Isang Ubong-Awah is the CEO of Alphabridges. She comes from a well-to-do family and by a dint of hard work and discipline she is on top of her game. Recently, she produced a highly rated movie entitled Bent Arrow, and she promises that her best is yet to come. Read more about her in this interview with Samuel Olatunji.
How did you start writing?
Well, I have always loved to write. In fact, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was about seven years old. I started writing plays when I was in primary school, and later went into writing poems, songs, articles, etc. I really cannot think of a time writing was not part of my life. It’s natural for me to turn what I hear or see around me to stories or songs or some form of writing.
Did you study a literary course for your first degree?
No. I studied Biochemistry at the University of Uyo.
What has somebody who evidently is gifted in writing stories got to do with mixing chemicals?
(Laughs) You will admit that until recently, writing was not considered a profession in Nigeria. You know it was unusual to say you wanted to be a writer or an actress way back then. So, you write because you loved to write and did not know how not to write. However, we now realize that we can make a career out of our passions and interests. Writing was just something I enjoyed doing. Of course, I had to study something else in the university and since I was quite good in the sciences, I settled for Biochemistry.
Do you plan to do anything with your degree in Biochemistry?
I don’t think so, but I’ve learnt never to say ‘never’.
Some people say it is not worth it sending a female child to school because they would end up doing nothing with their degrees. Do you agree?
(Laughs) Well, no knowledge is ever wasted. I believe that virtually all fields of learning are interwoven somewhat, even if we cannot always find a direct connection. One gets to apply the knowledge in one way or the other, but it may not just be in line with a specific job.
Some people said you were born with a silver spoon and that was how you had a smooth ride in life. Correct?
I don’t believe I was born with a silver spoon, but I’m from a middle class family. I had a very good primary and secondary education, but I believe that was not because we had all the money, but because my parents believed in giving us the best education they could afford.
Did you have any qualifications before writing Bent Arrows?
Not really. I attended a BOB TV workshop in 2006 and learnt about writing scripts, but that was as far as my formal training in writing goes. After the production of Bent Arrows, I decided to return to school and get formal training in Creative Writing. Right now, I am pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Literature and Creative Writing at Harvard University.
How would you describe the experience?
Oh! Life-changing. It’s really wonderful because you are taught by the best in the field. I mean your lecturers or professors, as they are called out there in the U.S., are award-winning authors in their fields. For instance, my Advanced Fiction instructor, Paul Harding, is the current Pulitzer Prize winner in Fiction. So, you see, one of the best things about going to a school like Harvard is that you are instructed by some of the best hands.
Do you think that kind of training is available in Nigeria?
I really cannot say. I know there are lots of skilled professionals in Nigeria, but it is almost impossible to have them together in one institution, which is the case in Harvard. Virtually all the lecturers are highly skilled and thorough and the courses are detailed. To top it, their methods of teaching are superb and very practical, so you really learn a lot.
You’re encouraged to apply the knowledge you acquired. For instance, in the Advanced Screenplay class, I had to write a screenplay. In the Creative Writing class, I had to write short stories, and similarly, I had to work on a novel for the Creative Writing Novel class. The truth is, I do not know if that is the case here, since I have not studied Creative Writing in Nigeria, but I do know that I have gained so much from studying at Harvard.
Is Bent Arrows a true-life story or fiction?
It’s strictly fiction. I guess like most writers, the things you see or hear or read about, kind of stay in your sub-conscious and form a great part of the material you use when writing. So, Bent Arrows is not the true-life story of anyone I know, but comes from the stuff I have heard or read about through the years. You know, it is a universal story, and the many themes it explores are things that happen in most places. Let’s face it; it’s not uncommon to find sexual abuse, undue parental control and the preferential treatment given to the male child in our society.
What have you done since writing Bent Arrows?
I gave the script to Lancelot Imasuen, who later directed the movie. He fell in love with it immediately and wanted to be a part of the project. The next step I took was to get funding for its production.
For a newcomer, you did a great job with the casting. How did you achieve that?
The casting was not all done by me. We had an audition and from there Lancelot and I decided who would get what role in the movie.
You mean all the seasoned actors in the movie went through auditioning before they got roles?
No. Definitely not! We did not ask the seasoned actors to come for audition, because we could judge their skills from their previous works. Lancelot and I just sat together, discussed and decided on who would be best suited for each role, and based on that these actors and actresses were contacted. But Sylvia Oluchi, who played the lead role (Idara) in the movie, went through auditioning and I must say she did justice to the role as she had to go through different stages of her role.
Did you write the lyrics of the movie’s soundtracks?
I wrote some of the songs, Cobhams wrote some and together we wrote some. The rap track was written and performed by Cobhams and the Rooftop MCs. I’m a songwriter, so writing the songs came naturally to me.
We wanted something comparable to what obtains abroad. You know, movies like Waiting To Exhale, Fighting Temptations and the likes. Right now we are in the process of shooting video musicals for the songs in the soundtrack album. As a matter of fact, Stella Damasus would be participating in shooting the video of the hit track, Cause I’ve Got You, which she performed in the album.
Without doubt, Cobhams is an amazing producer. I can’t think of anyone else that could have done such a fantastic job, and I am not just saying this because he happens to be a dear friend. Everyone who has listened to his production will tell you he’s an incredibly gifted person and easily one of the best in the field. I was lucky to have him on board and the movie is all the better for it.
It sounds like producing this movie was an easy task. Was it?
That’s what everybody says, but nothing could be further from the truth. Believe me, I have had so many struggles, setbacks and challenges on this project. I was certain I could have given up at some point, if this project had been funded by just my husband and I; I would say, writing the script was the easiest part of the entire project. That said, Bent Arrows is not the first script I have written. I have many scripts yet to be converted to movies.
So, I had to wait for the right opportunity. Everything you see and the success of the movie is all God’s doing. I don’t mean to sound churchy, but that is the simple truth. You know when God gets involved in your business He makes the impossible possible and takes you far beyond your biggest dreams. It is not as if you would not face challenges or setbacks, but when you turn them to Him, He makes a way for you where there is no way. I would bore you by going into the setbacks or challenges I faced in the production of this movie, but let me just say that every step thus far was forged with prayer and faith. The beautiful thing is God rewards faith and hard work, so here we are.
Tell us about the funding.
When I decided to go into movie production, my husband and I decided we had to do something of excellent quality. When we realised that we did not have the funds required, we shared the vision with a couple of friends. Fortunately, most of them bought the idea and that’s how our entertainment company, Alphabridges, was birthed. Bent Arrows was funded by Alphabridges, which is owned by Bankole Opashi, Femi Blaize, Dipo Ojo-Osagie, Bona Nwosu, Ubong Awah and myself, Isang Awah.
What’s your advice for others who have similar ideas but lack the funds to execute them?
I am of the opinion that money is not the first thing you need to make a good project work. The first thing you need is a good vision and then the provision will come. A good project has a way of harnessing its own funds. I am not trying to say it was all easy, but like I said earlier, God knew we were trying to fulfill a purpose and He helped us out.
So, I would advice them to pray, keep working towards the goal and ask God for direction. I believe it’s better to bring others into the project than insist on doing it alone and then die with the vision. Besides, you will gain from getting different perspectives on any matter. I should say that besides bringing in funds, the directors of Alphabridges have excellent and rich ideas.
How long have you been married?
My marriage would be 16 years old this year, and we are blessed with four beautiful children.
Happy anniversary in advance!
Girls of these days say a man must be rich before they can marry him. Was that one of your requirements?
I would not say my husband was poor when I met him, but I also would not describe him as very rich. He was just a young lawyer who had a good job. But we loved each other and we were willing to build a home.
You are saying find a good man and marry him?
Yes. Money and other things will come later.
One of the major challenges of married women is that they tend to find it difficult to fulfill their dreams or achieve their potentials in the wedlock. What do you have to say about this?
I sympathise with women in such situations. I believe life is fulfilling if your job is your passion. I don’t think it is right for men to prevent their wives from achieving their dreams. They should, however, work together on how to make the best of their lives while considering each other and the entire family’s interests. I would advice young girls to pray about their future life-partners because, if you get married to the wrong person, it alters your entire destiny.
It is also important that women share their visions and dreams with their spouses. That said, there is also a right timing for the fulfillment of every vision. Some dreams may have to be put on hold while you are nursing babies, but do not be discouraged. Hold on to the dream and in what little way you can, keep praying and working towards it. I never stopped writing all those years I was changing nappies, but I must admit that I am blessed to be married to a wonderful man who brings out the best in me. There had always been a writer in me, but he kind of helped me fully harness my gift. He had never stopped me and has been a pillar of strength.
Your husband is lucky to have a wife who thinks highly of him, isn’t he?
No, I’m the one who is blessed to have him because, indeed, he is a very wonderful and special person.
What other things do you do aside writing?
I’m trying to slowdown on things right now because in addition to running Alphabridges, I’m in school.
Is Bent Arrows coming back to the cinemas?
Yes o, by God’s grace, come April 22 it will be back in all the cinemas. We took it out the first time, because we were discussing with Pan Africa Distributors and now we have an agreement with them. So, Pan Africa will distribute the movie in cinemas within and outside Nigeria.
Tell us about the premiere of the movie in Abuja.
It was hugely successful. It was held at the Silverbird Galleria in Abuja and almost all the stars in the movie attended. Also present were Olu Jacobs, Joke Silva, Enebeli Elebuwa, Stella Damasus, Desmond Elliot, Omoni Oboli, Lancelot Imasuen, Cobhams and so many others. Stella performed live from the soundtrack album and so did Omolara Ayodele. Cobhams also did an outstanding performance.
All the halls we paid for were filled to capacity and Silverbird had to cancel a show to give us an extra hall when we still had people waiting to be seated. DOXA Digital Nigeria did an excellent job of putting together the event, and Dayo Benjamins-Laniyi (DBL) was fantastic. I felt very happy after the event because people said a lot of wonderful things about the movie. You know it’s one thing to do a good film and another for people to see it the same way. We are looking forward to the Lagos premiere, which will take place in April.
How would you rate Nollywood?
People keep trying to compare us especially to Hollywood, but the simple truth is that you can never have the same result if you give a woman N10,000 to cook a pot of soup and you give another woman N100 to cook the same pot of soup. Movies like Titanic had a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, but I do not know of any Nigerian movie that has had a budget of even a million dollars. Our biggest budget is considered no budget in Hollywood, but in spite of that we are doing the best we can with the little funds we can put together. That’s not to say that we do not have our shortcomings. In fact, there are some movies that should not even be made in the first place, but I also think we should give Nollywood practitioners some credit for how far they have come in such little time and with such meager funding.
Any final words?
I would say dream big, trust God for the impossible and everybody should watch Bent Arrows at the cinemas. Also, join our Facebook discussion when it resumes. God bless you all.