The Video game

The Video game
By Jahman Anikulapo
(Published in The Guardian in 2000)
The Movie Award, THEMA is thinking of assuming a more likeable personality. A more robust, influential and accepted character to everyone who thinks he has a stake in the business of video (movies) making, distribution and consumption.
Friday last week, the THEMA congregated a class of video workers and the objectives was simply to review its present character and status as reflected in the first edition of the award programme organized by management of the FAME WEEKLY Magazine early in the year. Ostensibly the meeting was to fashion a direction for the second and subsequent editions.
Expectedly, there was a convolution of ideas; some smart and some weird and others simply flick. The video makers and distributors apparently bear certain degree of conceit about the actual state of the business. In divergent tones, they seemed to have concluded that there is an industry yet. That’s in spite of repeated critical observation that for now it is only a set of traits of an industry that is noticeable in the business of video making.
THEMA is in fact, as at now the most optimistic factor that an industry might eventually emerge. The award programme, as reinforced by the Friday meeting is already laying foundation for a process of standardization of the video (movie) business. (And that is the first key factor).
Other signals in the past have been the gradual incursion of real, professionally trained and committed artistes and movie makers into the vocation. Otherwise, the current jumble of merchants with merely enthusiastic occasional artistes is rather putting weeds on the path of a plausible industry.
For now, what exists is a video market. And like all markets, it welcomes everyone irrespective of wares, method of procuring, displaying and selling of such wares, and even origin of the marketers.
There can be no industry yet, where in spite of huge investments by a variant of businessmen, there is no control to standard. No regulation to practice. No constant review of progress or regression. No viable critical institutions, And no responsibility to the viewer beyond pushing the product -- no matter how poorly produced or packaged-- down his throat.
Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, reputedly the initiator of the first news-maker video drama work, ‘Living in Bondage’ and producer of ‘Brotherhood of Darkness’ among other works, signified the chaos yet in the video business, when speaking on movie half hour on NTA 2 Ch. 5 last Saturday, he said “presently what we have is the producers/marketers’ market. I am waiting for the viewers’ market.” He averred that progress could be said to have been made only when the viewers have grown to become the key determinants of the quality of video works that would be produced and subsequently consumed.
“Presently,” he continued “we just push anything to the market and the consumers just buy them. There is no control!” His statement had been echoed sufficiently at the THEMA forum and similar forums before it. It was demonstrated too in the volume of misconceptions projected by certain attendants at the forum, who pride themselves as video makers.
Beginning with definition, it was clear that the video makers thrive on incongruous logics and mis-education. For instance, a lot of what is called video movies are actually mis-normally defined. Largely, the market has adopted the strategy of direct translation of drama into the audio visual medium of the video, without cultivating the filmic medium and all its required technical dynamics and appurtenances.
It is not enough to put a scripted drama in the video idiom and term it movie. The enter- sit-shoot-leave procedure is only a basic frame of the movie. The movie considers, among other technical indices, photographic interpretation of such an action, angles, level, colour, mood, composition of shots, sound tracking etc to effectively combine the audio and visual materials for an optimum realization of the main text and subtexts of the script.
At the level of artiste, there are actors and the players. The actor is more technically accomplished in the manner he interpretes the world and actions of a script. He has mastered the language of his face, body and mood to the gesture or movement (no matter how slightly or almost inconsequential) to realize the expected action. He has too; mimesis, pantomimes among other acting techniques as his tools.
The player is the one who hops endlessly in front of camera; jumping in and out of the lens because of his listlessness, wild gestures and over-active, exuberant movements; his voice is exceptionally loud; carriage excessively boisterous. He is sometimes the comedian, the typecast or stock character player found in many Yoruba, Igbo and even English medium home video, playing the dunce gateman of houseboy. In acting history, such characters devolve from legendary figures such as Halequinos of the Commedia del’arte era, modified and played qualitatively in the Moses Olaiya’s Baba Sala or the Ojo Ladipo’s Baba Mero, and in another dimension by Chika Okpala’s Zebrudayah. What characters as these do is really in the realm of burlesque or slapstick; in which case what he says is not really the heart of the action, but his exaggerated movements and sometimes nonsensical actions and sayings.
The recent video visage is replete with these stock characters played by equally stock typecast actors, Usually they, transfer the aggressive mien required by the live stage onto the video medium. They normally disrespect the acting space and the camera has to chase them round while the more restricted microphone picks only the few words it is lucky to grasp from their restless mouths. Such actors also talk endlessly, eliminate breath pause and silence (which in truth sometimes speak louder than voice.) All the actions and moods are especially said in loud, loquacious manner; at an almost incredible speed level that listeners or viewers have to be extra vigilant.
Siblings to the type cast players are the largely enthusiastic actors with apparent blank knowledge on the basic rudiments of the profession. Paired with a more qualified and competent actor, such enthusiast has the potential to draw the actor to his level of haphazard role execution and half-measured gestures. His voice is infirm, light, colourless and mood-less but full of excitement where it should be somber and high where it should be low.
The actor’s beat is more afflicted by the standardization problem since it is accepted erroneously, that everyone is an actor, so far he could move his arm, leg and shuffle and bubble. In the less than five years of the video rave, close to two thousand new ‘actors’ have emerged and many are ready to hop onto the screen from their other failing vocations.
Very few scriptwriters indeed look beyond literal presentation of experiences they want to capture, hence the baggage of otherwise good stories ruined by over adornments or shallow treatment. Video reviewers have had the most to do with stories told in incomplete manners or existing ideas reworked in deformed shapes. And since the story is the basis of a movie, the inherent inadequacy in the script is carried over to the audio-visual realization of the experience captured in the plot.
Besides, the writer’s ego often prevent critical assessment of script. Worst still, many scriptwriters are themselves the producers and sometimes also, the director. Censorship is not encouraged nor the benefit of an editor’s contribution. Many local video works are too wordy with actors talking endlessly and thus mortifying the possibilities of the movie medium.
The pictures are supposed to do larger percentage of the talking but the writers or directors would rather make his characters benumbed the viewer with unnecessary gibberish. Thus the work often appears congested and unwieldy. Atmospheric aesthetics are negated and action airiness mortgaged.
Video drama reviewing or criticism machinery is still a contraption of the producer’s media hirelings and praise singers. With the ‘Hype-ists on rampage, every film is excellently produced and every actor is good; every film is best produced. The video reviewer is thus an accomplice in a grand propaganda machinery aimed at the viewer’s deception. The premature conferment of an industry status on the video market is architected by the reviewer who operates more on reductionism.
To the video maker, the reviewer has engendered a false confidence and deep-seated conceit. This much was observed by television programme director and critic, Sola Osofisan at the Thema forum when he said entertainment journalists should be more discerning and restrictive in the way they lavish pages and praise on so called video producers and their works.
The essential factor is for the reviewer or critic himself to be well trained, be ready to invest in skill acquisition, not just on the job learning, but to read widely about film and its sociological consequences, so that he can make informed commentaries and intelligent appraisals of the film. It is not enough to say the acting, script, light, direction is bad and so the film is bad. This is cheap, flat-footed criticisms albeit displaying the symptom of an impoverished critical faculty. The intelligent and productive critic or reviewer must be bale to put the movie on the slab, dissecting its artistic, cultural, economic and sociological characters to the extent that he can highlight the contribution or the absence of same to the discourse of the medium and as well as its connotative effect on the contemporary debate in the society.
To Osofisan, a reviewer must know the rudiments of his vocation before dipping himself in the field. But even Osofisan did not mention the producer’s conceit, a latest worm cluttering the progress path of the video business.
Some producers have been quoted recently to have said, “Let the video reviewers write what ever they will, the buyers don’t care. We are after all smiling to the bank.” This inadvertently pushes despair deeper into the soul of a venture desirous of emerging as an industry.
Producers smiling to the bank are the rapist s of the fortune of the video business. They would rather acquire flashy cars than buy cameras and other key needs for improved production and they are unconcerned about the environment of operation.
For purveyors of the ‘let them say’ syndrome Ogunjiofor’s prayer of a quick arrival of the viewers’ video market is most appropriate. However, that would not annul the fact of an orchestrated viewers’ deception movement. Such an attitude will only retard progress, because it portends a darkening situation in which nothing is being gained and no progressive thought is being upheld.
A video industry even in its emergence state, such as now, will not push money forward as the first condition for practice. That was the bane of the music practice whose fortune in spite of its potentials has been hanging between the stature of a market and an industry. Money was ruling at the crucial time when professionalism -- training, quality products, artistic integrity, control and self-assessment should bedrock the practice.
Currently, copyright abuses, idea poaching, piracy and plagiarism are so rampant in the video business. Guilty producers or scrip-writers seem unshaken by the enormity of such heinous crimes in literary profession. They have failed to provide explanation to glaring cases reported in the media. Instead they run the other eyes, whereas an industry will ensure such a culprit is appropriately apprehended and prosecuted.
An industry will take care of infrastructural development in the provision or gradual evolution of a video-viewing culture, which include the assurance that only quality product will be able to get across to a lot more people at reachable conditions.
Pre and post-production facilities would be available including the building of credible locations and studios. Besides, the industry will pay for almost all its needs; and not, without permission shoot the frontage or the living rooms of members of the public, free of charge.
Money reaped from the video business has to be ploughed back rather than producers investing on personal comforts at the expense of developmental projections.
Accepting the emergence of video as a positive development to film fortune, TV and film producer, Lola Fani-Kayode was optimistic that the video makers currently reaping fat purses from video making would assist in providing interests, equipment and infrastructure for the real producers, who in turn would project the integrity of the video industry. But presently, there are no indications that such progressive moves are being made. Rather, video makers operate more as just-jobbing contractors, reaping and draining the video fortune.
At the instance of a true industry, it would be unnecessary to classify video work through the criterion of indigenous languages in order to determine the best actor, actress or director; for a standard would have been established. That was the thrust of Ihria Enakimio’s and Patrick Doyle’s argument at the Thema meeting.
Thema forum itself admitted that the environment of an industry is not yet established and thus it resolves for now to design about five categories of awards to video in indigenous languages, aside of a general list of awards for all video works irrespective of language or cultural background.
In matter of adjudication the Thema forum suggested the composition of a body of well informed and qualified workers in the video and film medium to take critical assessment of the works; looking through their merits according to the categories of awards.
Osofisan, however, warned that even that decision should be cautiously applied; for “a good musicologist, for instance, may not necessarily have a good knowledge of how to sound-track a film.” That holds for every aspect of video or film making.
Yet, Francis Onwochei, actor, artistes manager and former chairman of the Lagos National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts practitioners (NANTAP) caretaker committee suggested that it should be possible for all Thema judges to have a session at which they would sit together so that thorough attention could at least be encouraged to be paid to the works. “Because of distractions in individual’s time and daily affair, you cannot be sure that everybody would be able to devote enough attention to the works giving to him for the purpose of adjudication.


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