Kunle Afolayan is one of the artistes that make Nollyhood tick. He is star actor, a film maker and song writer. In this encounter with… FUNMI ELUGBAJU, he speaks on his vision for movie industry as well as his latest film, ‘Figurine’

Lets talk about your new project

It has not finished yet, we are still shooting. We have shot the bulk part of it, but we still have a few scenes to shoot. We have started editing but we need to round up on time because of the offer to be part of the Toronto Film Festival in September. That is what we are working on presently so that we will be able to meet up with that. The film is entitled: The Figurine, Araromire. Its about a goddess named after a village in the ancient time and the belief in that village is that anybody who touches the goddess gets seven years of prosperity. In the present day, some youth corps members happen to be posted to that area and they stumbled on the shrine where the goddess exists and picked the goddess and so many other things happened thereafter.

What brought about the concept of the movie?

For me its about belief and deity because most of the time we human beings always do some negative things and put the blame on the gods. So I tried to play around some things that can actually happen due to lapses on the part of human beings or due to coincidence while some things do happen through influences from the gods. So, I just tried to separate the different beliefs and the different circumstances and all that. That was what really brought about the concept.

Talking about the production cost, how were you able to put it together?

I took a loan from the bank which I am trying to repay. I also got a few sponsorship. My major lead sponsorship is Miccom Hotel Golf and Resort in Ada, Osun State. We shot part of the film in Osun State for about a month and they gave us hotel to stay which amounted to about N1 million, we had Unilver doing product placement, we have GSK doing product placement and we also have Omatech doing product placement in the film. But apart from the money from the bank, I also put together my life savings which I invested in this project and hopefully it will come out well so that we can recoup our investment.

How many movies have you produced so far?

I have produced three, two feature films and one short film. My first short film is entitled: Life is Short which I did in the film school and my first feature film is Irapada and Figurine is the third one.

What is unique about your movies that makes them different from the others?

Well, what is unique is that I don’t produce everyday or every month. I produce once in two years or three years. The last time I shot a movie was in 2006 and that was when I shot Irapada and this is 2009. Apart from concept and technicality, I think we are different because we are more into details and we always want to be close to perfection and that stands our works out of thousands. The ones we have done in the past are just experimental so we are working towards improving on every work we do. For instance, Figurine is of world standard in terms of technicality, in terms of picture quality and in terms of storyline. I just hope and pray I have money to add all the little details we intend to add in terms of post production. That is the only thing that can help it get to that world cinema that we are aiming. At sometimes budget constraint affects the level you can get to but hopefully, with God on our side, we will get there.

How old were you when your dad died and how has life been after that?

I cant remember but I know he died in 1996 and I was in school somewhere. I was quite young but I was matured.

Why did you leave the banking profession for the movie industry?

I just got tired of the job and I have always been an entertaining person. I would rather be where they do entertainment not necessarily film, sometimes music, events, etc. I do sing in my bathroom. I did the sound track of Irapada. I think I am just a creative person and that creativity will just die if I remained in bank so I decided to opt out and face the reality.

Are you planning to go into music professionally?

I am not sure but never say never. I don’t know where I will find myself tomorrow but for now I just want to concentrate on film making.

Your wife is based abroad, how do you cope with the distance?

I travel a lot. We see almost every month. Two weeks ago I was in France and she came there. We always find a way around it. We have always been family friends and we just met again and the thing just ‘jelled’.

How would you describe the movie industry in Nigeria?

It is turning big. It is a big market and a big platform for anybody who is creative to tap into. We have been able to create content for TV consecutively for years and that is a good omen, but I think there is a bit of improvement needed in the standard of most of the films we do technically and otherwise; we need to improve. The market is deteriorating, the films are not selling like they used to because people want to see something different and new. So, I think people should be more detailed in what they do instead of doing all the ‘rush rush’ work.

What have you been doing to ensure that the industry grows?

Who am I? I would do my own and every other person will do his own. We all can’t be in the same shoes, we don’t wear the same size. We are all aspiring to be great. Some people have reached the level they want to get to. I think its just left for everybody to decide where they want to fit. If you want to be doing home video; why not. If you want to take it to the next level, it is all good.

How big are you financially?

Not big at all. Zero level. Film makers don’t make money except they are doing something on the side. If you are a real film maker and all you are concerned about is your creativity, it will be very hard for you to make money. But I am going to make money. However, for now, I am building a platform. So once that thing is built you won’t have to look for money, it will just come.

Do you do anything aside production?

No I don’t. All I do is film making. I run this small outfit, we have equipment that we rent out to film makers. We act as casting agency for foreign and local film makers. We shoot films, documentaries, TV programmes and stuffs like that. So I think that is what I know how to do and that is what I am doing.

Who are your favourite Nigerian artistes?

All of them because you can’t really quantify talents. They are good in their various ways. So I will say everybody. No work of art can really be put down. Everybody is good in their own way.

What level do you think the movie industry in Nigeria will be in the future?

It is going to be high up there in the world cinema like every other Slump Dog, James Bond film. Fugirine will take us there; that I believe strongly. It is a revelation, it is going to create new direction for film makers. People will start thinking “oh this can be done in this country”. That is what they will be saying. It is just totally different.

What is your relationship like with other artistes?

We are colleagues. We are not cordial but cool.

Why do you feature only in the Yoruba movies?

Well I did not choose that. That is where I found myself. Don’t forget that my father was one of the Yoruba theatre practitioners. The industry is segregated. We have the Igbo and the Yoruba. The Igbo will not want to use a Yoruba actor, I think they have their own reasons. I really don’t get invited to feature in English speaking films and I don’t lobby for roles. I go to people who call me, that is why I feature in Yoruba films.

How do you cope with female admirers?

When we are privileged to meet any of them we show appreciation. We say thank you.

How do you handle fame that comes with being a star?

Fame without money is nothing. I am used to it because I started way back and I have been enjoying the so-called fame even during the life of my father. When you go to the National Theatre, you have people saying “oh that is Ade Love’s child”. But sometimes you get embarrassed and tired of it. For me, it is all about improving on what you do so that people will keep appreciating you and your work and you don’t allow it to get into your head.

What is your first experience like in the industry?

My first experience was with Tunde Kelani and that is what has taken me to this level. When we did Saworoide I was new in the industry and I started well because Tunde Kelani is one of the best professionals in film making in Nigeria. So, it was just like you walking with a professional, the normal stages, the right stages. It was quite an experience and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.

How do you relax?

I browse the Internet. I hangout with friends on a bottle and pepper soup. But I am very dedicated to my work and I hardly have spare time. Like now, I am so stressed that I just came back from the hospital. I realised that one of my eyes was not functioning well so I had to go to the hospital. But I was told nothing is wrong with my eye. For the past four months I have been going crazy. This film has been running me mad but its all good.

Tell us about your family?

I have three children and a wife. I have a brother from my mum and several others from my father so I have many brothers and sisters.

You are a very stylish person. What informs your style?

I think its my mood. It depends on what I have going on in my head at a particular time. As an actor you need to try and maintain good looks but at the same time you should be able to wear different looks. If you had seen me five days ago I am sure you would have advised me to do something about myself and it is because I was just tired and could not be bothered about my looks.

What do you have to say to your fans out there?

All I can say right now is that they should watch out for Figurine. The website is www.figurinemovie.com. The home page is the only page working right now. They should keep keep supporting art and they should keep supporting Nigeria. And once Figurine is out in the cinema, because it is going to be in the cinema for a while, everybody should rush and see it because its going to be a value for money film.