I've had a unique opportunity the past few weeks to work with the Director's Guild of Nigeria, as they came to the Colorado Film School in order to expand their filmmaking abilities. They mentioned to us several times that sound was the weakest part of their films, so they had a special interest in trying to solve some of the problems they've had in the past.
Luckily, most of the issues that they faced were simple ones: improper gain structure, faulty cables, 60 Hz hum, bad microphone placement. A lot of things could be explained away through lecture, and just by giving them a better understanding of how sound works acoustically and electrically. But then we came across a problem which couldn't necessarily be explained away, and it's the same problem that we run across a lot here in the US as well, and it doesn't even have to do that much with sound: Money.
In Nigeria, just as in the US, a lot of the budget for most productions goes to other departments, and the sound department is given the last thought. The sound guy will never be given a camera and be told "just try to get the best images you can while you record sound", but the opposite is more often true. Sound can be an after thought and is sometimes absorbed into other departments. Having a grip or a PA boom op. Just plugging a boom into the camera, just to "set it and forget it". The crew members necessary to record good sound are often budgeted out of the production in order to get a slightly nicer camera.
Then, the other issue came up that pertains to money: How do we get "professional sound" with consumer products? Several of the directors asked for my recommendations on what they should buy for a sound kit, but they usually didn't want to spend over $1000 for a whole kit. But they still want Hollywood sound. It's a common misconception, now, that audio is cheap, but as cameras continue to get cheaper and cheaper, I can easily see someone spending as much as if not more than what their camera cost in order to get a similar quality out of their audio package.
I don't have any real answers for these problems, and I gave them the best recommendations I could based on their constraints, but it's also a problem that goes beyond the politics of a film set and into economic issues of both the US and Nigeria. When it comes down to making films, it's a luxury that we get to do it at all, so the quality with which their made sometimes comes as a bonus. I wouldn't expect Nollywood films to meet or surpass Hollywood or Bollywood anytime in the future through technological achievements, but I consider it a success if I can at least get them to not duct tape a portable recorder to a broom handle and call it a sound department.
Considering that some of the directors present have made close to 100 films, it was a bit of a humbling experience working with them, but it was also clear that they were ready to move in a direction, and I'm glad that I was able to be a small part of that. It will be interesting to see where Nollywood is in another decade to see how these small steps continue to make a difference in the way that they make movies.
To see a short clip from 9News on the Nigerian visit, check out the link here.