Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

25 November 2012

Ethiopia: The Business of Movie Scripts

Following the booming of the cinema industry in the city, many amateurs are benefiting from writing movie scripts. Most collects up to 15,000 Br for one script.

Abdisa Mitiku, 31, mathematics teacher in Hanibal School, a private high school, joined the Mathematics Department atJimmaUniversityin 2002, and graduated in 2006. He has been a teacher ever since.

He joined Alatinos Film Makers Association in 2009 and a year later he started writing film scripts.

"After joining Alatinos, I started to listen to myself and searching my destiny," he said. He then met Henok Ayele, a film director, and Abiy Fenta, coordinator of the association, who helped him realize that he could write scripts.

Over the following three years, he would write more than 10 scripts. He sold five of them to film makers last year. Two scripts, Geniesu and Hisab Astemari, were sold for 30,000 Br each; two other were sold for 20,000 Br and 15,000Br.

The experience has paid off. His last script is currently being made into a movie, and he has negotiated 40pc of the profits in return. Yet he still has other scripts which he wants to sell away for at least 30,000Br.

Amateur script writers like Abdisa are flooding to the sector attracted by its financial benefit. Seven of the 12 film script writers Fortune talked with have been fully engaged in the business for the past three years; five of them are graduates of Crop Science, Chemistry and Mathematics.

"Thousands of scripts have been written by those who were not in the art profession," said Tewodros Teshome, script writer, director and producer, who also owns Sebastopol Cinema.

"Twilight was written by Melissa Rosen, a house wife," said Tewodros.

For amateur script writers like Abdisa, it can be the latent motive that drives them to join the film industry. But the blooming film industry can have a pull factor to attract more writers to join the business.

On Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 Fortune has talked with nine people about the price of film script who lined-up in front of National Theatre to watch Eta Feleg. Except one person who estimates the maximum price of script, 15,000Br, seven people estimate between 3,000Br and 7,000Br while for the remaining it was a surprise to hear that writers sold film scripts.

But the peoples estimation and the real price are far apart. Currently, the price of a film script reaches as much as 75,000Br. Scripts of Yeteqlay Ministru Lijoch, Webetn Filega and Seba Be-selasa were sold for 75,000Br, 70,000 Br and 60,000 Br, respectively Fortune learnt. Writers say, however, that the average is somewhere between 45,000Br to 50,000Br.

Tewodros bought the script for Alazar for 5,000 Br before eight years ago, but he paid 70,000 Br a month ago for Yeteqlay Ministru Lejoch.

The number of script writers is increasing in parallel to the price increase of film script.

Looking at the profitability of writing film script, brokers and agents are coming in, linking the writers with the film producers.

To make his business successful Abdisa holds a lawyer to serve him as an agent for his business. The work of the agent is contacting with film makers and making the deals. Abdisa and his agent agreed to have equal share if the script sold for more than 30,000Br.

Film script writing business is substantial livelihood for part-time writers like Abdisa. Abdissa finishes a 60 to 70 page script in three weeks to three months.

If one script writer can finish one script and make a sale for a minimum of 40,000 Br every two months, he could secure 240,000Br a year.

The business of script writing has also attracted students like Shiferaw Mola and Yohanes Lakew ofAdamaUniversity.

There were 56 participants at a weekly literature programme held at the University on November 21, 2012. Thirty of those expressed interest to become script writers, and 20 of those were engineering students, according to Tsegaye Hailemikael, who coordinates the literature club known as Eroben Kegna Gar.

Part of the attraction for these students is that they believe they could make a lot more money writing script than the salary they could earn as employees somewhere. Shiferaw and Yohaness are already looking for buyers for the scripts they have already written.

Abdisa speaks from experience that there is a good market for scripts, but Tewodros is concerned about quality issues.

"If I get a good script, I will buy it for more than 100,000Br," he said.

A week ago he said he bought a film, Hiwote, for 1.2 millionBr.

Currently there is no association of script writers like producer and actors association, which is one of the reasons that makes difficult to know the exact number of script writers.

There are also people who sell movie ideas, as well as others who get paid writing screenplays as well as those who translate scripts.

Tedros Teklearegay, a director and newspaper columnist, says he has been paid 40,000Br and 50,000 Br, respectively, to write the screenplays for Taxi Tera and Netsa Qelebet.

A movie based on Abdisa's script, with a story based on football, will premier in two months around the same time as the beginning of the African Cup Nations inSouth Africa. Abdisa is now moving ahead with the money and experience he has accumulated and preparing to produce his own movie.

"Most of the time film makers do not produce the film after they bought the script, because they get involved in other businesses," he said "If my script is not made into a film, I will not be known enough to sell scripts for a good price."

It is difficult to know the price of scripts in the market. For instance the price of the script for Webetin Filega, according to various sources, was 100,000Br, 80,000Br and 85,000Br. But Getnet Eniyew, the script writer, says he only got 75,000Br for it.

Some producers, according to Abdisa, even throw away the names of the script writers and put theirs. One such producer contacted for this piece angrily hung up the phone.

Isayas Teklu, who has two film scripts, is challenged because film makers look for only famous names when they buy scripts.

"My purpose is not money, but to see my script on screen," Isayas said.

In 2011/12 nearly 167 films and 147 stage plays had premiered in 15 private and public halls in Addis Abeba.Sebastopolcinema shares 27 of them, eight of which were written and produced by the same person.

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