Figurine: We ‘ve set the pace in Nollywood

Source: Benjamin NJOKU -

Scion of the ace film maker, Adeyemi Afolayan, (Ade Love) Kunle Afolayan is now the focus in Nollywood today. This international director, actor and producer whose second feature film, 'Figurine cliched five awards at this year's African Movie Academy Awards.
Afolayan believed that his landslide victory was as a result of his commitment to setting a standard for African film makers. In this concluding part of our interview, Afolayan sets an agenda for film makers in Nigeria and Africa at large.
Benjamin NJOKU

As actor, producer and director, where does your strength lie?

Among the three, one cannot be said to be a master of all. The fact that I studied Business Administration and had worked as a banker for several years gave me the opportunity to master the business aspect of film making. Producing films is very challenging.

As a producer, you are in charge of the expenses, coordination and administration. I have been able to master all these tricks because of the experiences I acquired while working in the banking sector as an administrative and corporate affair's officer.

And as a director, I attended a film school abroad, where I was able to acquire some of the basics or ethics of film making. And as an actor, I started way back as a child.

Let's just say, acting flows in the blood. But in future, I'd stop producing. When you are producing, you are really distracted because apart from being on set, you are also meant to shoulder other two key roles. So, it's better you allow someone else to handle that aspect of production. But for acting and directing, I want to be a master of the two.

What does your late dad got to do with your achievements?

A lot, because I guess I have been influenced directly or indirectly while growing up as a child.
I developed a passion for film making after my dad died, and not when he was alive. While dad lived, I wasn't even interested in film making because he wouldn't encourage us to be part of that.

After his death, I developed a strong interest in film making and as a result, I had to go back to school to study the rudiments of film making.

I'm not the only son of Adeyemi Afolayan that is into acting. My three brothers are also into acting. I think my works speak for me because of what I have been able to learn while growing up.

What I learnt in the film school, coupled with the experience I have acquired over the years, gave me that edge over every other film maker in Nigeria and Africa at large. But we can't rule out the fact that being a son of Adeyemi Afolayan played a vital role in what I am today.

Figurine dwarfed other African films. Why?

Figurine is my second feature film. When I did “Irapada” it was also an award winning movie. It won the Best Indigenous movie award at the 2007 AMAA. For me, Figurine is a product of an experiment.

I wanted to see what value I could add to film making that would give Nigerian film makers an edge over other film makers across Africa. After producing “Irapada,” I learnt a lot of lessons. I tried to improve on a whole lot of things, which I didn't pay attention to, when I was shooting “Irapada.” I didn't totally achieve what I wanted in Figurine.

And it may have been better than what it is today, because of hitches and challenges here and there. Thank God the film is still a success.

Figurine would have been more successful if those hitches were not there. The film was purposely produced in that class to prove to my colleagues and the entire African film makers that if we take our time and add a few things here and there to our productions, we would be able to stand side by side with any film makers from Hollywood or Bollywood.

How did you achieve Figurine?

Getting the scripts of Figurine ready took us about three to four months while the shooting proper took three months. Post-production took about four months and pre-production equally took about three months. In all, it took more than a year.

Compared to an average Nollywood film, the budget was quite huge. It cost more than N50million. But that does not mean that one cannot do a film with a lower budget and still achieve the same kind of standard.

The budget was higher because the set was also very huge.

I assembled a huge cast and crew. And we moved from one location to another location, which really gulped a lot of money, and the logistic problems….

Since the film hit foreign cinemas, have you recouped your fund?

We have recouped more than half of the budget of the N50m. The film is not yet released on DVD. We are still in the cinemas and private screening. We are waiting for the right platform to release the film on DVD. We are looking for a platform where we can sell more than a million copies. Once that is in place, I can assure you we will not hesitate to release the film on DVD. Figurine has got good production values, pictures quality that make it appeal to international audience.

Still, you didn't win the best director awards?

I was surprised but what can one do when the jury has their own parameter? I don't know what their reasons were but I think it's because we have so many other African countries involved.

They wanted to ensure that the awards went round. I don't know why the film that won the best cinematography, best picture and best visual effect; (these are the key categories in film making)didn't win the best director award. But I'm still glad that we won at AMAA.

Why did you say Figurine is a break from tradition?

Figurine has got good production values. To me, it's the most important thing in any production. What an international audience looks out for in any film is the production value of that film, which are picture and sound. Once they see your film for 10 minutes, they will be able to tell whether the film would be interesting or not. I don't want to be seen as a local champion.

I want to keep doing something that will not only appeal to Nigerians and Africans in general but also to the international audience.

Lancelot Imasuen and yourself aspire for the global stage. How has it been so far?

Internationally, we are doing very well. Figurine is currently touring major film festivals across the world. Come next month, I will be travelling to Canada, Korea and Tokyo to attend film festivals. Figurine is the only Nigerian film that will be touring international festivals in recent times. It's good for us, because of the exposure. It would also provide us the opportunity to sign on such international distributors for our films.

That's why I say to my colleagues, if they dare put in efforts into what they are doing, their films will definitely stand a better chance of getting international exposure. This is the beginning of a better thing to come to Nollywood. Right now, I'll soon begin work on something bigger.

Internationally, where is Nollywood weak?

Well, Nollywood is highly accepted in blacks communities in Europe and America. But having said that, our films are hardly shown in the theatre outside the shores of the country. At home, how many of our films are released in the cinemas?

Internationally, there are structures in place. A film must be made to go round the normal distribution circle, which is from the theatre to the preview and then onto DVD. But here in Nigeria, we intend to release straight on DVD, which limits what the investor gets in return. Yes, Nigerian films are doing well internationally. But the producers are not gaining as much as they ought to, because of piracy.

Do you advertise in your movies?

My films speak volumes in the area of advert placement. I do a lot of product placement in my films, meaning that to complete my production, I ensure that I involve multinational companies in my films. I sell the idea to them and they in return pay for it.

That way, one can subsidise one's budget and it's a common practice all over the world. I did that in “Irapada,” where I got Dangote, MTN and other corporate bodies involved. Also, in Figurine, I got NICON Hotels and Resort, Unilever and some banks to place adverts. This is the way to go for Nollywood producers. That way, they can subsidise their budgets, no matter how huge the budget is.

So, how do you create time for your family?

I'm sure one of the reasons my wife married me was because she realised I have got some potentials. My wife realised that I'm always working and in the future, I would be able to put food on the table for her.

But I always try to balance it by creating time for both my family and my work. I try as much as possible not to allow my work to affect my relationship with my family.

Are you satisfied with today's Nollywood?

Yes, because an average Nigerian man have got the zeal to make things happen. This, in a way has helped the industry to grow. I believe that come next year, most of the films you will be seeing in AMAA from the stable of Nigerian film makers will be great and better movies. A lot of film makers are now challenged to do better movies. Somebody needs to kick-start the revolution and every other film makers will follow suit.

And, if we continue in that spirit, Nollywood would have no choice at some point to step aside for us to thrive. What we need now is to learn to master the technical quality. Already, we have got great stories, we need to engage a few more trained directors who really understand how films should be made. Believe me, sincerely, if all these things are put in place, the industry will be recognised positively in the internationally.

On set, do you foresee the quality you refer to?

Of course, the kind of persons you are working with, sometimes determine your character or attitude on set. I work with a couple of these actors and actresses. I make them work as well as I try to take good care of them while on set.

How true is it that producers and marketers take undue advantage of female actresses for roles.

I think it's the other way round because most of these actresses will do anything to be famous. A lot of them will offer to sleep with the producers or marketers to get roles. Worse still, most of them are not trained actresses but the fact remains that they want to be popular at all cost. I think it's something that happens all over the world, not only in the film industry but also. I see it as an individual thing.

If you are a director or a producer who allows himself to fall for such cheap temptation, so be it. But mostly, it is the fault of these ladies who would do anything to entice or seduce them in order to secure a role in their films.

Have you experienced such temptation before?

I'm a professional to the core. I can't be tempted with such cheap enticement.

What's the way forward?

Shun tribal sentiments. We wouldn't move forward as long as we continue to allow language differences to serve as a deterrent to partnering together. Nigeria is such a complex country. And I believe that if all of us come together and leave our language barriers, we will definitely make the difference. In the first place , film does not have a language.

This issue of Kaniwood, Yoruba film industry and the Igbo movies should not undermining the growth of our movie sector. We must partner together and do good movies. Then, the sky will be our limit.

How did Figurine come about?

The story of Figurine was a collective effort of myself, Joe Obi and Ken Adesoye. There are a lot of Nigerians there who are superstitious and who try to give a lot of names to the gods. I felt it's unfair of them because most often, we have our own predicaments. In that sense, we tried to put all that together. That was how we came up with the story of Figurine.