HOW TO MAKE FORTUNES IN NOLLYWOOD – ZIK ZULU OKAFOR
Despite its ranking as the third largest movie making empire behind Hollywood and Bollywood, Zik Zulu-Okafor, a trained theatre artist and movie producer, has insisted Nollywood came into being by an accident.
Okafor, producer of the wave-making soap, Heaven's Gate, currently running on MBI, DSTV among other stations, also spoke on how he intends to use the soap to win more souls for God.
Aside lambasting and calling some moviemakers impostors and interlopers, he equally accused them of having hijacked the industry for their selfish intrests. Okafor also took a swipe at the government and corporate bodies for constantly neglecting the industry.
The journalist turned filmmaker also spoke passionately on the way forward, other germane issues and much more.
You see, I have always called the story of my life, the Wind of silent mystery. I'm 43, I was born on August 27, 1964. I'm from Ibuzo, in Oshimili North LGA of Delta State. I have a degree, in Theatre Arts from University of Ibadan and a Masters in International Law and Diploma from the University of Lagos. I practised journalism briefly for two years and won the News magazine reporter of the year at the 1992; Nigeria Media Merit Awards nominee same year for the crime reporter category.
I was the pioneer president, Guild of Movie Producers and later president of the Association of Movie Producers. I'm married to Adaora, my pretty wife, we have two boys and a girl. My wife has in me a great husband and thoroughly enjoys and supports my work. I also tell her always how beautiful she is and that she has been a fountain of hope for me.
Repositioning of Heaven's Gate
We started from Sliverbird TV, but the programme was rested, quite often without informing us, the producers of the programme, City of David's Redeemed Christian Church of God, was also not informed either. I wrote to them a couple of times, to protest such treatment, but the problem kept repeating itself for a very long time and the producers of the programme decided to try another station. Originally, we planned to take it to other stations, in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other places.
Right now, it's on MBI. We decided to move, having suffered blackout for so long, in spite of the fact that we paid for airtime.
Well, we have been on MBI for two quarters now and I can attest to the fact that the staion has clarity and a wide reach. It is watched in Abuja, Lagos, As well as in Eastern and South-South states.
Heaven's Gate is not just a drama or soap, its a ministration. It is an instrument for disseminating the gospel. Its something that has to do with God, and City of David has pastors who are deeply rooted and entrenched in the service of God than I am. They pray for the government, artistes and anything and I know that God directs them appropriately on where to go at anytime.
Creating Heaven's Gate
The City of David and the Apapa family of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, used to organise big events and bring international artistes to the country. As a journalist I was usually invited to cover these shows. After covering the shows for a couple of times, the late Pastor Eskor Mfon, who was in charge of City of David, felt I was very professional in my approach and invited me.
He sent my own pastor, Femi Obawaya, to invite me. He told me he had a vision to use drama to disseminate the gospel and asked if I could work on the project. I told him I studied Drama and understood my subject and could do it properly. He later gave me an idea of what he wanted and told me to go and think about it. I eventually left and returned with the story of Heaven's Gate. After reading the synopsis, he prayed for me and said he was very sure I was the person he was looking for. This happened in 2004, the drama also went on air that same year.
The challenges are no doubt enormous, but the truth is that City of David and the late Pastor Eskor were and are, still a delight to work with. Pastor Eskor, perhaps, remains the most significant factor in my entire working life. City of David's parish has also taught me how to excel and do things with the spirit of excellence. Normally, when you work with organizations as complex as the church, there are a lot of bureaucracies, but in City of David, the pastor, after reading my first episode, told me I was in tune with his vision and that I was an instrument he was going to use to translate that vision into a concrete reality. Since then, I have never requested anything they did not grant. They have made sure that the resources needed to produce that soap provided. I have worked with them for four years now and it has been a smooth journey.
I have never for one-minute nurture the fear that pastor Eskor's demise might affect the running of Heaven's Gate. At City of David, we work like a family. Even though Eskor inspired it, there is a collective support for it. They call me, watch me, advise me and also appreciate me and point out my errors . Eskor's death was perhaps, the greatest shock I have ever received. It shook me by far more than my own father's death. At the age of 74, my father was old and I was prepared for his death. Pastor Eskor was my inspiration and mentor. Therefore, I never thought he was going to die soon even though death is inevitable. When he was ill, I was so confident, he would get better. I don't envisage or believe that City of David would discontinue the soap now that Eskor is gone. It is a ministration and they are supporting it.
Vision and mission
With the support of City of David, I believe that Heaven's Gate would go beyond the frontiers of Nigeria to spread the word over. Everyday, we are dreaming of improving on the quality of our production and we have consistently done this every quarter. I want to believe that someday Heaven's Gate will play in some of the stations in the U.S and Europe. I have no doubt, it's already running on DSTV for the benefit of other countries.
Abandoning movies for soap
No, I didn't abandon movie making for soaps. I am still interested, but the truth is that Nollywood came by accident. Nollywood is the child of a man who exploited the lull on the TV stations, to try out something that became Living in Bondage. He did not produce it as a professional theatre artist or filmmaker; he produced it as a businessman. So, for Nollywood, the spirit and inspiration is commerce.
In fact, the spirit is money. What it means also is that structures were not in place when it started.
Professionals on TV then, took a plunge when they saw the success recorded with Living in Bondage. It was a rendezvous of both professionals and tinkerers, everybody started hustling for a living, without the structures in place.
And all efforts made to put structures in place, have been constantly thwarted, what we have was the dialogue of the dead. People did not understand one another. And after producing over seven good movies, I had to sit back to review my journey thus far, for me, it was a tragedy. The three years I had spent in the industry then was more of a tragedy than anything else. I produced what I considered very good films, but because the structures were not in place, there was no transparency, no way to monitor sales, we first fed on what they tell us.
My films cost me pains, losses instead of happiness. At some point, I had to sit back to ask myself if I had gained, it was that bad. I was disillusioned; life became a wilderness of pains. It was like I have reached the cul de sac, there was nowhere else to go.
I told myself it was time to think about my age and make a decision that was how I decided I had to leave.
Going back to film making at this moment, will amount to what I would consider the economic castration of myself. We have to wait and pray, we are also discussing with people and corporate bodies, and we hope they will join us in making Nollywood what it used to be. We have been holding meetings with corporate bodies, for them to inject some good capitals into Nollywood, so we could restructure it, make films and be able to earn a good living.
I think we have had a number of meetings in the past they have not taken us far, but I believe there is still hope. There is need for all of us to come together and dialogue. There is need for us to come together and sincerely discuss the business life of Nollywood. Others are also saying the guilds should get stronger, so that all of us can meet and discuss the way forward. For me, the way forward is that we have to begin from the foundation, which is scripting.
There is a need for us to start looking for a rendezvous where we will talk solely about workshops on scripts alongside conferences. Without good scripts we would continue the recycling of same stories.
People write scripts in two days. That's a crucifixion… With a successful script, the next thing becomes how do you earn a living from the practice and that is why we have to get the issue of marketing in place. We have done the best we can for Nollywood, this is now the time to come together and seek professional advice on how to restructure our industry.
In doing this, we have to bring all the relevant bodies and stakeholders, for us to come together at a rendezvous of harmony do understand ourselves. In Nigeria, we have over 500,000 video rental shops, who still rent our films. Censors' board must be able to give us the accurate figure of how many video rental shops we have in the country. None sets up without getting the approval for the structure by the Censors Board. In every organized system, after making a film, you go to the cinema, from there to the video. Censors Board with the Nigerian Film Corporation must come together with the producers and marketers to agree on this. If we don't restructure our marketing department, Nollywood will only remain a paper tiger.
Government and Nollywood
The success of Nollywood depends first and foremost on Nollywood itself. But there are a lot that the government can do for us, but unfortunately, they have not done enough for Nollywood. For example, a Ghanaian film cannot enter Britain without being censored… But our Censors Board has not been able to reach such bilateral agreement with countries like South Africa, U.K and the US, and, so our films are taken to those nations and sold without any control.
The government still needs a lot to do. Also, the video clubs are not giving us a fair shake of the dice. Let the Censors Board come out and tell us how many video rental shops we have in Nigeria, so that we can meet and reach an agreement with them on how to do genuine business.
Nollywood has taken Nigeria to places; therefore government still has a lot to do for the industry.