‘Filmmakers should live like Senators’
Daniel Ademinokan, an Urhobo man from Delta State is a film producer and director. The graduate of University of Ibadan (UI), who also studied film making in the USA, says his dream is to be internationally recognised. ALEXANDRA IBIWOYE met him.
What drives your passion for producing and directing Nigerian English and Yoruba movies?
I had always wanted to be a film maker, but about making Yoruba and English films, I think we are all making Nigerian films, so be it Hausa, Itsekiri, Urhobo; movie making is about expressing oneself. It's a medium where you tell stories. I don't care if it's English, Yoruba or Hausa, as long as its film making. I'm interested in making the film. I grew up in Lagos, Surulere to be precise, and because of my surname people think I'm Yoruba but I'm not. I'm from Delta State, an Urhobo boy; my dad is Urhobo, my mum is Itsekiri. If I have the opportunity of making an Urhobo film I will make an Urhobo film, if I have the opportunity of making an Itsekiri film, I will, as long as there's a story to tell and I strongly believe I can tell that story; I will definitely go ahead and tell the story.
Tell us about your family background?
I grew up in Surulere, my mum, my dad, and six kids. But two of my siblings are late, one died when I was very young, and one died a couple of years back due to kidney issues. My sisters live abroad, and they are married with kids. I'm in Nigeria with my mum and my younger brother and my father. I did my primary and secondary school in Surulere. I went to University of Ibadan, and now I'm making movies. Growing up for me was fun because I loved music, I was a music person, and I was playing music in church. I was a churchlike person. I was very geeky when I was in school, but trust me I used to put swag into being a geek then not the other way round.
Would you say you have started reaping the fruits of film making?
If you ask me that have we started reaping the fruits of film making in Nigeria, I would say yes and no. Speaking from my own perspective, I would say yes in the sense that if one works well, you live a good life, you live in a good house, you drive a good car, you can feed your family, you can pay your kids school fees and a few other people's school fees, you can take your family on holiday outside the country, people can look back and say that is the ideal basic dream. But as a film maker life goes beyond that, we can't say we are reaping the fruits of our labour yet in Nigeria because look at our contemporaries out there, the kind of lifestyle they live and how we are here, each film maker in Nigeria should live like how a Senator lives in Nigeria, looking at the kind of revenue that film making should rake in. But we don't see that, whatever we put into movie production we don't get our money's worth. There are like 150 million Nigerians and let's say 80-100 million of them are capable of buying a movie of N500 to watch, but they still tell you your movie has not sold up to a 100 million copies or 2,000 copies, they just keep giving you incredible figures when you know that this is untrue. There is no proper structure; royalties are not being paid to people the way they should be paid. You do a movie for someone and they just pay you off. If they pay two million naira as a director for doing a movie and the movie goes in to make N500 million, nobody would call you to say come and take an additional kobo, because there's no structure for that. But if as a director, I'm being paid royalties, I will do a movie and even my kids would eat from that movie. That's how it works outside the country. So I just pray all these are looked into.
We understand you are coming up with something new on TV, can you tell us about it?
It's a new programme titled 'With Love from Abroad'. It's a show where we travel around the world, talking to Nigerians, know where they live, and they get to send greetings and shout outs to their families back home in Nigeria. We've been traveling, we've been across Europe, Germany, Spain, we've been across the United States, we've been to the United Kingdom, we've been to Ghana as well, what we do is talk to various people about how life is where they are, and send greetings to their families back home. So people in Nigeria can know how their people abroad are fairing, and all this is done through the camera. It's also going to be a platform where these people abroad tell us how they got to these countries, and for those in Nigeria who believe they cannot make it except they travel abroad, it's a chance for them to really see how these people live abroad. Is it all rosy and nice? Or is it not worth the stress?
How does it feel to have made award winning movies?
Personally I don't do my movies for awards, I do movies for the love of it, I love what I'm doing, and also so that people who watch the movies would learn a lesson from the story that is being told. It's a good thing to know that people appreciate what you are doing, I see people's messages on facebook; they call me, send me text messages. It's fulfilling to know that people don't just see your movies and laugh or cry but there's a message that they see in it. For example my wife was in Canada sometime last year and someone walked up to her and said this movie you did with Saheed Balogun, that your husband directed “Modupe Temi “, that movie actually changed the couple's life. He said that when they saw the movie it was just as if we were projecting their lives on TV. They said the movie saved their marriage because they just concluded that they couldn't continue the way they were going. We've seen such things unfold and we've had a reason to just give thanks to God that people see our films and appreciate it. Also when we did “Omo Iya Kan”, people have come to say they have learnt from this movie, even our colleagues come to us and say 'you people are sending a signal to us who make movies because if you are arrogant you'll never know when you'll crash'. Film making is about entertainment first, so if I have entertained you with my movie first, then you can go ahead and get the message I'm trying to give to you through the film. But the award winning thing feels good too; but movie making goes beyond that. We are looking forward to when we will be celebrated even outside Nigeria, when we start walking on the same red carpet with the likes of Will Smith and Angelina Jolie and so on. That's when we can say that okay we've gotten there.
We know that you married one of Nigerian movies seasoned actress 'Doris Simon' how does it feel to be married to a woman that complements your career?
It feels good o! My wife is a very understanding person, she's the best wife any man can have but me I don take am so make other people go rest. It's a good feeling when you know that you have a wife who loves you more than you love her. I try my best to prove that I love her more than she loves me, but she keeps showing me over and over again that she loves me more. I respect her, she respects my job and I respect hers, she complements everything I do in the sense that if I have an idea that is like a mustard seed she blows it up into a mango seed (laughs), and when she gives me the mango seed I try to grow it into a big tree, and she still comes and tells me that I can turn this tree into a vineyard. That's a good thing and it's a good feeling; and what else can I ask for in a woman. I respect her as an actress, as a person, as a wife and as a mother. She's very homely, she's just beyond how much I can explain and I love her.
How do you relax when you get the chance to?
Well I sit at home with my wife basically, I'm a homely person, I don't go out too much, I don't club, I don't drink, I don't smoke; so we just stay home and watch a lot of movies. Also, we hang out at the cinemas to see movies; I travel a lot, I like travelling, so from time to time I just take my wife, our bags and we are out, and we come back after a couple of days. That's just how I chill. I love movies.
As a film maker what are the challenges you encounter putting movies together?
Dealing with the ego of some actors and actresses, it can be a huge one but it depends on your personality as a film maker to be able to deal with that. Secondly its availability of time and usually money buys you time in production. Here in Nigeria it's our personal funds that most of us use to make the films, so you need to be careful as regards expenditure. Because there's no guarantee that you are going to get back your money's worth. Most of us are even trying to go back to the cinemas now, maybe that's where the money would come from; but to do a film for cinema you have to spend a lot, to make sure its valuable enough to be brought to the cinemas, because if people walk into the cinemas, if it's not worth it they are going to walk out. Another problem we have is support from agencies, like if you want to shoot on the streets of Lagos now, and you need police uniforms and guns, the police would give you hell, before you can get the police vehicle to use they'll ask you to give them money for one thing and you'll now start paying for all sorts. When I went to shoot a film in New York it didn't cost me anything much, I didn't even pay anything; I just made sure I got proper insurance. They'll give you a letter and give you policemen to secure where you are going to shoot. But here in this country it's a different ball game entirely; you'll settle area boys, policemen; you won't get proper uniform to shoot, then when you finish shooting the movie censors board would then tell you they don't want to see blood in the movie. If they are going to shoot someone in a movie won't there be blood? They'll tell you no blood, no this, no that. Why can't they just rate the movie as 18, so that parents would not allow their kids who are below 18 to see the movie? I know films that have been banned from coming out for certain reasons, they should just rate the films and stop all these. I don't see any reason why somebody that studied Engineering would be screening a movie that I who studied film making in America has done. What does he want to tell me that I would listen to? Someone that studied Agriculture would be on the censor's board trying to censor a movie I made, haba! Why now! And that has been our biggest problem, and that is why we are worried; so we'll just keep praying that God help us and we would just keep doing all we can to keep making good movies, and keep hoping that one day we will get there.
As a film maker what are your expectations of your career in the nearest future?
Well, I'm grateful to God that I'm where I am now. If I say this people keep laughing at me, but I still see myself as unknown, I'll consider myself as being known the day Will Smith would say: “That dude in Nigeria, Daniel, I wanna make a movie with him.” Then, I'll know I'm known. I was in America when Genevieve's profile was on Oprah Winfrey show, and she was talked about on the show. Definitely, when these Hollywood's top shots see these people through that medium they would ask who is this person from Africa, who they say is doing this or that? Okay let's see what we can do with this person. Until it gets to that stage I won't stop; but right now Oprah doesn't know who I am, Will Smith doesn't know me. We might have met them one way or the other but it doesn't mean they know me so I'm hoping that in the next few years if I'm making an African movie somebody from Hollywood would work with me in that movie, so people should just keep their fingers crossed. In the next five to six years if people no collect visa to come see me, na small thing go remain” (laughs).
What memorable experience have you had on set in the course of work that you would like to share with us?
Let me say what just happened recently on set; it got me really upset but I had to look at it from two different angles. A crew member of mine had an issue with one of Nollywood's 'A' list actress and she just flared up and she was upset. Honestly the normal Daniel would have reacted terribly to that because somehow I'm short fused. I'm not a crazy person, but I just don't like it when people take things for granted; I like it when justice is served. That was really crazy for me to see, an actress rant, push and yell at a crew member, who is not as financially buoyant as you and you kept on telling the person “I'll feed you and your family, so don't talk to me like that” and all sorts. I wanted to react but someone now told me to see it from another perspective that this person, who used to be really kind and sweet, but she must have encountered a lot of things that's why she acted this way. I don't jump to conclusions, but you don't talk down to people because you have money more than them. In this job, if you want to make more friends than enemies, it's good to always be patient with people. But I'm sure I'll see her again and tell her how I felt about how she behaved that very day.
Do you have any word of advice for people who aspire to be film makers in the future?
Be sincere, be honest in everything you do, trust God, and make sure you have the talent; don't start the job because of money, but because you love what you do, but be business minded too. And always bear in mind that no matter what you do, that God is the ultimate.
And to your fans…
Please keep buying my films, that's if I have fans o; but in case I have fans please keep watching my films and let them keep praying for us that the inspiration that God has given us will not reduce, and that we improve and get better, and that by the grace of God we would not do any stupid movie, and if there's any movie that I have done that you did not like please bear with us, we are getting there. I know that as it is e go hard make Daniel do bad movie. Any bad movie I have done is in the past. So please just keep praying for us and supporting us.