Actor, Producer and director Fred Amata is of the well-known Amata show business family. One of the pioneers of the Nigerian movie industry, Fred is better known these days as the director of popular movies like The Prostitute, The Kingmaker and the yet to be released Sierra Leonian collaboration called Bai Bureh Goes To War. He spoke with Naijarules.com editor, Sola Osofisan, in New York during a recent vacation.
Sola Osofisan: So what happened, Freddy? You were supposed to be here in January to do some kind of project, what happened? Plans changed?
Fred Amata.: We got caught up in some misunderstanding with airlines and schedule and stuff. We couldn’t make it as a team. We were going to be a team of about five or six so only few people could raise enough money to make it, so we couldn’t make that.
S.O.: So, is it still likely to happen in the future?
F.A.: Well, what happened is that there is a young female producer that’s doing a documentary on Arts for Behavioral Change and she had lined up with the help of NTA some interviews in New York, D.C., California and because of the nature of the project, she needed a lot of support and sponsorship, so part of the sponsorship was World Airlines agreed to airlift all the people, but when they got into that problem, they couldn’t take all so they had to start the last minute looking for alternatives. So just three of them came and managed to still do some of the things so it’s still going to continue. We’re going to London to do some other shooting but for now, I don’t have the full picture.
S.O.: So what are you doing in New York now?
F.A.: Now? Quite frankly, just on holiday with the family.
S.O.: What, do filmmakers take holidays? I thought you guys worked round the clock or something like that.
F.A.: Well, there’s always time. Okay, the truth of the matter is that for years we’ve been saying as a family we will travel together but it never worked out; either I’m up on location somewhere or my wife is doing something, I travel alone or she travels alone, the kids we never bring. So, luckily somehow this time, they came. Something came up. I couldn’t come with them. We were supposed to be here for two weeks, something came up and I couldn’t come with them and then everything just seemed to fit, I had one week so I said I’m going to take this chance and that’s why I’m in New York. I took a chance, take one week, spend one week, we don suffer bo, make we enjoy small.
S.O.: And how has it been, I mean being with your family, you know, away from home, even if it is just for a week, you know?
F.A.: Being away from home is not new now. It’s…
S.O.: No, you know, I mean being together and away from anything that has to do with work.
F.A.: It has been fun. It has been fun. I missed the snowstorm. My son saw it which is what we were really excited about when we were coming. It’s like it’s going to snow! We said yes, we want to see the snow. Snow, snow, snow, we want to enter the snow and play and build a snowman and throw snowballs and all that.
S.O.: Oh you like snow, you like the cold?
F.A.: Yeah, just the image, just the concept.
S.O.: (GENERAL LAUGHTER) Just the concept of the snow?
F.A.: The concept of snow, of the snowman, you know something that can be memorable, you know to the kids.
S.O.: You and Agatha, your wife were, I understand you were very good friends in school, I mean, you know, very good friends but never dated and yet you ended up marrying each other, how did that happen?
F.A.: Na as God dey plan hin thing.
S.O.: (GENRAL LAUGHTER) You had nothing to do with it? It just happened?
F.A.: Well, those days in school, I really liked her, you know, I used to tease her… my wife, I used to tease her my wife, my wife, it’s funny now. We used to dance together a lot, whenever we met at parties, nobody else will dance with any other person. We just dance together then she will go off and all that and so we drifted apart after school, one day we met again. Ah, dancing turned to another thing; here we are 10 years down the line.
S.O.: Ten years?
S.O.: How’s it been?
F.A.: It has been sweet and sour as usual with life. Ten years of marriage, that’s ten years of plenty sweet and plenty sour. But somehow because of that friendship, that bonding, we have managed to weather the storm and still stay friends, which is very important. Which is why I said this time we must leave everything at home, and come here and spend quality time with the family.
S.O.: So you think friendship is very important in a marriage?
F.A.: Of course, of course.
S.O.: More important than love?
F.A.: Friendship, communication. Love grows from friendship. Love doesn’t come… what’s love? Love must grow from friendship. You cannot just see somebody and say I love this person, wetin you love? There must be a connection and it is that connection that is friendship before it develops into what is deeper which is love and love has its own levels. The love that boyfriend and girlfriend experience may not necessary be the same love a boyfriend and a girlfriend with one kid will experience. And then down the line, marriage now brings its own, marriage now unites two families and you know, love just starts to develop different meanings, and you now begin to realize that tolerance is a major part of love. And that’s another ball game altogether. We’re filmmakers.
S.O.: Were you already acting and known, before you and Agatha decided to marry?
F.A.: Em, yeah. Of course, of course.
S.O.: Was it, was it difficult for you to leave that… because I mean, as an actor, you are known and girls like you, was it difficult for you to make the decision to marry and go away from all that?
F.A.: Funny enough, it was not difficult. I just liked her. It was better to go with the flow and you see it came up, and it looked like this is where the wind is blowing and I said yes, why not? And at that time, everybody was saying ah Fred? Lai lai, Fred no fit marry, Fred no fit serious. You know, but well ten years now, I don’t know what they can say now. People must talk sha but I was acting. In fact, I was acting right from school. And then immediately I finished university I did my youth service at NTA and luckily started acting again, met some of the network people there, then network was god. Then network in Nigerian television was god.
S.O.: Not anymore.
F.A.: (GENERAL LAUGHTER) Not anymore. Ah, home video? Home video has burst out, you know. But network is still very strong now.
F.A.: But the truth of the matter is that I got into doing a lot of things, I’ve always been known. And there’s one snag, is it a snag or twist in the story? She had never seen me acting before so it was not as if there was some external pressures as to why friendship would still develop. She’d never seen it. She just knew oh Ripples, dem dey do Ripples, okay. It was not until after we had become very serious friends that she started seeing some of the things I’d been doing on TV and even then she was not a TV person at all, she was into… She was even in finance then.
S.O.: That’s strange. A person who was not a TV person is now the producer, presenter…
F.A.: Of one of the hottest talk shows in Nigeria.
S.O.: You have two children, Oreva and Stephanie. I know that they’re making names for themselves in the acting business. You want to talk about that?
F.A.: Yeah, well, Oreva has done… right from when he was 2 or 3… In fact when I shot my first home video in ’94, Oreva acted in it. In ’95, Oreva acted in it.
S.O.: What was the title?
F.A.: The Fire and the Glory. He was just there as a little boy riding his bicycle, a really cute scene. So, they have the flare. I think Stephanie more, she, she comes across as a performer, you know…
S.O.: She likes the attention.
F.A.: She likes the attention, she likes to pose, she likes to model, and she likes to sing. Just say “Stephanie, sing a song about uncle,” and she will just make up a song immediately and find rhythm, find a melody. I find all that quite interesting. And so, well, depends on… I don’t know what’s going to happen really, where they’re going to end up yet, but right now, if anybody comes in, they like to do it. I know in Nigeria today, every little kid wants to be an actor or an actress. Oreva has had his fair share of roles he has played and Stephanie now is just growing, in fact, come to think of it, em when Stephanie was less than 6 months, she did a commercial, I just remembered that.
S.O.: So is there any recent thing we should look forward to seeing them in, both of them?
F.A.: Well, there’s one they just did now with Tade Ogidan… Dangerous Twins and they played a role. In fact, Tade complimented Stephanie. I think there was something about the character Stephanie was playing that he said oh no, he had to, because of the quality of what she did, he had to stretch it a little, expand the role just a little.
S.O.: That’s a very good sign.
F.A.: (GENERAL LAUGHTER). That’s a good sign, that’s a really good sign, coming from Tade!
S.O.: That’s a good sign. So, what is it with the Amata family and show business. I mean, it’s like it’s in blood or what?
F.A.: I don’t know o. I don’t know sha. Me I think that maybe we should have been footballers. (GENERAL LAUGHTER). Because our father used to play football, my elder brother, in fact, Zack (Amata)? Zack was an all out sportsman, he used to do triple jump, hurdles, 100 meters, 200 meters, high jump, the guy was a terror on the tracks, track and field, the guy was too much. So we all thought that, you know… But you know the truth of the matter is that em my father is the one who planted it all.
F.A.: He was in university, then University College, Ibadan with the Wole Soyinkas and stuff and then in 1957 he made a movie that we believe is the first movie to be made in Africa that has an all black… made by blacks in Africa.
S.O.: You know the name?
F.A.: It’s called Freedom. Freedom, it was in association with a group that he belonged to called Moral Re-Armament. It was a play he wrote, that my father wrote, he wrote it as a play, they performed the play on stage, they performed all over the world. It had a message and so when they saw how powerful the message was, they thought why not make this into a movie? And you know, Nigerian actors, Nigerian writer, they did the film in 1957; Nigerians, South Africans, East Africans, Ghanaians, major cast. The movie is still there… Eastman Color!
F.A.: So when we were growing up, I mean, they did the movie in 1957, I was not born until many many years later. Okay, so when I was growing up, the first thing when everybody was watching john Wayne and you know westerns, I was watching John Amata, so and everybody wanted to be like movie stars. I wanted to be like daddy and I think it had the same effect on majority of the family. Maybe there’s a streak there, you know that, something inborn I guess, that we need to tap and develop and we have managed to always somehow get there.
S.O.: So this streak now surfaced in who? Mena, Ruke, you, Zack, Eloho –
F.A.: Everybody in their own way
S.O.: Even people who marry into the family are showing the streak.
F.A.: Yeah. Funny enough, you see, it has grown. Like my wife is the first in her family, now her younger sister now has a major TV program in Nigeria which is called African Pot. It’s like a travelogue, travel all over the world and you get a look at the cultures of the people from the feminine food point of view and into the nitty gritty, really an interesting concept that they developed. My wife, of course like I said, she didn’t know jack about TV before and now she is a force to be reckoned with TV producing. She actually produced another movie which I directed that has her younger brother playing the lead role and it’s called “The Addict.”
S.O.: I know about that.
F.A.: And even if I have to say so he was outstanding in the role.
S.O.: What’s his name?
F.A.: His name is Tony Nwokolo. And since then he has been getting a few roles though the bank, the finance world is trying to snatch him away but we are fighting with him, we’re going to put everything in one basket.
S.O.: And Jeta is making a huge name for himself.
F.A.: Oh Jeta, that’s Zack’s son. Jeta, at least there was this guy who worked with Jeta. One, is it British actor, director? One Nick, Nick Moran who came into Nigeria, did a film and labeled Jeta the Quentin Tarantino of Nigeria. But apart from that, Nick Moran said a lot of bullshit.
S.O.: Oh, well, we’ll get to the Nick Moran part. So any chance of the Amata family coming together to do something collective in the future?
F.A.: There’s a way that we’re structured that that always seems to be such a huge possibility. I don’t know… There is hardly anything that we do that doesn’t have the input of one or the other, maybe not in a major sense, but Jeta is hardly going to do a script without letting me read it first. Ruke – I cannot do a story without letting Ruke to see it or if Jeta is available, you know, just like that, Zack, we always like to work together. So I know sooner or later, we’re going to collaborate. Most of the jobs we do really, there’s always more than one Amata. Most, not necessarily all, there’s always more than one Amata working on it. There’s another Amata that you don’t know about, that is an Editor, he is the youngest.
S.O.: Is that Eloho?
F.A.: No, that’s Viefe.
F.A.: That’s Zack’s second son.
S.O.: Hm, that’s the one that’s 16 years old?
F.A.: Yeah, he’s 16.
S.O.: Aha, I read about him somewhere. I follow everything you guys do.
F.A.: Ol’ boy, you dey try o.
S.O.: You think because I am not in Nigeria, I won’t know what’s going on?
F.A.: Even in Nigeria, people hardly know him.
S.O.: I read about him somewhere.
F.A.: So, like I said there’s hardly anything that we do that won’t have more than one Amata. Sometimes, he comes and he does some editing work for me. Does for Jeta, Ruke, who right now we’re doing stream, we’re into mainstream production, really.
S.O.: So, how do you still create, I mean aside of, besides all this directing and producing, how do you still create time for acting?
F.A.: I’m not afraid to say that my acting career suffered a little, but acting was always the first love which is what people don’t really realize, acting was always the first love. I started acting when I was six before I now went for formal training in the university and stuff, having worked under the great Zack, Zack Amata was my lecturer, you know? That one you know. Lectured Mena too and Ruke and Jeta… So acting… I always try to look for it, but somehow, right now, na wa sha, acting has or directing seems to take over, people now say “Fred, you are a director now,” you know, and…
S.O.: You are.
F.A.: No, no, no….
S.O.: You are, you are more a director than an actor now…
F.A.: In the sense that you are not an actor.
F.A.: Which doesn’t really go down well with me, not anymore. I tell you, I really got a lot of gratification from directing because as at the time when I decided to concentrate on directing, the truth of the matter is the evolution from TV to home video was at the very early stage and there were not so many directors who had worked extensively on TV and I happened to be one of them and so it was usually difficult for me to go and work under a director who I could see was lacking in experience in a lot of things, so I felt… I even worked as assistant director for a number of people trying to you know, at that time I just felt, let’s do this thing, let it grow, try to make people understand how it worked, but I think if I was doing a service then, I believe I’ve, you know, I have more than satisfied myself in imparting whatever knowledge it is. In fact right now, there’s so much knowledge available that I cannot even claim to be teaching a lot of people any longer, a lot of people any more, there are people who know things, like Jeta for instance, comes with crazy concepts that – where do you get these things from? – you know, and it works. And there are a lot of younger directors like that so suddenly I feel, well, let’s go back to our primary constituency, but then it is, when I say now I want to act in a movie, before I go on set, I get a couple of offers saying “come and help us direct this, come and help us direct this and it’s like the money…the money…” It’s very challenging.
S.O.: Do you make more from directing than you do in acting?
F.A.: Me personally?
S.O.: Yeah, you.
F.A.: Eh, in individual projects, when you consider time and the amount of effort you put into it, I’ve made more money acting than directing in maybe one of, maybe a couple of movies. But on larger scale of course, I happened to have reached one level in directing that you know, if you can pay, you pay, if you cannot pay, you get a younger director.
S.O.: So which of the power do you prefer? The power of an actor or the power of a director?
F.A.: You see they all have their own… I don’t know how to put it. You know about the Sierra Leonian trip, when I went to Sierra Leone, I said to myself “why have I not been acting?”
S.O.: (GENERAL LAUGHTER). Oh, because you saw the power of the actor in Sierra Leone…
F.A.: You know? Okay for instance, I was walking down the street now (WHERE HE STAYED IN NY) and somebody stopped me and said “Hi, you’re Fred Amata?” I said yes.
S.O.: So that’s the actor that they remembered.
F.A.: Yes, they remembered the actor. You see a lot of people seem to think okay, there is nothing to that but there is that value of being… you are like your own billboard.
F.A.: And you are a walking advertisement for whatever you do so if you do it right, if you do it properly, you are at a every point in time an ambassador to yourself, to wherever you are coming from and people will look at you and say this is it. And then there’s also that other usual one of having done, interpreted a role so well that you can feel when people really appreciate you for what you have done and that is so gratifying. But as a director, director na god now, but that was then o. Now, in the current Nigerian situation, I think we’re becoming more like America where it’s only the very very big directors that can stand there own where the actors are. Even the smallest actor could be earning the amount of money director is earning and so…. Who was it that I saw in an interview: big American actor, The Patriot, Indiana Jones, what’s his name?
S.O.: Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford.
F.A.: Harrison Ford. I saw Harrison Ford and they asked this question “why he hasn’t gone into directing?” and he said, why, he doesn’t need all the stress. And moreover, directors don’t make so much money. You make more as an actor. You know, so it just hit me that we’re evolving in and you know in the earlier years I used to believe that when you are a director, in fact even the actor sef, whatever is coming out of him, you are the one, the ultimate glory is yours…
F.A.: But along the line, you discover that, I think, that day I looked back and I said in ten years time or in twenty years time when they’re saying who are the great movie makers of that time, you will discover that the director’s names will just be written in smaller print. Oh, a movie directed by this and… If they want to talk about Gone with the Wind now, you will see the photographs of the actors and the director’s name is written… and if you come to think of it, they all have their strong points…
S.O.: I see that you are doing a lot of work outside Nigeria recently and the South African project that you mentioned briefly now, are you done with that? Are you done editing?
F.A.: Serria Leonian…
S.O.: Serria Leonian. Sorry, Serria Leonian project…are you done with postproduction? Is it coming out anytime soon?
F.A.: Well, we’ve finished it, we have taken the master tape back to Serria Leone. Olu Jacobs actually was the producer on that…He’d gone back to Serria Leone just before I came to New York and they’d seen a sneak preview and they were very excited about it. We’re doing a premiere, a world premiere…
S.O.: A big one?
F.A.: A big one. Sometime towards the end of February, or early March as they plan. So, it’s ready. But it’s a major project for the Serria Leonians in the sense that it is a chronicle of one of their heroes, one of their heroes, Bai Bureh… Bai Bureh actually adorns one of their notes. He’s a face on their currency. So that’s how big he is, so everybody technically should know Bai Bureh because every now and then you have him in the palm of your hand, so –
S.O.: A great marketing tool in itself.
F.A.: A great marketing tool itself. So they want to see the best way to exploit it, do a premiere, do some major screenings all over the country… We’re still working on that. You know Sierra Leone is just coming out of ten years days of war and they’re are a people who really like to express themselves, it was really fun so much.
S.O.: You’re still talking about the international scene, you’re aware that some Nigerian actors are actually considering relocating to the United states to come and try their hands, you know, Hollywood acting scene around here. Are you aware?
F.A.: Eh, not, not completely. I know a couple of people who have been voicing intentions to come over and…
S.O.: What are your thoughts?
F.A.: I think they do not understand it. I think it’s not necessarily going to work that way. I mean from what I understand of the system, it’s as wide open as it is good. So it’s like everybody has a chance but you have to belong somewhere, you have to done… There must be some kind of clique you have to be able to attach yourself to to make it or just be lucky or very very talented because if you take the average Nigerian actor who I believe is very talented but is not very trained, you take the Nigerian actor and you put all the considerations that they look out here, you will discover that they have loads and loads of those people hanging on without jobs, But how I think it’s going to work is that it’s Hollywood that’s going to come to Nigeria. That way we export ourselves…from them coming to us. I think first of all we should start by making collaborations, instead of coming here to say let’s beg. So I look at the situations where producers and directors who are going to be the first link, you know, who are going to be able to say okay we can do a movie in Nigeria, this is a story that will blow your mind, this is a story that you can put into the…
S.O.: Would you say in the sense of this collaborations now, would you see the Nick Moran foray into Nigeria as an advance…
F.A.: I think it’s one such. It’s the beginning and if you read what Nick Moran wrote –
S.O.: I did.
F.A.: – You will see the kind of impression that they have of Nigerian movies and it does not necessarily translate into… what’s the word I am looking for, it is not a realistic representation of the quality of the job. It is a mental condition, they’re thinking oh these guys cannot know what they’re doing.
F.A.: That’s the impression you get from… that’s the impression I get. That they feel they know more than we can ever know, which is not the truth really, because I know for instance that there are a lot of Nigerian actors who have made it here, a lot of Nigerian actors but a lot of them seem to sever their roots just because they want to blend with the system. It’s after they have been able to make a few films that they now say they’re Nigerian, this, this, this, Nigerian-born or whatever and the Nick Morans will in the long run swallow their words –
F.A.: – Because Nick Moran, for instance, came in to do a project that he wanted to do in one week. In a week. He won’t think about doing that if he was going to do it here… He’s not going to come and do a movie in one week anywhere in the world but he thought “oh, Nigerians do it everyday, so let’s go and see how they do it and let’s make a mockery of them.” But what they don’t realize is that we have quality filmmakers, filmmakers who have studied in the best schools in the world, filmmakers who have gone to, I don’t know what there greatest film school is but I know I can give you a list of the Tade Ogidans, the Phillip Trimnels, the Tunde Kelanis who…
S.O.: I agree with you.
F.A.: Who have studied with the best in the world, okay? And they’re making these films, so we know what we’re doing. And there’s the issue of technology not being available, not really, really true because we have access to it all. It’s just that the environment has limited us to do that which you can recover from. The filmmaker is one who makes films. You cannot be a filmmaker and the last time you made a film was 20 years ago, you know and then you claim to be a filmmaker, things would have happened in those twenty years. It happened to… What’s his name? The one who did, Phantom of the… what’s it? That big film…
S.O.: In Nigeria or here?
F.A.: No, no, no, no. Star Wars. Is it Star Wars?
S.O.: Oh Yeah, yeah, yeah. Star Wars 2…
F.A.: George Lucas. George Lucas who hadn’t done a movie in twenty years and twenty years later, he did a movie and the press almost had him for breakfast. I mean things will happen to you. You have got to keep making movies and to be able to make movies in Nigeria, you have got to because even in our own sense, it is still capital intensive and now you cannot throw away all that money and not make it back. And unfortunately we have a system where it is mostly those who buy and sell are the ones who have invested mostly and so they want to see their returns in terms of buy and sell not in terms of marketing or expectation or…
S.O.: Or long-term investment or anything like that.
F.A.: Or long-term investment, yeah.
S.O.: I was reading somewhere too that when Nick Moran came to Nigeria, he actually got 10,000 Pounds to shoot the movie and he got a 100,000 Pounds to do the documentary on shooting the movie.
F.A.: Oh. That Nick Moran case is a major eye opener for us and I do not know all the details of what he got there but I know he managed to… well…
S.O.: It’s an eye opener. At least, hopefully, the next person who comes into Nigeria will, you know…
F.A.: But then again I think it’s a beginning, you know. Even home video as it is today when it started, they scoffed at it. TV producers didn’t give it a chance…
S.O.: That’s precisely what the international world is doing right now.
F.A.: Right now, the fact that they’re not giving us a chance is just to say that it is going to blossom especially in the international market. That’s why I keep saying to Nigerians that this is the time to go in, this is the to put your money there so that you can control our own. I mean India, it is their largest foreign exchange earner. In America, you know. Don’t even talk about it. It can be the same thing in Nigeria because we have the population and then we have the world looking at us. So the more we try to harness it the better it will be in the long run. In fact, the long run I’m looking at, three-five years time as the long run, things could have changed dramatically, because right now I can confirm to you that apart from Nigerians living abroad, some in NY here, some in other parts of America, some in other parts of the world who are interested in bringing good money to throw into the Nigerian home video industry, there are actually Hollywood producers, who are looking at… “what can we do with this people…” I mean they read materials from the Internet and they see … I mean if one country is making so much money from one small sector, if I tap into this I can double.
S.O.: Many of them come to my website so I am aware of a lot of these things that they’re doing. They come, they ask questions, they email. Well, Freddy, right now a lot of Nigerians in the Diaspora are actually aspiring to become actors, to get involved in the movie industry and many of them are actually trying to tidy up one thing or the other and then go back home to go and join the movie industry, are you aware of this? Is this a good development?
F.A.: In terms of the fact that they will be bringing cash, yes. But you know, I don’t know, I cannot say precisely… But I think that they should be, if they’re organized, they should not just, they should set up, set up properly, look for partnerships that can work because a lot of them have been trained here. A lot of people who are eager to come over have been trained here in America and have some understanding, but you see like the Indian film, the Japanese film, the flavour has to be of the country of origin. You see that is so that the people who know how, who claim they know better, will come and tap into that flavour and build it. It happened a lot with the Japanese films and they started bringing Japanese directors to America, okay? If they think they can just come in, a lot of them think in terms of acting. I can’t begrudge anybody because by and large the greatest Nigerian actors have… apart from those like the Olu Jacobs, the Joke Silvas who were trained professionally and we have a long stream of actors like that, a lot of the other actors had to be trained locally or had no training at all and they learnt on the job. It has already been my belief that the black man is inherently a creative person and so it is easy for them to jump in, if you work on the streets of Nigeria today, you can be sure… like almost on a daily basis, I get people who walk up to me and say “Ah, you guys didn’t do that thing well, I have a story that’s better than anything that you have seen.” And to a large extent they’re right, because you can actually just pick somebody from the street who has the… there are certain qualities that you look out for and you’ll be surprised what they’ll turn out to be. Now the… take our actresses, the Omotolas, the Genevieve Nnajis, the…
S.O.: Dominics, Steph-Noras…
F.A.: Steph-Nora, Stephanie Okereke. (Steph-Nora actually even studied theatre arts). They didn’t study acting or anything but look at them, they are utterly believable now give them the same conditions you give a Halle Berry for instance and you can never tell how high they’ll fly. There was an argument I was having once and I said to somebody “Look, just because we’re growing doesn’t mean that we’re sub-quality. The truth of the matter is that if you take a Ramsey Nouah and put… and give him the same conditions you give a Denzel Washington you will be shocked at the quality that he will bring out,” These people, most of these things that people are screaming oh this guys are great actresses, they do it in one week. At most in one month. Will you go and tell Demi Moore to go and prepare for G.I. Jane and give her one month? it’s not possible. But these people internalize all these and they deliver and it is so believable but people don’t see beyond that. They say “ah, no, why didn’t they prepare?” That’s what someone said. “That’s what I am saying, they don’t they prepare?” I said no, the environment, we’ll get to the level where people start to prepare. When people start to prepare, the difference will be so clear, it will be so glaring.
S.O.: So, what do you say to the aspiring actress who wants to come home and become an actress, who wants to come home and become an actor?
F.A.: (JOKINGLY) Make he now. When he smoke garri small, he go make money later.
S.O.: Is that off record? (LAUGHTER)
F.A.: No, you see because, no matter how, you cannot just come into the system and get into the system. Now, there’s something they say, usually back home there’s a lot of hue and cry for “oh they don’t let new actors come on, they keep using old faces…”
S.O.: We hear that a lot out here too.
F.A.: But the truth of the matter is that who is an old face? Who is an old face? Some people have been struggling for years and then they now begin to get their break and you don’t know that they have been there for like… Genevieve is very big right now in Nigeria, but she has been there. I know… There was a project that we went to do, in fact, ‘The Return’ that won all the awards, Genevieve was supposed to be in ‘The Return’. We traveled to Calabar, she didn’t shoot one scene, she came back, she never made the film. There are several other parts she was supposed to take, but she was just there bidding her time, trying… And it takes time. That’s why I say you go smoke garri small. It takes time. People now notice you. Now, everybody is using Genevieve and you’re saying you want new faces. (LAUGHING). Genevieve is a new face. Genevieve is a new face who just came up.
Take Omotola now who has been there a little longer, right now, in your subconscious, you’re thinking Omotola and Genevieve are probably in the same category, but it’s not true. Omotola is a more established and longer playing actress.
S.O.: Okay, I have this community of Nigerian movie consumers on the Internet and what they want to know is why do we have movies in parts? Because we hate it.
F.A.: I’m not going to be able to comment very comprehensively on that, because it annoys me too. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to discourage people from doing two-part movies, but I end up being discouraged. There’s a particular film I was doing, Anini… I was doing The Story of Anini which is not yet out. Beautiful story… It’s a true life story. We’d done it and it cost a lot to do because we had to get good equipment, rented a crane from Cinecraft, and then we finished editing and then we’re looking for marketers. All the marketers returned the proposal. “Ah, if to say na one and two now, give us one and two now, we’ll pay…” The guy has spent so much money, he’s trying to make his money back, you’re telling him if it’s one and two, if it’s one and two… The guy came and said is there a way I can cut it into one and two. I said no, not me. That this film will go like this. That this is a film people want to look out for. What is this whole idea of one and two?
So, the one and two issue is purely a condition of market forces. They think that if you make it in two parts, the money you don’t make from the first part you probably can make from the second part. That is all. Because nobody settles down to write a… Men, Sola, you used to be a very hot writer. Very hot. One of the best scripts I ever read, I can never forget, When Flowers Turn Black… And then I hated the movie cos you didn’t capture the film…
S.O.: Those were just growing up things. (GENERAL LAUGHTER). Abeg leave that one. We’re not here to talk about me. So what is AfricaMagic about? Are people jumping on to it excitedly?
F.A.: That’s another one of the misunderstanding or misconception of the Nigerians. Somebody sees that you have quality and comes to tap into it and comes with the mentality… I think when they came in initially, the AfricaMagic, when they came in, they had good intentions. They came and said let’s look at movies five years old… (We’ll) pay $2500. All over the world, the older a film, the less it’s supposed to generate. And so it was okay then. But they now sent in a team to research – this is my understanding o. Then they started coming down to $2000, $1500, finally (LAUGHTER) at $700.
Now, I don’t know where to start. Should I say they came to exploit or should I say that the Nigerians are too quick to think that just because DSTV they’re beaming my signals to over thirteen countries in Africa, that must be great? But the truth of the matter is that you have traveled. We know that even in very poor countries, they offer you for that territory at least $700, $500, a $1000 – for that one territory. Now you’re looking at upgrading to over thirteen and you’re saying… We should be talking in terms of $10,000 at least for as many countries as there signals are going to be going into, even if its cable.
But somehow, we manage to have people who will go behind… And we had a long talk. I was actually in the committee of people who met with the purchasing team for AfricaMagic and we had extensive talk and we explained all of this to them. The woman, Amida, she actually apologized that she was offering us as low as $1500. So, it was no small shock to us when we heard that they finally got people to collect $700. And unfortunately for me, some of the movies that I acted in were the movies that they started with. So, despite the fact that I refuse to give them my own movie, my face is already there.
S.O.: So what they did was to approach individual producers?
F.A.: They now approached individual producers, they got some point man – I don’t want to mention his name (NAIJARULES.COM INVESTIGATED AND GOT THIS MAN’S NAME). They got some point man. I’m really disappointed in him and he actually was the one who convinced them: for $700 he could get (them the movies). And they said if you get for $700, we’ll give you this and that and they (the producers) fell for it and… You know, there are people who have done movies that they thought could never see the light of day again. They couldn’t repackage it for anything whatsoever and they’re ready to let it go for $700. I think that is a major rip-off.
Initially, they said they were not going to show in South Africa. Now, they’re showing in South Africa. We hope that we can still meet with them and push it up, but right now, people are just pouring… Because there is a lot of trash being produced in Nigeria, which is another area that we believe we should take them on. They’re beaming the worst of our work to the world, which means people are going to continually have this impression that we are this bad, when the truth of the matter is that they refused to go in search of the best. And so we’re trying to encourage them: why don’t you take the best, pay whatever its worth, so that it helps both your station and it helps the industry. Now what they’re doing is actually killing the industry. People are turning away from the industry because they believe that (MAKES A DISMISSIVE SOUND). You can watch AfricaMagic for a month and not see one outstanding production. And it’s not possible. So, it’s a very sad thing for me. I’m guarding my words because this is going to be public.
S.O.: Okay, is there some sort of associational approach to this? Are the movie makers coming together to collectively confront this or are we still scattered? Because that is the only way something can be done.
F.A.: Well, luckily, we have an association right now. There are several associations and I think maybe we should just do an inter-association conference and try to iron out the standpoints – the front that everybody can face. Now, for FCON – the Filmmakers Cooperative of Nigeria, its unfortunate. A lot of the films that they have are actually from our members, but they claim that there was a communication breakdown. “Who doesn’t want to make money? Why should I take $700 if I’m going to get $2000?” So if we can put up a front, now that AfricaMagic has worked, if we can put up a front and come and say with one voice; “Look, let them stop this. Let them go up and peg it at $2000 – from henceforth, this is the price or whatever.” And then bring out a paper that says no matter how your film is, if it’s this old, it should be this price and that and that, which is standard practice worldwide and this is how… Because we know that they are getting films from other African countries for three times the amount of money they are getting films from Nigeria. And Nigeria is actually the country feeding that particular station. Over 90% of what they show is from Nigeria.
The worst part of it is that it has encouraged a lot of other cable stations to come and offer peanuts to Nigerian producers. People are offering $100 for a TV program. It is appalling.
S.O.: Freddy, many of your movies are here, they’re in the UK, Europe, all over the place. Do you make any money from all the movies that are sold outside Nigeria?
F.A.: Not a penny o. Let’s not talk about that. Na struggle we dey struggle for this world. I understand that there’s an association now in New York trying to tidy up and see if they could protect rights of filmmakers – at least of the films coming to New York, to the states… Now that is music to my ears.
S.O.: So you will support such an association?
F.A.: Of course. Of course. Things are happening. We’re growing. We’re even saying now that no matter what it takes, any movie that we produce, we will take it through the British Board of Film Control, BBFC. Censor it there and know that it has a registration number and you cannot pirate it, especially in the UK and even outside the UK. It’s all a start. We’re learning. And you know piracy is a major major major problem.
S.O.: In conclusion, Freddy, my members on Naijarules.com only ask for one thing: Next time you’re coming to the US or the UK to shoot a movie, could you please let them know, either directly or through me so that I can post your Casting Call so that they can come be a part of the casting for the production?
F.A.: (JOKING) Yes, let them come now. We’ll pay them peanuts. Actually, I am combining some business with this trip and trying to liaise with a couple of people to look at the possibility of coming back to do collaborations here, to shoot here in New York. New York is the place to shoot. Even the Americans love New York, not to talk about us. But the logistics might not be the same as shooting in Nigeria. As soon as that time comes, of course we will need artistes who are based here. We will not be able to carry an overload of actors from Nigeria, just one or two or so. We will blend with the local folks here, local in terms of… Ehn, na where you dey stay be local. Yes, we will be in touch.
Sola Osofisan: Thank you very much Freddy.