Movie producers are dishonest
Remember Opa Williams, pioneer filmmaker and one of the prime movers of Nollywood? The artiste who produced the chart-buster movie, Onome I &2 and Tears for Love, may no longer be a popular face in Nigerian movie scene.
Following the five-year break, Williams said at his Surulere office recently that he is back in Nollywood to reminisce the good old days with a new work entitled Yours Truly.
It would be recalled also that in the course of experimenting with ideas, Williams came up with Nite of a Thousand Laughs, a yearly itinerary comedy show touring ten cities. Meanwhile, many people thought that the success of the show has taken Williams away from movies. But far from it, explained the father of two.
In this interview, the producer throws light on his break from Nollywood, new projects, Nite of a Thousand Laughs, indiscipline, ban on actors and why he shies away from acting.
Break from Nollywood
It was a matter of growth. I’ve been moving from one end to the other. Sometime, I felt that there was a need to expand my coast. Or better still, there is need for me to define how I want to be addressed. Do I want to be addressed as a movie-producer or just as an entertainment person? Actually, at a point, I realised that entertainment is a whole gamut.
The whole thing boils down to the numerous questions of identity because I want to be called a producer and still maintain my respect. I don’t want to be one of those that people would look at with disdain. If I don’t want to be yoked together with the whole lots, one would like to move on. In moving on, I also realised the need to wear a cap of creativity. And I began to think that, what else could I do with the cap I was putting on? As one of the first generation moviemakers, I am still a filmmaker, but I am also interested in other things that are equally creative.
Commercial involvement in movie-making
Actually, I have reduced my commercial participation in home video production. Nevertheless, I have been using the same apparatus to carry on with what I am doing presently. I have done movies that moved round schools, some of which were used for propaganda.
The fact that you don’t see me in the market does not mean that I am not doing business. But more profoundly for me presently is the comedy thing that I am involved in: Night of Thousand Laughs. Nowadays, I mean different things to different people. I decided that I should go to where I’ll be better appreciated.
Video production and bandwagon effect
It was about five years ago that the video traders started coming into film production. Before then, the shop owners restricted themselves to marketing of films and things were okay. This is because, producers were able to face the art of film production squarely. But the moment the video traders started coming in by way of giving money to people to produce films, trouble started.
Soon, the traders realised that they had to contend with acts of dishonesty on the part of the professionals. Some of my colleagues are very dishonest. Some of them would promise what they could not deliver. At times, they over-shoot their production budget. For instance, they might collect N3 million from a marketer to shoot a movie and promise him that they would make N6 million.
After collecting such money, the first thing the producer would do is to go and rent a flat, and buy a flashy car. After that, he would begin to manage the remaining money. Since the so-called professionals failed the marketers, the marketers now felt that they could do it on their own. At that point, everybody started jumping in. They no longer rehearse scripts. I’ve been to locations where they shoot some bits even while other bits were being rehearsed. I’ve also been to locations where there were no scripts at all, yet they had to do something. It is at that point that I said to myself that I don’t want to be yoked together with these sets of people.
No more commercial movies
I’ve not stopped. Right now what I do is to produce films for special purposes. For instance, I have produced movies that have morality themes. I’ve also produced movies for UNICEF and WHO. It’s even more lucrative doing that.
Commercial movies are popular. But I always asked myself whether I just want to be known as a popular producer or to be recognised as a man who affected the industry positively and created an information channel. Quite a good number of professionals in the industry are quite popular but they cannot be pinned down to quality movies or good messages.
Working for international organisations
Let me explain it better. For an organisation like UNICEF to have commissioned you to do a job, it means that you have a pedigree in the industry. I should even say that one is expected to be more creative to be able to convince these bodies because oftentimes, it is the artistes that sell ideas to them. When they realise that you have done XYZ films, they don’t need to commission you again, they will only ask you to come and work for them.
Commissioned works hinders creativity?
Creativity itself is dynamic. You don’t have to be creative and at the same time be hamstrung. As a creative person, you don’t have a limited scope, you’re expected to have a stacatto of ideas. I might pick on topics like AIDS, child abuse, child trafficking and so on. Then, I could wake up in my creative platform to say. "Let me do a comedy on them," which I can sell. I did The Movie of my Mamon, which sold commercially. I didn’t know where UNICEF saw it and they used it somewhere for campaign. Being creative is when you’re able to blend topics.
ite of a thousand laughs
The show has been on for ten years. It holds once in a year in any city. This year we were in Benin, Port Harcourt, Bonny, and soon we’ll be going to Aba and later to Calabar. So, it is like an eclipse.
I thank God that for some reasons, the show has exploded. No thanks to the pirates, who have been pirating the video CDs to no quarter. It is the highest selling pirated CD right now. Every nook and cranny in this country, you will find a copy of the comedy show. Actually, Nite of a Thousand Laughs was borne out of the need to make people laugh and ease-off stress. When you get home, you can pick up the video CD and watch. It all started like a joke in 1995 precisely. When we started, nobody recognised it up till 1999. The yearly itinerary is like this: The Lagos show is the flagship. We do Easter Sunday in Aba, we celebrate the May Day (May 1st) in Abuja and later we come down to Lagos to celebrate Independence Day (October 1). After that, we head for Benin or Warri on Boxing Day (December 26) and Bonny Island on January 2nd. However, we are working towards making it grow to
10 cities within one year.
Packaging Nite of a Thousand Laughs
When we started, we never thought that it would be packaged into home video. My dream is that everybody in Lagos would come to the National Stadium and watch people laugh. Part of that now closely goes to charity. That is to say that we will buy laughter for those who cannot laugh. Along the line, people started calling me from Port Harcourt, Abuja and other Nigerian cities. That was how we started moving from city to city.
So, we started from Port Harcourt, we moved to Abuja. From Abuja, we moved to Benin. Nite of Thousand Laughs is seven years old in Port Harcourt, ten years old in Lagos; Benin, three years; Bonny, two years, and Aba, four years. We started moving from one city to the other. Along the line, people started requesting for the past editions they missed. So, we started packaging them in videos. Actually, at the time we started, we would only print about 500 or 1,000 copies that we would sell at the venues of the shows. It was from that point that the pirates came in.
The height we want to take Nite of Thousand Laughs is for me to cover the entire country. However, I still look forward to a situation whereby one day, I will stage the show and give the gate takings to charity. I could even go to a prison yards to make the inmates laugh. I could also go to the hospitals and make the sick laugh. You see, aside from the fact that laughter brings joy to people, it is also good for health. An unhappy man dies young while a happy man dies old. And what brings about happiness is laughter.
Growth of stand up comedy
The growth of stand up comedy in Nigeria cannot but be attributed substantially to Nite of a Thousand Laughs. Ten years ago, you could count the number of comedians in town. For every comedian in town today, it is either they emerged during the show, perfected their acts during the show, or got exposed through Nite of a Thousand Laughs.
I stand to be corrected
Moveover, other comedy shows that followed may have been inspired by NOATL. That is the brand everybody wants to identify with; the brand everybody wants to beat. It is the prime brand in comedy.
NOATL, a money spinner?
Definitely, it is. You make money from anything you put your money into. Of course, I am making money. I pay my children’s school fees, I pay my rent from it. Apart from NOATL, I do some other media works. I am a businessman. I am reaping from what I have sown. I can recall that for the first NOATL, we spent N600,000 but we made less than N200,000. For the second edition, it was the same thing. It was the same thing with the third edition. It was not until the fourth edition, that I started breaking even.
What keeps me going
The first edition was organised with a few of my friends. The initial idea was by me, Okey Bakassi, and a guy called Ebere. We came together with the idea, but idea without money cannot go far. The second edition was with Chico Ejiro, and Azubike Udenzi. We came together and staged the show at the University of Lagos. We never got our money back. When I wanted to do the third edition, I went back and called my friends but they told me "sorry, we are not interested."
Something inside me touched me and kept urging me that there is no comedy festival like that. This was aside the fact that people like to laugh. Along the line, I had corporate bodies showing interest. The show has been on for ten years with a lot of pedigree and innovations. It has not failed to hold for one year. It has not recorded any casualty. Even at the year 2000 edition at the National Theatre, when light failed, people were still laughing. So when you have a product like that, you’ll want to keep it going. Without Nite of a Thousand Laughs, the value of comedy probably would have been low still. Today, you will see comedians earning as much as N700,000 per show.
Return of the veterans
The likes of Amaka Igwe, Keneth Nnebue and Tade Ogidan are my contemporaries. I also respect Zeb Ejiro and Chico Ejiro. Outside this club, there are people who don’t know what a camera is. Boys who stay with the camera are cameramen today. These are people who do not know the rudiments of the instrument. I am sure that when the house crumbles, the next thing is to lay a solid foundation for the house.
The former house was not built on a strong foundation. The Nigerian movie industry attracts a lot of interests in and outside the country. It employs so many people and as such, it should not be allowed to die. Government is already showing interests, likewise foreigners. We cannot continue with the business as usual approach to things.
Ban on actors
There is nowhere in the world where artistes are banned. You may decide not to work with an artiste. But if an actor is earning so much, he must be ready to give something back. For instance, if I am paying an artiste N1 million to act a role, I must be able to own his time, but not his life.
I can’t pay an artiste N1 million and he’ll start dictating to me. It is wrong that artistes are banned, but then, the artistes are the cause. Some of the actors are quite undisciplined. If artistes are banned because of indiscipline, the man who says that they are banned is justified. But I am sure that they would not have been banned because of the amount they were being paid. They were banned because of their attitudes. You can imagine an artiste collecting five scripts at the same time, yet they won’t know the character they want to play in the script.
Playing minor roles or waka pas
I am a producer. But I think that I have a strong passion for acting. The only problem is that I don’t have a good face that will sell a film. As a result, I would rather play one small role and enjoy it.
Free from scandals
May be it is because my wife is a Pastor in Foursquare Gospel Church. I also attend Foursquare. Apart from that, I come from a family that is very strong in morals. What is wrong may not be bad, but what is bad is prima facie bad. As long as you arm yourself with that principle, you would always be free from trouble. I want to leave a legacy that many people will talk about after me.
My next film is titled Yours Truly. It will be out very soon. I produced, Sam Dede directed it while Iretiola Doyle played the lead role. After that, I have other things that I am doing. I have not left the industry. Like I told you, I would rather do one good movie in a year than churn out substandard works. In that last five years, I’ve not done any movie.
I am married with two kids