MOVIE MARKETERS ARE PULLING NOLLYWOOD BACK—JENKINS EKPO
His love for the theater saw him practicing after school hours, an action that caused a clash between his parents and his teacher. But all changed when at the age of twelve, he was selected from his drama society to take part in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Today, Jenkins Ekpo has starred in some phenomenal soap opera's. In this interview with AHAOMA KANU, he sheds light on why Nollywood is still stagnant after 15 years of existence.
YOU seem to be like someone that is passionate in the Arts what really influenced your passion for the Arts and how was growing up like?
Growing up was fun in a way, though my father is late now he was very creative, jovial and art inclined but he did not appreciate my going into arts. You know parents have this idea of taking after professional courses; he actually wanted me to do Law but when I came home and told him that I would be going in for Theatre Arts he was not involved in my first year; he did not pay my school fees because of his anger. Some how, I have an accommodating mother that understands although she did not like it but then of course she stood by me and in no time my dad understood and I got the support I needed. I have the passion for acting anything entertainment because I have always loved that ever since I was five years old watching television. I would go to my closet and I react what ever I had seen and go through it the way an actor did it and the passion grew from there.
What movies were you watching then was it western movies or Indian which particular one?
For me, I did not have to watch Western movies I saw the likes of Village Head master, New masquerade, Cock Crow at Dawn. I saw all those Dramas and I got inspirations from some of those actors.
Can you remember the very first day that you acted?
The first drama I did was with the help of my secondary school teacher who was at that time in that production outfit. He was a professional who read Theatre Arts at the University of Calabar and as at that time, the drama I did had professionalism because of the way he trained us even at that little stage by the time we did the play I cannot remember the name of the play but it had to do with two kings that were at longer ends and the son of one married the daughter of another so I was the son of one of the kings and I had to elope with the daughter. My first play was The Gods Are Not to Blame by the late Professor Ola Rotimi, which was in 1985; I was in secondary school. Then I did rehearsals after school hours and my parents did not like it. There was a time my mother came to the school and embarrassed the teacher- she felt that I was becoming a nuisance because I did not come home after school hours and she did not like it. There was this particular day that she came to my school without my knowledge. Someone informed me she was looking for me. When I met her, she just held me and said that I should take her to that teacher that kept me back after school. It was very embarrassing for me that day. But later, what she used to see as nuisance became a thing of joy for her when we went to Abuja; as small as I was the only person selected from the school drama society to act in the drama adaptation of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart in 1985 for Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Conference. I took pictures with Chinua Achebe and even my mother shared in the joy. I was twelve or thirteen and played Ikemefuna for the English version.
At what point did you move from an actor to a script writer and a producer.
I have never moved from an actor or acting to script writing, I do everything because that is the training I got. I majored in Speech and Media Arts and was trained as an actor. I started as an actor before I went to school and in school, some other talents came in I finally majored in speech by the time I got into the University I had this lecturer who happened to be Professor Wole Soyinka's cousin, Mrs. Bose Ajayi, who put me through this speech mastery. We have this problem in the industries that when you hear some of our actors and actresses even the so called stars speak, you get so irritated because they don't seem to get it right. We are talking about a profession that showcases the society and since drama is the mirror of the society, they should do it right.
Many people are of the opinion that when Nollywood started the kind on movies then had good production, good story lines then all of a sudden we started seeing that the volumes they were producing started increasing but I am of the opinion that Living in Bondage was very successful. Now there is greed and there is no real work in the industry are you of the opinion that early Nollywood movies were better researched, better directed than the work we have now?
I think that the movie industry has come to stay looking back at when it started and now, I think there is improvement. If you look at Living in Bondage, the picture quality, the camera used in doing that you cannot compare that with what we have now; there have been an improvement. If you look at picture quality, they are way better than what we used to have in those days and even in another five years time you cannot compare what we have now with what we will have then. So by and large, in terms of equipment, the industry has improved. Artistically, it has also improved from what we used to have. That is not to say that there is no junk because in every profession you will see the ones doing things right and the ones doing things because of the money. I keep telling people that though the movie industry has improved, there has to be this regulation by the censor's board. It is healthy for the industry to have movies with many parts even if there are 30 to 40 movies made in week or one month but I think that should be done professionally. In America do you know the number of films that comes out in a week or in a month you cannot even number them but if you look at 100 per cent of the movie you will see about 90 or 95 per cent that are well researched, well done, production aesthetics 100 per cent unlike what you have here where if you have a hundred work, you have like 90 to 95 wishy washy and five good ones.
You mentioned artistic improvement, Nollywood is about 14 to 16 years are you not worried that all these the same set of actors are still there like? Segun Arinze said Nollywood producers are lazy so cannot breed discover new talents. The actors are stereotyped in the sense that if some body that can cry is needed, Stella Damasus or Sylvanus, if you want a bad boy Segun Arinze, cultist Pete Edochie, there are no improvement. So I want to ask where the artistic improvement comes in?
It is worrisome, I agree with you to say that the same people who dominated are still the ones who is highly sort after.
And who do you blame it on?
If I have to pin point the people who should be blamed for this, I will say it is the marketers that are guilty. They are the ones who have really made things difficult for the professionals and that is because of the fact that it has become a case of paying the piper and dictating the tune. I want to also blame the so called professional producers because some how they are independent and though they might not have the large capital to be solely in control, that is not to say that we cannot have joint production even these days that government and the corporate society is showing interest. These so called producers go to have deals with banks for movies, now with the money they get; they are unable to infuse professionalism their works. I am also blaming them because they get money from corporate bodies and yet they cannot inject professionalism into what they are doing and these are the ones who still go after Segun Arinze, KOK, Pete Edochie. You talked about foreign movies taking so much time before production; they would have trained some body maybe they want some body to look 20 younger and the person is 50 years old, there is a whole lot they do about it like putting the person on diet to reduce his weight; they would have seen that character in the person and would not need to go and get a popular star to do that.
Now most of Nollywood storylines are based on love, rituals and you can tell me Nollywood movie from the beginning it is recycled and is it that creativity is lacking in Nollywood? Are we telling our stories enough?
Creativity is not lacking in Nollywood and we are not telling our stories enough. Like Segun said, most of the producers are very lazy; they do not want to do a proper research. I get worried because we do not have the financial wherewithal and that is why you can not see creativity in Nollywood films, but when you watch dramas, soup operas, you find creativity there.
Nollywood has no statistics like in USA movies premiere, there is statistics on how much it cost, sold and so on, why don't we have this kind of statistics in Nollywood?
I think I also want to look at the media as not doing much in that regard; you are the people who have the well with all to do this and you are the ones who know how to calculate these statistics, why don't you people ask questions? Make the enquiries; get proper information from the producers. I blame it on the journalists. You should be able to do that for us.
Nollywood pride itself above South Africa in movie and film making but a film by a South African director, Totsi, won an Oscar Award. Is it that we are not doing it well or we do not know what we are doing or is there a conspiracy?
There is a conspiracy because I do not see where a film like Sango cannot win an Oscar because it talks about us; it celebrates the African culture. I think it was well done when you look at the production, setting, costume even the fighting scene, the war scene looked ok. That film could have gone for an Oscar. It is just that Nollywood does not know how to play the politics there. Producers should come together and see what they have done in the past that brings out our culture and not do the foreign thing because we cannot be better than them.