I have no problem with Emem Isong – Vivian Ejike
How can you describe Vivian Ejike without writing a big book about her? The producer behind When the Heart Lies, Silent Scandal and yet-to-be-released Private Storm, spoke on quiting banking, movie making and the alleged feud between her and her friend, Emem Isong.
How did you come about the idea of Silent Scandal?
It is an idea that came into my head in 2007 and I told my husband and he said it sounded nice. What I do when I have an idea is like what most writers do. They put it down. In this case, I didn't put it down. Over three or four months, I kept on building on it in my head and then I added a couple of true life incidents that I heard about.
And that was what gave birth to Silent Scandal. I remember that in 2007, I showed it to some of my friends in the industry to rate and most of them were like wow, it is nice but between 2007 and 2009 when that movie was shot, a lot went into it. We kept changing the script and in fact I am sure someone who saw that script 4 months before it was shot will be surprised at what he saw after it has been shot.
Like I always tell people, I am very picky ,so we kept on changing things and at the end of the day, we got to location. There were lots of arguments and we added and subtracted. I won't lie to you, in fact Silent scandal is a combination of my ideas but you know when we were now at the location, Emem made some very nice input and I am not against people making contributions to my ideas like a lot of people do. Most writers don't like that ; if you criticize their work, you are in soup but I don't do that because I believe that two good heads are better than one. So even before I shoot my film, I'll seek a second opinion.
If you tell me I think, if we do it like this , it will be better. We discuss it. At the end of the day, some of the scenes add to the movie they don't take away from it. Definitely I know what will take away from my movie, so I won't take such suggestions. But to a large extent , their suggestions were nice and I took the ones that I needed and it came out the way it did. Omotola even contributed, because at one point she was supposed to do it , but we kept on adjusting things on location. That's the kind of person I am.
What are you doing right that others are not?
I don't know; it is just the grace of God. I tell people that there is nothing I do that is special. I have an allergy and it is failure. I don't think of failure, failure is not an option for me, so I work so hard sometimes people tell me that I'm going to die. Most times I don't sleep till 2, 3,4 in the morning ,because I have this unquenchable quest for knowledge. I keep reading and researching.
Specifically, how did you distribute it?
I run a distribution company and then we have a lot of sole distributors around.
And Majid delivered so well?
Oh yes. Majid is a very good actor; we can't even dispute that. The young man is talented and he has got a lot of depth . He is passionate about what he is doing and he gives it all it takes. That is the key to success. Be passionate about whatever you are doing, and I tell you everything will fall in place.
When will you feature Van Vicker in you film?
(General laughter) You see, I always tell people that when I am writing, most times, I already have a vivid picture of the movie in my head. Most times I write and try to see somebody but I don't. My writing is unique. I just write and the characters take their own personalities and of course when they take personalities you know who to fix in there and you don't have a choice but to do that. I have a couple of projects that will be out very soon, so it will be able to accommodate a couple of stars.
How true is it that where a heart lies is a photocopy of Platinum?
No, I don't think so. As a matter of fact that incident came up as we were about to go on location. That was when somebody told me that this movie looks like Platinum. I sat down and watched Platinum and I laughed. There are parts of it that look like Platinum, but the girl that played a banker (Omoni Oboli) was my friend in the bank. Every movie I make always features some true life stories.
Sometimes my friends always want to kill me after the movies are released. But when I “commit” like that, before I release movies I tell them see what I did. I tell them “you know that your experience” then we laugh over it, but I will change it to move the audience who don't know the original story . The part played by Omotola was actually about a neighbour of mine in primary school who was pregnant. Nobody knew she was pregnant and she had her baby in the toilet right there in their flat . Her lecturer sister came home to collect something. She doesn't have a child and now they have a child that they want to throw away.
Do you know this girl was pregnant and she refused to wear all those belts that pregnant girls used to wear? If you watch the movie, it is based on people's experiences that I pieced together. It was after writing, that the part of her having a baby came to me. But then it came as a surprise to me when people started saying I copied Platinum what else is new? In Platinum, nobody threw away her child, nobody got pregnant at 14 years and threw away her daughter. Her daughter knew her and she knew her daughter. They knew themselves except that she was living with her father or something. But this one was a child living with a pastor and her aunty was very religious. But she was never been married and she was a lecturer and that was my neighbour's experience when I was in the primary school.
But do you really copy movies?
Okay let me ask you a question… from which movie would I have copied Silent Scandal? There is no movie in Nigeria or in America that has a storyline close to that in the movie and like I said , my ideas were there ; Omotola's was there, and Genevieve's was there. Would you say three of us copied? There were some other people too at the location that came up with their ideas.
Would you say all of us are a bundle of thieves? What happened is that there is actually no element from anywhere; there is nothing about it that came from anywhere. It is an original script, written since 2007. A journalist came here and I showed him Silent Scandal then it even had another title, Tangled . I asked what he was looking at and he said it was the script. I said okay, click on the date and he said 2007. So how could I have copied the movie you are talking about which was written in March 2009? Are you sure it is not the other way round?
People had issues with the ending of Silent Scandal?
Up until now, some people call me to say “ if you don't make Part 3, I am going to be very mad at you”. You know in the movies there is something called the “flick anger”. There are several American movies that I have watched and I am mad. Joy rises and somebody cuts it abruptly. That is just it . That was the reaction I wanted and to tell you the truth that has even boosted sales of the movie. You see people that are complaining about the ending love it; so when they say it, I just apologize and tell them “no I am not into Part 3, I'll give you something special in my new movie”.
You left your audience hanging at the end. Why?
I didn't. Let me ask you some questions. If you are in love with your fiance's mother, will you still marry the girl? Is it possible especially when you know you slept with her and you know there is a child between both of you despite the fact that you dis-virgined the girl? Will you marry her? What will you do? Now her daughter does not know that her stepbrother is actually from her fiancé.
Please tell me, what will you do? Mother and daughter. Okay in another scenario, you marry the girl. Now she is pregnant and you know the Nigerian culture when your wife delivers. The mother will come to look after her daughter and the baby. If your wife goes to the salon won't you sleep with the woman again, because between God and man it was the woman he truly loved more than the daughter? Given the fact that you have even slept with mother and daughter, can you marry any of them?
What should we expect in Private Storm?
Private Storm is a movie that will make you laugh, make you cry and make you sad. At some point, you will be so mad and upset and it will make you want to fall in love. It's a movie that will make you go over the entire range of emotions. The movie actually borders on spousal abuse generally and you know in our society, it is an unspoken evil. We lie to ourselves and so many people have gone through some form of abuse in relationships and marriages. I have experienced it too.
So when you have been through something and some other people around you have also gone through it, then you just feel like at this point, let's talk about this issue. I have always known that I will treat the issue of domestic violence and abuse; though in Private Storm what I did was that I treated it in a very entertaining manner. You know most of our topical movies are too educational. I believe that when I am doing any movie on any societal ill, I make it entertaining. It is after watching the movie that you will now think about the lessons. It is a movie that I believe by God's grace will not disappoint.
When is the premiering?
By God's grace, we are looking at premiering it in August. We are looking at doing a round of cinemas and after that we should be able to release it.
How come you have a way of making stars deliver? Is it you or is it because you pay them so much money?
No, no, no. I don't even pay them more than what others pay . As a matter of fact some of them including Omotola for instance give me discount sef. So I am sure I don't pay her as much as other people pay her. It is just the grace of God. When they see the script and the story and I give them time to digest it; we talk about it so you are able to put yourself completely in the characterization.
Why did you have to bring DJ Tee to shoot Private Storm?
If you look at my background, you know I told you that I am very restless and I am adventurous. I am not afraid of bringing in people from outside Nollywood as long as what I will get from them will be better than what I will get in Nollywood. Trust me, I am always in search of excellence and DJ Tee is somebody that is doing well in the music industry.
I spoke with him once or twice and I saw his high level of knowledge in terms of technicalities, video shooting and all that. That was why I called him. Dayo Haastrup works with me in my styling. When I called him in for Silent Scandal ,a lot of people shouted but I said it is worth using Dayo Haastrup. I was able to bring him into Nollywood , because I knew the value he would add to my job is not something I can get easily and he didn't disappoint.
What kind of abuse did you treat in Private storm?
As I said wife beating and violence against women generally which is rampant in Africa .When I was in the university, you will see in a lot of relationships men will be beating the girl and asking “why did you do this and that”. There is nothing I have not seen around me. As I said, things that happen around me inspire me.
Has a guy ever physically abused you ?
Yes, definitely. I said so before, but it is part of my past. I drew from those experiences, the experience of some of my friends, and those people around me when I was in school.
Why would a beautiful woman like you allow a man to abuse you?
(Laughs) People are different now. Some men can never think of ever abusing a lady while some men cannot resist abusing a lady.
How did you survive that relationship?
By the special grace of God.
Can you tell us about yourself?
Well, my name is Vivian. I'm a writer and movie producer. I grew up in Enugu . I attended Federal Government College, Enugu . I later attended the University of Port-Harcourt. I read Foreign Languages and Linguistics and majored in French. My mom is tough, my dad is soft . He had his way of disciplining us .He has a peculiar way of punishing us by making us write apology letters. Growing-up was fun; university days was fun and sometimes I wish I could go back to school. I like honest people and I hate people that pretend. I don't know how to pretend. With me, what you see is what you get.
How many children do you have?
I have a daughter.
How old is she?
So, when are you going to add to the population of Nigeria?
Very soon by the special grace of God
What happened between you and Emem Isong?
You know in life, people grow together and sometimes go apart. Initially, we shared the same office but at some point, we were using the license of Nollywood distributing together and she had the opportunity to get another license and you know the second license generated more money for us. When she got her license, she said she wanted to study movie production, because she had conceived the dream a long time ago. So that was it.
Do you still talk and are you still best of friends?
I don't have any problem with anybody and that is just the truth. Anyone that knows me will tell you I don't have enough time for myself. How much time do I have for things like that. I'm sure that between now and December, you'll understand why I'm saying this. Right now, my hands are full. I don't have enough time to breathe enough air, how much more having someone in mind.
Did you actually 'corner' some of the money that was meant for the publication?
(Laughs) When I first heard it, I laughed. Some journalists asked me the same question and I said in my entire life, nobody has given me money to produce movies before. I grow my capital from scratch and nobody has given me money. Instead, I give people money to make film.
So, it is not possible for me to take their money. It is not even an option. People that know me will know that it is not true at all and they will ignore it, because the journalist that brought the publication showed the producers and they all laughed and they said “ Vivian of all people”. Rather than take, I will give you because for me, I receive most of my blessings from God. If I have to take, I take but I won't go out of my way to take. I give to people, I never took from anybody. The writer must have good sense of humour.
With the one hundred thousand copies you sold, did you eventually make your capital back?
Instantly, I did. With one hundred thousand copies, my capital would be safe and intact. I always tell people that, I am sure that if I wasn't meant to be here, I would have lost faith and left the industry a long time ago when there were real storms. Even when I lost my parents, I was still pushing on. All the while, I knew that I was meant to be here. If I know that there is something I can do better , I would leave here. So, I kept going, believing that my passion for it will see me through and somehow it saw me through.
Why do you keep your family out of the spot light?
I believe the family is different. For example it is unfair of me to expose my child to this sought of life we live. You asked me one question now pertaining to one funny story a soft sell magazine wrote of how I took somebody's sponsorship money. When I read it , I started laughing. Do you know some of my friends in the industry did not find it funny? They were very upset. Those that know me were like how dare anybody even conceive this crap about me of all people? So that is life for you and that is part of what we do. So that is a perfect example of why I do not let anyone but myself suffer this. So imagine putting your family through it. That is totally unfair.
You know I saw your husband and I was like how come you are so lucky?
Thank God, there is nothing I can do with my power. It's totally God at work.
Did you deliberately choose him because you knew he will be like that kind of a man?
No! It's just God, how possible is that? You know the way God plans things.
What should we expect from you in 2010 other than the Private Storm?
I'm so excited. Before this year runs-out, you will hear great news. There are lots of projects coming up. I'm very excited about that and I have a lot to talk about in my world, so why would I want to talk about other people. A whole lot of big stuff are coming up. There is something we are working on and by God's grace it is going to be out.