How Filmmakers Mart Is Building The Ultimate African Production Partner
The startup has raised over $336,500 in a pre-seed round led by Future Africa and is working to improve film production logistics and collaboration in Africa.
In early 2021, as the film industry struggled to lift itself after the lockdown, Chioma Paul-Dike was almost done with film school and was making a short film. She got a location scout who found a place for some of the scenes and paid for it. The owner had other plans.
With the cast and crew assembled and waiting to set up, the owner told Chioma that his house was no longer available because his mother-in-law was coming over that day. Then, he drove off.
The team was bewildered and had to begin shopping for a new location on the spot. They were looking everywhere they could find a free space to shoot that also looked good. The frustration of that moment and the promise of different circumstances backed by a tech-enabled logistics solution was the last straw that helped Chioma decide to co-found Filmmakers Mart.
For a while, her friends, Eric Kafui Okyerefo and Igho Arusi, whom she attended film school with, tried to convince her to join their tech startup where they’d run experiments to solve the biggest Africa’s production booking and management issues and disrupt the space in an industry that largely relied on referrals to manage its logistics.
The inconvenient booking system, where an agent books the location or equipment on behalf of the production without much oversight and quality, often results in circumstances like the aforementioned incident. The agent either books the wrong thing on the wrong date, does not reach the right agreement with the property owner(s) or inflates the costs.
“They would play with the idea and come to me to discuss my experience, for research,” she told In Nollywood. “I was always the go-to person because I had worked in the industry for a while before film school. I was hesitant about building this and just wanted to provide answers in the background. After that episode, it made sense to build this with them. I understand filmmaking and its issues.”
As a filmmaker, Chioma understands production logistics pains and how fixing them efficiently helps increase production values. She is the Product Lead at Filmmakers Mart, primarily focused on how best to design and maintain a platform that solves these issues and more for the African film industry.
The trio – Okyerefo, Arusi and Chioma – were soon joined by Victor Awotidebe and teamed up to co-found Filmmakers Mart. Okyerefo is the CEO and leads business strategy with a boots-on-the-ground approach; Chioma leads product guided by her experience as a filmmaker; Arusi leads operations, building relationships and workflows between logistics partners and clients; Awotidebe leads engineering, figuring out the best iteration of an online logistics marketplace for Africa.
The initial idea the team had was called Recce Solutions and it mainly focused on providing production locations. As they spent more time understanding the market and the team expanded, the other production needs of the industry became more apparent. The mission shifted to building a full-scale logistics partner marketplace designed to solve the biggest production problems.
Filmmakers Mart is an online marketplace where filmmakers and production studios can find verified services, from logistics to permits.
“Filmmakers Mart is innovative. They understand the importance of finding the right filming locations and providing needed support for filmmakers,” Trino Studio, a client said in a glowing review. Most of the reviews speak about the ease that comes with having the company as a production partner and the transparency with which they approach work.
Although the startup plans to service the entire production value chain, its primary focus at the moment is to bridge the gap between production service providers and filmmakers with its marketplace. Users can open accounts as clients or service providers. The latter gets to list their services on the platform and the former has their pick and pays through the platform.
The entire process is vetted for quality control to ensure that the services and locations listed are actually fit for purpose, and that the customers adhere to the rules of engagement once the renting has occurred. This is primarily Arusi’s field as Operations Lead.
“Navigating operations is always challenging but in this case, I love the work because I am a filmmaker and I love filmmaking,” Arusi told In Nollywood. “I am always on the move, making sure that the locations and services we list are the right quality. Every day, I encounter different kinds of people, especially touts (area boys), some of whom are my people now because we have built a relationship over time.
“It’s really about quality and customer satisfaction. Once people come on the platform, they are assured they will get what they’ve asked for because we are not afraid to do the work to make it happen. We have a wonderful team that is committed to maintaining the standard,” he said.
Kingsley Asoegwu, who is a Product Manager at Filmmakers Mart, told In Nollywood that he joined the business to help more people bring productions to life in the most seamless way possible. He works with Chioma to ensure that the product is presented in the best way for the clients and continually delivers on its promise.
Managing two ends of a marketplace in Nigeria is fraught with its challenges. Top on the list is distrust for the process and low adoption of tech solutions for everyday production needs in the film industry.
The team tackles these issues by investing heavily in service providers to maintain and improve the quality that clients have come to expect. “We are building a system that makes it easier for people to get these services and at the right price but we also need to train the people providing these services so it’s easier to build more facilities that serve the industry.
“We also do a lot of direct selling and are building an agency network of service providers. We scout and onboard them after a thorough verification process. Then, we offer some training. It is important to us that we have the right people providing these services,” Okyerefo said.
Filmmakers Mart does a lot of direct selling to clients, especially large-scale clients like production companies. A good portion of their growth over the years has come from direct selling and word of mouth. People use the service, love it and tell others about it.
A recurring word in client feedback for them is transparency and affordability. The platform often lists some services at cheaper prices than the one-person agents quote, and the availability of necessary paperwork that helps production companies in their filing and accounting needs has helped the startup gain traction so far.
Recently, the startup has been expanding its global focus. It was at the Berlinale Film Festival and other major events in South Africa, the US, Europe and Asia to establish relationships as the leading tech-enabled production partner for the African film industry. Okyerefo noted that a major thing he has learnt from these interactions is that there’s a market out there waiting for African productions.
When Filmmakers Mart started, there was some worry about the film industry’s acceptance of a tech platform and how quickly significant adoption would take.
“The industry is still quite traditional,” Chioma said. “But there are changes as people do more business with global players. The need for a transparent marketplace with the necessary documentation has become more important and this has driven the adoption.”
For Awotidebe, the Engineering Lead, the solution has helped lower the barrier of entry for young people who want to make films. They have lesser logistical hurdles to cross and that gives them space to focus on the more creative aspects of filmmaking.
Jessica Jackson, who works in Customer Service at the startup, echoed his point and looks forward to a more efficient production process all-around in markets where Filmmakers Mart operates.
“I look forward to that time when the company is the first thing people think of when they think about productions. It means that we would have truly delivered on excellence consistently, which is what we are working towards,” she said.
The startup recently raised $336, 500 in a pre-seed round led by Future Africa and intends to expand its operations across Africa in line with its mission to become the go-to production partner in the continent.
According to Okyerefo, they have been experimenting in Kenya and Ghana for a while and will officially launch in both markets in 2024.
“This year, we are going to see a bunch of international productions coming to work on the continent particularly West Africa and then parts of East Africa, and we are going to be a significant part of helping these productions work,” he said.
In the long term, Filmmakers Mart wants to make collaboration easier for productions on the continent and is experimenting with a service that would help creatives access financing for projects. For now, they are focused on growing the industry by improving the convenience of production logistics.
This article was first published in our latest film business journal, The Industry. Download it here.