I saw something in Omoni Oboli Others didn’t –Nzekwe
Before delving into the movie world, Lonzo Nzekwe played basketball and produced music. His new flick, Anchor Baby, shot and produced in Canada is presently making waves in movie circles.
The producer/director, who is also a scriptwriter and CEO of Alpha Galore Productions, recently spoke with REPORTER, Ovwe Medeme, on how he came to be a movie director among other issues.
Is the Anchor Baby story borne out of personal experience?
It is not a personal story and it is not based on any particular individual's experience. The things that happened in the movie are totally insane and I will be shocked to find anyone who went through that exact same thing. That is not to say that people have not gone through the experience.
What informed your choice of cast?
After writing the script, I needed someone who could transform the script and bring it to life. I hired a professional casting director to audition all the actors I used in the movie. I sat through all the auditions and handpicked every single character in the movie. When I watched a few of Omoni Oboli's movies, I was convinced that she has the ability to transform the script. Also, I did a brief background check on her and spoke to her extensively on the phone to feel her out. That's when I decided she was the one.
What reactions did you get when you chose her as lead cast?
A few of my production crew were against me bringing her from Nigeria but I told them that there is something I see in her that they are not seeing. I noticed they were waiting to see what she was going to bring to the table. So, from the first day Omoni came on set, I took her to one side and let her know that Anchor Baby is her movie. Right away, she took over the show and set a standard on the set that every other actor had to follow. That decision is one of the best decisions I made in the earlier stages of production.
What did it take you to put the movie together?
It all depends on the standard you are looking at it from. If you compare it to the American standard, you will see that it is a low budget film. I say that because even $1 million is considered a low budget film here in North America. As a Nollywood film, it is a very huge budget film. I can't even give you a figure because we are still in postproduction and promoting the movie as we speak. All these are expenses that will be calculated into the budget.
Where did you get your training as a filmmaker?
I am a self-thought filmmaker. I watched a lot of films; both the good and bad ones just to know what to do and what not to do. I also watch the “making of films”, which is always at the end of most original movie DVDs. You'll be amazed at the wealth of information one can get from watching those. Also, I read a lot of books on how to make independent films and also bought the Two-Day Film School DVD by Dov Simmens. I studied those religiously until I felt I was ready to shoot Anchor Baby. I am a very creative person, so I guess it helped in the process.
Do you see Anchor Baby doing well in the Nigerian entertainment market?
I know a lot of Nigerians will easily connect to the story. I mean, how many people do you know that are Nigerians and come to the U.S. to have their babies? Almost everyone has a friend or relation who was born in the U.S. or Europe. These babies are what the U.S. term as Anchor Babies. Most Nigerian parents, regardless of their economic background, will like to see their child succeed by providing a better opportunity for the child when he is born and that's exactly what I tried to portray in the movie. Though sometimes, the struggle might not be the right thing to do and could be detrimental to everyone involved. But that's just the hand people are dealt sometimes.
What responses have you gotten since the release of the film's trailer?
The buzz is crazy. I knew people will like the trailer and the movie but the thing that baffles me is seeing people from other Nationalities in North America and Europe getting hyped about the movie just like Nigerians. When I wrote the script, I wanted to make a movie that anyone in the world can relate to. It's a real human story and the theme I touched on are love, hope, dream, loyalty and human struggle. The same issues everyone goes through. I'm just glad that a lot people are feeling it and anticipating the release.
How do you intend to checkmate the issue of piracy in Nigeria?
I just hope the government can help do something about it. We should also support the Cinema industry, which is making a big comeback in Nollywood. That way, the producer can recoup most of his money and be able to make another film. My intention is to release Anchor Baby in the theatres in Nigeria before going to DVD.
When are we to expect the film in Nigeria?
I'm still talking with all the theatre owners in Nigeria to know when we can get the movie out. As soon as we finalise on that, it will be made public.
What is the nature of your cast?
I had almost 40 actors with speaking roles and about 60 extras in this movie. Some of them are Omoni Oboli, Sam Sarpong, Terri Oliver, Colin Paradine, Michael Scratch, Mark Cassius, Rachael Ancheril, Cyrus Faird, Santiago Lopera, Chris Patterson, etc.
How willing were the foreign actors to partake in the flick?
All the foreign actors were interested once they got the full script. Like I said earlier, the story is not just a Nigerian story and that's the beauty of the whole process. I wrote the script in such a way that anybody from any nationality will be able to connect with the story and the characters because it is a universal story. In my cast, I have Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian and African characters playing major parts in the movie. That alone attracts people of other nationalities to Anchor Baby right away because everyone goes through it just like Nigerians. Matter of fact, if I was a Hispanic writer/director, Omoni and Sam's characters would have been Hispanic characters and the story wouldn't change.
What else would you have been doing if you were not a director?
If I wasn't a director, I would be doing whatever I have to do to put food on the table for me and my family. I am married and I have a family to cater for here in Canada.
Who is Nzekwe?
My name is Lonzo Nzekwe. I was born in Enugu state, but I grew up in Owerri. I am a native of Abia State, Nigeria. I have lived in Canada for five years, but I left Nigeria sometime in 1996.
Why did you choose to live for Canada?
I left Nigeria when I was about 22 years old and back then I was a basketball player, playing for the Imo State basketball team on the national level. The only thing I wanted to do was to obtain a university scholarship in the United States and go play college basketball. I wanted to make it to the NBA by all means. I got a few schools interested in me but for some reason, things weren't falling into the right places. I got frustrated and moved out of Nigeria. I lived in the UK and U.S. prior to moving to Canada. I guess I went to Canada because of the great opportunities there.
When did you first get the impulse to be a producer?
I started off producing music before I got interested in the movies. I always knew I could direct and produce films even while in Nigeria but I didn't have a passion for it then. Recently, I started developing a very strong passion for making movies and that's how Anchor Baby started. As for music production, I just didn't want to do it anymore. However, I am still a great hip-hop fan.