Though the Ebola crisis had a devastating effect on the Liberian society, it nevertheless gave the rag-tag movies industry a major boost, with the result that the Lollywood has flourished in recent times.
The first comic film in the midst of Ebola, “Samguan in Love”, was well received because it reflected themes to which most Liberians could easily relate, especially the use of the Liberian colloqua.
Beyond the limited perception of Western movies, which presents Liberia as a country without a developed culture or a country in total misery, Lollywood films has been able to give a full insight into the diversity of the nation’s culture, as well as its current social and political disagreements.
The recent growth that the industry enjoys has made it a hot spot for investment, in spite of low budgets and twister production schedules.
Since its founding in early 2004, the industry has made strides after strides, from a relatively bereft ecosystem to one that now can benefit professionals, promotional deals worth thousands of dollars.
Quite recently, comedian Karie Walker and Isaac Sunday Sieh signed a mouth-watering deal, worth more than US$10, 000, with one of Liberia’s telecommunication giants, Cellcom.
But as the industry grows, we must take a look at its obstacles and possible future.
Poor film production and funding
Only a few of Lollywood’s movies makers have the acting experience and the training it takes to promote their burgeoning industry, though most lack the knowledge needed in filmmaking.
They use their own creativity to make these films, and with just little academic knowledge about the art and business of moviemaking. Hence the industry has not seen a blockbuster film for more than a year now.
As Lollywood develops, it is crucial that movie practitioners move away from shallow content and poor scripting to suitable stories that may catch the public eye. It may come from a book, play or real life event.
But due to the often-poor quality of movies, entrepreneurs find it difficult to sell more copies beyond the first few weeks after the product is released.
Most of Lollywood’s films are shot on inexpensive digital equipment, and are then turned into short films that are made in huge quantities.
Low funding and poor investment have also plagued the industry for moviemakers to standardize their work. As a result, some production houses have to collect money from their cast in order to end a project, thus most productions are done on low budgets and the films themselves are lacking in enhancement.
Regardless of the best efforts made by filmmakers to improve the art, Lollywood, however, also suffers from the same woes as the rest of Liberia, which is the high cost of electricity. Thus filmmakers complain that it give then tough time to make their movies.
Most Liberian movies are shot in a few days or a week for just less than US$3,000.
“We don’t have the money to extend shooting for more than a week or so, otherwise the production house runs out of money,” says Paul Brown, a film director.
Currently, the industry is receiving more and more criticisms from the public due to the proliferation of comic movies and saturated low-quality films. For this reason, many have now started purchasing pirated foreign movies because of the quality in production.
But there have been a whole lot of changes in the industry. Low quality movies are given less attention by the public. And so if the work is lacking in at least a small level of quality, it evaporates quickly because now the public seems to appreciate a good job.
Poor or no distribution Network at all
The main barrier to future growth seems to be an informal distribution network that could generate more revenues for moviemakers. But the little profile they manage to get is through DVD sales, which is vulnerable to widespread piracy.
The absence of a market that invests in film production to local theaters and online platforms like YouTube has become a major problem to explore the industry’s potential to outside investors and audiences.
Creating its own platforms will improve the industry’s audience, especially since Internet penetration deepens and as becomes less expensive across Liberia.
With the rising profit on Internet distributions, if this online platform is developed undoubtedly the future holds a lot of promise for filmmakers.
Such a platform allows relatively inexpensive distribution of films and has the ability to reach a global audience.
More cinemas needed
Another interesting prospect in the distribution phase is the need for cinemas. Researchers have shown that more global movie incomes are realized through cinemas and theatres.
Cinemas, which remain the favorite method of high profit returns for movies, are grossly inadequate in Liberia.
To develop the market growth, Liberia will need to build roughly 5 cinemas everywhere.
Piracy presents a considerable risk in the distribution stage and threatens the entrepreneur’s vision of making a huge profit, especially for huge investment films.
There is also a lack of regulation in the local markets that have not been put in place by the Liberia Movie Union (LiMU) primarily because enforcement of anti-piracy laws has been a huge challenge.
One of these reasons for increase in piracy of local content is that government has not made available the hologram stamp to differentiate pirated work from legally copyrighted films.
The officer in charge of Liberian Copyright office, Clifford Robertson admitted in a recent interview that the copyright office has not done enough to protect Liberian artists.
Filmmakers hope that with government’s full support in tackling copyright infringement and their work in the future, films will develop in great quality just as they are in quantity.
Plan, regulate, implement
A small in quantity but standardized and affordable filming and editing technologies are making filmmakers realize an increase in global recognition of the industry and towards higher quality films.
The industry is made up of small-scale films that go straight to DVD for sale and are then turned into homemade movies.
But if an open and good film distribution system is put in to place, much profile will be realized and the industry will develop into a class of its own, garnering more global recognition.
It will become an industry that could employ thousands of people directly or indirectly, thus increasing middle class status among Liberian artists. Demand for movies in the near future will also increase both domestically and internationally.
Although no value is attached, the vast availability of movie talents makes the industry a place for investors.
Lollywood’s robust growth will offer many opportunities for investors, especially the promising sub-sectors in the industry, as well as scores of entrepreneurs, filmmakers, and actors eager to advance Liberian films.
Nevertheless the demand for Liberian movies is increasing, in spite of low quality production.