I am very romantic – Emem Isong
The number of movies being released by Nollywood producers is rapidly reducing, as many producers are taking their time to churn out strong brands. This movement from quantity to quality is championed by the likes of Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan, Vivian Ejike and Kunle Afolayan. A name which has also found itself in that league of ace director-producers is Emem Isong. Those who are conversant with her works will testify to the quality of her pictures and the suspense in her plots. She rarely speaks about her personal life, though she reveals her romantic side to Esther Ijalana in this interview
How long have you been writing scripts and directing?
I don't usually direct. I write and produce. I started in 1994.
Do you have any formal training in script writing?
In a way, I could say that I do. I studied Theatre Arts in the university. Even though I didn't major in script writing, I have a flair for it. I majored in choreography.
How did you delve into script writing?
It is the flair and passion that I have for it that encouraged me into script writing. I have always loved to write. Even before I went into the university, I liked to scribble things down and write my thoughts. When I was in secondary school, I usually wrote down anything that happened to me. I find writing very interesting
How many movies have you written?
I have written over 40 and I have produced over 25.
Can you mention some of these movies?
I will start from my first one, Breaking Point, A Minute to Midnight, Rumours, Sweet Revenge, Private Sin, Promise Me Forever, Critical Decision, Games Men Play, Games Women Play, Reloaded, A Time to Love. I did Emotional Crack which is what established me in the industry, and many others.
Games Men Play and Games Women Play are good movies. What brought about the writing of these films?
I was actually writing the two stories at the same time. I first wrote Games Women Play and I found out that the other story I was writing was not strong enough to stand on its own, so I decided to conceive another one which also had to do with games. Because of the success of Games Women Play, I decided to do Games Men Play.
Do you do research for these movies?
I ask questions and I observe a lot. One day, Uche Jumbo and I sat down and were just gisting about some of the stories we hear and what people go through in relationships. Uche was telling one story of something that happened to somebody and I had a good laugh; not because it was funny but because it's amazing what we women go through all in the name of love. We now decided to put some of our own experiences here and there and develop them into the story Games Men Play.
As a female script writer in a society dominated by men, don't you feel threatened and intimidated by your male counterparts?
I don't feel intimidated at all. As far as I am concerned, we are all there to compliment each other. Besides, I have confidence in myself and I am doing my thing the best way I know how to. I don't look down on myself, so I don't feel less as a woman.
How do you get your story lines?
It is a gift from God. Most times, I don't know where the inspiration and story comes from. I just find out that I can do it.
Do you agree with the recent African Women in Film Forum's stand that women are represented in bad light in Nollywood?
To an extent, I would say yes. But then, it is not just in Nollywood. All over in all industries, even in the music industry, it is the same. If we look at it critically, women are been objectified/ The female body which we all know, is an object of art. Where I quarrel with our industry is when women are portrayed as weaklings, as objects that can be abused and thrown about. The painful thing is that nobody says anything about it. I think a woman should be loved and respected. The industry is supposed to show that all the time.
What do you think is the way forward?
If I say women should write more stories for themselves, they will say I'm being feminist. The truth is that we are the ones that can tell our stories. It is only women that understand their plights and what they go through.
In your own little way as a script writer, what do you intend to do to change the situation?
Prior to now, I have often made my scripts with very strong characters. I believe an African woman is a strong woman. I believe the African woman is a virtuous and intelligent woman, who right from time, has been a help-mate to her husband or her man. I have never seen a woman as a weakling, so I have very strong characters to portray women and I'm not going to stop now. My intentions now is to send out stronger messages because I believe that women discrimination in our society is getting too much. We as film makers, have the responsibility to help in our own way to correct that, and towards going back to the values we had in the past.
What can you ascribe your success to?
I ascribe all glory to God for whoever I am and whatever I am today, it is just by His grace. God has given me the ability to be focused and hardworking. I give him all the glory.
You are said to have discovered many great actors of today. Can you mention a few of them?
I won't say I discovered them. I would just say they came into limelight through some of my works. Some of these people like Dakore Egbuson hadn't done anything before I met her. Through a couple of films she did for me, she came into limelight. I have Stephanie Okereke who had done some works before I met her. I think it was my film, 'Emotional Crack' that really launched her. I have Stella Damasus, Mike and many others.
Which of your work was most challenging for you?
All my works are challenging. I always look forward to the next movie I am doing, and they all come with different challenges.
Apart from script writing and producing, what else do you do?
Apart from writing and producing, I just opened an academy. Royal Arts Academy is a place where we train people in all rudiments of acting and directing.
What is the motive behind the establishment of Royal Arts Academy?
It is about capacity building. We need to develop skills. Even some of us that are already in the business, we attend courses, seminars and workshops every now and then. There are some courses that I am working on soon for my school and I am going to be a student myself. We all need to keep moving with time. We need to move to the level of our colleagues at the international level. I think training is very important, and also to set up a place where people can have easier access to Nollywood. Many times, I have had phones calls from everywhere asking how they can get into Nollywood. This is it.
How much do you spend on a movie?
It all depends on the movie. I can spend as low as three million naira and as much as 12 million naira, but I have not spent more that before. But I look forward to spending more.
How do you get funds?
When I first started, it was my personal effort. Then, I raised funds from friends, family and myself. I mean the money I was able to save from where I worked before I started. But now, I am an independent producer. Sometimes, I am employed to produce by other people. Sometimes, I use my own money too. The truth is we don't have corporate bodies that fund movies for you, and bank charges are not friendly too.
You mentioned where you worked before you started. Where was that?
I used to be a banker. When I finished school, I was into banking for about three years before I left because of my passion for writing. I worked in Lion Bank then, which I think is now Diamond Bank.
Do you have any role model in the industry?
I have people's work that I respect. The work of the likes of Amaka Igwe, works of Lola Fani-Kayode. I like Kunle Afolayan because he takes time to do his job; then Tunde Kelani and others here and there.
What is your relationship with these people?
I want to believe it is cordial, though we don't work together. I just respect them.
With so much time dedicated to your, do you have time for your love life?
I don't talk about my private life, but of course I do.
With that, it is obvious you are in a relationship. Tell us about him?
I won't tell you.
Okay, who is your ideal man?
My ideal man is a God-fearing man, hardworking and romantic man.
Are you romantic?
What is your definition of love?
Love is what you want it to be. Love is a decision; when you decide to love someone despite his or her inadequacies. Love, to me, is a decision you make.
What is your view about Nigerian men in respect of love?
I don't know, but I know my father and brother are good people. I can not generalize. Nigerian men are my brothers. They are hardworking and good people. I don't want to be biased because everybody has their own story to tell.
So when will the wedding bells ring?
Don't worry, very soon. You would be the first to know.
You have a son, how old is he?
He is three years old. He is gorgeous.
You both are close then?
We are extremely close. In fact, he is the apple of my eyes.
How do you cope with impossible or difficult actors?
I try to be diplomatic. I just look at what I'm going to lose or gain from whoever I'm working with, and I know how to deal with them. In every situation we find ourselves, we always look for a way out. Even as a journalist, you met some impossible people, but you know how to deal with them.
How do you handle criticism?
It will always happen. But then, you should know how to manage the situation so that it doesn't escalate. Once the job is over, you guys are bound to be cordial again. For me, I don't play with my work. But if you must criticize me, it should be constructive. In fact, constructive criticisms help me to correct my mistakes.
What about your relationship with the media?
So far, I have not had any problem with them, probably because I don't do anything. Though once in a while, some people try to be funny, but we can not avoid those things because we are in the public eye. Some would write what they want to write, especially if you refuse to give them audience. They could cook up their own stories. But generally, it has been a cordial relationship with the media for me.
How do you give back to the society in your own way?
That's one of the reason why we have the academy. I do lots of films that treats certain issues in our society. We contribute to the society both directly and indirectly.
Are you fashionable?
Yes, but I am not a slave to fashion. I wear what I am comfortable in and what suits me. I don't have a particular label but I go for anything that looks good on me.
Do you have any particular product for your make-up?
I am not really crazy about make-up, though if I am going out for a function, I take my time. But I do a lot without make up. For years, I have been using products from Mac but a friend of mine just introduced me to Black-Up, and I like it.
As an Ibibio woman, I believe you cook very well?
I cook very well because I like food. I love and cook Afang very well.
Have you had any of your films you did that you wished you have done better?
Yes, most times when I have finished my film, I don't like the way it comes out. If I watch it, I see many things I don't like and I wished I have done better. For instance, a film I did A Time to Love, I really regretted the ending. If it is now, I will end it in another way.
When you see those things, don't you take action in doing it in a better way?
Since it is in the market already, you may not be able to do anything again. But then, there is one of my films I would like to do again. That film Emotional Crack was done 10 years ago. I would redo that film but I liked that film. Emotional Crack is a film that actually took me to a lot of festivals outside the country, and up till now, I still have a lot of people coming to interview me on that movie. So, I feel I should do that movie again so more people will see it. Maybe I would change the cast. Perhaps I would change the ending. Maybe make it more elaborate. I would like to make that film in a better quality.
Have you had any regret in life?
No, I don't regret anything. I believe everything I do was meant to be and it's for a purpose.
When is your most memorable day?
It was the day I had my baby. For he is the only one that I have, so I cherish him a lot.
What's his name?
Kenechukwu meaning 'Thank God'.
Why don't you act?
Because I don't think I can act. I am better at organizing and creating things.
Sometimes, doesn't Kenechi misses a fatherly figure in his life?
I don't want to go there. I said I won't talk about my personal life.
It is not about your life. It is Kenechi's.
Then ask him when you see him. He doesn't miss his dad because he sees him all the time.
Then the father is around?
Yes, that is all I want to say.
What makes you happy?
I am happy when I achieve what I set out to do
Do you have a hobby?
Yes, I love reading. I read anything I can lay my hands on. I read inspirational books a lot because I don't like being sad. I read things that inspire me. I love good romantic books anytime, anyday.
It kis a good thing that you still maintain your dark complexion inspite of how far you've gone.
I am black and proud. The kind of home I come from, you dare not try to change from black to white. I don't understand why I would want to change my colour, I have never thought about it.
Tell us about your family background?
I am from a family of three: two girls and a boy. My mother is a retired principal and very strict. I guess that is where we got our reading culture from. My dad is a business man. My two siblings are into writing too but in different ways.
What was your growing up like?
I grew up in a small town, Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom. I come from a very disciplined and strict background, that I wasn't allowed to play much outside school. Perhaps, that has made me to be who I am today. I am more like a loner.
Look at what happened in the House of Representatives recently. What do you have to say as regards that?
You know, if I have written that in a script, they would have said I'm exaggerating. They would say Nollywood has come again to portray them in bad light, but look at what our leaders are doing. It is a shame. As far as I'm concerned, it is just to show the state of our country and I think something should be done about it.
What do you have to say about the performance of the Super Eagles at the World Cup?
It is to show how our country is. We are not serious and never prepared. Success comes when preparation meets with opportunity. We didn't prepare so we got what we deserved.