Teco Benson, actor and producer
His decision to quit his civil service job in 1997 to join the league of movie producers was predicated on the thinking that the only way to make a statement through home movies was to call the shots from behind the camera.
For many movie buffs, seeing a movie with the name Teco Benson is evident that the work is worth seeing and investing on. His reputation as a creative filmmaker is impeccable, yet he confesses that his desire is not just to produce good films but explore the home movies as a communication tool.
Since 1996 when he came up with his first movie, Compromise, Benson has produced several movies and has registered his presence in the lucrative industry. The prolific producer spoke to Daily Sun on Nigeria’s dominance of home videos, producers’ mediocrity, copyright laws, piracy and why most producers shy away from premieres.
I was born in Ojoto, Anambra state about 30 years ago. I started out as a part time actor, because I was a civil servant in the East then. However, immediately I observed that an actor has little or no input in the message of the film, as a mere tool for the producer to develop a particular storyline. For me, that was not good enough because my vision has always been to change the society through the medium of film. So, I decided to quit acting entirely so as to concentrate on calling the shot from the other side of the camera.
The first three movies I produced never saw the light of the day, but I was not discouraged.
In 1996, I produced Compromise and that launched me into full time production. I produced Abandoned, Confusion, Atrocity, Suicide Mission, among others. All the while, I retained my job in the civil service. I quit the civil service finally in 1997 and moved over to Lagos.
I am a writer, producer and director. I also buy scripts to encourage aspiring scriptwriters especially when the storyline is in line with my vision. I have a reputation in this aspect. I give credit to my scriptwriters and I am not involved in stealing ideas from others and later cut them out.
Growth in the industry
Personally, once I started, I have gone through some self development exercises. Apart from reading, I have attended courses and workshops both at home and abroad. I studied sciences, so, I had to learn on the job. My last film, Blood Diamonds, took more than 10 months to shoot. This year, I have only done one film due to my desire to come out with the best.
Generally, I think we have had a geometrical growth in the industry, artistically, technologically and otherwise. We have improved and I tell you, we have become a force to be reckoned with in the whole world. Only recently, the Washington Times took note of our developments in the film industry in Nigeria and christened it Nollywood and rated the Nigeria film industry the third largest in the world after
Hollywood and Bollywood.
We did not give ourselves that name. I have traveled through Africa and discovered that we are colonising Africa again through our movies. Even, countries where English is not the official language watch our movies. They gather in the evening at the pubs and what they watch is Nigerian movies. When we were shooting Blood Diamonds in Sierra Leone, the reception we received on arrival made some of the female actors to break down in tears. Thousands of people were at the Airport to receive us. They lined the streets, crying and reaching out to us as our convoy drove past. I have never witnessed a sight like that before. That will tell you the height Nigerian movies has attained. In fact, when Blood Diamonds was premiered in Sierra Leone, the President was there and he gave me a five-minute standing ovation at the end.
What is discouraging people is some delay in the industry, but in every business, there must be some quacks. We have some people who only see the industry as a means to make quick fortunes. They are the ones causing problems for the industry.
Everywhere in the world, there are stars in the movie industry and these stars come and go. Most producers just go after the stars because their faces sell films and in the process they are overused. This is because most of them lust after money and in the process, they get themselves involved in substandard movies and after a while, they depreciate in value . Even in Hollywood, some faces are used in selling films.
The guilty ones are the producers. Once a producer sees a film that is successful in the market, he goes after the same script, changes the names, cast and rushes to locations to shoot. Some even copy foreign films verbatim. The only difference is the cast and the title. They lack imagination.
The public should take note of the quacks in the industry and refuse to buy their films. I have always stood out anyway because when every one was shooting with traditional sets, I came out with State of Emergency, an action film and the copycats went after it. I have remained consistent because I don’t want to be tossed around by every wind. I think that once the viewers identify with good film makers, the bad ones will definitely fizzle out.
In the film industry, we have the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Directors Guild of Nigeria and the Association of Movie Producers. The problem partly is that we have not been able to come together and until we are able to do that, we can’t fight piracy very well. It is the problem of having too many captains in a ship but everyone making little impact.
Nigerian government has been silent for too long. They are only beginning to wake up now because they have seen the havoc piracy is causing. Immediately films are released, the pirates would only buy a copy, pirate and rent them out. At the end, it is this same work that people will use in judging the quality of work. They are robbing the producers. There is need to update Nigerian piracy laws because some of them are obsolete. These laws must also be given enough bite so that they can instill fear in the heart of the pirates.
The censors board recently taken a census of the video clubs. They were made to pay a certain fee, so that a comprehensive list will be made by the censors board with a view to taking appropriate steps that will determine how much they will pay to producers for renting out their films. Most film makers don’t recover the cost of making their films because of the pirates. However, there are plans to form the Nigerian Film Council so that it will be easier for us to fight the video club owners and the pirates.
Many people are not patient. The producers want to recoup the money invested in a movie, hence they don’t have time for previews and all that. They see their films as commercial products. Some of them don’t even have time to market their old films. Another thing is that some producers are afraid of the fact that once a bad film is premiered, it will no longer sell. People will spread the news about how bad it is even before it is released into the market.
My inspiration is first and foremost from God. I am a revolutionist and a human right activist. But all in my spirit, I see myself as an instrument of change and I want to make films to teach and leave a message.
If we get half the encouragement given to footballers in this country, it will be greatly inspired. However, I encourage my fellow film makers to take time to make good movies and leave them to posterity to judge.
I will never go to sleep because my fans expect much from me. I know that to whom much is given, much is expected. If I come up with anything less than what they expect, it will be tragic. I implore them to watch out for my next movie, Six Demons of Horror.