US-based filmmaker, Olamide Maarore, is set to become one of those changing the face of the indigenous movie industry with his debut film, ‘Aina’, which he wrote, produced and directed.
He describes the soon-to-be-released film as an “intelligent modern-day drama about working professionals, the choices they make and the consequences they suffer. A ‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Jerry Maguire’, set in an urban city.”
In this interview, Maarore talks about his movie and canvasses for sponsorship to get it premiered, among other things.
Tell us about yourself and your training as a filmmaker.
I was born in Lagos. I went to England while I was young and then the US in my late teens. I love the arts and I understand the incredible importance of art in society. I’ve always wanted to be in films since I was a kid. I am also an Africanist. After all these years in Los Angeles, I decided to come here and start making really good quality films which will portray Nigeria as a sophisticated country and also to inspire people; to project Nigeria as not just villages and hungry people but as a sophisticated country.
I started out as an actor in high school. I was the class clown. I attended the University of Southern California. I decided to go into filmmaking in the nineties because I didn’t want to continue to be typecast for the stereotypical roles for black men in Hollywood. I didn’t want to play the prisoner, the gangster, the killer, the rapist; all those stereotyped roles. When I went for auditions, it was the same. I was a criminal, a drug dealer or I was running from the police. Those were the only roles that I got. I started working in productions and doing everything to learn. I have worked as production assistant, light assistant, camera assistant, director, gaffer, anything; any position in the film industry, I’ve basically done it.
In 2008, I decided it’s about time I start. I wanted the films I make to have social relevance, to be shot in Africa and to tell the African story from the African perspective. I didn’t want to leave it up to white people anymore to be telling our stories. Each time they tell our story, it’s always ‘Blood Diamond’ or ‘Hotel Rwanda’. So I thought that, with my expertise, my creativity and my passion, I could come here and do something. So I started writing a script. Came to Nigeria in 2009, took a lot of the Nigerian nuances, influences, went back to LA, rewrote the script very well, came back in late 2009 and started holding auditions.
You used fresh faces in ‘Aina’. How did you pull that off and why?
We did advertisements everywhere in Nigeria. We sent out flyers, even to the North. It was very important not just to do what everybody does: “Let’s put (Genevieve) Nnaji and we’ll have a successful film.” No. You’ll never cultivate new talent. The guy who studies theatre for four, five years has no hope if everybody is using Nnaji. We did auditions in New York, Accra, Calabar and London. Screen acting requires that you are there, not just knowing your lines. I didn’t think choosing famous Nollywood actors would work. And there is also the problem of ego. They wouldn’t want to succumb to training and I am interested in cultivating new faces.
Our cast are average-looking Nigerians because we were looking for authenticity. Mr Nigeria, Kenneth Okolie, is in the film and also Tony Akposheri, who is the only old actor we used. Our lead actress is from Senegal. There are some love scenes in the film and Nigerians don’t do that so we had to cast somebody who wouldn’t mind. You don’t change the story for the actor; you change the actor for the story. If we had gone Nollywood, we would have had to change the story for them. I have tremendous respect for Nollywood and what they’ve done so far. As a matter of fact I came here to work with them. But to the marketers I say: you’ve made your money. Now let’s make greatness. I think they could do [it] with standard films, understanding story structure as well as acting for screen. All these things are vital. We have to move from mediocrity to greatness. We need to get our films into the Oscars, Sundance, Cannes because this is what will put us on the map. I think they’ve gotten hung up on the money. The marketers need to see the vision and invest in great talent.
What makes ‘Aina’ different from the average Nollywood film?
It is a well-written story. After writing, I sent it to a story consultant to go through it. We paid attention to narrative. It’s a very romantic slow drama. The story is about women and we portray them as modern, young, vibrant Nigerians. We used fresh faces and it is 100 percent shot in Nigeria. It has world value, in that it is a human story. This is our way of launching the renaissance of new Nigerian moviemaking. It is nicely shot and the costume is pro-African. We decided to shoot the movie here because Nollywood shoots about 3,500 films a year and people see these films and ask, “What kind of film is this?” It is sad that our films are not respected outside our viewership. Our films are popular outside Nigeria but [they are] not respected anywhere. My friends in America buy Nollywood films because they want to laugh at the shortcomings of the film. I want to prove to the world that we can do what we want right. It was important for me to shoot this film here.
How long did it take?
Two months, everyday, for shooting, but the whole production process has taken about two years. The story took me a year and half to write - six months for pre-production, four months for auditions, and we are on post production at the moment.
What was the experience like?
It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. The logistics of making a film in Nigeria is hard. Accessibility of locations, commitment of crew, availability of equipment and the lack of inspiration from the people you are working with because they do not believe you can do it, were just a few of the challenges. I got scammed at different times. It is doable but very difficult. There were so many times I wanted to give up.
And the picture quality: did you bring in equipment from the States?
We brought in all our equipment. Filmmaking is not all about the camera equipment alone. We achieved the quality we did because we planned it very well. Every person in the production process has their role to play in making the film come out great. In Nigeria, one person does everything. I initially wanted to use Nigerian equipment but we were scammed. We had to ship in cameras and also hire foreign crew. We spent all we had. We used Hollywood standard in this movie, in everything from cinematography to lighting. We didn’t cut corners.
What was the cost of making this movie?
I really do not want to reveal the detailed cost but it was quite expensive to make. And that is why we need sponsors to help us get the movie out. My problem in Nigeria is that I do not really know anybody. I left the country first in 1979 and came back some time ago to bury my mother. We are looking for sponsors, for the premiere of ‘Aina’ and our next project.
Any suggestions towards improving the Nigerian movie industry?
There are many professionals who are capable of doing great work. However, one of the problems is that the creative part of the industry is being run by non-creative people who are only there to make money. We need to switch the pattern and say [to them]: “Hey, you want to make a movie, let me do it. You go and market.”
We can also improve by focusing on doing the right thing. I am inspired by Africa’s greatness and potential and I want to see that day where a Nigerian filmmaker goes out there and wins Best Director or Best Picture.
Are you using indigenous soundtracks for the movie?
Sadly, we are going to use foreign soundtracks. Everybody we talked to here in Nigeria wanted us to pay them heavy money instead of them seeing it as us giving them a platform to be heard. Even for the costumes, I had to go to the market, buy ankara and give tailors to sew. None of the popular fashion designers around we approached gave us the time of day.
Do you have any other upcoming projects?
Our next project is an action thriller, but we need money for it. We’ll be auditioning for that in August/September this year. It will do wonders for Nigeria.