I didn’t watch too many movies growing up because my dad thought they were a waste of time; he still does today. As a result, I only watched Nigerian series like Super Story. The plot was usually enough to keep me interested, but as I got older and started watching Hollywood movies, I wondered why there was such a vast difference in quality.
So, you can imagine my surprise and controlled excitement when I saw The Critics Company while going through the blog post announcing the #YouTubeBlackVoices Creator Class of 2022. I quickly sent an email to the team to schedule an interview. A few weeks ago, I spoke to the group’s producer, Ridwan Abdullateef, who shared the team’s journey.
The Critics Company is a team of filmmakers ranging from 8 to 27 years based in the Northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. Some of the team members who are siblings or cousins who had never met each other started meeting up to watch movies.
“Filmmaking for The Critics started about five years ago. It started from a love for films. Some of the team members are actually cousins and had not met before five years ago, but whenever they came together, the common ground was always movies.
“All the cool stuff we saw in Hollywood was absent in Nollywood, and so it got to the point when we started criticising the Nollywood films, and we did that through comedy, but at some point, even the comedy was no longer funny,” Abdullateef shares.
Rather than remain critics, they decided to start making their movies, and this was where they ran into the first problem.
“If something is missing somewhere, you can’t just talk all the time. You have to take action, and so that inspired going out to make the first film, but unfortunately again, no one on the team knew how to film or edit movies.”
At the time, most of the team were teenagers with no training in filmmaking or resources to pay for training. Turning to the Internet, the group watched tutorials on YouTube and read books on filmmaking. Using a smartphone that belonged to a teammate’s father, they started shooting short films, which they uploaded online.
“We have this pause and play on most mobile phones today where you can record someone, pause it while they change or do something else, and it looks like it was filmed in one take. So that was where we started.”
Many teenagers in Nigeria are either in secondary school or on their way to university, so how has the team handled their parents’ expectations?
According to Abdullateef, their parents wanted them to get a university degree. Two members of the group – Godwin Josiah and Raymond Yusuff – got admitted into the Kaduna State University and the University of Abuja, respectively, before dropping out.
“We got into discussions with our parents, but they didn’t understand or listen to us, but with persistence and continuous hard work, they came to realise that this was what we wanted to do. Also, for the past three years, we’ve been living alone, so that has helped.”
From Kaduna to the world
In the early days, the team posted their short movies on Facebook. However, when they made their first movie – Redemption – they felt putting it on YouTube would give them access to a broader audience. However, their videos did not receive as much attention as they did on Facebook until a few months later.
Nollywood producer and maker of The Wedding Party, Kemi Adetiba, also came across their videos and helped them raise money to get equipment. In 2020, they worked on the set of her political thriller, King of Boys: The Return of the King.
Adetiba is not the only veteran filmmaker interested in the team. Hollywood executives J.J. Abrams, Franklin Leonard, and Scott Myers have also noticed them, with Leonard and Abrams sending the team some equipment in 2020. In addition to King of Boys, the team has also worked on projects for Kaspersky, Africa No Filter, and Revelation Entertainment.
Africa’s creator economy is still growing, fuelled by youth on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. However, one of the challenges they face is monetisation – getting those willing to pay for their services and charging the right price.
Even though The Critics started making movies as a hobby, it has become a job for them, and Abdullateef credits the support of older filmmakers for their growth.
“We’re lucky to have older, seasoned professionals in the industry. We’re in talks with mentors like J.J. Abrams, Franklin Leonard, etc., who give us advice on how to monetise our products. They know how much people in Europe get paid, and so they ensure that we also get paid on that level.”
They’re also represented by Creative Arts Agency, a talent management agency with Beyoncé on its books while Olisa Agbakoba Legal handles their legal affairs.
“It’s not just a hobby for us anymore. We work very professionally. Everything passes through a process before we sign a contract with a client.”
Where they once needed better filming equipment, the team now has to ensure that every project is better than the last while balancing other commitments. Having gotten opportunities to work with industry experts so early in their careers, the team is focused on learning as much as they can.