By NNOROM AZUONYE
Collins Archie-Pearce & Azubuike Erinugha (Writer/Director, The Champion Sportsman) Photo: African Dazzle.
TOUGH WALK TO FIREWORKS
I looked forward to May 10, 2013 with measured optimism. The audience engineering campaign for the UK Premiere of The Champion Sportsman gained traction with the meanest reluctance. The long-suffering Nollywood movies audience made us sweat for postponing the premiere from November 2012, and I began to feel a nasty bubble in my stomach when of all the original ticket buyers from 2012 who received full and immediate refunds following the postponement, only one person, the amazing Chioma Yvonne Mbanefo returned to buy a ticket this time, and she did that just to show support even though she was going to be in faraway Belgium at Chika Unigwe’s event during the hours of the premiere.
The marketing team did not give up and pressed towards the mark, and in the last few days there was a surge in interest and the tickets uptake rose exponentially. By the eve of the event, we felt happy that there were over 100 advance ticket holders, a mix of celebrity invitees and lots of John Okafor’s fans. We were all excited because we felt that with the assurance of so many callers who wished to buy tickets on the night, it would be a full house. Unfortunately, on that Friday morning we received the rude shock that John Okafor (Mr Ibu) was definitely not coming to England. He did not get on the flight that morning.
Nnorom Azuonye (Nollywood Focus), Collins Archie-Pearce & Azubuike Erinugha. Photo: Yvonne Marx
Theodora Ibekwe being interviewed by Noellin Imoh of African Dazzle. Photo: Yvonne Marx
THE COST OF IBU
The undecided audience was then virtually wiped off because when they called to ensure Mr Ibu would be there live and we could not tell them a lie. We had to tell them that he could not make it. A lot of those we could not reach before the night who showed up at the cinema, we had to tell them prior to the screening that Mr Okafor had not come. It was not pretty. They accused us of false advertising, that we had lured them to the cinema with the promise of Mr Okafor’s presence knowing that he would not come. This was painful, and Mr Azubuike Erinugha, the director and producer of the film had to go to the extent of showing guests who demanded it, evidence of:
(a) an attendance fee paid to John Okafor
(b) an airline ticket purchased for John Okafor
(c) evidence of his accommodation in London for 1 week booked from the 9th of May.
It turned out that Mr Okafor, being fully aware of his commitment to his fans and to the producers of this film, having received a fee to attend the event, having been provided with a flight ticket, chose in his wisdom, during the week of the premiere to send his passport to the US Embassy to obtain a visa to the United States, but unfortunately as at that Friday he was due in London, the US Embassy had still not returned his passport.
The words we can use to apologise to our various publics do not yet exist. We sincerely hope that our regular supporters who buy tickets to film premieres we market will not hold this breach of contract by Mr John Okafor against us or against any other promoter of a Nollywood event.
There was no Mr Ibu, but the show did go on. I was outside for more than 40 minutes into the screening of the movie firefighting. The screening started at exactly 11:30pm, 10 minutes before we were scheduled to start. We gained time because the live comedy show by Mr Ibu did not hold. But people continued to turn up for the screening up to 12.30 am and were angry that they had come all the way only to miss the film. When I asked why they were showing up as 12.30am for a film scheduled to start screening at 11.40 on the programme, they said it was because of precedence. Writer Ndu Buisi had earlier warned me that evening to expect people turning up at 1.00am, apparently he had attended a premiere advertised for 8pm which did not start until 12.30am.
I am glad that we did start early enough but what made my evening was that when I was satisfied that nobody else would turn up and cause any problems, I went inside to see the rest of the film. I walked in to a carnival of laughter. As I stepped into the theatre, I was greeted by one of the cleanest Nollywood pictures I have ever seen. People were laughing themselves to the point I worried they would wee wee on the Odeon seats. The sound quality was exquisite. The film offered and the reaction of the audience was nothing short of fireworks and I was happy and for a moment I forgot how much of a graft it had been.
Nnorom Azuonye, Ngozi Thompson (Actress/Model), Azubuike Erinugha. Photo: Yvonne Marx
Much gratitude to all the parties involved in marketing The Champion Sportsman UK Premiere, particularly Collins Archie-Pearce, Amanda Okoli of Kirby PR, MikeCaze Global, Pink Enterprises, and Nollywood Movies.
All of us at Nollywood Focus wish Azubuike Erinugha the very best success with The Champion Sportsman as he sets his eyes on global distribution of this mirthful project. NF