When in 2005, Chineze Anyaene travelled to Los Angeles,California to begin a year film making program at the New York Film Academy, she was very optimistic she’d excel.
A few months later, she was recognized for creating an outstanding epic folktale, which stood out as the best foreign film of her graduating class.
Immediately she enrolled for the Masters Degree program to master the art of film making. Anyaene is the first student in the history of the New York Film Academy to shoot a feature film while in school. She’s today the youngest female film maker in Nigeria, and she is also the first student in the history of Kodak to shoot a feature film on 35MM raising the bar for the Nollywood film industry.
Founder of Xandria Productions, Anyaene is a first time feature director, her credits include 12 short films, two commercials, and one music video.
Ambitious and talented, she believes in the power of her ideas and her ability to bring them to fruition on the big screen. She’s currently breaking new grounds with IJE: The Journey which tells the story of two sisters with unbreakable bonds of loyalty and the power of the human spirit. Through this production, Anyaene brings the improvement in quality that is essential in order for Nollywood to make its mark in the global film industry.
This is her story.
Outside Theatre Arts, were you ever an actress?
No, I was never into acting but I just played around with camcorders.
So, where did you get this whole idea from? Why did you opt for film making?
When one is studying Theatre Arts, people naturally have this impression that he/she will act when they graduate.
But I knew I didn’t know how to act. I didn’t like acting. I just preferred to set the lights, designs and other things. So, one day, I was playing around the cam corder with my cousins and my uncle just said, “I think you’re more of a director than an actress.”
After that, I went to research on who a director really is and found out that was me. I love to create things. I love to watch the making of movies. I enjoy the creativity of how things are done. My mum is also into Arts. She does paintings and poetry.
Was it just because your uncle said you’re more of a director that pushed you into this business of film making?
No, remember I studied Theatre Arts, though the lecturers concentrate more on acting. But as a person, I knew my strength and weaknesses. So, I knew acting wasn’t for me but I loved the arts.
While in school, sometimes, I just preferred to organise shows. I love being behind the scene and write the scripts, do the designs and lightings, though, I never directed while studying Theatre Arts because sometimes, you don’t get the chance to do so.
After my research into film making, I decided to give it a shot. Even when I got to America, I wasn’t really sure if I could handle it, which was my reason for doing a diploma first and then masters later.
I had to do all these because I wanted to be the best in what I do. I wanted to contribute to the growth of our movie industry. I think film making is my calling and want to enhance it.
I want to also contribute to the world movie industry, if not, I would have just stayed here and produced a complete Nigerian movie. I want to make my mark in this industry so that people can go watch my movie in America and all over the world.
While in school, I did a lot of short films. So, I got tired at a point and decided to do a movie that could compete for the Oscars. So, this is my first feature film which I know can compete anywhere in the world.
So how long did it take you to produce this movie?
It took 18 months.
Did you also write the script?
Yes, it was my story but I had a script writer to do the script.
What informed your choice of cast/characters, especially Omotola, Genevieve Nnaji and Clem Ohameze?
When I was doing the story, I wanted to do something that we all could relate to. So, I decided to choose the best from home. I mean those who are marketable.
Then, from the creative point of view, I also saw that these ladies really know what they do. They’re experienced. As a director, I should be able to bring out the best.
What was your experience like leaving theatre arts for film making and then studying in the midst of whites?
My experience is one the thing that influenced this film. In my one year diploma, we were just two blacks- myself and a South African. Sometimes, I felt the racism thing because every other person was white, including the cleaners. But I had to fight my way as a Nigerian because we no dey carry last.
Sometimes, it’s really good for people to be thrown out of their comfort zone for them to develop tough skin. It was a good and bad experience because I had to learn the hard way. The whites think that we Africans do not know anything. They keep seeing us in the light of the world phenomenon. Some of them will come and ask me if I know how to use a blender and things like that. So, I just laugh at them. They’re shocked when I try to educate them on certain things they think we don’t know about.
I remember telling them about Ghandi and they were like, so I know Gandi?
The experience was generally good because I worked with people from different parts of the world like Australia, London, Americans. So, it gave me an opportunity to learn their culture and gather something from all of them. It was hard but school is always school and this film is actually my Thesis in school and it’s the first feature film coming out of my school.
People don’t like to go into it because they say it’s expensive, and shooting in Hollywood is difficult because you can’t cut corners. You just have to play by the rules and all the process this film had to go through also influenced the title Ije (The journey).
How much did it cost you to produce this film?
I can’t talk about cost now because I’m still spending, even my journey here is part of the cost.
What about the initial cost?
I still can’t talk about that because my producers may not welcome that.
Was it a low budget film? (Producer).
If you look at it from the Nigerian context, you can say it’s a huge budget Nollywood film.
Where do you intend to sell this film?
This film is more of an international film because we have Latin American, African American and others. We’re currently on sales around the world. We have sales agents in America trying to sell it into foreign markets. We intend to go worldwide.
The finance, producer and even content are Nigerian. So, it’s Nollywood, though it’s international. It’s international because the cast came from different parts of the world, which makes it easy for us to sell out different rights to different markets. Yes, we have the lead characters from Nigeria but it’s international.
We’re currently doing eight festivals in the world. We have the African territory marked out, Europe, Africa, America, Latin America. This is done through the marketers depending on your movie and the festivals. In Nigeria, we’re doing cinema rounds before we go to DVDs.The marketers can decide what they want to do later.
Omotola and Genevieve may not really be out A-list actors. We still have people like Chinwetel and others….
These people have their agents and also as a film maker, I’m paying my dues. People do not want to be seen in any bad movie because it’s their career and I’m happy that this film came out well.
Do you think this film will boost their career?
A lot. It’s going through eight festivals, show casing them all over the world.
Omotola got an agent at the screening in Los Angeles because of the film. So, you never can tell where the bigger cheques will come from. I’m also happy that Hollywood is coming back to Africa. They’ve started featuring South Africans in their movies and who says they can’t feature Nigerians.
Apart from this film that is based on your thesis, what else have you done?
I spent four years in film school and have over 20 short films to my credit. I’m just a student straight from school with this film.
You spent 18 months doing this movie. Can you tell us what you were doing all those while that it took so long?
The first part was the pre-production, which we shot for like two months in Jos. Back to Los Angeles, we produced for like six weeks with Omotola and Genevieve. Then, the post-production took us nine months, which I think is one of the things we lack in Nollywood. Film making is not all about cutting and pasting. There’s a lot in post-production and that’s where the film comes out. That is if you want to maintain the Hollywood standard.
This is the first Nigerian film to pass the Hollywood standard and that is why it took us 18 months.
Was there any correlation between what you were taught here in school and what you met in film school abroad?
Theatre is totally different from film making. They’re like two opposite directions. It was like starting all over again.
What about your accent? Did you consciously decide to keep it intact all those four years?
I’m very much Nigerian, born, bred and buttered here. I did my nursery, primary, secondary and first degree education here in Nigeria. So, why would I begin to tilt my accent?
Some people spend just six months abroad and throw away the Nigerian accent.
We were just two Africans in my diploma days. So, we were proud to speak in our own accent. In fact, we would have used our languages if we understood each other.
My accent got me meetings in Hollywood. It got me noticed. It opened doors for me. I don’t want anybody to see me as African American. No! I proudly introduce myself as Chineze Anyaene, and they’re like, where are you from? My accent worked a lot for me in America and I’m proud to be a Nigerian.
They key to success is accepting who you are and where you’re coming from and where you are going. You’ll always have problems whenever you start changing your identity.
How did you get your producer in Nigeria?
We studied Theatre Arts together in school.
So, what’s the relationship between you two?
I’m a film maker and he’s a producer.
Did you just come back to start scouting for him or you’ve always kept tabs on him? Does he have a film background?
While I was in school, I kept thinking about who’ll be my producer back home, so I called him up. After talking, he accepted the offer and I came into the country and we started shooting.
So, who brought the money (finance)?
Executive producers bring the money for production while the job of the producer is to use that money and work within your budget.
Ekoja is my producer here in Nigeria, while myself and Paula (Our US promoter) were producing in America.
Just as I’m talking about this film here in Nigeria, Paula is also moving to several festival abroad, talking about the same film.
My finance for this film actually came from Stella Maris Private school. They financed the film completely and it’s owned by Mrs Uche Anyaene.
What’s relationship with her?
She’s my mum.
How would you rate Omotola and Genevieve professionally?
I would say that they’re Hollywood, very professional. They did their job very well and I was amazed. As a director, you have to set the pace for respect to flow and every other person will follow suit. They came on my set very prepared.
They did their pre-production rehearsals, came on set and performed and even gave me more than I expected. Uptil this moment, they’re still trying to promote the film in their own little way.
I think the pay must have been very fat, considering the time and period of production.
But that is what you do if you want a good job. Better soup na money kill am.
How were they able to take you seriously?
Yes, it was difficult getting them to take me seriously because they’ll always ask for what you’ve done in the past, who’s directing. And when I told them I was directing, Omotola was like, you directing!
The next question was what am I shooting on, and I said we’ll be shooting on 35mm. Again, they were concerned about the story. I remember Genevieve’s manager asking me if all those jails, airports, court rooms are not fake and I said no.
They took up the challenge and risk because business itself is risk taking. When they came for the first meeting, with all the cast, they all interacted in Los Angeles and took me seriously.
How did you manage the technologies in Nigeria and US?
We shot in Nigeria and Los Angeles. I actually shot the two young Omotola and Genevieve in Jos where they spoke Igbo. I didn’t have to hire any foreign crew to shoot in Nigeria. My producer went to the Nigerian Film Corporation and was amazed at what they had. They had the camera, lighting and everything. I’m still shocked that I could get all that here in Nigeria.
You’re talking too much about film. Don’t you have time for men?
I’m a girl who has a relationship but will definitely keep my relationship out of my professional life.
You’re beautiful. did you ever take part in any show business while in school?
No, I was just a student who wanted to graduate and get out of school.
What’s your relationship with men like?
I try to keep my professional life separate from the men. It’s different when it comes to relationships.
Tiger Woods deceived the whole world until the bubble burst….
Okay, wait until when my own bubble bursts.
What’s your take on celebrities getting married and breaking up after two, three months with bizarre stories of why they broke up? Is there something wrong with the way these relationship were built?
Their stories are everywhere because they’re celebrities. People who’re not celebrities also have bizarre marriages.
I guess people get carried away when they see a celebrity and most of these female celebrities also get carried away with all the vibes from the men. But I don’t think bizarre marriages are only peculiar with people in the news. It’s a prize you pay for being in the news.
I disagree with you there. Don’t you think these our so-called celebrities place themselves at a very ridiculous height because they don’t like getting married to regular guys, instead they prefer the bling bling guy who they know little or nothing about and that is a major problem?
Life is full of deceit and the profession which they find themselves is always busy. They keep going from one location to the other. So, they rarely have time for a steady relationship.
A regular guy won’t accept a woman who goes from one location to the other.
I think you people can set up a sort of counselling unit for the industry….. (Laughter)
What kind of a man would you like to marry?
An ideal man. I’m a woman who would like to take her children to school, do the cooking and other house chores which is why you have to live a planned life so that people don’t just throw things at you. You have to plan your life and find the man that will understand that plan. Being able to separate your professional life at any point in time is one ingredient that makes relationships work.
What are the qualities of this ideal man?
The right qualities that every woman would want in a man. An ideal man is one that respects me, who’ll treat me as his equal and partner.
Where are you taking film making to, past time or full time?
I want to make movies for the rest of my life. I want to win the Oscars with my films and probably have my producer and actors win the Oscars too. That will give me the biggest joy in life.
Now that you’ve graduated, are there plans to relocate to Nigeria?
I don’t live in America. I only went to school there but I live here in Nigeria. This is home for me. As a film maker I can go to Afghanistan to produce my film.