Coming from a country that is being blamed by sections of the filmmaking community in Ghana for inundating our market with their films to the disadvantage of local productions, one expects Theo Akatugba to be somehow measured in his comments about film production in this country.
Instead, the man who has been living and working in Ghana since 2001, boldly wades into the thorny issue of the state of productions in this country and like the name of his company, Point Blank Media Concepts, states point blank that television stations in Ghana are the biggest obstacles to the growth of the film production industry in this country.
This is because he says, they often favour foreign material, do not encourage production and are rather often out to exploit private producers.
Akatugba is known in film circles mainly as a producer but to many of his colleagues in the business and staff at Point Blank Media Concepts where he is the CEO, he is simply the man not scared at all to speak his mind on any issue. He recently vented his spleen on local television stations to Showbiz.
“The attitude of Ghanaian television stations is not to build a local film industry but rather to exploit the scene. The attitude of advertisers is also a hindrance to production.”
Point Blank Media Concepts was established in 2002 and is principally a producer of content for television. It made series like Tentacles (2003), The Ultimate Story (2004) and Broadway(2006). It ventured into feature film production not too long ago and its maiden product, called Bloody Kiss, is ready to be released.
It features a crop of known actors including George Williams, Pascaline Edwards, Fiifi Coleman and Ekow Smith Asante.
Having experienced the production terrain in Ghana since 2002, the outspoken man says there is not much to be excited about when it comes to input to industry growth by the television stations.
“All the television stations are supposed to create an enabling environment for the development of local content production. This does not exist. They are not producing themselves and they are not commissioning anybody to produce.”
The Point Blank boss said it baffles him why the stations charge the same amount of money for airtime for foreign programmes that had been acquired for about $300 and locally produced programmes that had been made at a cost of about $3,000 or more.
“In such a situation, you can immediately see that the local programme producer is at a disadvantage in the market place. The foreign programme is able to present a price for advertising at a lower rate than the local product because he acquired the programme at a lower price.
An advertiser will obviously ask why he should spend a certain amount of money when another programme on the same network is charging less.
So the guy who produces local content loses out. He cannot find the money to pay his actors, the actors get disillusioned and they cannot go past 13 episodes.
I do not blame the advertisers too much because they are there to find the cheapest but most effective way to sell their products and services. It is the televion stations that need to create an avenue where local programming will become attractive to advertisers.”
To Akatugba, it is a big tragedy that the stations pay lip service to everything though they are the worst culprits in terms of national degradation. He said they are quick to criticise politicians but do not assess what they are doing wrong themselves.
“The networks should tell us how many local drama programmes they are each producing since every drama production is a great employer of labour. Every piece of drama employs a minimum of 30 persons. If you have one 30-minute drama everyday on each television station produced by different groups, just calculate how many people will be employed.”
Asked why he continues to produce despite the problems he kept enumerating, Akatugba said he has found out that he can explore his productions beyond Ghana and tries hard to take advantage of that foreign market.
The man started out as an importer of foreign programmes for television. Now the series he has produced show across Africa.
“We are in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria and several other African countries on the Africa Magic platform. We are also in Europe and the Caribbean through OBE Television. So our work has expressed Ghana in many lands and territories and we are still doing so.”
Touching on the recent criticism by some Ghanaian filmmakers of the influx of Nigerian movies on the Ghanaian market, Akatugba said though he has been accused by some Nigerians filmmakers of tilting too much towards Ghana, he thinks Ghanaian filmmakers must stategise better on how to win over their compatriots to their work.
“They are faced with serious competition from a bigger player and they need to stategise on how to impress the audience with quality of content. You cannot use legislation to make Ghanaians buy Ghanaian films.
The Ghanaian filmmakers must provide something for the audience to pay for. So they must go back to their drawing board and see how they can beat what the Nigerians are offering.
There was no Nigerian film industry in the early 1990s. Chinese, Indian and American films were reigning. Nigerians started producing content that the foreign films could not respond to. They provided content that the people could understand and relate to.”
Akatugba was General Manager at the Top and Choice FM stations before setting up Point Blank Media Concepts.
He sees himself as a vital link between the film production communities of Ghana and Nigeria and suggests that effective collaboration is the best way forward for all.
Story by Nii Laryea Korley