Directors & Producers
WHEN prolific movie director, Ikechukwu Onyeka, joined Nollywood in 1998, he had little more than a humble ambition to be called a filmmaker. But eight years later, he discovered that he had surpassed the wildest of his dreams. Stoutly, with a well kept grey goatee, Onyeka has become one of Nollywood’s most sought after director.
By 2006, he has produced over 13 titles, acted in more than a dozen films , worked as an Assistant director on a number of films and directed over 70. And he is still counting.
Rated by many as resourceful and reliable, the story of how Onyeka joined Nollywood will make a good short film and he tells the story himself: ‘Actually, my coming into the industry was so funny. I was an okada rider. I also basically wanted to be independent and the only thing I could find was commercial cycling.
On a particular day, another bike hit me from behind and broke the lights and then he was carrying a passenger. While the bike rider was apologizing, the man he was carrying —whom I later discovered was a movie producer, Charles Ugboma, —- was talking to me anyhow. I begged him to spare me.
When everything died down, Charles called me to a corner and asked why I was driving a bike when I spoke very good English. He then introduced himself as a producer and invited me over to his office for a chat. I took it as one of those promises but somehow it kept ringing in my heart. But three weeks later, I went in search of the address he gave me.
This was in 1998. I met him, we spoke for about a minute and then he vanished. But what caught my interest was that while I waited at EKOAS Hotel in Surulere which was the initial meeting point for screen talents, I kept seeing stars like Zack Orji and Eucharia Anunobi .
So that caught my interest. So once in a while from my bike business I would come there and then I picked interest. I started from the scratch-—did some acting, became a props man with Kingsley Okereke and we later formed Divine Touch production which has grown and here I am now.”
Onyeka started out as an actor. But he dumped acting and chose to operate from behind the camera because he never enjoyed the publicity that comes with acting. To get to this point however, Onyeka started from scratch. He worked under and understudied some of Nollywood’s best directors and was at a time one of the most sought after production managers in Nollywood. He moved from being a PM—the short for production manager— to calling the shots as an assistant director and later as director. With time, Onyeka grew to become one of the most sought after directors in Nollywood.
A native of Umuoji town in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra state, Onyeka was born in the east but he was raised in Lagos where he had his primary and secondary education. Onyeka described growing as quite interesting.
“I grew up in Amukoko area of Lagos which is almost like a ghetto area. We were slightly above average family in the ghetto there. We had things that most people in the ghetto there didn’t have. Daddy had a car; we had television and refrigerator in the house. Those were things that were not common there.
So, growing up was quite interesting. I think if you are earmarked for success, there is a way God guides your steps. From where I was raised, I had no reason not to be a weed smoker or an area boy and so on. But somehow, God kept guiding me and I am here today.” Read more »
If the name Lonzo Nzekwe does not strike you in anyway, the movie, Anchor Baby, one of the best ever to have hit the Nollywood scene, would definitely ring a bell. This may be due to its popularity in the media or its engaging and biting climax, in case you have been lured to the cinema by the movie.
But for a man, who says, “I am just a self-taught producer and director,” what many critics in Nollywood hate to hear, Lonzo is credible and also deserves respect as far as any moviemaker in Nigeria should get.
“I just studied film editing and bought a lot of DVDs through which I taught myself.
“I have always wanted to write a movie that people can relate with and I can see that is happening right now because the movie is out here and a lot of people love it.”
Anchor Baby has its setting in the United States but it was actually shot in Canada, the reason for this is not far-fetched.
"Watch Behind The Scenes of Anchor Baby movie( Extended). Starring Nollywood sensation Omoni Oboli, Hollywood actor Sam Sarpong, Canadian actress/singer/songwriter. Terri Oliver and a host of other talented international cast members from the United States and Canada."
According to Nzekwe, it has to do entirely with him, as he shed more light on the process of producing the movie.
“I actually live in Canada and so it was the natural location and I must tell you that it was actually harder to get Omoni (Oboli) to come over there to shoot than some others. I didn't know her before, neither had we really met but I just got in contact with a couple of people that had been in the industry and I was referred to most of the crew and the cast also. We used a casting director for the movie so it was really taken care of on that level,” Nzekwe said.
It is always easy to get a chance to savour the success of any project but the challenges conquered are always there somewhere. Lonzo sheds some light on this area also.
“When it comes to challenges, like I said a while ago, it was the challenge of really getting people to believe in me that I could direct a movie because it was just my first time to be involved in any movie. I had not been involved in movie production before now and so when I was telling people that I wanted to cast people for a movie that I am going to direct, nobody believed me but for people like Omoni, it was an issue of some faith,” he said.
One issue that has bothered the mind of some people in the Nigerian movie industry for sometime now is what makes a movie qualified to be called a Nollywood production and with only Omoni Oboli carrying the Nigerian flag in Anchor Baby, the movie was always going to swim in the speculation but the issue of the Nigerian input is one that Nzekwe puts to bed pretty well with his reply.
“The Nigerian input, as far as I am concerned, is not minimal; that is as a result of the fact that I am a Nigerian and I am the writer, the producer and director of the movie. Aside that, the lead actress in the project is a Nigerian and I think that is the majority right there if we are talking about the input. But you should know that is exactly what the story calls for; I would not put a Nigerian if he or she does not fit in a role. I am a moviemaker and I don't just make movies for the sake of it. I make movies and the script would determine who plays what role because if the script requires me to have 100 Nigerians in it, I would have them but if the script also requires me to have none, then I would not have any Nigerian in the project,” he said.
While the end of the movie seems to punch the greener pasture aspiration of many in Nigeria, Nzekwe says he was inspired into writing the story because of the huge space the word, Anchor baby, occupies in the American lexicon and not directed at Nigerians per se.
“One thing that really inspired me into writing this story is the fact that Anchor Baby, as a term, is a really strong issue in the United States and I wanted to write a story to put a face to who these people are and what they go through. So, that was rally the inspiration – to write a story that many people would relate with regardless of where you come from; either Nigeria or Mexico or wherever.
Actually, my point of writing the story is not really to dissuade or discourage anybody from traveling but I just wanted to make a movie, but of course, there are lots of messages in the movie. One of the most powerful of these is why is she (Joyce Nnaga) trying to have a baby in another country, what is wrong with her country? People have to ask that question as to how we are treating our people and such but I am not saying people should not try to give their children a better life or anything like that. People have to take care of our own people in our country and our people don't have to go and struggle elsewhere if the country is good enough,” he said.
Nzekwe, an indigene of Abia State who had both his primary and secondary school education in Nigeria before relocating first to the U.K., then to America before finally settling down in Canada, said he started writing the story encapsulated in the movie in January 2010, and finished it sometime in April after which he started shooting straightaway.
“I am very excited with the encouragement the movie is receiving and Nigerians are really warming up to the movie very much as we can see from the screening in Port Harcourt and Lagos. It was screened twice in Port Harcourt due to popular demand and I am really looking forward to taking things to the next level from there. I already have another project I would be working on next and I intend to even make it bigger and better than Anchor Baby,” he said.
Although it was not a case of intense auditioning, Nzekwe insists it was not a case of just coming to stroll into the movie for sensational actress, Omoni Oboli, even as he admits the fact that the beautiful actress is one of the very best Nollywood has to offer.
“I had not met Omoni or really seen her works before but somebody referred her to me and I picked up a couple of the movies she has done and I got to know her a lot better over the phone and I was convinced she could transform the script into the way I wanted well. I never made the script with her in mind because I didn't even know who she was prior to that time,” he said.
There have been cases of people coming to Nigeria and totally lacking ideas as to who is who and the general knowledge about the Nigerian movie industry.
Lonzo Nzekwe, who says the budget of Anchor Baby would seem huge to Nollywood while it is a low budget project by Hollywood standards, is in touch with home despite being far away as he plans to roll out another project soon.
“My knowledge of Nollywood is broad; I watch movies just like everybody else. I watch a lot of movies and I study and analyse other actors and actresses well but Omoni Oboli stoods out of the lot, it was not like I didn't look at the other,” he said.
To him, like every other industry, Hollywood included, there are bad movies or projects and that is not enough reason to castigate or write off the Nigerian movie industry, which he described as “alright and on its way to getting even bigger and better in years to come,” concluded.
Source: Daily Independent
You can watch the movie 'Anchor Baby' in full-length online today @ www.AnchorBabyMovie.com
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Desmond Elliot is considered as one of the best actors in Nollywood. In this chat with Tope Olukole recently, the actor spoke about some issues in the entertainment industry.
I would say pretty well. God has been there for me to give me a sense of direction.
What challenges have you faced?
The first is trying to make a name for myself in the career I have chosen, and it Read more »
Since 2006, pretty Chisom Oz-Lee, the Nigerian-born US based actress/producer has been making her country proud and hoisting her flag higher with quality film productions. In fact, one of her spellbinding movies, Lost Maiden, made history when it gloriously premiered at the UN headquarters, a couple of years ago.
That epoch making event, according to the widowed thespian and practicing nurse, was one of the happiest moments of her career and life. The mother of four is already adding finishing touches to the two movies she recently shot in Nigeria with Emem Isong , alongside some Nollywood greats. As an international film producer, the Anambra State born entertainer said she’s optimistic that both efforts would immensely help to reposition and rebrand Nollywood and Nigeria, respectively. In this hearty dialogue with Daily Sun, the proud widow bared her mind on life in the US, challenges, men, marriage and passion for Nollywood as well as other germane issues.
How often do you shuttle between Nigeria and the US to produce your movies?
I come as often as time permits me. I came in recently to star and co-produce two movies, back to back with Emem Isong. I was the executive producer of both movies and also acted in them.
We entitled one of the moves, Mortal Attraction and we shot for 14 days with big names likes: Ramsey Noah, Uche Jombo, Desmond Elliot, Monalisa Chinda, myself and several others. My role in the movie was that of a mean sister in law, it was also a very challenging role. I was full of wickedness, frustrated and vindictive in that role. In brief, the movie vividly captures the plight of widowhood and how your late husband’s family members treat you. In the movie, the innocent widow was so much maltreated that God sent an angel in human form to save her. It’s actually a true life story and little bit of it related to me, because I’m also a widow. I’ve been a widow for close to 10 years now.
So as a widow you’ve been through a lot?
Widowhood is not easy and will never be easy for anybody experiencing it, but thank God I’m a very hard working person, trying always to be very independent of men, in laws and other distractions. So, I work hard for me.
Thank God, I’ve been surviving and can afford my basic needs. I have been around and surviving with my children since my husband left us. The movie will move many to tears and people will also learn from it.
Aside being a film producer, what else do you do in the US?
I’m a professional and registered nurse, based in New York, US. I’ve lived in the US, for over 13 years. But my passion for entertainment began before my nursing career.
What’s the nexus between acting and nursing?
People always wonder about the connection and how I cope with stress coming from both tedious jobs.
Nursing for me, is more like a charitable work, being able to help the sick and those dying, while acting is more like a passion for me. In essence, I can’t do without each, because each part of my body yearns to do both works passionately. I’ve also tried to marry both professions in such a way that they have complemented each other as well. My last movie, Lost Maiden, which was hugely premiered in the US at the UN, is still a reference point. We are planning to release it here soon. At the UN, they found the theme of the movie very topical and relevant.
The movie talked about female circumcision and our right to say no to it and other forms of ill treatment meted out to us in the name tradition and custom. Mind you, I wasn’t paid, it was purely an NGO thing, public education, and several institutions over there are now approaching us wanting to use the film as research works and materials. It’s an educational movie. I was so happy when the movie went to the UN. For these new movies, we are planning to see if we can release them this year, although no title yet for the second movie. My producer, Emem Isong and I, are still discussing it. Hopefully, soon it will be out, because I want to commence the shoot of another movie in the US.
What year did you produce your first movie and what was the title?
That was in 2006, it was entitled: In Strangers Arms. I brought virtually all my crew from the US, to shoot this movie; even my director was flown in from the US, ever since I have not looked back.
What got you attracted to Nollywood?
Actually, my passion for Nollywood didn’t start in 2006, when I produced my first movie, it was something I’ve been nursing and waiting for the right time to launch. Before the advent of Nollywood, I had been around staging plays and dramas with some of the pioneers of the industry, before I left for the US. While leaving for the US, I had it at the back of my mind that at the right time and with the right resources, I would come back, which is what I’m currently doing now.
Considering the fact that you operate from the outside, what would you say are the major challenges you often encounter whenever you are in the country to work?
Sincerely, electricity has always been an issue, each time I’m home and working on a set. The noise from the generator gives us sound problems in our movies. Another challenge is getting the right equipment at the right time. Most times, you have to wait for days for particular equipment. These are all hindrances. In the US, it’s a different ball game. Traffic is another big challenge. Most times, you spend the whole day navigating through traffics trying to get your cast and crew together, it’s terrible. These are the major challenges I face each time I come home to shoot my movies. But I’m optimistic that it will get better someday.
Do you have plans of relocating to Nigeria fully as an actress / producer any time soon? Truth is that there is no place like home, eventually I will be back to contribute my quota, but not now. I love my country and its people, no matter what people say or think about us. In fact, each time I come home and ready to go back, my heart skips, because my staying abroad is not really a choice, but a necessity. I love to be here all the time, but I just can’t for now.
Is the acceptance and perception of Nollywood movies in New York, where you reside a thing of joy and encouragement or …?
When it comes to Nollywood in the Diaspora, Now York is the strongest place, and then followed by Maryland, Texas, LA in that order. We have built markets for Nollywood. If any movie is released there now, you’re sure of getting nothing less than 5000 sales. We’ve been very supportive of New York, unlike other countries, where they either rent or bootleg our movies, because, they don’t have markets there. We are already forming bodies and a lot of unions in the US to protect Nollywood and make sure that our filmmakers survive. We are also trying so hard to fight piracy in the US.
My four movies, namely: In a Strangers Arms, Lost Maiden, Mortal Attraction and the yet to be entitled one are being closely monitored. Another challenge I think we have in Nigeria is scripting, we should improve on our stories and how we tell them.
We have a lot of stories to tell in Nigeria, but most of our scriptwriters are fond of always copying foreign storylines, originality is lacking in most of our stories, which is very bad and sad. Good stories thrill me a lot; again we do not have the technical ability to produce some kind of films. It is so because an average filmmaker does not have the financial resources to do it like his foreign counterparts. Badly, the government has turned its back on Nollywood, and they know very well the millions of job opportunities that Nollywood had created and still creating for the nation on a daily basis. Government should adequately fund Nollywood, so that it does not die. We all know that the Nollywood of today is purely driven by individual efforts and funding. And no matter how we try, it can’t get 100% better, until the government comes in to help fund and support us.
Like how much was expended shooting these two movies and how did you source the funds?
We spent a lot for both movies; a rough estimate should give us something in the region of N12m per picture. Funny enough, I have not made money from my previous works, but that has not deterred me, because I have an undying passion for Nollywood. With time, I hope to also make money because it’s an investment. I will never be discouraged, no matter what happens.
How did your path and that of Emem Isong cross and what was it like working with her. Again, do you look forward to working with her again?
She’s been my good friend for over five years and we worked together in 2006, on the set of Lost Maiden. She produced Mortal Attraction for me, and we had fun on set working together. Why not, I look forward to working with her again.
We would like you to share more about you and your background?
Okay, I’m Chisom OZ-Lee, from Oraukwu in Anambra State. I’m a widow and a registered nurse living and working in the US. I’m also a filmmaker cum actress; I live with my children and my mum in the US. I’m an English Literature graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
As a beautiful widow, how come you have never thought of re-marrying, are you scared of men or men are scared of you?
I think all of the above are part of the reasons. For me, remaining a widow is not bad and the company of my children makes me happy every day.
How has it been coping with men?
No big deal, I cope well with them, for me; there is nothing difficult in handling them.
Is there any man currently rocking your world?
I have friends, besides, I ‘m a very busy person, meaning I have plenty things to do. Mind you, it takes time and energy to keep a man. My love life is empty and I love it that much. My husband died while battling Cancer of the Leukemia. His death was what led to my going into nursing. And we miss him every day. Read more »
Foremost Nollywood producer and director, Lancelot Oduah
Imasuen has many creative works like Yesterday and recently
Home in exile to his credit. The Edo State Lagos-based director
has continued to strive for excellence in his chosen career.
As a child, Imasuen had the dream of becoming a lawyer, but he later followed his passion when he ventured into movie making. Today, he is content and fulfilled with his achievements after fifteen years in the motion picture industry. But, he still believes that the industry can be better if film-makers get their priorities right.
While speaking to Daily Sun at his Surulere studio, Imasuen revealed that his recent foray into language movies is aimed at reaching out to Nigerians through their mother tongue. This would help preserve African culture aside achieving the re-orientation of people in indigenous languages. He also spoke on issues affecting Nollywood, his most tragic moment on set and his project 101 among other issues.
In this photo: Lancelot Imasuen
Making language movies
I tag my language movies Celebrating and sustaining the Edo language, it signifies a cultural initiative and rejuvenation for me. I discovered that there is so much in our indigenous languages that is not being tapped and there is a general decline of our culture and language, hence the need to reach out to viewers through indigenous language. If you cannot speak your mother tongue in Africa, you are considered lost and the speed with which we imitate western values is very alarming.
As a talented filmmaker, I have decided to embark on cultural re-orientation with Language movies so as to give something different to viewers. I still do English movies, but I feel I owe it to the Edo Kingdom to document films in our indigenous languages. Another reason is to reach out to those in Diaspora, as an avenue to connect Nigerians to their motherland. The movies deal with topical issues that affect us as a people such as greed, human trafficking, prostitution and the roles families play in encouraging these social vices. Some of them are Ebuwa and Obama.
My experience as a film-maker
I have been in the industry for 15 years as a movie producer and director. It has been a wonderful experience for me and very interesting too. I can Read more »