If the emergence of Kunle Afolayan as an actor was considered a remarkable occurrence, then most people were caught unawares when he made his debut as a producer/director with Irapada. Since getting onto the top of the stage in the movie world, he has refused to look back. Reporter, Adedayo Odulaja had an encounter with him at his Ikeja office on his new project, The Figurine.

On getting to the building that houses the kitchen where the movie meals of Afolayan are usually prepared, one is confronted with the aroma of activities going on and in a short time, without any extravagance, one is introduced to the chief chef himself.

When asked what he is cooking for the delight of the viewing public, the man, focused and passionate about his craft declares in his subtle voice that “The Figurine (Araromire) is the latest project we are working on now. It is a story I have been working on for over four years now; even before we shot Irapada and I think it’s high time we started showing better movies.

For me, Irapada was an experiment and we thank God it was well received at home and abroad but now The Figurine is a better story and it’s a much bigger, better project in terms of picture, budget, storyline, and everything.

“We have been on location for over five weeks (around the countryside), now we are back in Lagos to shoot some more, having shot about 70 per cent. We will be travelling to Germany to shoot the rest of the movie soon.”

Indeed, the actor cum producer who became a known face in moviedom for his role in Saworo Ide, a hugely popular Yoruba film from the stable of Tunde Kelani’s Mainframe some years ago, has come a long way. In Saworo Ide, a satirical play about the social, political and economic situation of Nigeria, he was among the most important of the entire cast. He played the role of Aresejabata, along with Kabirat Kafidipe, who played the role of Araparegangan.

It is common knowledge that it is difficult and sometimes, agonising to get financial assistance for the kind of project he has embarked on, Afolayan has however, brought commendable dynamism into it by collaborating with corporate organisations and individuals to realise his goals.

Asked how he has been able to weather the storm of financial impediments in his projects, particularly the current one, which is expected to cost so much, he said:

“Thank God for the collaboration with the German Embassy, they are ready to support by providing visas to the cast and crew going to Germany. Also, we are collaborating with Lufthansa because we are going to shoot some scenes on their aircraft. There is something we are going to do for them and shooting on their aircraft is a part of it. There is a way you work around such collaborations. This is because one of the characters actually lives and works in Germany for sometime before he returns to Nigeria. So, those scenes will be shot in Germany.”

Budget indeed is a big challenge. With the way he talks about The Figurine, the fact that he sees and takes the film like a baby becomes evident. Coupled with that is the urgency, which underlies his entire concentration on the film.

“We have spent millions of naira on the film. We are hoping to round off shooting in Nigeria, so we can go to Germany and shoot for one week. This is because we are targeting about three major film festivals and for us to be part of the festivals, the film must be ready latest by the end of May.”

Not surprising when we consider the rave reviews and commendations Irapada got. It was taken to many festivals around the African continent and even outside and it was adjudged as a wonderful effort from a debuting producer.

When he was asked how good his equipments are, although it is an open secret in the media and movie circles that he owns the best shooting/movie device in town, he said:

“We are shooting 35mm not celluloid but digital, HD using 35mm adaptors and film prime lenses. All these together gives you the same feel, same look of celluloid. It’s cheaper to shoot than celluloid. It is easier and faster when you shoot, using that format because you see what you are doing immediately and if you think what you are shooting is not good enough, you stop and make it better. That is why I am so proud of the pictures.

Another thing is that we have been able to subsidise the cost with support from organisations like Unilever, GSK, Omatek, Lufthansa, and the German Embassy. We are also talking to Skye Bank and they seem very, very interested as well as some other people and organisations. Hopefully, when they come on board, it will put a lot of smiles on our faces because right now, we have injected so much in the project and I did say it is a project in production and we still need to do a lot of work.”

A lot of critics, moviemakers and members of the general public would be wondering why he gets so much support from the corporate world. As far as he is concerned, you will become a beautiful bride, the attraction if you pursue excellence in your works and since that is what he has always done, there are no other reasons to be pointed at for the attendant successes that have trailed his enchanting works.

The discussion about how well his first film, Irapada did, considering his investments and the quality of the film, was fascinating.

“There is no market structure in Nigeria but Irapada got so much hype and support than a lot of films and it was not released for about two to three years! So, to have got such support from brands means you have a product that is up to (global) standard. It did well but I’d say it didn’t do too well because I had expectations that were not met but it was just my first film.” That is his answer and even though the movie is reputed to have sold over 50,000 copies in three weeks, which, by industry standards, is a monumental achievement, he doesn’t talk about it.

The Figurine has cost a fortune; millions but it will definitely pay because it is not going to be released on DVD/VCD until it has gone to the cinemas all around the world.”

Just as he harbours no doubt in his mind about the fact that the current film he is working on will definitely sell out, primarily because it is a better story with better input, so does he believe that what the film is all about and its thematic preoccupation represents a deviation from the norm. For this, he has no apologies to offer anybody.

According to him, it’s a breakaway. We are always so concerned with morals in our part of the world but for him, entertainment is the most essential thing. He thinks about entertainment solely when writing or working as a producer, director and actor. As there are so many things around us to show and teach us concerning the moral aspects of life, so he feels there must be certain elements that would want to make you sit down and watch. He also points to many foreign movies you would watch without any moral lessons and they are great, interesting films.

“How many of their films do you watch and learn from?” he asked.

What is the main direction of the film? Afolayan toes the path of many philosophers and motivational speakers: “The

Figurine is a film that tries to highlight the fact that we are the cause of our own situation without ascribing too much to the gods or God like we always do. It is a film that deals with the human belief, the human nature and it is going to generate a lot of debate. At the end, it is either you are on one side of the divide or the other.”

On whether the free thinking theory espoused in the film is what he believes in, he replied that films, most times are products of a producer or director’s beliefs but added, “I really believe in God but also believe so much in free thinking. I do not ascribe much to God or forces. It is like you, if you are just praying to God to give you your daily bread and you sleep at home without working and expect God to do a miracle. No, it doesn’t work like that.”

The Figurine is the name of statue-like object that he uses to represent the goddess he portrays in the new film and he seems to take after Tunde Kelani that a film does not have a language of its own. He believes it is a universal phenomenon that can be understood at the level of worldview.

Concluding, he said, “The Figurine is the English name that has been given to Araromire, which is the name of a goddess although the film is a fictional story and as such, nobody can say we are telling a wrong story.”

An outstanding believer in young and fresh talent, the same route through which he first burst onto the movie stage, he has kept faith with the young ones and informed that he always announces the auditioning sessions particularly for Irapada, for which auditions were held in Kaduna, Lagos and other places.

Among the many notable actors and actresses that feature in The Figurine include Ramsey Nouah, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Omoni Oboli, Muraino Oyelami, Kate Adepegba, several up and coming acts and Kunle Afolayan himself. But he informed that it was the inability of getting enough fresh talents, despite announcing it on facebook and other media with subsequent auditions as is the practice with him, which brought about the use of some notable faces in the movie world.

He acknowledged that it is the passion to make better movies available for the people who for, so long, have been shortchanged and taken advantage of by many people who call themselves movie producers that drives him.

He said Irapada was an experiment and The Figurine is a better film although it would also teach him and his crew some lessons and after that, there will be another film that will also be better because learning is a continuous process, not only in the world of movies but in all other areas of life.

Since coming to limelight through Saworo Ide in 1998 and eventually quitting his banking job in 2005 to concentrate on where his heart lies, the handsome young man has broken records in Nollywood, even going as far as directing an all-white cast in a Hollywood flick.

He is the son of the late Ade Love, one of the pioneers of movie production in Nigeria but understands the fact that being the son of anybody does not take you anywhere if you are not worth your salt. This is the reason he underwent training in America in the dynamics of movie production and studied the style of Kelani, an expert in cinematography. His stock in the African movie arena has continued to rise. He tells whoever cares to listen that people like Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan and a few others are his mentors but also adds that he even learns from their mistakes.

The website of the film, thefigurine.com provides details on what the film represents, from the plot to style and even the pictorial representation, is ready and should be running any time from now. And while we all take advantage of the young ones who are ready to cause a dramatic, positive change in the movie industry, urging Afolayan and the others in the Nollywod arena on by buying original films, we hope that several other movie producers and practitioners can also be caught by this fever of excellence.