With over 10 movies to her credit, the diva who said she stumbled upon film production has spent about 15 years in the business. This boss of Nollywood Distribution Company is one who has been very productively consistent in the area of her career. One of the movies she produced is Silent Scandals, which got several nominations and awards.
In this encounter with Esther Onyegbula , she talks about her challenges, her ability to fit into a male dominated field, her dreams, Nollywood, and the unending scourge of piracy.
What would you say are the challenges you have faced as a movie producer ?
To be honest with you, at the initial stage, before I was able to find my feet in the industry as a producer, I had normal challenges like: I have produced this movie, how do I distribute them and all that? Not knowing anything about the market terrain and how it works or operates was a challenge.
But I thank God for today, because it is no longer like that. I am a marketer, so I sell my movies, and I have total control of my investment.
How did you get into movie production and how were you able to find your feet in a male dominated field?
I actually stumbled upon movie production. It wasn’t something I set out to do but somebody had lots of money but didn’t know what to invest in. So I suggested that the person made a movie, and because I suggested it, the onus fell on me to make it happen, because the person had no clue.
And I was like ,how am I going to make this happen? I called one or two people I knew in the industry, like Ejike Asiegbu and some other persons, who put me through, and that was how it all started.
We had auditions for the cast and crew, went for rehearsals and that was what gave birth to my first movie production, “Golden Fleece” way back in 1996. That was how I stumbled into movie production.
How were you able to cope in a male-dominated field?
I don’t even feel it. For some reason, I think I am enjoying the attention I am getting because my male colleagues in the industry treat me very nicely; because there are very few female Nollywood producers. With guys, there are no competitions, and I am not the competitive type. I work at my pace. I am one person that if I’m not ready to make a movie in the next four years, I won’t do it. People know me for that because others are producing.
You have done a couple of movies which have done so well, received nominations and awards. Where do you get inspirations to script your movies?
For me, first of all, it is the grace of God. I am not going to take the credit to myself, because if He did not put the idea and make it possible for things to happen, they wouldn’t have happened. Inspirations for my best movies have come when I am either in my shower or when I am driving.
What I do is jot the ideas down as they come and subsequently, I might be driving and ideas might just crop up and I jot it down and before you know what is happening, it has piled up into a full length story. That was how the story line of Silent Scandal came about.
For some reasons, you don’t shoot movies all the time like most Nollywood producers…
I take my time before I do, and I could do a story for months. So I am not in competition with anyone. I don’t go to locations to shoot because people are shooting. I work at my pace, take my time. Silent Scandal took almost three years to come through, but I thank God for its success.
How would you rate the quality of our movies in terms of content?
Things are not going quite well for us now. We are guilty of making substandard movies, and that is partly the reason why we are at the point where we are now. But I don’t blame the audience. If you are giving them substandard products, they want to see something different, something very nice.
They want to be entertained, want to laugh, want to cry, they want suspense-filled movies with so much emotions and all that. There was a time in my life when I used to watch an average of six movies a day, but after a while ,the story line started getting watery and my interest started going down.
I still watch movies but they have to be very interesting ones. I no longer buy movies the way I used to buy before, when I was sure that out of every 10 movies that came out, I would be certain that eight would be nice and fun to watch. And it is really a pathetic situation. I won’t lie to you and it breaks my heart, because movie production is all I think I can do for now.
So what is the way out of this pathetic situation?
I believe all we need is support and rehabilitation, and I believe things will turn around. It is not quite good now, I won’t lie. If it is possible to have a whole year of no movie shooting for everyone in the industry (as long as you are involved in movie production) so that people can take a course and improve their knowledge and skills, we all need that, and by the time we come back, our production and skills would have improved.
Can we reduce piracy to the barest minimum?
To be honest with you, piracy is not something that we cannot fight individually; it is heart breaking that government is leaving us to our fate. The truth is that it is only the government that can fight piracy. Only the government can come in and say we can put a stop to it, they can for instance close down unauthorized sales outlets or distributing firms.
It is only the government that can take battalion of soldiers, or law enforcement officers into the market and arrest the pirates and prosecute them. But individually we can not do that. I have had cases where someone took a truck full of soldiers to the market because of pirated products and they ended up having a shoot out.
Do you want to get involved in something like that? Piracy is not something you can fight in Nigeria, because it is a very strong cabal. They are more organized than the authorized marketers of the products.
If you are in a position to change something in Nigeria, what will that be?
First of all, I think I am going to concentrate on the youth, because the future of every country or every nation is the youth. If they are not empowered, if they are not well placed, all the problems and challenges that we are facing will not go away, but when the youths are empowered, chances are that most of our challenges will gradually fizzle away.
And of course, my industry. I will build a film village for them, make it affordable, providing them adequate locations to shoot at reasonable charges. And that is why people complain. Sometimes, I don’t blame movie makers, because we are not getting the necessary support. The truth is that government has to step in somewhere.
What is the major challenge in movie production generally?
In movie production, shooting is a major problem. You have to meet people who have homes, beg them. Sometimes, they kick you out when they are tired of your stress and all that.
In the next couple of years, where do we see the Vivian Ejike brand?
Five years from now, I hope to be in the OSCAR red carpet. It is a tall dream but that is my dream . I’d say a nomination is good enough for me. A nomination thank you will be fine. But the bottom line is that I hope to be somewhere up there.
I hope to break beyond the boundaries, some where beyond the box where we are operating now. That is what I am working towards and if I have to be the first to take my industry out there, I won’t mind.