Greg Odutayo has taken television drama and run with it. His Royal Roots production company has made an impression on the Nigerian television viewing public with programmes like Edge of Paradise, House A-part and About to Wed. On a personal level, he is President, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP). In this interview with Reporter, Gbenga Bada, Odutayo opened up on his faith, work and relationship with his wife.
What has it been like creating another hit after your success with Edge of Paradise?
It’s been interesting and intriguing. Interesting because though we expected the buzz, we didn’t expect something as big and quick as this. We’ve come to realise that the Nigerian audience wants and knows good and quality productions. I must be sincere to you that that I became scared at some point during the production. This is because after you have spent so much money, advertisers still want to place adverts at the same cost that they do with all other programmes and that puts you in a tight corner. You ask yourself, as we have been doing, is it really worth it after spending so much money? But I’ve come to tell my team and myself ‘let’s continue doing what we do, it would take time but at the end of the day, the audience will identify with us solely because of our professionalism and ideals.’ This also poses a challenge, which means we cannot but do better than every last production from our stable. The buzz has been good and wonderful but we still continue to pray that it brings the much desired and expected returns financially and professionally, so that we can go back and come out even stronger than we just did.
How are you prepared to make the advertisers pay the money required to do other productions?
I think it’s a gradual transformation because I sincerely believe it’s not something that would happen overnight or just like that. I know that at end of the day, they would realise that for us to run a business and stay in it, we would have no choice than to charge a premium fee. Sponsorship had been slow even before the launch of our premium programme, My Mum & I, but after the launch, the response we have gotten has been big. But we are waiting for it to build because people have been asking for what it would take for them to be part of the programme. The truth remains that the advertisement is what keeps us in business.
What motivated the move to shoot My Mum & I?
At a point, we felt there was so much talk about Edge of Paradise and last year, my executive director and I sat down and reasoned that Edge of Paradise was two years old then and people were still talking about it. We got tired of people talking about it and felt it was time we did something better.
Was the choice of the High Definition (HD) camera because Edge of Paradise didn’t win at the Monte Carlo television festival?
Our motivation for shooting on HD camera came after we acquired the hi-tech equipment for over N4 million. The camera was meant to help us shoot our first full feature film but that was taking some time. Before we decided to test our hands on it with My Mum & I, we were using it sparingly, shooting commercials. When Edge of Paradise was nominated alongside other top television series at the 47 Monte Carlo Television Festival, we found out that the deficiency we had was that we were the only one with a nomination shot on standard definition format, every other nomination was shot on HD. We felt if we should win this we must be of the world standard and not the African or Nigerian standard. There are several television festivals but there are some strategic ones that we want to win. Because we have identified with one, we believe we stand a better chance of winning with the buzz and attention that we have gotten after the launch of My Mum & I. You also know that Edge of Paradise, when it berthed, was seen as one of the best then in Nigeria but it was not just good enough to win an award. As such, we have gone back and done our homework and here we are, ready to win as many laurels as possible.
We also want to use this to register the Nigerian name on the world market. We believe we should be able to flex our muscles and compete with other people and better the image of the Nigerian people and economy.
How have you managed your personality as a successful person and the individual known as Greg Odutayo?
It’s still the same me from years back. Success should never change who you are and I thank God for who I am. I thank Him for giving me that upbringing by my parents and it’s just like the Yoruba adage that says, ‘you must remember the child of who you are’ and that’s my person as an individual and professional. I see myself as someone who God has blessed and has given a privilege because it could have been anybody else. So, one should use that privilege with humility and consideration for fellow human beings and to mentor other people who are looking at you and trying to emulate you. A lot more people see me than I see myself because they have decided to emulate as they watch, and as such, one wrong step would see others following.
What do you aspire to be as an individual?
My father was a knight in the Catholic Church and I also aspire to be a knight in the Catholic Church. I sincerely believe that it’s been God who has just chosen to be good to me. I’m not the most hardworking person but I have been chosen to be successful. I want to be seen as one who is trying his best to improve the industry and changing or affecting other people positively.
You run Royal Roots with your wife, how convenient has it been for you as a man?
The truth of the matter is that it has made my life a lot easier. One thing is that our relationship is slightly different and that is because she is not working in Royal Roots because she is my wife, rather she is working in Royal Roots because she is eminently qualified to do so. If you pick producers in Nigeria, I’m sure she would be among the first three. I am just a director here and that is the major factor as regards how the company is run and our relationship. She is a better producer than I am, and when you have a world-class producer working with you, all you need do is to be creative. A lot of people, who have such a relationship, you’d find out, are not mostly as lucky as I am because it’s a case of the husband being in the job and the woman trying to come in and help. But in this case, it has made my job a lot easier because she is more qualified for the job. I think it’s a blessing and luck because I can’t ask for more.
What’s the relationship always like knowing that you could have disagreements as a couple or partners?
We try not to take the office home and the home to the office. We have our fights and highs and lows and good times but we don’t allow it to affect our work because the work must be done. Professional issues come up and we settle them not as husband and wife but as colleagues and professionals. In fact, except I tell you she is my wife, you might probably not know if you walk into the office. It’s a professional relationship that we have and I must commend her because it’s not easy living with a man like me, but she has stood by me for 13 years now.
How do you mean?
You know we artistes are crazy people. The office is structured and I belong to the creative department. You find out that because of that, someone brings a job and I just want to jump and do it because I want to be creative at all times but there’s somebody telling you to look at it critically and that you should not take spontaneous decision. She is always there to check you because she knows what she is doing. That has helped, and when she also goes beyond the borders I also check her.
Why the choice of an office for both of you?
We actually need a bigger office. Aside that, we believe it’s just convenient for us both; we both don’t have anything to hide. It’s simply because of the office space and because we just do our thing and go home.
It was said that she created My Mum & I, but had problems with you getting satisfied with it. How true is that?
The truth is that I actually criticised her a lot and I really credit and appreciate her for being able to take it through. I critically criticised virtually everything she did and I praise her for her resilience. I can be very hard sometimes but to her credit, she always went back to work on it till we got it right. It was her first direct creation and we were able to do it after I kept sending her back and fourth. But the most interesting thing about that creation is what we call inner thoughts and it is jokingly referred to as voiceover.
What is the idea behind the launch you organised for My Mum & I?
The idea of the launch is basically to be different. We have been different from our story lines, cast and crew and even shooting and equipment. We felt it’s not a common thing to see the launch of a television series and that was why we had the launch, coupled with the fact that we have a good product and we want to celebrate it with the potential sponsors, advertisers, colleagues, fans and those in the industry. And before you know it now, everybody would be doing the launch but it would be stated that we were the first to start it at Royal Roots.
Wasn’t the launch supposed to showcase other things that the R2 Network is offering?
The launch was simply focused on My Mum & I because it’s what we refer to as our premium baby at Royal Roots. Aside that, those other programmes on R2 Network have not been produced at the moment. We have the franchise for some of the other programmes, which are Reality TV shows and which have been successfully done in various countries outside Nigeria. We have the likes of Identity, Nigeria’s Next Producer and I’ve Got Ur Number among others. These programmes are not yet produced because they are not originally in Nigerian format, but we are already working on that. We still have many other things in the pipeline but My Mum & I is the premium brand that has been finished and we want to project it. But because we want people at the launch to know that we have some other things in the pipeline, we had to showcase all we have on the R2 Network. In a nutshell, the launch was to say, My Mum & I is what we have done and which we are showcasing, while telling the public that the Reality TV shows are currently being worked on.
You do several productions and continually compare them with the ones overseas, why is this constant comparison?
For us here, the Nigerian market is not our target. We believe in doing great things from Nigeria and showcasing to the world. We have always done the things we do to international standard and that we can sell all over the world. I make reference to the contract I signed with Mnet when we were about to shoot Edge of Paradise. The contract read that it must meet the South African standard. I refused and told them that I would not sign the contract unless it states that the drama be shot in world class standard. The contract had to be changed. They were obviously thinking that the flick should be shot in the South African broadcasting standard because that was more than the Nigerian standard. My insistence on world broadcasting standard further showed them what I wanted and what we stand for at Royal Roots.
Do you think the Nigerian television standard can match any of those in the world and produce several world-class drama series?
A lot of people have asked me if the international standard can be achieved here in Nigeria and I tell them it can be done. I was producer of Deal or No Deal Nigeria and it was produced by a 100 per cent Nigerian team with no foreigner at all. Many people still don’t know a full Nigerian team shot it. We make bold to say it can be done. I don’t accept it when people say I was responsible for it because I was just a leader of a team who believes it can be done. The same thing happened when we did Edge of Paradise. I was just the leader of some group of people, who have an international way of doing things and they all contributed in one way or the other to the success. But a lot people focus on how fast they can make money out of this and that is why this affects the quality and output of what they produce. The moment we re-orientate ourselves and begin to focus our minds on making world standard television dramas or series, then we would be making quality and world-rated films. We still have a lot of practitioners who are not trained and do not know their left from their right but I believe we have a percentage that have depth and know what they are doing.
What are the problems you think are disturbing the growth of the movie industry?
I must say that part of the problems of Nollywood is because we are all concerned about how fast we can make our fortunes. But I’m not blaming these practitioners or the industry, all I’m saying is that for us to make quality programmes, we need to be focused. When you set out to do a production in other to make money, then there’s no way you would think of perfection. This is because if you have not achieved anything tangible by the seventh day of your ten-day production you are going to be so much in a hurry and push yourself. From there you would start making mistakes because budget and money was the basis of your production. But if you set out to do a top-notch production, you would not bother yourself so much with the cost because your goal is to get it right at all cost. I’m not blaming the industry because even the government has not provided an enabling environment and we need to rework our strategies in order to survive. That is why an Igbo businessman, who has put his money down to shoot a film in seven days would not exceed that because if he does, he’s going to run into problems. For some of us who have this at the back of our mind, it’s simply the grace of God and nothing else.
How did you get the money to produce?
If you ask me where I got the money to shoot My Mum & I, my answers would simply be that I don’t know, because it’s just like asking me where or how did a young man, who just wedded got the money for his wedding ceremony. I honestly do not know. But one thing I know for sure is that I took the pain of attending the Lagos Business School to learn how to run a business and most of the things we do here are geared towards running such viable business. So, it’s easy for me to differentiate between Greg the director and Greg the businessman or Greg the artiste. This is one thing most of my colleagues lack, they can’t differentiate the business from the art and that affects many people.
You have chosen a very low lifestyle despite the belief that you have earned so much to live large in the industry. Why is this?
I have been driving my car in the last four or five years and I know I need a new car but I need to do another production and I ask myself which is more important. I found out that it is the production because I know that when I do the production, it would earn me another one and a better car. It is not always easy but you can imagine, at a point we needed to take a soft loan to help us and I make bold to say that we have some of the best equipment in the country. If I was renting equipment to do my productions, I doubt if I would be able to do the kind of productions I do because you’d be constantly watching the figures and your budget.