NIGERIAN ACTORS ARE BETTER THAN HOLLYWOOD ACTORS –CHICO EJIRO
Chico Ejiro does not hide the fact that he is first a businessman before being a moviemaker. He tells ADAEZE AMOS his reasons for choosing moviemaking as a career
What did you study in the university?
I read agriculture in school, but today I am into movie production.
Why did you change from agriculture to movie production?
Maybe because when I was young, my mother used to take Zeb and me to cinema houses to watch movies. Besides that, I used to watch a lot of Indian movies in the 70s. From watching so many movies, I developed interest in making movies and the rest is history.
What were your early movies you were involved in?
First, I have this background in soap operas with Zeb my brother. But I started as a production assistant; then I moved to being a cameraman, then an editor. At present, I can shoot, edit and design a set. The soaps I did with my brother Zeb are Ripples and Mega Fortunes. After that I shot my first movie, Deadly Affair with my friend Opa Williams. From there, I moved to Flesh and Blood, Tears for Love, Onome and the rest.
Tell us more about Onome. You directed Olu Jacobs?
Yes, it was the first time directing someone who has been an international actor, and calling the shot. The guy was superb.
It is common these days for movie makers to shoot a movie within one week, why the rush?
I love this question. Well there is no rush. I have the background of being a cameraman, so I know my shots. I don't go to location to take hundred shots, if I want a close up, I take one or two because I know my angle as a cameraman. Again we also have the problem of cost. I cannot shoot a movie for one month when I know I am running the cost from my pocket. The more I stay on location, the more money I spend so I consider all these factors before I shoot a movie.
Does this not affect your output?
No it doesn't. If it affects it, you won't be hearing Chico Ejiro today. I have won a lot of awards with these same movies. I have been to Switzerland, South Africa, Cameroon and Ghana for awards on my movies. Even in Nigeria, they keep nominating me every year as one of the best directors.
Which awards are you talking about?
I have won three in Nigeria and two outside Nigeria. In Nigeria, I won the Thema (Best Director of the Year) City People Award (2001). Festival of Fire was nominated in Geneva, Switzerland; I also went to Cameroon for an award.
How come you don't have a big body frame like your brother Zeb?
Yes most of the time people are disappointed when they see me. They expect to see a big guy like Zeb or Andy Amenechi. And they believe Chico is one big millionaire, but I am not.
Which of your works is the most difficult?
I think it is Full Moon.
I travelled half of Nigeria; I travelled to Enugu, Onitsha, Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Sango Ota, Osun State, with cast and crew in two buses. I spent about N6m to make that movie, and it was a huge success!
A lot of Nigerian producers like recycling the same faces. Why are you also doing so?
It's like that all over the world, although people keep asking how the new ones can get their break with that. I believe the young shall grow. At present, we have people like Jim Iyke, Rita Dominic and others are young. Yet people like Liz Benson, Olu Jacob and Pete Edochie are still very relevant and I keep telling people that besides entertaining you, the most important thing I want to do is make profit. I don't want to lose money just because I want to give a new artist a break. So always remember I am first a businessman.
Have you given anybody a lift in life?
Sure! Such people like Ramsey Noah, Segun Arinze, (Silent Night), Victoria Iyama, Rita Dominic, Jim Iyke, Sandra Achums, Shan George (Outcast) a lot of them.
Who are your favourite movie directors?
I admire Zeb Ejiro, Andy Amenechi, Fred Amata, Matthias Obahiagbon, Teco Benson.
You admire Zeb because he is your brother?
No, not because is my brother, but he is a wonderful director. He is one of the pioneers of this home video stuff with Andy Amenechi and Fred Amata.
What do you do to unwind?
I unwind by watching football, especially on Saturdays.
Who are some good actors in Nigeria?
We have a lot of good actors; to me Nigerian actors are even better than those Hollywood actors. Look at Pete Edochie, Olu Jacob, Sam Loco Efe, Ramsey Noah, Jim Iyke, Emeka Ike a lot of them. If you give a Nigerian actor and put him in Hollywood, he will excel.
Which of your films do you consider the worst?
I think it is Slave, because I lost some money. I lost N3.5m. I shot it in a remote village in Abakaliki with a cast of more than 500. I spent N500,000 on costumes alone. After shooting, one boy jumped into a big river and died.
Well, he said he could swim when he could not, so it was a big problem.
Which actress do you love working with the most?
A lot of them: Shan George, Rita Dominic, Sandra Achums, and Victoria Iyanma. I am sorry to say this but in Nigeria there is what we call a cartel and a family. You have your regulars. So in Grand Touch, I have Shan George, Rita Dominic, Sandra Achums and Victoria Iyanma. I had Regina Askia when she was still in Nigeria. And among the guys I have Jim Iyke, Emeka Ike, Bob Manuel, Peter Bruno and Ashley Nwosu. These are my people. Whenever I want to shoot, they will jump in. When they charge others millions, they accept the half from me. It's like a family thing so if I shoot 10 movies, they are sure of being in six.