Here comes Mr Prolific
Movie director, Chico Ejiro or Kpa-kpa-pka, as some people call him, bears comparison with Hollywood's pop culture icon, Roger Corman, by sheer prolificity and speed with which they both turn out movies. The comparison doesn't end there. Corman was a star maker, having launched the careers of such legends as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. Ejiro, too, gave a number of Nigerian stars their break. Among them: Shan George, Victoria Inyanma, Emeka Ike, Rita Dominic, Jim Iyke. We could go on and on.
The query before him, according to observers, is whether it is possible to achieve professional quality by the frequency with which he rolls out his movies. With an average of between eight and ten films in a year, Chico Ejiro, the Chief Executive of Grand Touch Pictures, has not only produced over thirty films, he has directed close to a hundred movies in Nigeria, the reason some of his admirers have branded him Mr Prolific.
But drawing a line between a businessman and a professional filmmaker, non supporters of the youngman's ideas prefer to be silent in order not to appear to run a colleague down. However, most actors in the industry would readily applaud the Delta State born producer for the high turn over of films which apparently put more coins in their pockets. They see the producer as combining effectively his positions as a businessman and professional filmmaker.
One of them is of the view that in Nigeria, most producers shoot their films in less than a week, but pointed out that Ejiro merely has an advantage of frequency because of his television background. “Chico is not just a good director,” the source said, “he is a good director, who edits a script in his mind, because in his own mind he already has a picture of what he wants; so, it takes him a shorter time to finish a movie.”
Describing him as having a complete movie kingdom, the source said, “You don't expect him to take one year to shoot a film because he has a location bus, power generator, editing suite, his own cameras, his own artistes. It is only natural for him to come out with films faster than others. But the Agriculture graduate does not seem to conceal the fact that he is first of all a businessman. Whether his films are professionally done is to be judge by the awards he has won.
“I've been to the Geneva Film Festival.” said Ejiro. “ I won an award with Festival of Fire, I've been to the Durban Film Festival. I've been to America. I've been to London. I've won Thema, I've won Reel Awards. So, I've made good films to have won these awards. You talk about business. What is business? It's investment and risk. As I said, we don't have investors, especially those of us that make films. We tried to riase money. Let me make a scenario here. If I shoot a film with about two million, the first thing I think about as a businessman is how to recover my money, because if I don't, I cannot make movies again. But in America, a producer just makes films and gives to a marketing company and they will make their money but here in Nigeria, you have to follow everything from the beginning to the end. Filmmakers are more of businessmen than producer's or entertainers but at the same time, you have to balance it, make a good film that will educate and entertain and chase your money.”
He had trained under his brother Zeb Ejiro in his days at NTA during the popular but now rested soaps Ripples and Mega Fortunes. “I was doing this during the holidays,” he said. “As a student, I started from the scratch,being production assistant, cameraman and a good cameraman. I started editing some of the productions we did then. I am one director who operates a camera and also edits. It was not a case of helping my brother out; it was putting some coins in my pocket and today, I feel more relaxed being in film production. I don't think I can do anything else.”
Does that mean the film industry has made him rich? Chico says, he is just comfortable, He attributes the situation to the Nigerian economic environment, not withstanding the volume of films he rolls out in a year. “We don't operate in the same environment as our foreign counterparts. It is like in football, the amount you pay those guys in Nigeria cannot compare to the amount you pay those boys in Manchester.”
Has he been able to produce highly creative works that could win international awards. He argues that what we are shooting in Nigeria is merely home video, whereas, to contest for international awards, we need to shoot on celluloid. “We cannot talk of foreign awards now,” he said. “What we are trying to do now is to have an industry and create awareness. We don't have the finance. We don't have the environment, but we have the manpower. Here, we still manage to shoot on digital cameras to make home videos. But let us get an investor that would show case our films at international level. Tunde Kelani has got lots of awards but has never been nominated for the Oscars because of the difference in working environment.”
What should the government do? Chico is of the view that the Nigerian government can create so much awareness for the industry by providing an enabling environment and investing in the business. America, he says, uses their films as a means of propaganda about how powerful they are. “Arnold Swazzenger would shoot a gun, ten Russians would die, ten Iraqis woud die. America makes you believe they have so much power. They show the good side of New York, as if there is no Ajegunle in New York. They are only marketing their country. So government should come into entertainment and find a way of marketing the image of this country.”
He agrees that although government is trying its best, some officials of the Federal Ministry of Information with the connivance of some guild heads are not helping matters. Given this he dislikes the politics in the Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Director Guild of Nigeria (DGN) and others, of which he is a member. “There was a time government brought about a hundred million to invest in the industry and between the minstry and the guild heads, they spent about fifteen million Naira to organise seminars at Sheraton, spent millions to go to New York and Senegal. Is that the problem we have? In South Africa, that kind of money is given to practitioners to propogate programmes that would develop the country. In that country, government and the industry work together but here the politics in AMP will not allow it.”
But how professional is it to make a film dictated by marketers? “First of all, it is universal that a marketer would dictate the pace when he is putting down his money into a business,” he said. “For budget, take, for example, in shooting a film like Titanic, you need to build a ship and by doing that it could cost five million Naira and the sponsor can only afford two million, that means you can no longer shot Titanic and if you must, you have to forgo the ship and use a bus or a car. The storyline may change, yet you can be making some sense. That is the type of situation with us. But in Hollywood, a particular corporate body will be willing to meet that budget because they know they have the market and means to recover their money. In Nigeria, if you manage to shoot, you don't have the means to recover your money because of the high level of piracy. You cut down budgets in Nigeria to be able to recover your money because the Nigerian market is a primary market.”
As a member of the AMP, he is obviously a party to the purported ban placed on some top movie stars, but Chico said there was nothing like a ban, rather, he chooses to call it “No work” protest, to checkmate some of the stars, who sometime come late to work and truly charge high. “So, members agreed that we cannot work with these people. There was nothing like a ban. There are times we just have to put sanity into a business. We are all colleagues. Jim Iyke is my very good friend. You can see him all over my posters, same with Emeka Ike, Ramsey Nouah, Stella, Omotola, Genevieve, they are my colleagues and friends. I feel for them. We are working hard to see that this ban or rather “No work” thing comes to an end. I believe that very soon they will call everybody to a round table.”
To prepare Nollywood for the big global fight, Ejiro, who said he had acquired training on directing on celluloid with M-Net International two years ago, added that he is changing the direction of work in the movie industry, giving that as the reason he produced less films last year. “I want to shoot on celluloid this year and I am working on it, for the International market. It's billed for August. It will involve a combined effort of independent producers like Zeb Ejiro, Fidelis Duker, Obi Osotule and Andy Amenechi,” he disclosed. Ejiro's long journey in the movie industry began with his first film, a Yoruba effort titled “Aiye ma le” featuring Sola Adeyemo, Jide Kosoko, Lola Idije, Otolo, Ojoge and others. He also worked with Kosoko on some Yoruba projects such as Asiri Na and has in his kitty hits such as Flesh and Blood, Tears For Love, Dead End, Obstruction, Daybreak.