One of the top movie directors in Nigeria, Andy Amenechi, tells ’nonye Ben-Nwankwo that he is more interested in making stars than becoming one
Have you ever thought of being in front of the camera?
I have never wished to be an actor. No, never.
But actors are more popular than directors. Don’t you wish to be as famous as these actors?
No. The quality of my work makes me a celebrity. There are places I go and I mention my name, I get respected. There are some places I go with an Ejike Asiegbu or a Ramsey Noah, those ones will be spoken to first. But because of the respect those actors have for me, they will insist that I’m their boss and should be recognised first. When I’m with my colleagues, especially where there is respect, I don’t need to introduce myself. Even at the Academy Awards, the director hardly walks on the red carpet. The quality of your work speaks volume about your talent, and creativity.
As a Nigerian movie director, do you agree that some Nollywood movies are really not realistic, unlike Hollywood movies?
I agree with you. I really cannot pinpoint an excuse. But I must say this: the director has the last signature on the job. If two artistes are not kissing properly in a movie the way they should, it’s your job to tell them to do it properly. When the director is bereft of ideas, what do we do? People say I’m a stickler for details. That is true. It’s because I’m educated. I’m informed. If there is a medical scene where a drip is administered to a patient, you will see the actor, acting as a doctor, fiddling with the needle. Come on! You have to look for a vein. There is a medical procedure for looking for a vein. Apply it in the movie. It’s simple. You see a drip, solution not trickling down. It doesn’t make sense. Those are the things we ought to correct. We have to go back to the drawing board. Personally, I have worked with 17 assistant directors, who are directors in their own right. I have formed an opinion right from the start that I will always work with somebody to add to whatever I know. You can’t give me a script and expect me to start work without reading the script. I will read it, do the breakdown and tell you where I think it’s wrong. If you don’t like my suggestions, I give you back your script. I do that before I even start discussing professional fees. When we’re done, you tell me who the writer has booked for each role. Then I will tell you if the person is suitable for the role or not.
What if the financier or producer of the movie doesn’t agree with the names you choose?
Then your job is to work with those people. Where they give you your respect, you give them theirs. But then, before I direct a movie, we have to agree on the actor before I work. If, in my opinion, the actor is not right for the role but because he is the reigning actor and you want us to use him, it makes my work more difficult. Even if the outlook is right, what of the character you are trying to portray?
Are you aware that the Yoruba movies are more popular than the English movies now?
Well, I will take my family as an example. My people prefer the Yoruba movies to the English movies. That is because the quality of work they put in is so tremendous. I must give them that credit. Granted some of the technical people came from Nollywood, but they improved their act. They always take their time to tell a story and also, they take their time to shoot. We need to get our movies done at a very good standard.
How come Nigerian actors – apart from a few of them who have endorsement deals – are not comfortable?
Let me tell you from the point of view of an experienced director. There are some of them who are very comfortable even without endorsement. Do you know there was a time our actors were getting N1m for a movie? I know somebody who was getting N1.5m per movie.
That might have been during the time producers churned out movies everyday. Or are you saying that some of them still pocket such a large amount?
They still do. I cannot say the exact figure, but I know some people still take home such an amount, even in recent times. These actors have determined that this is the level they want to go. They tell you what you will pay them if you need their services and they stick to it. I don’t particularly care about how much they take home. For me, once you have been paid, you must be ready to do the job to the best of your ability. I will make sure you do it, no grumbling.
We heard that some actors were usually arrogant on locations, disrespecting the director and even the producer.
Respect is mutual. Your reputation precedes you. There are some actors who have bad reputation. There are directors with bad reputation as well. When you know that an actor has a reputation, settle it from the beginning. You have to draw the line even before the shooting starts. You have to tell him the rules. If the actor is outrightly rude, I tell the producer that I cannot work with them. That is the beginning of the change we need in this industry. The actor has the right to say he cannot work with a director because he is not registered. Director can tell the producer that he cannot work with an actor who is not registered with the guild. I have been on a location where an actor was left standing alone. Everybody said they could not work with him. The producer came and the actor had to write a letter of apology to everybody. Things are beginning to change. We need the kind of leadership that will sustain all these changes.
How come we keep recycling the same faces in Nollywood?
I know I have made more than 10 actors in the industry. I don’t want to mention their names. But they know themselves. They were somewhere before I saw their potential. If more people were like me, we would have continuous turn out of different faces. I know I have the philosophy of using one new face in every production I do. I use a new face or I use an up-and-coming actor. Most of these up-and-coming actors have become known faces today. I don’t want to know who you are when I do my auditions. I always set out to find the potential in everybody.
But some wannabe actresses say they were denied roles because they didn’t give in to sexual demands…
I have heard about the sexual harassment (stuff). It’s absolutely wrong. You don’t know the talent you are stifling. But for those people who claim they were harassed sexually, there is a channel where they can take their very serious concern to. You have a right to make a report. You hear them grumbling. But you need to report it and not to grumble. But what of the stories you don’t get to hear, especially of the ones who agreed for the sex?
Do some of them agree?
Of course they do. Don’t you ask yourself how some of these actresses get in front of the screen when you know very well they don’t have any business being there? Those ones, you don’t hear their stories because the producer has not come out to tell you what they did. But you only hear about sexual harassment when they don’t give in to the requests. In fact, there is even a third option.
What is the third option?
There are those who agree to the sex yet they don’t even get the role afterwards. They cannot talk. Who will they tell? It has degenerated to that level. I know for a fact that some people attend auditions, yet they don’t do their auditions in the place others do theirs. They do their own in other places. That is the level the industry has degenerated to. Some people believe they can sleep their way to get roles. When you stand out and tell somebody to leave with her body, and make an example of one person like that, the story will change. However, this is a common practice all over the world. It’s not only done in Nigeria. Let us not narrow it to films.
So, your wife doesn’t mind the fact that you are always on location with these actresses?
I was doing it before I met her. I was doing it after I met her. The main substance of every marriage is trust. I’m scandal free because I have been able to respect myself and respect my wife. Nobody will tell her that her husband is doing this or that. It’s not possible. She will not even believe you.
We learnt you wanted to be the Directors Guild of Nigeria president; what do you have that your rivals don’t have?
I cannot spell out what they have. The electorate will do that. But without prejudice to their ambition to run to become the DGN president, everybody has his own vision. I have my own vision. It’s what people see that I have. I know I have the experience. I know I have the credibility. I know I have the integrity and the reputation. We need to turn around this industry. The potential are so huge. People all over the world talk about Nollywood. People now speak Pidgin English in Brooklyn. We need to harness this industry for positive change. We need to use it for social engineering. Nollywood can tell the stories in a way the government can understand and look into it.
What makes you think the DGN needs a technocrat like you?
If you take a sample of the people in the Nigerian government, you will understand that in this period of transformation, the key sector of the economy has technocrats in charge because they need to put the structure to reform the economy.
I have 14 years experience and I believe I can put it to good use. We need to place structures. Without structures, the industry will not move, no matter how much popularity we claim to have. The most important structure is the provision of professional guild and laws governing the practise of film making. Nollywood is about the only industry where anybody can come in free of charge without any prerequisite. There is no regulation, there is no entry requirement.