Mildred Okwo: Girl Uninterrupted

by Uche Nworah

What’s the average cost of producing a Nollywood movie?

I really don’t know the true answer to this question because the Nigerian film industry tends to be so close mouthed about their business dealings. I have heard that it ranges between one million and 10 million naira. But then again, a film like Jeta Amata’s “Amazing Grace” cost so much more than that. So your guess is as good as mine.

You seem to have gone overboard in terms of quality in 30 Days, are you confident that you would recover the costs?

By Nollywood standards, I guess you can say we went overboard. But not even close by international standards. On post production alone, if you witness what Hollywood does to get these movies out, your head will spin. Maybe one day, we will be disciplined enough to release films of such quality. We still shot on DV like other Nollywood films.

It is the audience that will decide whether we recover our costs. Film making is not a quickie way of making money and I am lucky I have Toyin Dawodu and Ego Boyo who believe in quality first. They have invested a lot in 30 DAYS without drama. They understand how long it takes to make a good movie and even then they know that internationally, we are still considered a small budget movie.

Native Lingua Films is in this business for the long run. Do you know that people still want to buy films like Violated and Living in Bondage made years ago? Nollywood is still growing so there will be new fans years from now who will want to buy CBA’s first Nollywood film or Genevieve’s old movies. We will be there ready to oblige them hence the 30daysthemovie website.

What’s your advice for those aspiring to come into the industry?

At the very least, you must have a passion for it. It is sad to say that there are many “fly by night” folks in our industry who have no passion for the art form. We like to boast of our capabilities when in fact we have a long way to go. So my advice is this – remember whatever you do in film is for posterity and it will have your name on it even after you are dead and gone. As in everything, always strive to be the very best.

What would you want to see the government do to encourage Nigeria’s movie industry?

Exactly what they should do for all spheres of life in Nigeria – provide basic infrastructure for goodness sake instead of parading around at hip hop concerts. We have been unable to provide basic infrastructure in 46 years. We have a scene in the movie where the Governor is in an SUV Mercedes but has to maneuver through bad roads.

Contrary to popular belief, the American government does not invest money in Hollywood. What they have done is provide infrastructure so that you don’t have to experience 15 blackouts in one hour while shooting a movie. You don’t have to stop recording night scenes because you are worried about the safety of your cast and crew. US governments over the years have enacted laws which enable the movie industry to thrive but that is also because the various relevant organizations lobbied for it. No government will hand you anything, you have to come up with creative solutions for your problems and then sell it to the government.

Frankly, Obasanjo has been quite progressive about Nollywood. He has appointed smart folks to leadership positions in the regulatory agencies and it is left for them to perform. I hope that we elect a President in 2007 that understands how much more valuable Nollywood can be to our economy. During production, “30 Days” alone hired close to 1,000 people and we put in millions of naira in the economy.

What are your plans for the future?

I have so many things going through my head right now but I have to see “30 Days” through. I hope to continue making movies and working on innovative projects. A lot of folks may not understand what I am doing but it will be clearer 10 years from now. The future is bright for Nollywood if we can do the right thing. When you think of it, just 2-3 years ago, most of our major stars had never stepped foot outside Nigeria.Now they are celebrated by Africans all over the world. Nollywood has made this possible and it can be so much more.

Are you in touch with other Nollywood directors and producers?

(LOL) Knowing you, that question is deeper than it sounds. We have to be careful about that Nollywood label because there are some directors and producers who don’t consider themselves Nollywood. I know a few and I am sure I will get to know more when I finally move back in a few weeks. For now, I am in touch with Kingsley Ogoro, Amaka Igwe, Don Pedro Obaseki (Uniben alumni) Emem Isong Kola Munis and Jeta Amata. I have met Peace Fibresema who runs the respected AMMA awards, Reemy Jes, Aquilla Njamah, Steve Gukas who directed Keeping Faith and Ekenna Igwe. I am in touch almost on a daily basis with my Co-producer Ego Boyo.

How are you hoping to combat piracy in the Diaspora?

It’s sad to say, but most Nigerian movies sold abroad are pirated. Yes, some of the neighbourhood African stores engage in piracy and so do some of the over 40 internet based sellers. There are illegal internet sites streaming films for free and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly from advertising.

One of the major differences between us and other companies is that we are based in US Nigeria and Europe. We intend to actively protect our copyrights with the help of our lawyers, distributors, retailers, customers and the FBI. We are providing adequate marketing and a decent profit margin to our retailers so there should be no reason for them to risk their freedom and/or reputation for a few dollars.

Another big difference is that our customers can buy our movie online. There are many customers who want to support Nollywood but our marketers have not devised meaningful ways to market to them. For example, it will cost them only a couple of thousand dollars to develop a website and offer their products online instead of letting these folks steal from them. We have a comprehensive list of websites and retailers in Europe and US. I must thank our subscribers who have emailed the names and addresses of their local retailers around the world.

What would you say is the major difference between your film and other Nollywood flicks?

Well one always wants to believe that one’s creativity is different from others regardless of whether it is Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood. Apart from the storyline, I believe the first thing fans will notice is the relative quiet in terms of the audio quality compared to others. When I was in pre-production, Joke Silva encouraged me to pay special attention to sound and I am glad I did. The greatest compliment someone paid us was when he said he never felt like there was a camera, or like the actors were acting. In other words, it felt so real to him and that is because we spent time getting enough shot coverage to achieve that goal.

30 Days will be out on general release in the first quarter of 2007.

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