Veteran actor, Adebayo Salami, popularly known as Oga Bello, needs no introduction. The actor and film maker has been around for over four decades in the industry and from the look of things, would be for many more years to come. The soft spoken thespian spoke to SAMUEL ABULUDE on what he’s been up to, his staying power and other sundry issues.
You started way back when it was all about passion and almost zero money. How much have things changed?
Things have changed a lot. If anybody had told me that I would make a living from acting, I’d have argued in the negative about it. At some point, I had to spend most of my salary on it without expecting anything. Today it is quite different, acting is been putting food on many people’s table. There was a time that all we had was just stage shows. Then we had the travelling theatre which we called ‘Alarinjo.’ Then television, magazine which we called in those days, ‘Atoka.’ If you continue to move with time, you’ll be relevant.
We didn’t expect money from acting back in the day. Today, we charge for it, that’s the difference. Most of our younger colleagues now don’t even bother to get proper training before they go into acting.
What are you doing about that as one of the leaders in the industry?
We’re doing our best but you know, because of rising unemployment and poverty these days, many just rush to acting. And the bad thing about us Nigerians is that, once we perceive any opportunity, business or profession as lucrative, everybody wants to go into it whether or not they have the experience, training or the knowledge for it. I always tell them ‘garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t learn it properly, you can’t know it.’
On our part, we’re trying to curb the situation by organising seminars. I run a school, U-Bee Performing School of Art, Femi has a school, J15 and some other colleagues. If you don’t have enough money to go to a university to learn Theatre Arts, there are many other options. But they don’t follow through.
You’re one of those actors who has at least a child in the industry. Beyond seeing you act and going to locations with you a couple of times, did you have to tell them anything they needed to do?
I don’t force anybody. They are not the only children I have and they’ve chosen to go into the profession. What I wanted initially, they’ve given me, and that is that they go to school and get educated. They’ve done that to my satisfaction and I always encourage them. I never, at any time, called them and told them this is what I want you to do. If Femi had started as an actor I would not spend much money on him. But I asked him to go study law as he wanted. Sodiq, who is into production management is a geologist. I offered him a job in Chevron with the help of a friend and he turned it down because this is what he wants to do. Tope Adebayo who is a director is a computer scientist. Rewa, who is an editor is a computer scientist too. So they chose what they wanted to do on their own.
You said you’ve made efforts to put younger colleagues in the industry through but what we heard is that they are trying to sideline the older actors. What can you say about that?
Sideline? I don’t know what you mean by sideline and I don’t think it’s true because it depends on the script. You may not need people of our age in your production but that doesn’t mean they’re sidelining us.
You’re one of the people that formulated the MOPPICON bill from the onset, what stage is it on as we speak?
The motive of having MOPPICON is this; at the time we were invited as steering committee, during Obasanjo administration, they wanted all of us to speak with one voice instead of A B and C saying their own things, which I, as a person liked. So we selected a few people from each association to form the steering committee. We talked about how to make things better and submitted it to President Obasanjo at that time. It got to the stage of going to the National Assembly before Obasanjo passed the baton. You know how it is in democracy. I think the present government also has the problem of dealing with individuals that’s why MOPPICON has come back. I don’t know the stage it is at right now because we’ve not been invited.
When the government wants something, they want it. If they don’t want it, they don’t. Where we are today we got to by self-efforts. If they want to look at crude oil as the only thing that can generate revenue, let them go on. It may not be in our generation but they’ll come to realise that the entertainment industry is something that can generate revenue for the nation. Then they’ll put things in place without lobbying or having to see anybody in any position.
By lobbying, those people at the helm of affairs will want you to give them money, for what?
All you need to know is that there are some people who want MOPPICON to come alive and there are those who do not want it to come alive, it’s as simple as that. Once MUPICON comes alive, we’ll have less talk of individual associations. If association A goes to the government with their proposal and association B does same, it would be too tedious and they won’t know who to answer. That’s why we want everybody to come together which is a good thing. There are people, like I said, that probably milk their associations, I don’t know. For me, that’s the way forward that I know. Whether we like it or not, that’s the best way. I’m thinking and I’m looking at the way we sat down and put documents together and all the associations were represented there. The criteria to be a member is very simple; there is room for those that didn’t go to school at all because the history of entertainment started from the Alarinjo, that couldn’t read or write, just pure talent! So there is room for unread people to be members.
What’s your engagement with the federal or state government in propagating the film industry?
Kwara State is working on a film village, Malete Film Village. There was a time, when Fashola was governor, I was in a committee then for the formation of an entertainment industry in Lagos State. Everybody is trying their best and whenever we’re call on us to participate, we do.
Do we have a film village, as it were, in the industry?
It’s difficult to have a film village. Government cannot do it alone, we must have investors and that’s what we’re looking for. Some people have shown interest but they’re scared. They’re afraid of bringing their investment to Nigeria. Apart from that, it’s not too difficult to get investors.
How is the distribution of movies these day and having to deal with cinemas and piracy in the industry?
The movie industry has a problem of distribution up till now. Name any producer that has made it through distribution smoothly and I’d tell you his lying, I stand to be corrected but I must tell you that. Even I have lamented so much.
Let’s talk about the cinema houses now. They take the larger percentage of what is made from a movie and is not good for the producer. How will you produce another movie when you’re unable to recoup your money?
Coming to the Yoruba sector, they’ve tried their best. You cannot eradicate piracy all over the world. The enabling law for piracy is very bad, it’s not strong enough. If a pirate steals a work and realises about N100 million and the only punishment he/she gets after a trial is N50, 000 fine, don’t you think he’d just pay and go back for it? Except there’s a strong punishment for piracy, that’s how we can scale through. That’s where government is failing and it’s quite unfortunate. I don’t want to apportion blames but I know that film making has distribution problem.
Is there any engagement with Africa Magic as to paying for the movies they show?
It’s not peculiar to Yoruba movies. If you tune to Africa Magic Hausa, Igbo, Kannywood, they are all there. It depends on the arrangement you have with DSTV. No matter how the association is, you cannot dabble into their negotiations.
But there are other platforms where filmmakers can make money online?
If you put your movie online, you’ll make money. Everything boils down to a good production. In those days when we started with celluloid cinemas, let me cite ‘Omo Orukan’ as an example. I produced ‘Omo Orukan’ in 1997 with a total cost of production of about N490, 000 and you cannot do the post production in Nigeria, I took it to United States because we don’t have the facilities. I remember the bill they gave to me in a film corporation in New York was $27, 000. I had $25 000 and I was looking for $2000. How much was $2000 in Naira at the time? N10, 000! Before I could get that money, I suffered. When I released the film at N5, the capacity of the main bowl was 3,600 people and it was a full house at 12noon, 3pm and 6pm. All the money I borrowed was paid on time. Economy changed, we can no longer go for celluloid. When you look at it, take your film to cinema, at that time, it is online now. That’s the major problem we are facing. I won’t blame anybody that goes for home video that is very saturated because that is what makes us sustain our audience.
If you were to proffer solution to the issue of distribution, leveraging on technology, what would you suggest?
The most important thing is to have a good movie. That’s number one. I produced one movie recently, ‘Adaba.’ It was put online and it got almost 600, 000 viewers within four months. That’s why I say your production must be nice. If you don’t put much effort in your production, you may not even have up to 100, 000 viewers. Any platform you want to choose, just produce a good movie. If you want to go online, negotiation like I said the other time, take it there, negotiate. It depends on your power of negotiation.