Who is Black Magic Tim?
He is an African American Visual Artist living in the United States, who was trained in cinematography, visual effects, editing and directing. His film career began in the early 90’s after film school by directing and filming national music videos for artists on major and independent record labels. He was primarily a film guy and owned several motion picture cameras like the CP-16 mm, Bolex and Arri 35mm BL4. There were no digital cameras then and no non-linear editing. If you made film then, you did it the Hollywood way.
Him and a group of other colleagues formed a visual effects and motion picture company called Black Magic Cinemaworks. They produced a plethora of science fiction films and action shorts. The dream of the company was to be the black version of George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), so they fashioned the name after it denoting ourselves as black magicians of the silver screen. Hence Tim was referred to as Tim of Black Magic Cinemaworks or Black Magic Tim.
In the summer of 2004, he met Ghanaian musical artist Koby Maxwell. They decided to work together, and they produced a low budget music video together called “I’m Aware”. At that time, a low budget music video was still considered over $10,000 and Tim was impressed that an individual could raise that kind of money needed to produce a video project. Tim had been dealing mostly with companies and people of prominence because film at that time was still cost prohibitive to individuals. As the DSLR camera revolution began to emerge in 2008, the cost of production greatly changed. Around that time, Koby then approached Tim again, about getting involved with film production in Nollywood.
Black Magic Tim – Video Highlight
After seeing some of the boxes and DVD of these films, he was a bit turned off because of the quality of just the artwork alone. After watching these films for a few minutes, he flatly said “no”. “I could not see myself contributing to films of that level and quality.” When Kobe informed Tim that all five of the movies I had in my hand were done for $10,000 total and in less than a month’s time, he was appalled and indicated “How could I respect something that had no respect for the artesan involved with creating it or it’s final outcome?” Koby assured Tim that Nollywood was on the rise and that producers were looking to create better films, but they needed someone onboard who had vision and a more “western” approach to produce better films.
So how did you get involved with Nollywood?
I informed Koby, that the first thing that needed to happen was to spend more money than what was currently being spent. A lot more money! Koby then introduced me to the Chima Movie Empire and that is when I was fully introduced to Nollywood. Here was a guy, Austine Chima, who had much more money to support a better Nollywood film than most others at the time and he had an interesting African “Scarface” type script. He also owned a huge African Movie Store that I did not know existed, with as many movies as Blockbuster Video. Intrigued, I took a chance on his script and I was the first to use a DSLR camera in a Nollywood production. On day one on set, Chima and A-list actor Ramsey Noauh were skeptical of me and my “DSLR” camera set up.
Not knowing any of my history, I was bombarded with questions about why we were using a still camera. Even director Bayo Akinfemi was skeptical of this “new technology”. Even with all the skepticism, I managed to assure them that this was the new way low budget films could be made and after seeing some of the dailies, they quickly became believers. I later went on to film and edit the award winning film “Paparazzi Eye in the Dark” produced by Koby Maxwell himself and also working again with Akinfemi of Busted Life.
What do you feel are some of the greatest challenges facing the growth of Nollywood in America?
The initial challenge was raising production quality. Picture quality, audio, and lighting were things that earlier pioneers of the genre did not pay much attention too. Their primary focus was the story and the fact that they could impact the minds of their audiences with stories about morality. After producing tens of thousands of movies this way, the audience became conditioned to the low budget and amateurish look of these films. Even though the audio was unmixed, the picture was subpar and technical precision was poor, this was fine for the core audience who enjoyed seeing their favorite actors growing in entertainment. Other contributing challenges were a lack of proper budgets, substandard equipment and piracy.
As with all things, audiences overtime desired more and film makers wanted to deliver better movies. Although equipment became cheaper, the true cross over to a larger audience won’t happen until more attention is placed upon improving technical excellence and care in making films that are considered more timeless or technically acceptable to more than just the core fan group. If films continue to be made in a disposable fashion, then the future of Nollywood films will be forever stained.
Fortunately, a renaissance has begun wherein more and more actors, directors and technicians have begun to grasp the industry and dedicate themselves to raising the bar. This movement has set a new standard for the way their films will look and be accepted. Films like Mirror Boy, Dangerous Men, Paparazzi, Somewhere in Africa and many others are redefining what Nollywood represents, thereby opening the door to wider audiences through more engaging story plots and greatly improved technical skills. This, in itself, has not only grown the genre as a whole, but also made the name Nollywood a more global force. With these improvements in cinema quality also comes the addition of larger budgets.
Early Nollywood films were being produced for under $10,000 and in less than 2 weeks total, sometimes recouping double or triple that cost just in the core market alone, but these same films didn’t have the technical precision to generate more money because the quality was not high enough to enter them into the world market. As these budgets ballooned to $50,000 to $100,000 or more, the quality of the films increased tremendously because more professionally qualified people were able to get on board to help create better final products. Yet many still held onto the old mind set and even were sometimes angered by spending what they considered to be too much money on ONE film. They considered spending $100,000 on 10 films to be a smarter move, as they can recoup upwards of $300,000 from those 10 low budgeted films. This short sided mindset is one of the biggest handicaps to the future of Nollywood. Producers don’t want to spend more money because they feel outside of their comfort zones for recouping it. Having been trained to spend $10k to make $20k has become the norm, but failing to see the long term effect of this mentality is missed. Film makers historically can and do make money on larger budget films. Why would any film maker repetitiously work hard to make little or no money on something they are so passionate about? Over time, working this way will burnout the low budget film maker and leave a legacy of undesirable poorly crafted films. That’s why growth and sustainability are mandatory!
Those film makers who do spend more on budget still run into an equally challenging dilemma. If they have spent $100,000 on a film, they now don’t know want to do with it because there is no real Nollywood marketing and promotion machine set up to get the money back or turn a profit. They have now entered the next big mountain after increasing production quality that every historically closed genre reaches – selling your film outside your core group. Now that you have a quality diverse film that more people want to see, the new stumbling block is getting past the stigma of poor quality and unfulfilled expectations left by the genres predecessors. Further hampering of a successful financial return is lack of foresight or sheer fear to ask a private investor(usually someone outside the business of film) for additional funds for promotion and marketing as well as the initial cost to produce the film. Fear not, however, for every genre reaches this point and sometimes early pioneers feel crushed by this new overwhelming responsibility.
Bollywood, African American Cinema, Chinese Martial Arts, Anime, and foreign films in general all came into the public eye the same way. It always took a few pioneers to erase the stigma and create something that introduced the world to something new. The same is true for Nollywood. Great films like “Slum Dog Millionaire”, Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It”, Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon”, and Japanese Anime’s “Akira” all are extraordinary crossover films with very similar beginnings as Nollywood. Before the inception of any of these films, all of these genres were unknown, except to the core fans who supported their early legacy and you can also best believe that those who came before them had equally low budgets. Now, however, each has become a megamillion dollar icon of its independent genre subsequently increasing the value of every other film in its market.
With this said, the greatest challenges to Nollywood now is staying the hard course, and making the sacrifices necessary to improve the image and integrity of how all films are produced, executed and finished. Respect and support of fellow film makers and polishing the product from beginning to end is equally important. Once that one polished, respected film breaks down the global door, then the other best of the best will follow behind. Film makers need to hold on to their precious films and not sell themselves short. If $100k is spent on your film, but you only get people who want to buy it for $10k, refuse to accept it. Take pride in the work you have done. Explore your options. If your film is a quality film, it will have longevity. It will make you money for a lifetime and not just that project. It’s also important to find executive producers who understand film. Nothing is worse than EP’s cutting your budget because they can’t understand why you need to rent lights.
How can people find out more about you?
I’m always happy to discuss potential projects as long as they are game changing ventures. Integrity is very important to me. If I’m involved, you have to be ready for the project to blow minds or count me out. I look forward to more Nollywood cinema productions as a cinematographer or editor. I am looking to shoot on red or film for my next projects. Currently I am involved in the Japanese Pop Music market again doing music videos and documentaries. I can be reached at www.rvimm.com and you can google “The History of Black Magic Tim” to see a biography of my life’s works.
www.vimeo.com/rvimm/paparazzi10minforfree Scenes from Paparazzi Eye in the Dark
www.rvimm.com Official Site
www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFzvlGaLkCs History of Black Magic Tim