Ever since 2005 when he jettisoned his banking career for acting, Kunle Afolayan had never had cause to look back. Even when his first major movie as a producer, Irapada didn’t measure up to his
expectations financial-wise, he remained poised for an headway to success. “ A man is bound to face challenges, and hard times, I believe, don’t last,” he had once told anyone that showed concern. And just as he had predicted, respite finally came his way last week when his newest effort, Figurine, won him about four awards at a time, at the just concluded 2010 African Movie Academy Award (AMAA). An excited Afolayan in this interview with FUNMI ELUGBAJU, reflects on the journey so far, the secret behind the edge Figurine had over films from other African countries and how he intends to remain at the top of his career. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your numerous awards. How do you feel about it?
I feel good and I feel rewarded. I feel like we have worked and we have gotten some sort of compensation, I mean a reward for the hard work so I feel great.
When you compare your new movie, Figurine, with Irapada, what would you say you did differently?
So many things; the story is different, the technical standard of Figurine is different and higher than Irapada and I think that’s about it. It basically has a different story, different approach and different technical quality.
Did you think you were going to win so many awards?
I was sure I was going to win some but I didn’t know I was going to win that much or in which category. But I figured that since we have worked so well and getting that amount of nominations, I expected something but I wasn’t sure how many.
How much did you spend on production?
We spent about fifty million naira and right now we are not regretting. We are recouping the money and the production turned out well.
What do you want to do with the many awards?
Right now, the film is going back to all the major cinemas in Nigeria, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and people are getting more curious. A lot of people have not seen the film and are eager to see it now. That is why we are taking it back to the cinema and we have started work on our next film. It 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.
What actually does Figurine connote?
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.
What exactly is the story line about?
It is a film that deals with human belief and human nature. It is a film that tries to highlight the fact that we are the cause of our own situation and that we need not ascribe too much of our plight to the gods or God like I mentioned before. It is the folk tale story of a goddess (Araromire) that gives seven years of prosperity to anyone who touches it and replaces with seven years of bad luck there after. We have two good friends who stumbled on this goddess, Araromire, during their National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). Their lives, of course, was never the same ever since.
Do you plan to have it in an home video in the future?
Yes. We will definitely release it into home video but the time really is not now. I cannot say precisely but it will definitely come out as a home video, one day. We are just trying to wait for the right time when we can have it released in all the states corners and areas of Nigeria so that we can have enough copies to go round. So, we are basically waiting for that structure, that distribution structure where we will be able to distribute it all the countries and states.
You said recently that you incurred a loss with Irapada, have you been able to recover what you lost?
It wasn’t a loss really; it is just that we didn’t make enough money on the DVD. We commited a lot to the film even before the film was released on VCD, but we didn’t do so much with the sale of the VCD and this was solely because there was no good distribution framework in the country. This, we are trying to work on to see if we can perfect that before we release Figurine.
What have you gained from the Figurine experience?
A lot, now I have realised that the higher you are up in your game, the better it is for you and your career, because now the award does not only represent Nigeria. It represents Africa because we won the best picture which means the best film in Africa so I have also learnt that everything you put your mind to, be optimistic and follow it and the sky will be your limit because it will surely pay off.
What special effect did you develop in making the production of the movie stand out?
There were not too many special effects. We really don’t have a lot of facilities to play with unlike countries abroad, where they have a lot of access to equipments. They do a lot of comak shoots in the studio but, we don’t have that here, instead, we normally shoot raw. We use real locations and still achieve something good with it. At least, ninety percent of what we did with Figurine is real and they were done on real locations.
What are your criteria for your choice of artistes?
First, he or she must be good. Good in terms of delivery, I’m not really a fan of known faces but more of a professional. If the actor is fantastic or outstanding and being a known face is an added advantage though as that will help in promoting the film. I don’t mind an upcoming artiste, I am simply okay with anybody who fits into the character we are trying to get.
What challenges did you face making your movies?
Raising funds was the major challenge, and then there are so many other factors like getting the right location,battling with electricity problem and the like. We are stuck with getting a generator by all means, which usually affect our sound, so we have to do a lot of work on the sound.
Knowing that there wasn’t so much gain in the production of Irapada, what motivated you to push on?
Like I said I recouped my investment but I didn’t make as much as we should. We made a lot of investments and some profit but we should have done better, that was it . We didn’t do better because there was no distribution frame work and on figuring, on investing such huge money N50 million on a movie you must be up to something. You must have a plan for distribution so that’s why when am doing my next film, I don’t mind how much is going to cost me as long as I achieve what I want to achieve.
Which of these awards excites you most?
Well I feel good about all of them, but am more excited at the first category which was Heart of Africa Film which translates to the best film in Nigeria.
Can you compare the returns you made in Irapada to the one you’ve made so far in Figurine?
Well, for Figurine, we are still on , we have not madeany money and that is why we are still looking at every avenue to have the film out there at the cinemas , in corners where people can see it but, really, so far, I have no regrets so far , we are just gathering it bit by bit and its going fine.
Is the movie a real life story or a fiction?
It is a fiction.
Your movies are usually mystic. Why is this so?
Well, because we believe so much in such in this part of the world and I just try to play on people’s thought and beliefs and how they relate to some of these gods.
Talking about this movie, how fulfilled are you?
With this movie, I have this strong feeling that I have crossed one bridge and now the game needs to be raised.
What was your feeling at the turnout in the cinema?
Although I believe we need more cinemas, the turn out in cinemas was better than most of what obtains at Hollywood films. Of course, they will always declare more profit because they have more cinemas to show the film than us.We can only desire such platforms to show then we would have made a lot of millions from this film but because we don’t have their kind of wide distribution network. We are just constrained at releasing it in Nigeria and few African countries but we are working towards releasing the movie in other part of the world.
Which was more challenging, the Figurine or Irapada production?
Of course, the Figurine because it is a bigger film and we spent about three monthsproducing it. It also attracted a larger crowd in terms of the crew and cast. It also has a higher technology compared to Irapada.
What inspires your movies?
The things that I see around, the environment and our day to day activities.
Would you attribute your acting inclination to your late father’s trait?
In a way yes, because the man left a legacy and I was part of the running of the business when he was alive. This was what really helped me in developing a model for distribution for the business aspect of film making, but I never learnt anything in terms of shooting or the technical aspect. I was only part of the distribution, which is about taking the movies to the cinema. But then, I never knew I was going to be a film maker, I was just doing my own. thing.
What is the way forward for aspiring filmmakers and Africa as a continent?
An aspiring filmmaker from Africa should be well trained through film school, workshops, conferences and other formal and informal training channels. Every opportunity to get exposure is key and that way, ideas flow through your mind and brain.
How long did it take you to shoot the movie?
It took us three months to shoot.
What have you put in place to make sure piracy does not eat deep into your movies?
Well the only way they won’t eat too much into it is if I get to distribute enough quantity at the first release because sometimes people get forced when they want this films and they don’t have access to them, they will have to collect from somebody who has bought one and maybe replicate but if you have it out there at reasonable price then you will curb piracy to an extent or at least you would have been able to recoup your investment before they start messing with the film.
Does turning to film-making signal the end of your acting career?
I am still an actor but have not been doing much in that regard due to my very busy schedule; how I wish I don’t have to bother my head about distribution. Though I am still very relevant in the acting circle, a lot of people now see me more as a filmmaker.
Do you prefer movie producing to acting?
I direct as well. I directed Figurine. I think I still want to try and maintain both, but in this part of the world, I don’t get invited for roles like before. Maybe because they think I charge a lot, but they don’t know that I can even work for free if I the script is good and I’m sure of getting a good mileage from the production. Right now, film making is what I really have in my head and if the script comes as an actor why won’t I do it?
Before you made your debut film, Irapada, had you worked on any other film project?
I only did a short film titled Life is short which was a school project and then Irapada (Redemption).
Are you trained in film-making? How did you get into the field?
Well…I started as an actor before I decided to turn a film-maker which was what drove me to NYFA to study Digital Film-making in 2005.
It is said that you personally handled your film from scripting to distribution. How were you able to handle all these without compromising any aspect of creativity and marketing?
An average Nigerian is born versatile. You have to always work out a way, especially in an environment where there seems to be few structures. I don’t write scripts but I create ideas and contribute to bringing it alive. A good filmmaker must learn the creativity and the trade and that’s why I am involved in all these.
What are you working on at present?
I still want to make my money but I am already working on another film.
What message do you have for your fans?
They should go out there and see Figurine in the cinemas. It is back in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Silverbird, Genesis and also they should keep away from pirates and pirated films. They should try and but the original movie and we will also be willing and ready to always do good films that will be worth their money when they go to the cinemas.