BLOOD DIAMONDS: HOLLYWOOD STOLE MY MOVIE TITLE------TECO BENSON
Teco Benson, Nollywood film director of repute, is just one of the few Nigerian movie directors who have had the opportunity of working outside the shores of Nigeria, a rare opportunity his hard work and experience in churning out first class movies provided. Noted for his knack for action movies, Teco, an avid critic of the failings of Nollywood, maintains that one of the biggest problems in Nollywood is that it parades mediocres in the mould of professionals. He spoke with http://nollywoodgists.com, VICTOR AZUKA MORDY, on this and other issues. Excerpts.
On NOLLYWOOD, Celluloid format and international film standard.
In Nigeria, we make our film on video because the films are only watched in the homes. It doesn't make economic sense making a film on celluloid and at the end of the day you still transfer it to DVD.
I want to congratulate the management of Silverbird and Numetro Cinemas for taking the lead at re-introducing the Cinema culture in Nigeria.
When the Cinema culture died, what was known as the first film industry, which solely fed the Cinema sector died too.
The attitude of the typical Nigerian man apparently protecting his family for fear of getting corrupt or being attacked by armed robbers also contributed immensely in killing the cinema culture. Thus, Nigerians saw the advantage of television and decided to start making movies on video with the coming of VCR. They realized that they can actually shoot these films and sell them on video compact discs and cassettes.
All the cinema houses in Nigeria died and got converted to churches and some of them to warehouses.
You see, people are having false impression about Hollywood. My last movie was done on 35mm and that's the highest. Next to that is High Definition which is aiming to take over in the next five years. George Lucas shot on HD, a lot of people are doing HD. Steven Spielberg is contemplating making his film on High Definition.
High Definition is virtually the future of film in the world. I've made a feature film on celluloid and I am planning another one on 35mm which is the film I said I was making for the international market.
bAny plan to relocate to Hollywood?
I am not desperate about going to Hollywood to shoot. Though I would have enjoyed working in their well equipped studios because it will in no small way enhance the input in the kind of movies I am noted for, that is action films.
Everything I would need to come up with a blockbuster action movie are on ground there. Here we struggle because of the technology gap. We use the little we have to achieve what we have been able to achieve.
In the movie 'king kong', the machine that was installed inside the animal had a remote control which controls the mouth and all parts of the body. If they want him to open his mouth. They use the remote to control it. I tell you the truth I believe in this country, I don't believe I have to run away or travel out of this country for my film to make meaning. Can you see the machines that we use here. we can't even create ordinary razor blade. That's the only thing I enjoy when I get there. I can stay here and make a movie if I get the support. I can get all the experts that will help me achieve the technical aspect.
My own vision is not to go to America and make movies because they are jealous, they are so protective of their industry that's why it was difficult in the past for any film from other countries to win the Oscars Award.
Attitude of other African movie industries towards Nollywood.
South Africa is not comfortable with the rise of the Nigerian films industry because despite the fact that they make their films on international format they are still lost out on the secret why Nigerian movies are more accepted and are watched in every part of Africa, yet we don't even shoot with the right funds.
The truth is that God has blessed this country so much that the only place you hear of Nigeria in the international world is from CNN and whatever they tell you is from their own perspective and now Nollywood has come. Even in South Africa the cinema world is dominated by the whites. So, whatever they are producing is from the white man's context. This is the only place you see a hundred percent black content and that's why you are seeing this difference. I believe that if our government can give a little support, we will go a long way. Personally if I will come up will a film project that will shock the world.
Views about untrained film directors.
This anomaly is happening because investors want to cut costs. I feel bad and I even sympathize with them. My candid advice to any investor is that any thing worth doing at all is worth doing well. There are lots of quack directors hoping to take your money and give you a half baked job. It feels bad that's why the DGN is taking up that challenge trying to see how they can reorganize and make sure that the right people are in the right places
Choice for action movies.
Yes, I do mostly action movies, thrillers and all other genres of films in the industry. I've made Christian films, thrillers, drama and I've made even comedy. I made the movie called “Stupid”, it's a comedy and people loved it so much. I did a horror film called “Six demons”. I decided to go into action movies basically because when we started in Nollywood, critics did not believe the industry could do anything beyond money rituals and voodoo movies. People got tired of these movies because they felt it was giving Nigeria a bad image. A case in point was in Ghana where they demonstrated about some killings that took place; the Ghanaians felt that Nigerians were involved. A lot of people get scared when they come to Nigeria because they believe when you come here with just handkerchief, you can do abracadabra and money will come.
As a patriotic Nigerian, I said okay Hollywood stands out because of their strong action movies that can make you grip your seat as you watch. I saw that one problem we have is the technology gap. From inception, Nollywood has been sustained by the efforts of stakeholders, government didn't come neither did the corporate bodies come. So I decided to go into action movies even within the limits of my resources. It's actually capital intensive and very demanding, a lot of attention and funds are needed. My idea of movies is not just to sit down in the parlour and talk. I don't like drama telling stories; it looks too simple for me. I am a very hard working person and I like challenges. I thank God that since I came up with my own action movie called, Eye for Eye it has been wonderful, the climax was State of Emergency about 9 years ago. It was shocking to a lot of people because they never believed anything like that could come out of this country and people were making positive comments about that and my last movie Mission to Nowhere is a thriller, if you watch any of my movies you will discover that I have a peculiar style that's why people can identify my film even without seeing my name if you watch it midway. That's the testimonies I've heard from a lot of people and I am so happy that people are beginning to identify styles of directors and I encourage people actually because a lot of people are complaining about the contents of our films. If we can follow the trend and find out directors who make these films and follow them, I don't think you will regret some of the films you buy. People make a lot of mistakes about the movies they buy these days. When these producers use some of the known faces people rush to buy these movies and get disappointed. But if you go for people who have some pedigree they can never disappoint you. That's what I want Nigerians to do because that's the only way they can get worth for their money and their investment in the industry. So, I feel good because I can say that people buy my films because of my name. It's actually a product of so many years of hard work. I came into the industry with the vision of using the film medium to change the society; So whatever film I make is still in line with that. I like to do topical issues. If I look at the country and find out certain areas that is a problem I feel I can use the film medium to send a message create a topic out of it and make a good film
Yes. The first film in Sierra Leone “Blood Diamonds” was made by me. I made and directed Blood Diamonds not the Hollywood one. Hollywood stole my title and stole the film and made their own version and called it the same Blood Diamonds. The person who actually came out with the idea and the investment is called Sam Kargbo, a lawyer from Sierra Leone but he is based in Nigeria here, he saw the development in the industry and felt he wants his country to have a piece of the action. We went to Sierra Leone I had to stay there training the crew and the actors. During the premier, the former Sierra Leonean President, Ahmed Tijan Kabar, was there and he gave me a five minutes standing ovation after watching it and they were happy. Apart from the Sierra Leone experience, there are other international experiences. When I finished Mission to Nowhwhere we had international preview in the cinema. So it was very good for the image of the country.