he has directed or written have screened at the BFI, Cannes, AFRIFF and other film festivals. He has worked on talk shows, talent hunts and documentaries.