In an exclusive interview with LIB, renowned Nollywood actor, film maker and director Kunle Afolayan opened up on his journey so far in Nollywood, Piracy issues in Nigeria and its impact on Nollywood, his reservations towards making quality movies and challenges facing him in repaying a bank loan taken for the production of his recent movie ‘The CEO’; issues bothering on the tribal differences in the Nigerian film industry, personal thoughts on religion, the New Nigerian Cinema movement and more. Read after the cut…
Speaking on why he is scared he may not be able to repay the bank loan he took to shoot his movie ‘The CEO’, Kunle says;
“It costs a fortune; we are talking hundreds of millions of naira. We haven’t recouped the money and am not sure I will recoup that money ‘cos now the economy is bad and I have said this several times and there is really no point saying it again; but part of the funding for CEO, we got from Bank OF Industry (BOI) and that money needs to be paid back, I think I even have about maybe eight months left to pay back and it’s a bit scary, because I don’t know how I am going to pay it.”
Read the rest of the interview below:
LIB: What specific reasons led you to movie production?
Kunle: I was privileged to be born into a movie making home. I grew up seeing how some of these things were done. But what prompted me actually was the huge gap i noticed from what Nollywood used to be growing up and what it became at the time i came of age. So i talked to myself and said i could contribute something to change the glaring gaps. But notwithstanding, as an average child born into a movie making home, you would want to emulate what your father is doing especially if it is something loved and appreciated by many. So that also prompted me.
LIB: There is a huge disconnection between the English speaking part of Nollywood mostly controlled by the Igbo’s and that of the Yoruba’s, as a renowned movie director, what are you doing to bridge that gap?
Kunle: Well at this point I don’t think the gap needs to be bridged anymore. It can never be bridged and i will tell you why. In the 70’s/ 80’s, when the industry started newly, the Yoruba’s were mostly prominent ones in the system; this was because a lot of them crossed from Travelling Theatre to Travelling Cinema. In fact the major players then were all Yoruba’s; the likes of Ogunde’s, Ade Love, Baba Sala, and Dr. Ola Balogun who actually introduced the commercial film. All of these people were Yorubas. But in the late 80’s, when shooting on big screen became a problem, a lot of other tribes, especially the Igbos and some of our folks from the south used to work with NTA, a lot of them moved from NTA to making films, because at that time, nobody could shoot on big screen and the available resource then was digital, and if you already work as a camera person in NTA, it is easier to for you to shoot drama due to the experience. A lot of my friends then who graduated; like the likes of Fred Amataetc. who graduated from the university, some of them studied creative arts, while some studied performing arts, and naturally when you finish as trained actors from the university, you will need to practice, so coming out, most of them as trained actors became popular in the movie industry. But when I was going to make my first filmIrapada, which i shot in 2006; I wanted to bridge the gap, I didn’t want to be seen as a Yoruba film maker or Igbo film maker, I just wanted to be seen as a film maker and as an actor, so I addeda bit of an element to Irapada, to make it a more Nigerian film. And that was why most of the scenes were shot in the North and the main casts were from the north, east, south and west as a whole. Same thing happened to Figurine; I also brought some of those elements to make it more pan Nigerian. Phone Swap, on the other hand was more of Igbo, in terms of language, plotting, etc. In all my works, I have always represented Nigeria and Africa, and if you know my background, you will know am Yoruba, and of course that will definitely reflect in what I do.
LIB: So why do you precisely think the gap will never be bridged?
Kunle: The gap will never be bridged because everybody will believe in what they believe in, due to the diverse cultures in Nigeria. Again, Africa Magic as a movie network, why did they set up Hausa channel on its own, Yoruba channel, Igbo channel and other English channels on their separate platforms? It is so that each person can pick what interest them as individuals, but then, film does not have a language, it doesn’t matter what language you speak. Otherwise, why do you think people would sit glued to a channel that completely reveals that what the actors are saying is not in sync with the movement of their mouth like you see in Z World? So people will keep doing what they are doing as long as it has universal appeal, and as long as it defines the audience it is targeted at, that solves it all.
LIB: In what ways has the present economic situation in Nigeria affected your cost of Movie production?
Kunle: I don’t like to talk about the fact that there is a problem, am more bothered about the fact that; ‘would there be a solution?’ because every day I wake up and ask, so how much is dollar today? And they say, oh, it’s gone up, and everything that goes up in Nigeria doesn’t come down, it is worrisome, but sincerely, it could have been worse, because if we look at two years ago, and examine the whole scenario see we could see that the existing structure we had with the past government 2years ago, if that is what we have going on now, it would have been worse, so sometime, change as they call it, brings some restructuring and I think at this point, what we are going through now is restructuring and repositioning, and that would take all a lot of sacrifice both from movie makers and every one, but then, I want to believe we would pull out of it.
LIB: Piracy is an interesting and huge problem in Nigeria; can you tell us how you have dealt with that fact?
Kunle: It is hopeless, and a hopeless situation and I will tell anybody who cares to listen that there is no point investing a lot of money in making film because you are not going to make your money back. Not until the government does the needful. On our own side, we can’t do anything anymore as practitioners, because we have done everything within our capacity. We have reached out to the government knowing that we can’t take laws into our hand by shooting ator stabbing someone on the road who is selling copies of our film; you’ll obviously go to jail for doing that. If you are in a country where the law is so weak and everyday people cry out and nothing is been done, I call it hopeless, and for me, I don’t even know what to do anymore. I think at this point, we just have to slow down and wait until things are put in place, because, it is hopeless.
LIB: You mentioned waiting until things are put in place;do you mean proper laws are put in place?
Kunle: Yes, Laws but mostly enforcement. Not just the law. We have laws guiding copy right violation, piracy and all of that but it is so weak. Anybody would say; shebi it is to pay N100, 000, if they arrest me? I will pay it and get released. But then, they forget they’ve already killed someone who invested over a hundred million in the project. If you go to a country like India, when someone violates copy right law, it is 10years imprisonment and in fact, in some countries, they will hang you. So the knowledge that one would face huge consequences as for this offence makes them adjust. The punishment doesn’t apply to sellers alone; it also applies to buyer as well, if you are cut with pirated copies of anybody’s products; whether films, songs or books, then you get to face the law. So if this is put in place, I want to believe that people will be more courteous. Piracy is not only in Alaba, it is everywhere. If you go to our universities and open the laptop of an average student, you will see copies of peoples’ films. Ripping somebody’s content is piracy, if you buy a DVD and you rip it, and put in your laptop, and you share, that is piracy. So sometimes, people need to be informed and enlightened. A lot of times I have gone to schools to give a talk, in fact, there was a recent one i went to, and the guy was trying to do a presentation about me, and he played my film from his laptop and it was a pirated copy. I was so upset and I said to them;“I am not gonna talk here but I’m just going to address this issues at hand”, ‘cos right before me, the guy was trespassing. But then, I realised it was out of ignorance, because the guy, for him, someone copied the film and sent it to him, and he too will copy and share with someone else and so on and forth, so that is piracy at large. That one and the one in Alaba are all piracy issues and people need to be addressed. So if there is a common law that protects film makers and their contents, Nigeria will be a better place, but right now, it is really hopeless.
LIB: So what exactly did it cost you to produce the movie CEO?
Kunle: It costs a fortune; we are talking hundreds of millions of naira. We haven’t recouped the money and am not sure I will recoup that money ‘cos now the economy is bad and I have said this several times and there is really no point saying it again; but part of the funding for CEO, we got from Bank OF Industry (BOI) and that money needs to be paid back, I think I even have about maybe eight months left to pay back and it’s a bit scary, because I don’t know how I am going to pay it. But I want to believe that somehow, it will get paid. A lot of Nigerians complain about good quality. For you to have good quality it comes with a price and the price is money. Some days ago, Desmond and I were joking and I said to him that I paid the director of my photograph for CEO this amount, and he said to me, Kunle; you paid that amount? That is the budget for a whole film now. So you see, really, sometimes; I think it’s better to play small. But for some of us, who have already made name, you can’t come down and play lower. If you are going to come down on your budget or that, you have to make sure the production value is not compromised or that that thing you are known for is not compromised. But CEO is still doing very well, we are doing the London premiere in October, and it’s going to be in London.
LIB: So what do you do differently in both production and direction of your movies that make them stand out to a large extent?
Kunle: Originality. From the beginning I set out to preach and promote what I believe in, and what I believe in is the fact that I am a Nigerian and an African. For instance, 10 years ago, if you look at what Jennifer is doing now or what Falz the bad guy is doing now, if they did it 10years ago, we would call it razz or tag them as being very razz, no matter how educated they are. But now, it is a trend, in fact a lot of people now want to talk like that, and see it as that you are cool and trendy; if you could talk like that. What is Olamide selling? He is selling Yoruba, and what is Phyno selling? He is selling Igbo and they are all standing out, they would do there song in their original languages and the world would take it and it distinguishes them. I try to capitalise on where people are not paying attention and what people are not doing right and then add what I believe in. But in film making, there is really no perfect film, no matter how perfect the film is, a lot of people would receive it differently. But what I do is try to look at what category of people I am making the movie for, so once that is ascertained, if another category of people whom the film literally are not made for, condemns it, within me, i know that well, itwasn’t made for them, as long as the people i made it for appreciates it. So that is what I look at. Another thing I look at is the production value. I don’t compromise on my production value. Because a weak story can manage to appease people for a while before they get bored along the line, but a movie with poor production may never appease anyone, even right from the beginning.
LIB: Which of your movies is the greatest, in terms of acceptance?
Kunle: In terms of acceptance, it is October 1, but before now, it was figurine; my favourite of all is Figurine, because I almost died shooting that movie. That movie took everything, in fact, Figurine opened a new chapter in film business in Nigeria and that is my joy, because it is a film that will remain relevant for a very long time and even after 10 or 15years time, so that is my greatest movie so far.
LIB: On your Wikipedia page, you are identified as a “Free Thinker”, could you tell us why?
Kunle: I don’t attach any sentiments to religion. The world operates in two forms; good and bad. I believe that if you are good, you receive good and if you are bad, you receive bad equally. So I believe in good and bad. A lot of times you see that if the going is good, we say it’s God and if it’s a bit rough, we say devil, when we are the cause of our predicaments which we fail to see. So I believe that the good can get goodness and the bad what he deserves. So I don’t do religion.
LIB: Who is your favourite in all the actors and actresses in Nigeria?
Kunle: I have worked with a lot of people and am looking forward to working with more. But the thing is, when I watch people act, I see talents. But I always tell myself, I can get the best out of my cast. That has been my perception. I see all actors as one. But I tell myself, anybody I work with will be perceived differently.That an actor is good sometimes is dependent on the director. The director is responsible for getting the best out of the actor. Some actors are used to templates, they do the same thing repeatedly; again, different directors have their different styles of directing, so when you are used to working with a particular director and maybe switch to a different one, you act differently. Before Ramsey worked with me on Figurine, I had seen a lot of films he had done, but after Ramsey acted on Figurine, he was perceived different, in fact, he won best actor for it at the AMA awards. So that is what it is. But we have great talents in Nigeria, you can’t rule that out.
LIB: We’ve never heard so much about you and your brother Aremu Afolayan, what’s your relationship like?
Kunle: Yeah, because he is never around. He is in America. He is also a producer so, but if you are my brother or sister, i can only get involved in what you want me to get involved in. We are two different people, and like you know, we are 25 children in the family, and again, if the only person you perceive me being closer to, is Gabriel, then it is because there is always room for us to do things together.
LIB: So in what way have you influenced Gabriel’s career in the industry?
Kunle: Gabriel is what he is, because he has been destined to be that. The fact that we were born by Ade Love, also rubbed off on us. But then, Gabriel is a born actor; he studied Performing Arts from University of Ibadan, so he is a trained professional. In fact, he was in charge of ‘The Making’ of Figurine. Then singing is something that comes natural. Also our father’s legacy keeps us going in a peculiar way. The only thing I have done is to pick up from where our father Ade Love stopped, but other than that, Subomi as I call him is talented on his own. But again this is a family thing, what is personal we keep it personal.
LIB: So what is your take on Comedians breaking into movie production?
Kunle:Film making is an act and a business. But then you can always differentiate the difference in films made by those kinds of people. Julius Agwu started as an actor before breaking into comedy. But if you are an artiste you are an artiste, I could sing, but mostly in my bed room, because that’s not my core competence. But if you are referring to Ay, the guy is a core entrepreneur. Yes he is an artiste and a comedian, but he has business mindset and you could tell from his shows. He has mastered the craft and he has the platform and template, so he is using all that to his advantage, and honestly I give it to him. But there is no limit to what one can do, especially when it comes to arts. Jimmy Fox is an amazing singer, but he is also a great actor. Will Smith is also a great actor, so art is art at large irrespective of what field you choose to go into, so far you know what you are doing.
LIB: Is it possible to recover a huge part of the money spent in the production of a movie few days after its premiere?
Kunle: Yes it is possible, but people may not understand why, but I will explain. A lot of it lies on the cinema. The success of a film is not determined by the number of publicity given to it, or on whether the film is great or not, no; a lot of the factor boils on, how the film is been presented, by the cinemas. For instance, if a film is so good and in a day, they give it four (4) slots showing in the cinema; if the first slot showing is 10: am, 12noon, 2: pm and 4: pm; that film will not make money. But if the film gets three (3) slots and the 3slots are; 5: pm, 7: pm and 9: pm, then the film will make more money. So a lot of times the fate of an average film is determined by how the cinema positions the film. There are so many other factors like publicity; for instance; if a film is not good, word of mouth will kill it, while if same film is good, word of mouth will help spread it. But most importantly, representation by the cinema is very important and if films are allowed to stay longer in the cinema, cos there is a huge gap right now in how the cinemas allow Nigerian films in the cinemas, and these are good films by the way,which should be improved upon to help generate internal revenue, but then, it is what it is.
LIB: Are you ever going to go into politics?
Kunle: No, I want a free life. It is just going to be movie for now.
LIB: What’s your take on Rahama Sadau’s expulsion from Kannywood? Do you think she deserved it?
Kunle: We have different cultures. The Igbo culture is different from the Yoruba and Yoruba from Hausa. The Hausas are not saying they are part of Nollywood, they say they are Kannywood and so if you go to an association and you sign an agreement, then you need to follow the rules. Whether she belongs to the association or whether she signed anything, I do not know. But the trust is that she is such a good actress, and she is popular and rising at the moment, so I don’t think there is gonna be a problem, I think she can function here or anywhere. There shouldn’t be relegation, especially when you are an artiste. But I am gonna say this, we know that the North is different, and we have to accept it, especially, when you agree with and sign a contract to abide by their laws and code of conduct. Then it should be what it is.
LIB: Speaking of vision, what’s the next level for Nollywood?
Kunle: I can only contribute my small quota, which is to continue to make quality films that I believe can inspire, educate, inform, entertain and transform.
LIB: Rephrasing that question instead. What can you do, to ensure that both upcoming and some existing directors can begin to produce movie that appeal to Nigerians?
Kunle: I have registered a movie academy, called; KAP Film and Television Academy. That’s ‘Kunle Afolayan Production Film and Television Academy’. It is something I have been meaning to do for a very long time, but I don’t want to have a school that people will graduate from and when asked to show their skills won’t be able to deliver. So it has to be a standard school, and I am looking for investors and partners. We already have a space because it is going to be like a film hub with a proper sound set studio and we are going to be teaching majorly the technicalities of film.
For instance, hands on camera, sound, production design, make-up, Lighting; all of those things but professionally. Recently I was in Toronto where I visited a few schools because we are looking to partner with international schools not only for certification but also to create a school curriculum.We want it in such a way that we can do exchange, sometimes their lecturer can come around and we also do the same in their own countries. A lot of people miss out on something though, many people who studied film abroad, when they come here, it is difficult for them to function or fit in, because there are certain elements that are peculiar to Nigeria, and the Nigeria style of film making.
So if you want to excel in Nigeria, you need to learn it the Nigerian way.Oyibo will teach you templates;‘how to make film the Hollywood way’, you will now bring that to Nigeria and say, oh, if you don’t have these equipments, we can’t shoot. Here it is called the Gorilla film making style. Again, here, things are different from the Hollywood where everything is structured. Also here, the business side of it is also different from the Hollywood where things are constituted, for instance,here; an average film maker is the marketer, the producer, the actor and so on.
These skills when you merge them together, it makes you a better film maker agreed, but with its own price. So we are going to facture these things in and bring expertise from within and around to put those into proper perspective. It is like a two years projects for me, there will accommodation, studio and all, because people are going to be engaged every day, but we are looking for investors at the moment.