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Govt, pirates, video clubs killing movie industry – Teco Benson

By Funmi Salome Johnson
Teco Benson
Teco Benson

If you have watched films like; Mirror of Beauty and Mission to Nowhere, then you would have known that Teco Benson is not a rookie, when it comes to producing good movies. A devout Christian, happily married with four kids all boys, Teco, in this interview with Funmi Salome Johnson, laments the harm piracy has done to the movie industry. He also speaks on sexual harassment in the industry and how he copes with advances from female admirers.

How would you rate the Nigeria motion picture industry? I think in terms of the number of movies being turned out in Nigeria on a yearly basis, we should clap for ourselves. But on the on the other hand in terms of quality, there is a lot of improvement still needed. We are not there yet in terms of quality and the reason is simple. May be there are ten people in the industry that are doing very well but when about ten practitioners are good when we have about five hundred practitioners and only ten are good, you cannot say that the industry is very good because the number of people who are not doing it right are the majority, so automatically for an outsider, it will be difficult to even identify with the good ones among them.

If you are to do a random sampling and the first ten movies might be the wrong ones and then you just conclude that this is a piece of trash of the industry. But the truth is that it is not the best way to take these things, there are people who are doing these things the right way. Because the industry started informally, there is no code of ethics, there are no entry and exit qualifications or conditions, people just saw that the first film made lots of money and they just want to come in there and daily, people are rushing in, a lot of people are leaving their former businesses and they rushed in to the industry. I blame the government partly for that because for now there is a body called Motion Pictures Commissioners of Nigeria (MOPICON) that has been set up, concluded and it is still being delayed by the government.

What is your view on piracy and what do you think can be done? The problem is that some operators of video clubs rush to the market on the first day of release of these films and buy two, two copies of each of these movies, rush back to the streets and rent them to the people within their vicinity and by the time they want to, nobody buys the film. And when a few of the people want to buy this film, they go to the operators and the operators tell them a copy is one thousand naira. Just to discourage them from buying it because when they buy, the money goes to the producer but when you rent, the money is going to the pocket of the owner of the video club. That is what is happening and people expect you to make a better film tomorrow.

If you don't recover your money, if you don't realise your investment, how do you think somebody can go and make another film? If you use ten million to make a film and at the end of the day the video club owners buy it and rent and it is only the copies they buy that you sell, may be like five thousand copies nationwide, it does not even cover fifty thousand naira which means you have lost nine million nine hundred and fifty thousand naira, whereas you are suffering in the hands of your bank to pay back a loan, they are ceasing all your properties, entangling your life, entangling all your families, you are struggling with them and people are expecting better film from you, it is a very terrible thing and because government did not protect it, it is going to have a very terrible effect and if it continues, it is going to kill this industry. Government concentrated so much on oil forgetting the power of this medium, the little good image we have as a country today, is because of Nollywood.

So they are not authentic? They are from the pirates! How can they be authentic? You see somebody take Teco Benson film, take from Ojeiz, like twenty of your films and sell it in a DVD for three hundred naira; that is the end of this industry. Some of us are going to get in to other businesses because who is a fool? You suffer yourself to make a film and somebody takes all your efforts and go and put it in a thirty in one DVD and he is selling it on the street and they are walking freely and government is not saying anything about it, which means the government does not even want you to survive in the first place and the same people are telling you that your films are not better, they are not even doing anything about it. So the best thing is for everybody in the industry to go look for other things to do, let me know where they will take the films again to pirate and put twenty in one from, they can't get it anywhere.

We are doing our best, a lot of people are graduates and have no job but the industry is not only employing themselves but others and they are allowing the industry to die, it is painful. I saw my movie, “Mission To Nowhere”, just came out and I know the level of investment I made in this film and I saw ' Mission to Nowhere' in a twenty in one DVD with other films for three hundred naira! (Breaks down in tears). I am sorry I got emotional about this but I have no choice, I want you to understand how it is so that as a media person you will know how to convey the message.

How do you joggle between your job as a film maker and your home front? Like I said earlier, life is about challenges. Before I got married, I knew that this is the type of job I am going to do, so I have prepared for it. Also as a dedicated family man, I like to give enough time for my family. When I go out, I try to make sure that most of my movies are done in Lagos so that at the end of the day I will still have time to go back to them, so if it is under my control, I try to restrict the movies to Lagos so it helps me to spend good time with my family. Although it is good at times to go away from the family but again, you will have some psychological balance if you are somebody that acts responsibly when you are with your family.

In the morning you just go back and face your job, you don't even have any flash back; you just face your job and do it well. But if you are to depart from your family like a month or two while making film, you will be psychologically distracted because you will be thinking of your family, you will want to see them, you want to see your wife and all that, it will distract you from what you are doing. Personally I have devised a means so that my absence is not felt so much, I have tried to achieve a balance. Trust is another important factor in coping in situations like that. If there is trust between husband and wife, then the fear of whether the man has gone with another woman will not be there and also the ability of the man to tell the truth to the wife at all times help a lot and that is what I do and it has helped me very well in keeping my home together.

Given the nature of your job, ladies will be coming in droves with advances, how do you handle such from interfering in your home? The truth is that everybody should determine what they want. It is something that we have learnt and have gotten immune to and the only formula of curing such is being a Christian because it is not something you can do on your own, you need the power of God to overcome. All these are one of the end time tricks to distract people from making heaven. You can see that by the dress pattern of women these days. Those days, women dress modestly, they try to cover some part of their bodies but today, the reverse is the case. In the past, if you see a prostitute, you will know but today I don't think that even you as a woman would be able to tell the difference between a prostitute and the normal lady on the street.

The dressing is the same thing now, there is no difference. People dress, they call it dress to kill. I have realised that women dress from their house to the office and when they get there without anybody stopping them on the way, they begin to examine themselves in the mirror to see as if something is wrong with them. This harassment comes but if you have your faith in God, you will be careful because you will always remember the way Samson was destroyed and you will always remember other great men.

The fastest thing that can kill a man is to fall into that trap and the trap comes everyday. No matter how strong you feel that trap is, you should be able to work out ways to escape it and the only way you can have the strength to survive it is when you have Christ in you because it is the knowledge from the word of God that will make you understand that, that five minutes pleasure might ruin your life.

How do you unwind? I don't know if I ever have that time but what I do to relax is to spend time with my family. Because I work all the time, so each time I stay with my family I feel happy. Sometimes I drive around with my children and we do their home works together and that way I relax. I also listen to news and watch movies.