Mofe-Damijo: Constant Innovation is Key to Business Sustainability

The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme run by Fidelity Bank Plc. to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. Its entertainment series tailored to highlight the business side of entertainment, the opportunities that exist therein and how these opportunities can be harnessed effectively and efficiently by players in the sector, featured veteran actor and former Delta State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), who shared his insights and experiences on achieving sustainability in the Nigerian entertainment industry, funding challenges faced by practitioners and the unharnessed business potentials in the industry, among other issues. Excerpts

From the late 80s till date, you have remained relevant in the entertainment space up until when you moved into the political space and into business.  Tell us a bit about your story.

Thank you very much. I studied Theatre Arts in the University of Benin and graduated in 1983.  I had my National Youth Service between 1983 and 1984 before I moved to Lagos where I also studied Law at the University of Lagos.  I think for anybody to be relevant or to achieve sustainability in the business that he or she is involved, there needs to be constant innovation.  What I have tried to do is to constantly look for areas that I can use to enhance my craft.  I got into Journalism because I discovered a connection between Journalism and my craft at the time.  My craft needed reporting and like most of us actors, when we don’t get people to do the things that we want them to do, we take our destinies into our hands.  At every point in my life and in any way I can, I try to do something different and expand my vista and world view.  I have veered into writing, marketing communications, perception management and of course Law.  I have also veered into politics but it was not an elective position. I was called to serve the people which was a great honour.  That is basically my story in a nutshell. 


Speaking of innovation and diversification, would you say that your move to study Law was deliberate?

Law is something that has always been there.  My parents wanted me to become a Lawyer.  We have a joke in Warri that says “every Urhobo man is a Lawyer.”  So, that for me came naturally.  Of course, intellectual property (IP) matters are not things that are as popular as regular litigation.   Law was just another diversification for me along the line and I have found that it is probably one of the best decisions I have had to make in my adult life.  Today, I have done a lot of work in the IP sector.  We all are witnesses to what happened to ‘Okafor’s Law’, a film which I was involved in and which I also tried to mediate in before it got to the court.  The grounds are wide open for anything that is connected. 

 At the end of the day we are all interconnected by one thing or the other, which is business.  I think that credit should be given to the man who came up with the phrase “show business”, because sometimes, we tend to concentrate on the show, but in reality the show cannot go on without the business side of it. 

 We are hoping that with the entry of banks like Fidelity, the entertainment industry will probably get the resonance or the support that it should get.  If the private sector can take as much time as it does for agriculture or technology, you will be surprised at how much more the entertainment industry can do.  Some of us laugh at the figures that are quoted, but those are official figures.  The figures that are not brought to the table are a lot more.  We can have active collaborations in the entertainment industry beyond interventions by what BOI and the government are doing for us.  If we can institutionalize government support for the industry, it will take us to the next level.

A lot of young people today think that all it takes to be an actor is good looks and all.  How would you advice these people to start early and begin to think about sustainability and the business side of entertainment?

It is a heavy burden on any creative mind to concentrate on both.  Even for me, I would have loved to clock in and out of my life everyday as an actor.    What I would usually advice younger people is to read and be voracious in their reading.  Try to diversify as much as possible but stay connected within the arts.  Consume as much literature as you can and as much business and soft-technology news as you can.  

A few years ago acting was the core thing that everyone wanted to do, but today there are ancillary things as important as acting itself.  People can come in as makeup artistes, costume designers, sound engineers, architects and so on in the business.  Like I said, there is a confluence where everything ties up together.  You have people who are architects today and are working in the entertainment industry. 

There are people who are historians and are in the business doing documentaries because part of the changing narrative today is making sure that we are able to document all kinds of things.  Today in the film making business, everybody is welcome.  

What we lack is the fact that the private sector hasn’t looked at the business side of it. We have taken care of the show side of it, but the private sector needs to look at the business critically.  We don’t need a Basketmouth to sell out at the Wembley arena before they come in.  You don’t need an AY Show to sell out in Eko Hotel before you realize that there is money there.  You also don’t need a ‘Wedding Party’ to make above N460 millions before you know that we need more cinemas.   Imagine a country where, with less than 50 cinemas, a movie makes N460 million.  Now imagine a 100 cinemas in Lagos at 2 or 3 million per cinemas; do the maths.  So if the private sector can look at entertainment as a business and begin to get their people to study and look at what modalities can be used, it would go a very long way. 


What do you consider before accepting to play any role in your movies?

Every role for me is a chance to send a message out there.  We are blessed in this part of the world, because most of the time we don’t do entertainment for just the sake of entertainment.  Entertainment in Africa is usually tied to a need or our desire to pass on a message.  I look at the redemptive values that are in scripts before I accept.  Earlier on, the MD/CEO was talking about the body of my work; I still haven’t done up to 70 movies in spite of the fact that I have been in this business for 34 years.  I try to choose well.  Most of the younger people are more driven by other things so they tend to do up to a 100 films in a year.  I would recommend that if you want to take a role, you look for the intrinsic values in it before you go ahead because you want to be able to live with yourself a 100 years after that.


Anybody listening to you would think it’s been a smooth sail, but in business if you haven’t encountered pitfalls you haven’t started.  Please share with us, some of the challenges that you have had to face along the way.

The challenges are always going to be there.  There was a time when I used to squat around Lagos.  I am also facing a challenge today.  You would think that with all the experience that I have gathered if I walk through the doors of a bank or a telco, I’ll get whatever I want.  I am currently trying to create a new TV series and until date, if I don’t have pilot episodes, nobody will be ready to listen to me.  It is the same thing that happens in other industries that happens with us.  People will only jump on your success when you have self-financed and done all the work that you need to do before they come in.  No matter how well-written my proposal is right now, they still want to wait and see what happens to it.  I have been adjudged successful in this industry, but I still go through these challenges.  The challenges will always be there, but you have to never give up.


How can one succeed in the entertainment industry even when he or she knows it is not paying off as it should?

You will never get the amount of money that you want from day one.  If I went into this business for money, I won’t be where I am today. Like you know, I was a Commissioner for 7 years and Special Adviser for a year, which means I was in politics for 8 years.  I recall when I said I was leaving politics, there were quite a few people who thought I was mad.  But that is who I am, the entertainment industry is what defines me.  It is not the money, but the fact that it is a job that I enjoy.  Someone once said that the best job in the world is having fun and getting paid. 


What are the innovative steps you have taken as a player in the entertainment industry?

Your body is your tool, so you keep retooling your body.  If you’re an actor, you keep looking for projects that will enhance your brand and not take away from your brand.  Your intellectual capacity really does help in that area.


You were talking about raising initial capital.  How easy is it for someone like you to raise initial capital to start off a business?

Not easy at all.  You have to self-finance, unless you have an angel investor who really believes in what you are doing.

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