Vivian Ejike is one the few diligent movie producers in the country. Since she started her career, Vivian has never shot two movies in a year. She is well respected in the industry, given the amount of resources she pours into each production. What will, however, dazzle the uninitiate is that this face behind the scene is actually fit to be on the set herself. A close encounter with her will show that she is a star. in embryo. Hazeez Balogun met her.
How come you give your movies so much space before shooting another one?
This particular break was deliberate. It was because; the movie industry was in a big mess. I shot a movie and had the mindset of releasing it into the market but on the other side; I discovered that the industry was still suffering from a lot of problems. I shot the movie in January2007 and it was ready before December 2007. After spending N8 million , I would not have made my capital not to talk of my profit. I would have ended up wasting my time, money and resources. All these cases made me relax my nerves about releasing the movie.
Has the industry fully recovered?
Yes, the industry has adjusted a bit but we are not back to where we were before. It is better now, if not there would be nothing like this company we are running: A new Nollywood distribution and marketing firm. The two-year break gave me more time to sit down, think well and re-strategise. Now, I am back and by the grace of God, there is no going back for me.
Is it only your movies you produce?
The fact is that, I am not a commercial producer. It would be difficult for somebody to satisfy me financially for my job. To avert issues like this, I decided to channel my energies towards my own personal production and to get a good job; it takes time and extra ordinary creativity. That’s why I take my time when shooting movies because; my primary aim is to produce a quality perfect film that would be accepted by the audience whole heartedly.
What exactly does Nollywood Distribution do?
It’s a marketing and distribution company. All we do is market movies and music.We are licensed by the Federal Government and the Music and Video Censors Board under the new distribution framework. We market and distribute movies and music and we make sure they get to the target audience. This new distribution idea was created to stop piracy and make sure our consumers get the best of movies and music.
Have you distributed any movie since your inception?
Yes, we have distributed movies like Reloaded and the rest of them. A lot of people have walked up to us asking us to distribute their movies for them but I decided to start with one of our own movies to see how far we can go before I venture into the marketing and distribution of other people’s jobs.
How do you hope to survive with the presence of pirates?
The pirates have succeeded in destroying the quality and pricing system of our productions, especially movies. We cannot fight the pirates alone; the government must join hands with us to attend to this problem. Recently, we had a meeting with the current Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili, who promised us that the government would support the fight to kick out pirates. All we do now is pray and wait for the response and attempt of the government.
Lead us into the story of your new movie.
Silent Scandal is a true life family story. It reveals the struggle of a single mother who encounters a lot challenges in life. Faith plays a good one with her. It’s really a good one, I must say, it’s the first of its kind and has a lot to learn from. We encountered a lot of challenges in the making and the end of it all; my 13 years in this industry came to play. It was worthwhile in the end.
We heard that you brought in a foreign expert to direct the movie for you. How is that true?
He is not foreign at all. He is a proper Nigerian. I was supposed to shoot the movie with a foreign director but she changed her plans due to some personal problems. She decided to recommend another person for me to fill the vacuum. He was not an expert in anyway. Technically, the young man was not the right person for the job because, he ended up compounding problems for the production. But, as I said, my 13 years in the industry actually helped out. I lost a lot of weight after I saw the outcome of the movie, it was below standard. I had to start editing the movie from the scratch and also revoiced some of the audio parts. The software I acquired assisted me a lot in editing the production, but in the end I give glory to God.
You have been producing movies and have not been featuring them in the film festivals, any reason for that?
Initially, yes. When I started making movies, most of us didn’t want to get involved with the marketers. What we did was, any time we produced movies like that, we sold off the rights and collected any amount the marketers’ gave us and disregarded any amount they might make afterwards. Along the line, I got wiser and started marketing the movies myself.
What are the challenges you have faced in this industry?
I don’t see any challenges in this industry. For me, it’s fun because I enjoy what I do. But, for the most challenging movie I ever produced, I would say it’s the just-concluded Silent Scandal. The movie was excessively time-consuming.We continuously shot all-night for nine days. It was very stressful but I enjoyed the final upshot.
Which is your best movie so far?
I don’t have any favourite movie because I like the entire movies I have shot. They all have this individual thing which I like about them. My best is yet to come.
What else do you do apart from movie making?
The only thing I do is movie making. Nothing else for now.
You are very beautiful and outspoken. Why don’t you try acting?
I have this funny feeling that, when they call action, I will simply take to my heels. Everybody has been saying it but I prefer writing a good story, casting and behind the scenes job. Maybe by the year 2011, I will commence acting but for now, it’s not on my list.
How did you get into the film industry?
I started as a producer and produced my first film in 1996 and as at then, I was the youngest producer in Nigeria.
Did you learn film making?
No. I had no business with theatre arts in school. All I can say is that, passion has been the driver. I have been arts-inclined right from my roots. During my secondary school days, I was a Pure Science student but there was a part in me that loved the Arts. When I got into the university, I changed from a Science to an Arts student, which extremely favoured me in the end.
Lead us into your background.
Well, I am Vivian Ejike from Anambra State. I was born in Onitsha. I went to the Federal Government College, Enugu and later proceeded to the University of Port Harcourt. I went into banking after my service and after some years I quit. My whole gusto was just for the arts business.
When did you develop this passion?
It all started when I was very tender. I remember then that what I always did was paint up my whole face, put on my mum’s shoes and act like somebody I was not. I had the whole picture in my brain. Nobody in my family came this way.
What was your family’s reaction to this arts decision?
My mum was not a problem at all but my dad was like, “are you crazy? Why would you leave a good job for movie making?” I explained things to him and he decided to keep his fingers crossed and watch me as I moved.
Did you make enough money from your first film?
It was part of the reason my father retreated against the idea. I did not make a dime from my first two movies. A t the end of everything, I went back to my parents to fund me and ever since then, I have been doing very fine.
Is movie making cost-effective?
Yes, if you know what you want and you go for it without hesitation. When I started this marketing and distribution, it was a different ball game entirely. There was no proof that I would make back my money. I just had the belief that if I fell, I would stand up and re strategise. You have to be financially creative. It’s a big step to start marketing movies because, there is no proof that you will be making back profit. There is money in this business if you are willing to take the risk.
Any Regrets so far?
The problem of power tussle going on in the AGN. What’s your take?
It’s really not good for Nollywood. For me, I have no interest in politics because it would totally distract me. It’s really not good for the movie business. We all need each other’s services in one way or the other.
If you are in the position to talk to the government about rescuing Nollywood, what would point to?
There are so many ways the government can help Nollywood. One bank has called for a parley and we hope it comes out good. The Nigerian Exports Promotion Council is putting something beneficial together to make exports easy and also to reduce the export duties and the rest of them. Exporting of films will be made easy and profitable. If the government can provide a film village, soft loans, finance group projects and the rest of them, it would indeed be worthwhile.
Can Nollywood rebrand Nigeria?
Nollywood is the right key to give this country a new image. It is close to the masses. It’s is in your face every day. It’s the most effective way to rebrand Nigeria. If we get the right resources at the right time, the content on Nigeria’s home video will change for the best.
Where do you see the future of Nollywood?
The sky is the beginning for Nollywood. I travelled a time and met this guy who was surprised at what I was holding. It was a colourful product that was made in Nigeria. He was asking me if it was really made in Nigeria. It’s really funny I must confess. They don’t expect anything good from Nigeria. Nollywood has changed the face of things in this country for good. It has changed the face of black entertainment. Hollywood knows we are existing and that’s a good one for this country.
Advice for the young ones?
It’s simply focus and hard work. Believe everything is possible with God and the sky will just be the starting point.
The issue of sleeping with a director to get a role, what is your take on that?
I hear the stories around .I don’t want to talk about it because I am a woman too. It’s very possible. You can’t come to seduce me, except you are going nuts. I thank God for my kind of person. I don’t compromise professionalism or standards. If you want to work with me, you have to go through the normal process which is getting auditioned. I do business when the time comes.
How do you balance up business with family?
I thank God for the strength and grace. I try my best to leave work early enough. It’s actually about time management.