I left engineering for script writing
When Tai Emeka Obasi gained admission to Anambra State Polytechnic, Oko, to study Civil Engineering it never occured to him that he would not practice the profession for which he trained in the early 80s. Instead of kitting up day and night in an overall, attending to machines, Obasi took to writing. Interestingly today, Obasi is a novelist, scriptwriter and movie producer.
Even though many are wont to ask how a trained engineer would dabble into writing and make waves. To such questions, the artiste always has a prepared answer, "writing gives me joy and to date, I've written hundreds of scripts aside from the three books in my name." Recently, Obasi spoke to Daily Sun on his cross over from engineering to creative writing, the challenges facing artistes in Nigeria, and why he ventured into film production.
Why civil engineering?
I think it was as a result of the counseling I had, and the situation of things in the country then. I can recall that when I was in the secondary school, the moment someone was identified as an intelligent person, the next thing that would be suggested to the individual was for him to study either of medicine, engineering or law. Personally, I believe that for anyone to excel in life, he or she must do what he loves. Actually, I practiced engineering for eight years before I started writing full time. Initially, I was doing it as a hobby. Then, I was contributing to a sporting newspaper even while into engineering practice.
Books and film scripts
My first book is still being awaited. The work is still with a U.K.-based publishing firm which has accepted to publish it. Hopefully, it will be out before the end of the year. Among the book, Senator is the third but it is the first to be turned into a film. However, my first script is entitled Terror, followed by The Bastard, Born to Suffer, Disguise, Deadly Kiss among others.
You would recall that the present political dispensation started on a quarrelsome note in 1999. The National Assembly for instance, had so much difficulty settling down, more especially The Senate. So, I embarked on my private investigation and I dug up a lot of dirty deals part of which formed the background for The Senator. Though it is a fiction, but then, no book is absolutely fictitious. Every story contains some elements of truth and reality. Sequel to The Senator is The Senate President. My latest film, The Incumbent was based on the politics of Anambra State. To write the film, I had to travel to Anambra State to research and to observe events as they unfolded. I did all that because I didn't want to write in vacuum.
Becoming a Producer
I did that because I wanted to have a grasp of what film production is all about. Oftentimes when you write a script, the producer may tell you that it is difficult to produce the things you have written. In order to prevent such a thing, I decided to produce The Incumbent and have first hand knowledge of film production.
Problems and Limitations
There are lots of limitation in terms of infrastructure and equipment. There is no point writing a script that will be difficult to produce. Also, the actors pose problems, especially when they are involved in more than one production at a time. There is also the problem of bringing together all the materials you need to do a production. For example, if you want to use a building for recording, the owner of the house may start making frivolous demands, on properties like cars. Some of them will not even allow their cars to be kept overnight especially if they are in a very good condition. Some of these benefactors sometimes fail to accept that you made need to shoot some of the scenes at night talk less of hiring cranes to get angle shots like it's done abroad.
In this country, we are so handicapped in many areas. But we should not allow important things like research to slip by. Every script writer should engage in research into what they are writing about, because you cannot take your viewers for granted all the time. You may even be surprised that some of them have first hand knowledge of the places and events you are writing about.
This is a problem everyone in the industry is currently facing. It is really a sad. I must commend CharlyBoy Oputa for what he is doing in the music industry. You will be surprised that as soon as a film is released to the market, the video club owners will buy just a copy, and go ahead to reproduce five. Meanwhile, the censors board has worsened the situation by issuing licenses to the owners of video clubs. Unfortunately at the end of the day, the film producers get nothing. I believe that if the industry is handled in a way that every film bought is the original copy and straight from the marketers, the losses of the producers would be minimised.
I can't say that I am fulfilled at this stage but I believe the sky is my limit. I left civil engineering for writing and I plan to get to the top. The problem I have now is time. There are many producers demanding for my scripts. As from January next year, you will begin to see changes in the industry.
We have many critics but I think we deserve some commendation. Production of films began in this country about thirteen years ago and there has been so much improvement in the sector that people now compare Nigerian movie scene to Hollywood, which has over 100years history. I think that they should give us some time. They have failed to consider our limitations. For instance, you can't use certain words in your films or else, the censors board will descend heavily on you. For instance, if you want to shoot a film that has to do with government , you may not be able to move near Aso Rock to get an establishing shot of the seat of power. Yet, we see the white house all the time in Hollywood films. If you want to use armoured tankers, nobody gives you access to them. Even, police guns are difficult to come by.
Many of the film producers that fly down from other countries marvel at what we can work with to achieve the much we do. Infact, give them the same things we had to use here and they tell you they can't work with it. However, the industry is getting international recognition and people are beginning to document Nigerian films and Nollywood has been classified as the fastest growing film industry in the world today.