Why Nollywood lacks standard
His colleagues and fans call him the Sheik of moviedom. Literally, foremost movie producer, Zeb Ejiro (OON) actually rules over the television and movie screens.
Many would recall his exploit in one of Nigeria's longest running soap opera, Ripples shown on NTA network in the early 1990s and in the chartbusters, Mortal Inheritance, Tears in Heaven, Intimate Strangers, Domitila and Sakobi to mention but a few. These days, the Isoko, Delta State-born artiste told Daily Sun that he has a new-found love in exploring film to boost Nigerian tourism potentials.
According to him, the first in that venture is his coming film titled A Night in the Philipines. Shot in London and in the Philipines, the film which was inspired by last year's edition of Miss Earth Beauty Pageant held in the Philipines is also starring Nigeria's representative at the pageant, Ifeoma Ojenabo and Nollywood stars, Ibinabo Fiberesima, Desmond Eliot, Marie Ebuka among others . The former President, Association of Nigerian Movie Producers (AMP) speaks on his works, Nollywood, and why he went as far as the Philipinnes to shoot a movie.
First of all, I am very much around and I am working. Again, I have not deviated from tradition; I don't release many movies in a year. I might release one or two in a year. As I am talking to you now, I have a movie that will be released soon. It is titled, A night in the Phillipines. The movie was shot in London and in the Philipines. Again, I've just completed the shooting of another movie titled Rebel Act. That one was shot in Nigeria . There is another film shot in London which I am still keeping close to my chest. As I speak to you, I have three movies that are yet to be released. In April, I am also coming out with a soap opera.
The reasons bother on the fact that the market is comatose and I am trying to look for a new market outlet; this time, from my own stable. I am also taking my time, I don't want to do what I've been doing before, I want to take my time.
The choice of Philipines
First of all, the Philipines is a tourist's delight. It has beautiful islands and fresh waters. I believe that the location will capture the setting and the mood I want to achieve in A night in the Philipines. Apart from that, the last Miss Earth Beauty Pageant took place in the Philipines, and a Nigerian girl was there to represent the country. I also thought that with the fact that a Nigerian girl featured in the competition, I thought that we could as well do something with her. So the girl featured in the movie. With that we used one stone to kill two birds.
Mind you, my going to the Philipines had nothing to do with the trend in the industry in which producers make use locations outside the country, I just wanted to add flavour to what I have been doing over the years. Also, I believe that the Philipines would help tourism development in Nigeria by exposing to Nigerians the way the Filipinos handle their tourism industry.
A night in the Philipines is a romance story. The story revolves around a rich girl, played by Ibinabo. She went on a honeymoon with his boy friend. Because she is rich, she is the one picking the bills of the honeymoon.The couple went on tour of London. Hongkong and lastly, the Philipines. When they got to the Philipinnes, they found out that a beauty pageant was going on, and that a Nigerian girl is featuring. So, they decides to go and watch the show only to get there to realize that the Nigerian featuring is the former girlfriend of the groom. Right there, one thing led to the other and the relationship kicked-off again. The boy findly dumped the rich girl and she returned to Nigeria crying.
Launching a new act in each film
Yes, I am still keeping to that tradition. For example, A night in the Philipinnes is the first film of the beauty queen, Ifeoma. The same thing applies to the one shot in London. I can't drop that practice.
The name, Nollywood
In India, their movie industry is located in Bombay. That is why they call it Bollywood while in the U.S, Hollywood was derived from the name of a tree plant-the grows there. But for Nolly, I don't know where they got the name from; may be they got it from Nigeria's Nok culture from the Eastern part of Nigeria. But if it is not that, then Nollywood means nothing because nolly actually means nothing. I think that we should look for a name that is traditional; something indigenous; something we can identify with like the terracotta art. For example, the home video industry started from Lagos, as such, the name should have a link with Lagos.
Nollywood and bandwagon influence
The audience do not follow what is in vogue. I believe that it is what is offered them that they watch. Yes, the band wagon thing is still there. Moreso, the industry is still emerging. So, it is allowed to imitate other people, but I still preter a situation where by people do different things. We need variety. If people continue to tell the same type kind of story; show the same faces of actors, the audience will get bored. The industry is comatose presently because, the people are not getting the variety. It's a big problem which must be addressed urgently.
Financing a night in the Philipinnes
The movie was shot from my personal resources. That is what I have done over the years. Unfortunately, the Nigerian banking industry do not believe in the movie sector at the moment. You can't blame them for that, because there are no structures on the ground. So, it is a problem to get the banks to put in money. I have been using my personal resources so that I can call the shots. That is why, I could delay the release of my new films because I don't owe anybody. I have done political movies, and in most cases when you're doing political movies, you would hardly get sponsors.
Pioneers filmmakers quiting
Some of them have withdrawn from the Lagos scene to develop their localites. For instance, a chunk of the industry has moved to Enugu. Apart from that, Governor Donald Duke is trying to woo the movie industry to Calabar too. The sames goes for Governor Goodluck Jonathan who is also trying to woo the industry to Bayelsa through the African Movie Academy Awards. It's only Delta State that appears indifferent to the movie industry and its potentials, despite the fact that a much greater input into the industry is coming from that state. I think that these developments have taken a large chunk of the industry from Lagos. Unfortunately, Lagos State which is the cradle is also indifferent to the movie industry. They forgot that a greater number of the people that make up the Lagos scene are non-indigenes who only came down to Lagos to settle. So, government would have offered incentives that would have made the practitioners stay.
Many of the producers in the movie industry now are not properly trained. Those kinds of programmes like the M-Net New Direction Project, Director's workshop are no longer available. It is quite unencouraging these days. The audience can predict how a story will end from the beginning. This is so because the scriptwriters are not trained and the directors don't know how to create suspense. So, at the end of the day, we shoot drama but not movie. The ingredients of a movie are not present. Drama entails much dialogue, less action while a movie is more action, less talk.
Return of Sakobi
I am doing follow-up to Sakobi which I will title Sakobi Returns. By the time I complete it, I intend to take it round the cinema houses like I did for Domitilla.
It is going to be a fresh movie. You would recall that Sakobi died in the first movie but because she possessed some spiritual powers, she re-appeared and became more powerful and brutal.
Actually, I don't work, I relax. Everything I do; directing and producing movies are relaxation to me. I don't set aside time to rest because while I work, I consider myself to be resting. Filmmaking is what I enjoy. Nevertheless, there are two things I enjoy, I watch TV a lot. I am a strong soccer fan. When I am not working, I am watching soccer. I am a strong fan of Manchester United. But in Nigeria, we have not been able to raise the standard of football, I think that we have to do that to know the players one-on-one; package the league very well. It is after that, that we can have strong soccer followership in Nigeria.
Sheik of movie dom/OON
I am still the Sheik of the movie industry. But, I still have other appellations. Some people still call me Presido, Big boss and so on. Recently, I was honoured by the Federal Government for my contributions to the movie industry. The honour is Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). I think that it is a great thing to be singled out among your peers and honoured for your contributions in your chosen field. What it means is that, one has to be above board because I've become a role model to others.
I respect my wife a lot. To me, she is the minister of home affairs. I am always aware of the fact that there is someone I owe an explanation for any of my actions. I can bet it, there are a lot of other people that I owe explanations. I'll make sure that I don't get into the situation whereby I will have to explain. As human beings, we will always have our ups and downs since we are not perfect, but our ability to handle things amicably, and move forward. I believe that she's been a great contributor to whatever we have achieved today.
The time I almost gave up
I remember the time I was writing scripts for NTA, there was a particular woman who was the script editor who usually vetted our scripts before they were passed. There was a time a wrote three scripts but she rejected all. But something told me, why don't you try the last one. That last script happened to be the one she eventually approved. She didn't do that out of malice but I believe that she contributed immensely to my career as a producer.
Professionally, it was when my first soap opera Ripples was aired on the NTA Network.