Nollywood Has Changed It was some minutes past eight o' clock on a Sunday night sometimes in the mid 80s. In late Isaac Ene's household, Amaka Igwe, was engrossed in an episode of Mirror in the Sun, a popular drama programme then. In the midst of it, she got a brainwave. She conceived the idea of writing a script about an all-conquering heroine like the legendary Queen Amina in a stage format.
Later, armed with a B.Sc in Education/Religion from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile Ife, and then M.Sc in Archival and Information Science from the Anambra University of Technology, now Enugu State University of Technology, Igwe actualised her dream. But now, the stage format script had metamorphosed into a full fledged soap dwelling on issues such as male chauvinism, polygamy, secret cultism, the Osu caste system and so on. Years after the soap was rested, it still evokes feelings of nostalgia among movie lovers.
A former lecturer at the Anambra State University of Technology, Igwe consequently produced many home video classics, including Rattle Snake 1&2, Violated, Forever, Apostle Kasali and so on. She also produced The Barber's Wisdom for M-Net, a cable television network and many others.
Married to Charles Igwe with children, she presides over Amaka Igwe Studios. Her interview with Modupe Ogunbayo, principal staff writer, is obviously a confirmation of why her late father used to call her General Officer Commanding, GOC, Excerpts:
Newswatch: Best of the Best, BOB, 2006 television theme was The Next level. Now, BOB 2007's theme is Building Bridges what does this mean?
Igwe: Nigerians films are being watched all over the world, in the whole of Africa, the Americas and in Europe. So, an increasing number of people are watching Nigerian films. People are even doing studies on Nollywood now. So, what we have decided to do now is to be a bridge between Nollywood and the rest of the world. Especially the established films making areas like Bollywood and Hollywood. Now, we are trying to bring in three directors from Bollywood, Hollywood and Nollywood for them to showcase themselves. They would also be in a question-and-answer session so that people will see the similarities and differences between them, trace their history, see how they got started and where they have been. That is basically what we need. Apart from this, there is a need to address some issues. For instance, people say we should shoot on digital video and make it celluloid, on 35ml and we are trying hard to bridge the gap between digital video and celluloid also.
We are also bridging the gap between the academia and the industry practitioners, people who are practising now, because people think that the Nigeria home video has very little academic input or intellectual things. So, we are doing what we called The Africa Cinema Colloquim to bridge that gap. We are bringing intellectuals, professors of films to hold a colloquim with people who are practising films to bridge that gap. We are also bridging the generation gap between the people who are making films before and people who are making films now and the young people who are upcoming. We are also conducting the university challenge, where students from Nigerian universities would compete for the Raymond Dokpesi prize. Last year, it was won by Ahmadu Bello University and University of Calabar. They both shared the one million Naira cash prize. This year we are going to do the same thing, but the prize money would jot be shared, one university must be the winner. There would not be a joint winner according to what the minister of Information and Communication said. So, with that, it is all-encompassing. It is about everybody, coming to see the cooperation between the Nigerian motion pictures industry and the rest of the world, that is what we are doing.
Newswatch: African Movie Academy Awards, AMAA, has been involved in organising award ceremonies for some time now. What is the collaboration between you and AMAA?
Igwe: All of us work hand in hand. Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima is my sister and colleague. I am on the international Board of Trustees for AMAA and part of the jury. We all work together. When we host AMAA we bring in international delegates who leave immediately. But sometimes they bring those who have already come to our event so we want to now do it in such a way that immediately after AMAA, the international delegates who are invited and other guests would travel down to Abuja for BOB-TV 2007. Because what happened most of the time is that when AMAA hosts a meeting, we bring in international delegate or sometimes they bring in new ones or the ones that have come before. So, we want to do it in such a way immediately after AMAA everybody moves from Bayelsa on Sunday to Abuja.
Newswatch: Nollywood is said to be the third largest after Hollywood, the American film industry and Bollywood, the Indian film industry, based on quantity rather than quality. Is this true?
Igwe: It is real. In terms of quantity and this is documented internationally, we make a lot of movies and there is nothing wrong with that. Before, it is like not all the movies that are made that are bad and it is not all the movies that are made that are good; it is exactly the same way in India and in America. It is not every American film that is good and it is not every Indian film that is good, so in Nigeria it is the same thing. The only problem with Nigeria is that people have decided that the whole movies being produced are bad. The difference is that because they are being made in Nigeria, people see most of them, whereas what we see from America are the good ones. The one that are popular come to Nigeria and we see. But out of every 100 American films only one will be good. It is the same thing everywhere in the world, everything cannot be good. But in Nigeria and the rest of Africa, people like the films we make, they excuse the quality, quote and unquote. Who defines quality? I can render the history of how so many of the techniques in film making have been developed and were developed overtime. In Nigeria who says the technique we develop is not really good, it does not have to meet their standards, but it meets our own standard and the people are watching it, no matter how bad they are and it is speaking to people.
Newswatch: Industry practitioners often say the biggest problem Nollywood has is piracy. How can it be tackled?
Igwe: Nollywood's biggest problem is not piracy but distribution. That is why piracy is rampant and thriving.When you want to distribute a film you must start from the cinemas, from the cinema you go to ATB before you go to video clubs. Then you go to home video production, before you go on TV. It is a whole fixed point distribution plan. In Nigeria the scenario is different. When a film is released, you jump cinemas, you jump video clubs, you jump ATB and you jump to the last one, which is the making of a home video. So you find that once you have done that, people show films in their rooms without paying the owner, video clubs play film without paying the owner, they do what we call cinema parlour in Warri and all those small towns. They are not paying the owner. So nobody is distributing. The people who are making films did not plan how to sell them, they just make it and they release it on video. And once they release it somebody takes it on and makes money from it and that is what people call piracy but if you market it well yourself, you need not worry about piracy because the pirates will not have the opportunity to pirate it because there is a distributor who is making sure everyone gets the movie easily.
In America, when a film is made, they pass through all those channels of distribution before you finally make home videos. So, even if people decide to take your work and make money they are not going to make one-third, one-quarter or one-eighth of the money you have already made. So, distribution is a major thing in Nigeria.
Newswatch: You rested Checkmate in 1993 and since then, you have not produced any soap in that league for over a decade. Why?
Igwe: It was not that long. Fuji House of Commotion came on air 2000. Soap operas are very difficult to produce and maintain; so, it is very expensive. If nobody sponsors you, you have to use your money. And it takes a long time for you to get a sponsor. For you to be on air for 30minutes on Nigerian television network costs N750,000. Who has that kind of money? People wrote in to say I should extend Solitaire to one hour and one hour is N1.5 million or N1.2million, if they give you discount or you are lucky as I am, I have a big brother like Peter Igho... who has two million Naira for an hour's programme? It is even more expensive to gather a cast including the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, RMD, Barbara Soky and others. It also takes a lot of time. Home video came in between and it was bringing more money than soaps, so who wants to suffer? But I love television. I love making programmes, which is why I am back at it. It is not that it pays me as much as making it.
Newswatch: You said once you love working with artistes and not with stars. What does that mean?
Igwe: That means I love working with professionals, people who understand what it takes to deliver a role, that is to deliver a script as different from people who walk around the air having their heads in the clouds with an exaggerated feeling of self-importance. When I submit a film for competition, there is no way that the actors do not win the categories for which they are nominated. There was an award ceremony sometimes back and we had 22 nominations for two different award ceremonies, this 22 and the other 22, all the actors were nominated either in the main role or support role, the best new comer, the best lead actor, all won. And they would win because when you work for me you work, I choose people who I knew have ability to work. They have the ability to break down a role to get it to the real stage and to deliver. I work with people who have integrity, if they say they are coming by 9 o'clock, they come, I don't work with people that I have to go to their houses, to beg to do their work. I don't work that way. People who are professionals, people who have the understanding of the work. People who are well- trained, who went for proper training and understand what it takes to be an actor. The example is a two-time African-American Oscar award winner who insists on going for auditions despite being offered the role already because he must beat all others to get the role to be able to get into the proper mode. Somebody like Denzel Washington, he is an actor, when he wants to do a role he will train for months. People who are Oscar winners, go and check their work history. They are artistes; they are professionals. They don't have their heads in the cloud. They don't have all these scandals attached to them. They break down the role, and they deliver and that is what I want.
Newswatch: How do you know someone who can deliver a role perfectly?
Igwe: I know, that is what I am trained for. I am a director.
Newswatch: How does a layman know this?
Igwe: The person will know, the person will stop seeing the actor as RMD, instead you will start seeing the character. RMD has been in a number of roles, but when you see him in some roles, you don't see RMD, you don't remember what he played. You remember him as Segun Kadiri as in Checkmate. They are two different characters. In Solitaire now, he is a playboy but in Checkmate, he was a wicked, hard man. These are two different roles. And RMD is a symbol of excellence when he decides to work… most of the time he plays, but when he is working or when he becomes professional you will know and that is the same thing with a number of actors. Another thing is when you watch somebody and you are calling the person RMD instead of his stage name, that person is not delivering the role. The person has to totally change. If you see an Oscar winner, you will know.
Newswatch: In your films, there is this common characteristic and that is you always alter your character physically. For instance, Teju Babyface is fat, now he is very thin and likewise Barbara Soky, a slim woman is plump in Solitaire. Hilda Dokubo was similarly fat in Forever though she is petite. How do you achieve these?
Igwe: With Hilda, we padded her up. Teju was slim as at the time we shot the film before he became fatter now. But we work on set, there are no two ways about it. Sometimes we tell people what we want for a role. For example, like there is a scene in Solitaire when RMD has to mourn for a while. We gave him time to allow him grow his beard. As it grows, we do a take. When it grows more, we do another take and on and on like that. This allows for a very natural depiction of his grief over a period in Solitaire. So film making is a hard thing. That is why I say I work with people who understand their roles, because they would even suggest what they want to do simply because they are artistes. When we were about to shoot The Tempest, we sent Bimbo Akintola to a famous hairdresser who read the script and designed a style for her that will suit her role. When she got there and saw the hair style, she started crying that it was not just her, does not suit her person. But the role is not about her but about her role. By the time he finished making her hair, she got herself into the character. That is why I said I always decide to work with people who know how to deliver a character.
Newswatch: For someone who did not study Theatre Arts or its affiliated courses, how did you become such a thoroughbred professional?
Igwe: As far as I am concerned, what I studied is equally good. I had a good background in arts, in philosophy, in social science, theology, so it is a whole body of knowledge which aids my understanding of human character, to have a psychological theme of a character, to have the sociological knowledge of environment of people. I had that background, and I had a Master's degree which gave me the ability to understand management and research. The work I studied prepared me. So, subsequently I have also undergone many training in the career I have chosen today. I created my talent through the skills that works for me and I am still learning on a daily basis. The biggest thing I do when I travel is to study, buy books; I have a library on my chosen area. I have a talent and with what I studied is useful. Maybe because we are talking about 'Great Ife,' that is the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) which trains you to be the best at what you do, and that whatever knowledge you have acquired, use it to work. For me, even, in Nigeria or anywhere, the course you did means nothing to me, because it is just a preparation for the career you wish to do later.
Newswatch: How can Nollywood be kept on its toes?
Igwe: You see people have to understand the psychology of Nollywood. Nobody planned for Nollywood to be. People were just trying to eke out a living. They just wanted to survive. When soap opera started in Nigera, a lot of people wanted to do it, but nobody could afford it. Then came Mirror in the Sun, which was the first time an independent producer did something like that. This gingered other private individuals to start writing and submitting to the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. And NTA came up with Behind the Clouds which was written by a non-NTA staff. People like Zeb Ejiro came up with Ripples which was a collaboration between both NTA and Ejiro. And I came up with Checkmate. With Checkmate, a lot of people came up with a lot of ideas. Because of what Checkmate and Ripples achieved, a lot of young people who desired to do something could not because NTA had a problem. Later, NEK brought the idea of a home video. NEK was already doing drama in Yoruba, now they did an Igbo one which was Living in Bondage1&2. From there, everybody came out with people who have ideas, people who could not get jobs, everybody was jumping into it. They want to make money. So nobody planned for Nollywood to be. Now, the actors are so popular they are invited all over the world. These are people who never thought they could travel anywhere but they travelled because they are involved in Nollywood. Even the marketers, who could not have been anybody, are now successful and travelling abroad by the influence of Nollywood. The point is that it is not this group of people that will bring glory to Nollywood, it is the younger people. That is why we are working so hard with the university students, people who are joining the industry are being trained so that we can grow. They are the ones who are going to shock the film world with the older generation to make the move, to make them work. And a number of young people are coming in and they are doing well.
Newswatch: There was a time you talked of activities of saboteurs which you experienced while producing Checkmate and was that why you rested the soap?
Igwe: No, that is not what happened in Checkmate. I was to round it off because some people wanted to bring in Mexican soap operas, and the sponsor stopped it because they wanted something else.
Newswatch: What is your relationship with Lola Fani-Kayode, the producer of Mirror in the Sun?
Igwe: She is my sister; she was kind to me when I joined the industry. She offered me invaluable advice and she taught me quite a number of things. One thing I love about what she did is that she did not show me jealousy, quite a number of people showed jealousy and malice. They were saying all kinds of things and writing in the newspapers. She stood by me and was very supportive and that is why any young person who wants my support, I will give to him because somebody supported me. When I had problem with my soap, she would call me and tell me this is the way to do it.
Newswatch: Were you acting?
Igwe: I never acted.
Newswatch: Maybe when you were young.
Igwe: Yes, but not on television but on stage.
Newswatch: Would that be a possibility in the future?
Newswatch: What is the business behind Hollywood and how can people turn Nollywood to a business venture?
Igwe: But it is a business venture.
Newswatch: Some people dabble in it; they don't really go into what it entails before making a film.
Igwe: Because they think by making a film, you make money, that is not true. First of all, you find out who you are going to sell the film to before making a film. You do a market survey. Thank God I came from a business background. I do it in a business way.
Newswatch: Why does Nollywood lose out in winning international awards?
Igwe: International award is not done the way people think. Like I told you, anybody who wants to get it will have to work hard before getting the nomination. He has to work hard again to get the award. You don't win an award like that. Then again, there is politics for winning such awards. I am aware that an award won by a South African film was not because the film is better than the other films, it was because he spent a lot of money on people who voted for the film. But people in Nollywood do not bother about such things. The point is that if we make a film which we haven't made on a celluloid that cannot enter for international awards. And winning awards is not by making film and sending it abroad or making it on celluloid that would win award. I am aware that the minister of Information and Communication intends producing a movie that would go for the Oscar award. After making films, people will have to see it, you send copies to the college. There is a college for voters who now see it and vote for it. You cannot just sit down in Nigeria and win an award, there is a lot to do. AMAA Best Movie attracts 50 thousand dollars and a lot of foreigners and African people are into it. With that kind of money people will love you for it.You can sit down and make a film and people will nominate you.
Newswatch: Should we expect a collaboration between you and Nigerian actors or actresses in the Diaspora such as Sophie Okonedo, Taye Diggs and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje?
Igwe: People have their own goals in life. Right now in the next six months, I am directing an international film which I have been invited to do. It is on celluloid, the script is of Hollywood standard and I would be working with Nigerian cast and foreign cast. I am not doing it so that I could win an Oscar Award, but I am doing it because it is close to my heart. That is how I work, I only work on things that appeal to me and it is not all about money.