Joke Sylva takes time out of Project Fame to talk to TADE MAKINDE on the future of Nollywood, why she is working with MTN on it’s musical reality programme.

You’re an actress. What’s it about Project Fame, a musical programme, that appeals to you?
I’ve got to a point in my career where I also want to pass on the skill that I’ve learnt over the years to young ones and this opportunity came when Mr. Ayeni, of Altima Studio, asked me to come on board.

So, when he invited me, it was something I couldn’t say no to because it was something I had always loved to do. Also, a lot of my duty as the House Principal included counselling the contestants. I had some training in that area a couple of years before I found out that I constantly have to use it. So, it was a perfect timing.

Is the project not supposed to be strictly musical?
I think what is important about performing art is that you need other areas of art to be able to be better yourself. As an actor, you need to work on your voice and movement to be a good and graceful actor. As a dancer, you need to understand how to emote so that when you’re dancing, it is not just the step you are doing, but the energy that is coming from within you is actually expressing the emotion of the moves you’re making. Now, as a singer, you not only have to produce good notes, you have to have a good voice. And also learn how to keep that voice . Your vocal cord is the main instrument and you need to understand how to look after it. As a singer too, you need to have some understanding of acting so that you’ll know how to emote properly. You need to understand how to move well too so that your movement is an enhancement, and not a distraction of your performance. There is no area of the art where you don’t need other the art.

It’s been a while since you appeared in a movie. Is consulting taking your time?
It hasn’t been that long actually, it is just that a lot of you want to see me everyday. I’ve never been an everyday artist. If you look at the kind of career I’ve had over the years, sometimes I will be on a soap opera or in the Theatre, or I do a couple of home videos, that is how my career has always been. I’ve never been the actress you will be see everyday or very often. For example, in home videos. I’ve done a couple of movies. Every year I always do a couple of home videos.

What exactly is Nollywood?
I think Nollywood is one of the biggest brand that Nigeria has at the moment. It is a huge brand, that has been created in Nigeria by Nigerians and for Nigerians. It’s a much better than our politics. Our politics is government of the people, by the people, but they forget for the people. It’s all ‘by’ but not ‘for.’ They always leave out ‘for’, you know.

You want to say that Nollywood is the same as Hollywood and Bollywood?
Nollywood and Bollywood were created in their native countries. Bollywood was created in India by Indians for the Indians and the brand Bollywood is unmistakable anywhere in the world. Hollywood, on the other hand, was also created in America by Americans and for Americans. Hollywood actually represent the film industry of the United States.

Some people argue that there’s no structure on ground to announce the presence of Nollywood?
We are not talking about structure, it is like Bollywood. Bollywood represents the film industry of India. They may have a film village in Bombay, but that is not the only film village in Bombay. They have film villages in other parts of India too.

In America, they have film studios in New York, Califonia and in various parts in the country, it is not only located in California, Hollywood per se. Really, it is an identity of their film industry. This is how the Nigerian movie industry has grown to become. It is not the beginning of film-making in Nigeria, because people believe the advent of Nollywood started the film industry. No! Our movie industry started in the 1900s, and long before those years we’ve had movies. So, Nollywood is what the industry has grown to become.

It was once reported that the industry could be turned around for the better if you, Olu Jacobs and Taiwo Ajai-Lycett were allowed to use your experience and contact to bear. What do you think?
It is not so much benefitting from the three of us. I think we need to put several things into perspective. Marketers came into industry after seeing an avenue for making the goods sell faster. They were able to turn what was almost a commatose sector into a vibrant sector. That you cannot take away from them. That is a business acumen they brought into the industry. In order words, what they did was to open-up the market. They too have helped in the building of the brand, because if you remember, there was a time when things got so bad in country, especially during Ibrahim Babangida and Abacha regime that there was a lot of migration. People were leaving the country in droves and they were going anywhere they could just to survive. They eventually created the market in diaspora because they hungered for home. That was what created the market world wide. Although that this brand has exploded, we also want it to enjoy more respect. We want it to represent us in a better light in other parts of the world because that’s what it does.These films are ambassadors in selling the potentials of our country. It is what we portray in our films that people believe that we are, for those who have not met us one-on-one, people who don’t know us. People who have never travelled to our country get to know us through our films. We’ve come to a stage in Nollywood where we must move forward by sorting out our distribution problems or the industry will crash.

Even the marketers know that its bound to happen beause they have been stacked in Eweka road, in Ebinpejo and Aba, Idumota. Of course, you have the West where the Yoruba films goes round the whole of the West, so, there is that need. Everybody knows that the next thing you have to sort out so that the the industry does not crash is a distribution system where you can track. That is why the Nigerian Films and Video Censor Board has come up with a new structure for distribution. If I censor a film and I still find it in market with the same problems that ought to have been edited, I should be able to hold someone responsible. What a structured distribution network does is that it limits the numbers of films that any one can bring out at any point in time.

When you started, what were your expectations and were you able to achieve them?
I wanted to be one of the best actresses that Nigeria would produce and l’ve achieved that. But then, I’ve become more interested in producing either a stage play or movies. I want to see that industry grow. I’m worried about the state of our theatre at the moment, but I think what calms one is discovering a lot of young talents that are getting more interested in the theatre. It is through the stage that you will get the intellectual know-how to do that, and then our movies can feed on that. It is the believe of mine, whether I’m wrong or right I don’t know. But that’s what I really believe.

Nigerian stars usually say they can hold their own against Hollywood stars. Some even say they are better than them. Lycett has debunked such claims, what is your view?
I believe that a lot of our actors can stand their own with any of these other performers in the world if they have the kind of support that any of these have. How do I mean? We have a lot of young ones who are highly skilled but need to work with skilled directors, DOPS, cameramen. Unfortunately we don’t have them anymore. You can count them on one hand. They need these specialists to step up their games.

Have you seen Totsi?
Totsi. No, I haven’t

The film was shot in S/A and it won an Oscar. Do you think it would have happened if it was shot in Nigeria by Nigerians?
I think it would have won the Oscar if it was done in Nigeria and shot by Nigerians……..

…..With the thousands of films we’ve produced here and yet to win anything?
But they get the funding over there.

You just said Nollywood was a brand
Maybe a brand, yeah, but the brand must be supported with fund. For example, a marketer will give money to one who gives quick return rather than to one who will tell him it may take time for a a movie to be ready, but that he’s sure to recoup the money. No marketer will buy that, they want quick returns. A lot of marketers who are right now executive producers, don’t understand that. They are just looking for a quick turn-over. I’m not saying all of them do not, there are some of them who understand, but not enough of them understand that. For example, Ini Edo has been invited to take part in a movie in Ghana. Now, I think that kind of experience, if they bring together the kind of people they say they are bringing them together for the film, will be a huge learning experience for Ini.

What are your fears for the industry?
For example how many Nigerian artistes know what it means to hit the light. You cannot work with professional. So, there’s a lot to learn. Without being able to hit your light? You know, he’s gonna go “you’re messing up my lighting” because here, they light for our major actors. If you are working with a DOP who knows his onions, he will not light for you, he is lighting for the picture, he is lighting for your skin tone and everything. If you don’t hit it, you’re going to drive him insane.

(Continued next week)