In the world of cinema designs and construction, British born Nigerian Prince Tikare is leading the pack in executing top-notch architectural masterpieces across the world. From his first experience at Europe’s biggest shopping mall, Blue Water Retail Park (UK), to working with Warner Brothers International delivering cinemas in Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Japan and the UK, Tikare is fast gaining fame as a master in big-budget cinema projects. In this interview, he speaks on his passion for cinema and the challenges in the sector.
By Henry Ojelu
Share a little about your educational background
I am an architect by training. I have a First Degree from Metropolitan University London, and then a Postgraduate Degree from Kingston University, also in the UK.
After graduation I got my first job with a company called Designs Solutions and my first project ended up being Blue Water Retail Park, which was to become Europe’s largest shopping mall.
As an Architect I love doing Retail, it’s dynamic, fast pacing and it taps into the economic cycle of business, which happens to be one of my passions.
What is your work experience like?
My cinema building career started at Warner Brothers designing and building cinemas all over the world from Japan to Italy, and everywhere in between.
At some point, I felt the need to expand and did freelancing for large architectural practices from Conran Designs to KPF to SOM, that meant buildings such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shard, Wembley Stadium Retail Park, etc.
It broadened my area of expertise as I went from Shopping malls and Cinemas to Hospitals, Hotels, Office Buildings and Airports.
After that, and through my London Business School network, Genesis Hospitality contacted me about a new cinema project, which was to become Genesis Cinemas.
At the time, there was only one cinema brand, Silverbird, and so it was a very ambitious project with long rollout of branches across the whole country.
The thing is, unlike what most clients believe, Cinema Building is not a very common skill, it is very specialised and there aren’t that many architects with my skill set. Genesis’ Chairman and I together we started the foundation of Genesis Cinemas right here in my London Studio, a few weeks after the initial introduction.
We built Genesis Port-Harcourt and the Palms, before two of its MDs decided to leave the company and start their own cinema chain.
Building & Designing cinemas is very different from the day to day running of it, which is how I ended up in charge of designing and building Filmhouse Cinemas from the point where it was just an idea to a cinema chain. As a client they were challenging as they were on a very tight budget but all clients are different in their own way.
How did you catch the cinema industry bug?
I got into cinema building by accident. At the time I was freelancing when I was headhunted to work for Warner.
The agency kept calling me and leaving me messages. Several interviews later, here I was age 26 with a free cinema pass, an unlimited company AMEX and travelling all over the world from one building site to another meeting different people.
I can tell you, it was great! Thanks to that I gained a ton of building experience and the cinema-building bug caught me.
Are cinemas a good business in Nigeria?
Definitely! The cinema industry has a lot of potential; there are only so many sport bars you can have. It is all about entertainment, people can watch Netflix at home and don’t necessarily have to go out, but cinemas are a social thing.
Lagos has close to 21 million people and there are only 12 cinemas and compared to shopping malls they are much cheaper to build. If you go to a regular bar on a Friday night, you can barely move because it is full of people having a good time, spending money on drinks.
People have the disposable income, but the offering is simply not there or not enough. The cinema space can provide the same ambience and more, if there are more of them around.
What about the capital requirement?
That’s a double-edged sword because it is a fairly new market. The figures are not very transparent. Recently, I was talking to a client who was ready to go into the business.
When I sent him the invoice he said, wow, you don’t really want me to do this project, do you? I introduced him to the Bank of Industry and it was then when it sank for him: wow, this is really how much it costs.
It costs money because we have to build things like acoustic walls, and also the equipment. A cinema is not just four walls with a projector, and there lies the misconception.
There is no way around it, but I have come up with local solutions to bring prices down, and that is where my experience and knowledge can save them money. The key thing about cinema is location, location, location. If you get the location right you are halfway there. Leave the rest to me!
Is it possible to have a cinema that focuses on local communities, rather than major cities?
Yes, it is possible. I worked on a pilot scheme with the Lagos State Government on a series of community cinemas. It was very promising but at some point some people hijacked it.
Till date, I don’t know how it went. But I believe there are still discussions around it. Ten years ago, former Governor Babatunde Fashola went to India and he was inspired by how their community cinemas were very important to them in creating an entertainment point.
I believe the discussion over community cinema is ongoing in Lagos and the government is taking it seriously.
Despite the potential in cinema business, profit margins are often shielded in secrecy. Why is this so?
That used to be the case but the situation is changing now because effective reporting is going online in real-time. The figures are now in the cloud. There is very little of what anyone can cover up now because it is out there in the cloud.
You can find out the figures for yesterday’s sales; anybody can, it is free now. The practice where cinema houses covered up their figures is fast becoming a thing of the past.
Apart from a few international experts like yourself, do you think we have enough local expertise to effectively execute big-budget cinema projects?
We have a good number of people in the business but some of them don’t have the exposure. For instance, I can assemble a team here in Nigeria and execute a cinema project simply because I have done so many projects before.
That is exactly what happened in the music industry. Because they get exposed to so much foreign production, local guys could shoot very fantastic music videos.
In the cinema design and construction sector, we need to bring in the right people and do what the music industry has done: open the industry to the outside world and allow people to learn from each other.
Apart from cinemas, what other things do you do?
I do quite a lot: I am an inventor, a businessman in the plant-based food manufacturing sector and I have two patents to my name, to name a few.
Going by your experience, what advice would you give to young Nigerians trying to earn an honest living?
We need to change our thinking and take it away from the oil wealth entitlement mentality. I think it’s endemic. In my experience, a lot of young people see you coming with your nice suit and expensive watch and immediately feel they are just going to earn it in a day or two.
Their leaders are failing them by not leading by example. They think that if they just go into government all of a sudden they will be rich.
Something needs to be done and it has to come from the leadership, where you show people that if you work hard you can achieve anything you want but it’s not going to be overnight.