Why Nollywood Lags Behind
LUKMON ABAYOMI FABIYI, a fast-rising producer and actor in Nigeria in this interview with NFC, bares his mind on various issues
Q: Your latest movie, Pajawiri, will be in the market very soon, what should your fans expect?
A: A simple and self explanatory movie with a unique lesson for every household and class of people, without gender or faith bias.
Q: Why do you keep a low profile?
A: It is not how far you have gone but how well. Some people believe that before you can be regarded as a popular film maker/actor, you must feature regularly in movies. I do not share that view and I don't lobby for roles in films, I do the ones that come my way naturally.
Q: Your debut film, Omi Adagun, was successful and was unarguably well accepted, what inspired the story as it was rumoured that it reflects your true life story?
A: It could be, but not all the events in the film are part of my life story. Coincidentally, it did come up during the development of the script. In fact, the synopsis of the story is an interview I granted an international media portal on a website saved me at Heathrow Airport during my first trip to England in 2005.
Q: How does this relate to UK immigration rules?
A: The story is not on immigration but when the need to unveil my identity and purpose of visiting the UK at the port of entry became necessary, reference was made to the website by a senior member of the company who was on ground to receive me at the airport, and sincerely, part of the interview that dealt with the evil curse on the lead character, leading to his deportation in the film, captivated the immigration officer when she went through my interview and that prompted her to allow me in without further delay.
Q: Considering the rate at which films are released, do you think it is being done right?
A: In the view of most journalists, it is a 'fast growing industry.' When you say it is fast, the question is at what rate is its tempo? To me, it is the slowest element I have ever seen in terms of collective and individual growth.
Q: What do you mean?
A: I can only say some people took advantage of the industry since they are aware of the interest of the Nigerian audience at home and abroad. This is a heritage given to us by our 'forefathers' in the film industry and we can't afford to laze away what they laboured to build.
A: There is no doubt about it, we enjoy undiluted support and patronage of Nigerians on our films and this is because the pioneers were doing it right. Some people have gone beyond quality. With the search for cheap popularity, they started embracing poor production, using the same major components (actors and perhaps cameras) and the result is what we are having today.
Q: So, how did the film industry get into this mess?
A: This may have been caused when the pioneers did not take into consideration that if their kind of industry becomes big, there would be strays who will want to come in through the backdoor. So, they failed to put in place, a very viable machinery to tackle these unforeseen contingencies.
Q: Do you mean these pioneers lacked foresight?
A: I will be doing them disservice to say so. They tried their best; it is just that they were caught unawares. The budget for one of Baba Ogunde's film is worth more than 200 films you have in the Nigerian market today and the question is: “Did Baba or even, his children benefit from such films, and do such films deserve to die? There is need for a general clean up of the industry. To say it right, we are not doing films the right way.
Q: When you say clean up, who are to be cleansed – producer, actors, directors or the marketers?
A: To be candid, your questions are upsetting. Na wa o!
Q: But we need to know who is to blame (journalists, government or its agencies) for the woes of the movie industry?
A: I will have to say this because I want a wind of change in our industry. There is need for proper legislation. The industry seriously needs help and no matter whose ox is gored, the change must come, even if I will be affected, I know it is for the good of all.
Q: What form of help and where does it come from?
A:The government should identify which of the movie associations or guilds currently existing in this country is legal and in place. Secondly, they should enact a law for movie producers. For instance, it is easier for the government to send circulars to all these associations, that none of its members should henceforth shoot a movie below 16mm, 35mm (celluloid) camera or HDV. They can compel the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) not to approve any film producer with substandard techniques. There is a difference between shooting a film and a home video. What we shoot as films are basically in TV formats and merely home videos.
Q: What will you say of some producers who understand the profession and are well educated in film making?
A: Kudos! They are doing their best to take the industry to the next level. I respect them and Nigerians appreciate them too, but please permit me to describe them as 'one-eyed man amongst numerous blind men.' And what are they all? Blind men! But we'll get there someday.
Q: So, can we say producers are the major cause of the problems?
A: Not all, but they are largely responsible for some of the problems. With a set standard, backed by proper legislation, I see no reason why strays like us can come in in the first place, though it is not too late for correction.
Q: Did you call yourself a stray?
A: Yes, but I thank God I now know the way, and that is why I do not wish to produce concurrently or follow the trend. In my assessment of this industry, if I need to be sincere with myself and Nigerians, I am a stray, though I am justified because that was what I met on ground.
Q: Is this why most movie stars are suffering in penury?
A: Why won't we suffer? Majority of us are sincere with our passion for this industry and we are only made to suffer for the sins of other people. The spineless get exploited. Not long ago, one of us was caught doing a wrong thing and some Nigerians almost asked for her head. For Christ sake, these same people are the ones that ruined her life. What I am saying is that all hands must be on deck to combat those undermining the success of this industry.
Q: Even with a law banning the shooting of films below a particular camera standard, won't some of these junk stories still be shot in that format?
A: Obviously, that cannot be possible. Anybody can shoot a home video with any camera but certainly, such a film cannot stand in any film festivals or win international recognition and that is as good as separating the wheat from the chaff. No producer will use his money to acquire such a camera and the cinematographer will end up shooting substandard story with same. We should be shooting our movies digitally or in celluloid if truly we want to grow because from 2002 to date, only one or two persons have been able to shoot digital movies, the rest of us shoot with HDV camera. Meanwhile, it is just the DV side we are using in recording. How long are we going to fool Nigerians? There is no high definition in these jobs when they are finished.
Q: But why are producers not shooting in this standard all this while?
A: I said it earlier and that is where my fear is. Someday, Nigerians will know about all these and there will be serious decline in demand. But to answer your question, it is complete ignorance and lack of funds.
Q: Do you believe these changes can work given the extent to which this cankerworm have eaten into the fibre of producers?
A: They can, if all hands continue to be on deck and with constant education. Don't you know a film can represent a country? Actors should henceforth be banned or prevented from delving into movie production because they are popular, except they have the required level of education, screening and film making/producing, and directing, because they are also one of the problems affecting the industry. I think the movie associations can deal decisively with that.
Q: If I may ask, are there still stories to shoot, because I do not see anything new that has not been shot as a story in Nigeria?
A: There are lots of stories to be shot, though they require money. A lot of Nigerians were killed, mostly children, by a drug company while testing their new drugs. Nobody has shot with that. The Niger Delta story; nobody has shot it. As it is, if you ask me, these kinds of stories can sell internationally if they are shot in the right standard or what then is the work of a film maker?
Q: But you said it requires lots of money to shoot this kind of film, who will finance it.?
A: If the industry can endeavour to have shape, meaningful procedures and gazette, you will know where your money goes into and what will come out from the other end as profit. Corporate organisations including banks will want to invest as well.
Q: How will the banks get their money back?
A: When the law is strict on piracy, the would-be marketers or marketing agents such as post offices can give proper account of sales and don't forget, films won't be as many as we have now. If the network is vast, efficient and future sales are adequately reported and accounted for, banks will give loans because the marketing agents will surely be making gradual sales and the producers or executive producers will be disposed to service whatever loans or facilities are granted to them. In addition, proper tax or VAT is duly paid on all these products during or after sales to the government's coffers so that they can support you with their machinery – to make them work faster and effectively.
Q: What is your advice to other film makers?
A: They should let us come together now to correct these errors, so that collectively we will not all suffer and posterity can favour us. It may mean some of us will be edged out, but that does not matter.
Q: Any word for your fans?
A: My fans are one of the greatest things that have ever happened to me. I love them and appreciate their patience and support. If you have their addresses or contacts, please make them available to me, so that I can make a surprise visit to them one after the other.