Charles Uwagbai is the director of blockbuster movie, The Ghost and the Tout, a movie that broke box office record and outperformed many Hollywood movies in Nigerian cinemas. His latest work, The Washerman debuts in cinemas August 31. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, the prolific filmmaker among other things, speaks on the budding film industry named Nollywood.
What makes a good film, in your opinion?
A good storyline makes a good film because it is what connects to the audience. When I am contracted to direct a film, I take a good look at the script first. If the script is not good, we have to work on it again to make it perfect. Then after that, we can talk about casting and budget and all of that. Sometimes, when writing a script, I have a particular character that I know will bring my characters to life.
Some Nollywood films tend to do better than Hollywood films at the cinemas lately. Does this have anything to do with the quality or hype?
Well, it has a lot to do with the cast you parade in the film as well as the quality of production. The first things you observe, as a film maker, is whom your target market is when producing a movie. Toyin Aihmaku, for instance has a very unique and loyal fan base. So, if Toyin is going to make a film for the English speaking posh audience it may not appeal to all her fans. She is aware that a lot of her fans are normal everyday people so she can’t make a “James Bond’’ movie for instance because she wants to trend.
So you have to ask yourself, who are your audience, are you satisfying your audience? If you are satisfying your audience, then you will automatically have a successful film. So, bearing that in mind, you have to know who are the people that look out for your films and the best medium that you can reach them on.
You also shoot TV commercials alongside films. Which do you find most rewarding?
The shooting for the corporate world is more lucrative than Nollywood. You know, Nollywood is just my passion.
Are you saying that there are filmmakers that are not really making it?
Well, I can only speak for myself. For me, I’ll say that there is money in Nollywood because some movies have made it at the box office and outside of box office.
So people really buy movies outside of the cinemas?
Yes, people buy outside of box office; they buy online. If the industries aren’t profitable we won’t have an influx every single day.
So the bulk of the money comes from online sales? How about the people that live in the suburbs?
They have their own market as well, people still buy DVDs but it’s for certain movies. That is why it is the duty of the filmmaker to properly target the various audiences while casting by featuring faces that appeal to certain parts of the country.
What are the areas you think some of your colleagues need to work on?
First of all, you need to identify where you want to sell your movie and how you can make it a success. This is why you see that some movies feature Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo casts. It is deliberate, and you need to be able to balance the choice of cast in any movie. You also need to know where you plan to sell your movie and also shoot your movie for the right time. The truth is that you can’t target every type of audience in a movie. This is why while some people are tearing a movie down others are applauding it. The bottom line remains that you need to know whom you want to capture in your film and make sure you satisfy your audience.
Have you thought about shooting a movie that will appeal to Northerners?
I think some people have tried to shoot movies up north but I’ve not really done any movie. I’m not so familiar with their culture that is why I haven’t attempted to go up north. But I always strive to put a few of Kannywood stars in my cinema films because I know that it would appeal to their fans up north. In my latest movie, ‘The Washer Man’ for example, I featured five northerners in the film because I know that I’m going to sell out up north.
How have you managed to remain relevant in your industry despite the entrance of many foreign-trained filmmakers into your industry?
I think what has kept me going is my humility, even while on set. Then, consistency is also very important, you can’t make one film today and make another one in five year time and think people will remember you. You have to keep churning out quality films frequently.
I was taught at film school to shoot whenever I want to shoot. Basically, if you have a camera, just shoot. You don’t have to wait till you have the best camera in the world to shoot.
Filmmaking is typically storytelling; you just have to tell a story with what you have. If you can’t tell a story with your phone, I wonder what you are going to do when you are given a big camera.
What peculiar challenges do you face as a filmmaker?
Power is a major issue as it eats a large chunk of our budget. Also, actors demanding much more than I can offer, especially when I probably have a budget I want to work with. And because you know that if you pump in so much money into a film, you might not get it back.
The audience also is a big challenge as well. They won’t buy original movies, and they won’t go to the cinemas to watch movies yet they keep complaining that our movies are of low quality. Yet when you pump in money, they wait for movies to come out so that they can buy it on the street.
In what areas do you think the current administration can assist Nigerian filmmakers?
I think we need more grants and soft loans for filmmakers and an enabling environment for us to thrive.
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