Nigerian animator Mbuotidem Johnson, CEO of Basement Animation, tells Content Nigeria about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on production, his company and the sector at large.
What do you think about the spread of Covid-19 and its effect on the economy?
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives and even how we do business. No one knows how long this will last. Many businesses have been forced to adapt to the situation and revamp their models and those that have not been able to quickly find and implement new models that work are going out of business. This has brought about massive lay-offs, unemployment and uncertainty all over the world.
Businesses in the media and entertainment industry are not left out as content distribution has been affected. For example, there are movies that ought to have been released in the cinemas in this period. However, the choice has to be made between releasing their movies now and not meet their targets as cinemas are shut down or have their release dates pushed later when they will have to compete with even more movies for the consumer’s money. So it’s not exactly a win-win situation.
Most productions have been temporarily shut down but you have kept production going at Basement. How did you do this?
We are able to work remotely because before the lockdown started all members of the production team were provided with the equipment they need to work from home. We also provide data allowances so that we can send all of the large files we need to send during the course of our work.
Meetings are being held on WhatsApp groups and video calls. The system is not perfect, yet as the unpredictability of power supply is an issue that affects our working hours. It’s a work in progress and we are facing the challenges as they come.
Are you working on any animated series at the moment?
Since late last year we joined the production team of one of the most popular kids animated series from Africa: Bino & Fino [from EVCL]. Depending on our responsibilities we will be on this project for the next few months. We are also in the development phase of our own IP: Adefellas. We hope to start the production phase soon.
How do you intend handling any unforeseen challenges you may encounter while working remotely?
The greatest challenge would be if any of us contracted the virus. That’s one of the reasons we encouraged everyone to start working from home before the lockdown directive was given. Other than that, we are still facing the same challenges we were faced with before the lockdown: reliable internet access and epileptic power supply. And because everyone has their unique challenges, we communicate regularly with everyone to know what challenges they may be facing and help figure out a way out of these challenges.
Do you think other animation production houses will follow suit? How can they manage what is going on without it affecting their productions?
I am in touch with a number of animation studios and many of them are still functioning. We all have the same issues about power supply and reliable internet access. Eventually everyone will decide what works best for them.
Looking forward, do you intend changing how you operate in the post-Covid-19 landscape?
I don’t think it will be back to business as usual after the lockdown. People will still be wary of crowded places for some time after it is called off.
For us at Basement Animation, we have been able to build a system where people can work remotely and we intend to continue working remotely for some time after the lockdown is called off until we are sure everywhere is safe, so as to protect the health of our staff. We are also growing our team so this will be an opportunity to work with talent from other states who will not have to relocate to Lagos to work with us.
What lessons do you think Nigerians can learn from this crisis, particularly in the Nollywood and animation industries?
We really cannot predict when these types of things will happen even though we have to make plans for them. We have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. For the Nollywood and animation industries, many of us in these industries only get paid when there’s a production going on and now that production has stopped, everyone has to rely on whatever savings they had before.
Perhaps we need to try a different approach to content production and distribution such that the content we create will have a longer life and consumption of these content is maximised. This could ensure that stakeholders continue to get some payment from their past works over the course of the life of the content.