Repositioning Nigerian Film Industry, My Agenda -Eddie Ugbomah
Veteran actor and producer, Eddie Ugbomah, can safely be said to have carved a niche for himself in the nation's entertainment industry. In this elevated discourse with our Reporter, ODULAJA ADEDAYO, Ugbomah takes an informed insight into the country's film industry, identifying its weak points and proffering solutions. Excerpts:
What is it that has been taking your time that is making you less visible in recent times?
There are lots of things in the movie industry. I saw that the best thing was that I should impart some of my experience into the young ones. So, I decided to branch into training and re-training of the professionals. So, I've just built an academy, Eddiegbosa Movie Academy, in a village called Ilogbo-Eremi, which had been the centre for film-making many years ago. The village where people like Zeb, Chico, Nek, Jide Kosoko, Bello, many others had been shooting films for over 15 years before they all left for Enugu and Ikorodu and that's where I live.
We have this massive academy where we are going to train professionals in the movie industry. And then, I'm going to set up the first Movie Makers Gallery where those who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, their history, their achievements, their photos, their CDs would be mounted for research as a reference and tourist centre for the historical perspectives of the industry. So, those are the two major things I decided to do for tomorrow so that our boys don't grow up and they don't know anything because some of these actors today, if you meet them on the road, at shows, they have to tell you, oh so this is Eddie Ugbomah! This is Femi Robinson! This is this, this is that? But if we have a historical centre, go and watch, read, and understand people, then they will know people were there before them, people cleared the way which they are all going through now, not because I earn N1 million, N800,000 or N500,000 per film. I remember Enebeli Elebuwa was paid N2, 000 in 1976 for my film, Oyenusi. He bought a bus with it, paid off his rent and enjoyed with it. Just N2, 000, to tell you the value of money then, so their N800,000 today is not a big deal and how many of them are earning it? You know, it's not alright to say you have 5,000 actors and only 6 are making it. It's not fair.
You watch those artistes and it annoys me when somebody says "I was passing through, I heard they were doing an audition and when I got there, they gave me a part." It's an insult! When people go to the university to read Theatre Arts for four years! Some breweries will organise something called Reality Show and after six weeks, they say she is an actress or he is an actor. So why did I go to the university? Why did I work in America, Hollywood, Britain, to come and rub shoulders with television-made actors? You know if you set up a place where they can come and train; like today, you find some of these cameramen, they don't know what it is to be cameraman, the focus polar is different from a lightning cameraman or camera operator. But they just claim to be cameraman, next is "I'm a D.O.P." but if they come to be trained properly, internationally, world class, you find that it will affect the productions. It will improve a lot because now it's so stagnant and the bottom line is because they are not trained.
And then, there are so many talented people who cannot afford to come to that school. We are giving scholarship to about 70 percent of the students. You come for the audition and if there is talent in you, we allow you to come to the school and build you up and if you're very good, we will sign you on our books and look for jobs for you. With all my friends in Britain and America, we will be having lecturers coming on sabbatical and we will also have academic exchanges. Good artistes, good students will be taken to festivals to exchange ideas, to learn how the other people live. This is not a guarantee. You've got to be a very good student. Don't think because you just pay your fees, it's an opportunity to get visa to America or London. No! We are talking about real academic standards. It's really a good project of improving the industry where classical people, tall, brilliant people are brought up and given opportunities because if you watch today's films, when you see five posters, it's the same name all over these posters. You don't know which is which and the actors and actresses; you find that their lifespan is limited because they are not trained. It's what they have acted on Monday in film A that they carry to film B on Tuesday and film C on Wednesday. And if you watch some of them, I know an artiste who's using one Agbada for six movies and you have people who will say they are costumiers there. They don't know the meaning of costuming a movie. It's very expensive but this one, they just put a bunch of Agbada, Buba, Iro and Sokoto and suits and they go there to pick up, iron it and they wear. I've seen five films where five people wear the same checkers' shirts. So, those kinds of things have to be corrected. We should have the fashion aspect of this in the industry.
Since you have dwelt on costuming, scriptwriting and camera operation, what other modules or aspects do you have in the academy?
We are going to train presenters. People who can present programmes on air; the composition, comportment and present programmes without fumbling and wobbling either on television or radio. It's a kind of an all-mass media kind of training but particularly to television and film, not to the other print media, you know. So, when you leave there, you have to go out with one profession, and we don't believe you have to learn a whole lot and become a nuisance. You come in and make up your mind that you want to be a scriptwriter and actor, director and producer or cameraman and editor, you have to choose those that go together but the first two months, you are open to the history of the cinema.
Then, by the third month, you start choosing because it's a kind of two-part thing. It's a 10-month course in our own. It's not three weeks and then you go out there and say I went to that school. The first five months, we expose and by the next five, you specialise. Then we will be sending you to people's locations to work as a labourer, to see practically what is going on there. And then, we are going to be doing our own jobs, which means you commission the students to write their own scripts, produce and direct at the end of their courses. That is their exams, there is no written exam. Among themselves, they choose an editor, a cameraman, a director, a scriptwriter and pick a team and bring out the result. Each team will be judged according to its shots. It's a challenge that none of the universities has ever done. I did it when I was a part-time lecturer at LASU and most of my students are working in NTA, LTV 8 and lots of TV stations today and I'm very proud. Not just theory, I give you the practical challenge by telling you to write your own story whether it's a documentary, a drama or thriller, you go and do it. That's going to be your exam, not answer any two from five. Answer it outside and let's judge you by your lighting, storyline, presentation, directing, how you painted the picture and the things you bring into the picture, the beginning, middle, and the end, because if you watch Nigerian movies now, either the Igbo or Yoruba one, as soon as it opens, you know where they are going to. You know the result because most of them are not groomed, well-educated scriptwriters. See, everybody can tell a story but to write it for a movie is a different ball game. People should be writing stories and selling them to producers who will then invite scriptwriters who will turn them into either dialogue scripts or action scripts ever before giving them to artistes. But here, you see for instance, a story written, produced, directed and starring Eddie Ugbomah. It's been affecting the industry, for many years and I said I must not allow this to go on. I must intervene as one of the pioneers and fathers of the industry. I see the flaw in the industry and decided to help because right now, people are fed up with Nigerian movies. When they see it on their T.V., they say please change the channel. There is no improvement; it's just stagnant and the most annoying thing is that the consumers are being cheated. They start a film and say Part One, then they bring all the stories they've shot and for Part Two, they go back to half of the Part One again. So, for one single film, you see Parts 1, 2, 3. It's an insult! It's cheating, robbery and we have to discourage those kinds of things.
This is where the Film Corporation, Censors Board come in as they are the supervising agencies and should supervise very well. The entire industry, now to me is dead. There is nothing Nolly about it anymore. I've been telling them really that Nolly means nothing; Nollywood is Nothing wood! It's sad because this is one of the world's biggest industries and now that life seems hard due to the global economic downturn is when entertainment sells because people want to calm their nerves. Artistes are the only balm to soothe people now, for them to forget the problems.
You're talking about a revolution, the impact of which we will see in a short while; what responses have you got so far from friends, colleagues, regulators and the government?
I'm entitled to what they call a take-off grant from the Film Corporation, Ministry of Information but many don't understand what I'm doing. They take it as envy. Why should it be him? But I laugh at them because I am doing my best by setting up the Hall of Fame. I'm a member of Black Moviemakers Hall of Fame in Auckland and think we should have our own. They hear about Ola Balogun, they think he is only about the Iroko Band but he went into music when movies got too expensive, he brought out his other talent. The man who shot Things Fall Apart; Francis Oladele, is now a farmer. That is not fair, and I would say I am the oldest teenager in 'Captivity' that is still in movies because it's my only job, making and teaching. My policy is don't just criticise, what can you do? And I am putting training and re-training in place.
It is very relevant because things are changing. Cameras are no more what they used to be. I championed the no-celluloid, no-movie arrangement but now, digital cameras shoot good movie that you can blow on celluloid. So, the two work together now; one for the celluloid market and the other for the video market. But they don't know about it, they are illiterates. George Lukas, for instance, is shooting Star Wars with video and blowing it up to 70mm for big cinemas and limiting home-video on DVDs, you know. But instead of them to admit that they don't know and they need to learn, they continue to pretend. They had a dream that Nigeria is the third film-making nation but they are the first horrible film-makers in the world, not second or third, first. Hollywood and Bollywood, they don't make videos, they make movies. They built cameras specially for films, like Star Wars, Spiderman. Just for such films through good budgets. Harrison Ford raised $200 million to shoot Indiana Jones. How can a N10 million film compete with that? We can't!
I saw a film where they said war! war!! war!!! and the next thing, three men were carrying arrows and bows, three men leaving Ado to fight in Ekiti. It's an insult, when there should be about 2,000 to 3,000 foot or riding soldiers. This is a matter of training and the financiers of the films are traders. The market is lost and to get it back, there must be a revolution. First, ban all video clubs; stop all street hawkers, so there won't be piracy or Taiwan, Lebanese and Malaysian replications and their 20-in-one films. You can't leave that to buy a Nigerian film of N300. As such, we create an atmosphere where we can make good films and sell. If your films sells between 50, 000 and 200,000 copies, you make N40 or N50 million, you will be encouraged to put more money but now, no Yoruba or Igbo film maker sells up to 10,000 nowadays, in a country of 140 million people because it is dead!
I would even go as far as saying African Magic should be stopped, say for three years because they are side markets. Let's give ourselves three years, go to festivals, Cannes, Los Angeles, Berlin to win awards. How many of us can crash bicycles in a film? Americans crashed 20, 40 cars in films because they provide for them. We don't have techniques here but we can steal or grab them, through equipment. We need training. Look at our musicians' lyrics, they don't compose properly, write a poem, score it, give a producer and he gets an artiste to deliver it but everybody wants to play the guitar. They are playing the wrong tune.
After the days of Fela, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, how many are still here? Most of them are flashes in the pan because they are not trained! The essence should be on what you know, not what you have but the reverse is the case. Look at the girls; showing off your body or crying always. Crying is not acting. You can't place our films along the lines of whether they are thrillers, comedy, love stories and so on. Look at their titles; Iyaga, Iyogo, Kondo Olopa, Lepa Shandy and so on.
How do you intend to get the funds, considering how capital- intensive the project is?
God has helped me. I have nine graduates in my house; six are working and three are about to start, and one undergraduate. I used to have landed properties here and abroad. At my age, I decided I have to leave something for posterity. So, I sold some properties like one in Washington D. C. to get income because I will die one day. I want to leave something for posterity. People will come from abroad to teach the students, workshops and great learning.
We should do away with those emergency actors, actresses and film-makers because movie production is serious business.
What is the duration to study scriptwriting or presentation for instance?
The shortest is 10 months for any course.
Will it be everyday or only on weekends?
No, there are two sessions, there is full-time and part-time. We also know many people are struggling. So, there is part-time but that will be longer than the full-time and some of the lucky boys and girls will be used in the shooting of our T.V. series. And we are not talking of 100 students in one class but a well-structured and adequate centre for great learning.
How can people apply or purchase forms for the academy?
They can come to the academy at Ilogbo-Eremi after Agbara, along Badagry Expressway or come to our office at 45, Ogunlana Drive in Surulere, Lagos. They can also get my contact numbers from a lot of people who have them. Already, about four of my friends have promised to finance five students each. That means about 80 are taken care of by scholarship. That, I think, is some contribution because I can't sleep on two beds or drive two cars at the same time.