By Ogbonna Amadi, Entertainment Editor
Saint Obi was born on the 16th of November in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. He studied Theatre Arts at the University of Jos, Plateau State and graduated with B.A. (Hons). He speaks English, Igbo, Hausa and a little of the Yoruba Language.
An athlete who had represented Plateau State in both Football and Basketball tournaments. He also enjoys body building. Saint Obi joined the Nigerian Film Industry (Nollywood) in 1996 and instantly rose to the top – a feat yet to be matched by any in the industry.
He has featured in 90 films as male lead. Saint Obi has the ambition of playing in Hollywood as a front burner as well as stimulating. In this interview, Obi looks at the problems facing the Nigerian film industry with fear: Nollwood is crashing! Excerpts:
What is going onWe havenâ€™t heard much from you.?
Nothing much Iâ€™ve been doing lately… . Iâ€™ve been keeping quiet because Iâ€™m working on a lot of stuff…movies.
Well the problem with the industry at the moment is …. I saw it coming from afar. When I told people that having too many movies in the market would make the industry go bad…letâ€™s try and control the numbers of films we make… If we have 60 movies coming out in a week, how many are you going to buy and how many are you not going to buy? So, it forces people to rent these movies.
So, that has resulted in the industry being choked out, in terms of the market. So, a lot of people are not making more movies after they lost a lot of money, after producing movies earlier. So, thereâ€™s a law in the market right now. But despite all that, some people are still…
But for me, I think that to start a new course for the industry is the right key, the industry is not as famous as a lot of people think. Yet, you must give it to them when they try. But at a point, greed took over. TheseÂ people were not in it to make movies.
They saw it as a way of making quick money for themselves. So, what we need to do is to go back to the drawing board.
Iâ€™m not surprised at all by this but I think we need to move forward. Again, there is no science in our marketing and because of this….
Beyond the law of the business, as long as thereâ€™s money in your pocket to make films, is there supposed to be a problem with the …?
No, you see, thatâ€™s not the way forward. The problem with our country is that we like short cut. We donâ€™t wanna build solid people. Those that initiated Hollywood, most of them are dead now.Â For me, Iâ€™m a visionary, without a sense of modesty, and I make no apologies for it.
I think, what is that big picture? Is it Idumota?Â Absolutely not. Is it Onitsha or is it Aba? Is it Kano? That is not. Itâ€™s nonsense. Nigeria is made up of 140 million people. Why donâ€™t you make a movie that will hit one percent of that population?
But the problem is that we started from a wrong footing. That wrong footing is, instead of doing movies the way it ought to be done ,which is, you go through premiere, then through cinema screening, before it comes to the home video level.
Then you go to the TV rights. But what we do is that we leave all necessary things and go all the wayÂ to DVDs. By that youâ€™ve lost the premiere money you gonna make, youâ€™ve lost the cinema money, you just go to DVD. What they do is they trade by barter, give me a certain number of slots, I give you my movie. We just sell ourselves cheap and it is the problem from theÂ people who started the industry, and thatâ€™s one thing I always say that pioneers in the movies industry have always soiled the water for others coming behind and thatâ€™s a very bad thing to do.
There needÂ to be people who are focused for a long run, not a 100m dash.
Whatâ€™s wrong with the industry?
Like I said, itâ€™s all about the big picture. So, for me, Iâ€™d rather get the industry right, because if you pay me N2million and Iâ€™m making that every two weeks, or thereabout, thatâ€™s no money on the long run.
You think youâ€™re making money but at a point, people will stop buying and thatâ€™s what happens and the marketers who were paying you N2million will not have money to pay you next time because the movie was not able to sell well. So, from N2million or thereabout, it begins to drop.
At a point, youâ€™d hear the guy telling you â€˜ bros, take that 5k (N5, 000)Â or nothing else for you!â€™ Do you understand? Thatâ€™s just an example. So, for me, I started and had to set aside and see what I could do. How I canÂ make a difference, alright?
Ihave a project, a movie that I produced and directed in America, since 2004 (True Colour) now Iâ€™ve that movie and wanna push it out there but because the industry is perceived from Idumota point of view, when youâ€™re talking to one of those people who also are supposed to support the venture, they donâ€™t understand where youâ€™re coming from.
So, I now said, â€˜look, I have to set aside so that I can build that vision that can take the industry to the next level. People say, â€˜well weâ€™re pioneers, people that â€™d reap from what weâ€™re sowing now are going to be our children. But I said, â€˜No, this is not 1950.
This is 2009. We have the population we have the technology to enjoy the goodies. I feel that in this dispensation, we must be part of that goodies. Itâ€™s not the one that will happen in the next one year. It should happen now. But we need to do our homework.
But the problem I have with this industry is that the actors and actresses actually sold out the rights to these marketers. Those were the ones bringing funds. So, nobody thought of looking for sponsors.Â The actors didnâ€™t have much to do with it.
It has to do with the independent producers who are not marketers. Most of them collect money from marketers, that they areÂ going to pay the actors but they wonâ€™t pay and thatâ€™s where the actors came on board. These people will now realize that these movies are actually owned by so and so marketers. They now go and complain to the marketers that this man did not pay me. These marketers will now tell them, â€˜letâ€™s come into the industry and see what we can do to amend this problem.â€™
So actors brought the market ers into this business?
It wasnâ€™t the actors.
Actors complained that independent producers caused the problems.
Yeah, absolutely. Itâ€™s still a function of greed like I said earlier.
So, you are yet to identify those responsible for this?
No, thereâ€™s no two ways about it.
If a market is there for the product, you make money from it.
Yeah, they pushed the independent producers aside and started producing the movies themselves. At a point, they even started directing, cos they felt well.
Scripts which are very unprofessional….But to be fair with the marketers, they pumped money into the industry but where they got it wrong was the greed. You canâ€™t stockpile movies. You see a marketer with five movies and they say, â€˜Iâ€™d bring two this week, three next week.
They choked the market and thatâ€™s why the thing crashed. So, as I keep hammering, we must take a look at the big picture.Â Nollywood has an audience of about 500 million people,Â I mean black people in diaspora. Thatâ€™s my focus.
The white communityÂ will come later. The Asian community will come later. My focus is strictly on blacks. If we captureÂ that black market, weâ€™re home and thatâ€™s what I keep telling people. We must get the marketers right.
So when I go to themÂ and say this is the big picture and they donâ€™t understand, I tell them ,youâ€™re thinking like an Idumota person,. Titanic was made with over $300mÂ plus and when they released the movies,Â it grossed over $1bn plus.
So, Nollywood has the market. Thatâ€™s what youâ€™ve to understand. But how are we going to that market to make good lives for ourselves and thatâ€™s where Iâ€™m today. So, itâ€™s not about me jumping from one location and somebody putting stipends in my pockets and IÂ think Iâ€™m making money . I ainâ€™t making no money.
So, if producers want high quality movies, they should look at scripts?
Iâ€™ve always done that. Iâ€™ve always said itâ€™s got to be the best or nothing. But sometimes you wanna help people, like some of the worst jobs Iâ€™ve done…. One movie where I had to help people, a friend. I said, let me help this friend â€˜cos Iâ€™m trying to sow in his life.
People you help to make those movies, they donâ€™t want to equally do good for the movies. So they just apply shortcut here and there and the movie comes out very poor. Nobody will understand that you try to help somebody, the person watching would now say, â€˜ ah, look at that St. Obi in that stupid film, not understanding that you were actually helping somebody.
These days, I donâ€™t help nobody no more because I learnt the hard way. So, if you wanna make a movie, you better get serious about what you want to do, you know-theÂ hard way. OrÂ you end up being rubbished because somebody takes a look at you and says ah, look at the kind ofÂ movie that guy is in. It doesnâ€™tÂ speak well, and youâ€™re as good as your last video last year.
When did the board decide who should act, that one taking much money shouldnâ€™t be part of a movie? Did that affect you too?
Well,Â Iâ€™ve gone through those kinds of stunts all through my career.
Were you affected by that border?
Well, I donâ€™t know if thereâ€™s any order today though. But I know that whenÂ it comes to people that rate the stage,Â when films are concerned, Iâ€™m among the only three in the industry. You can be very sure of that. Itâ€™s me, RMD and Nkem Owoh. The three of us are the only people that rate the stage. Any other person that tells you is lying. Itâ€™s justÂ the three of us.
Meaning you are one of the top three?
I donâ€™t know about that.Â Iâ€™m talking about people who try to rate the bar,Â cos we truly know what our values are. Another person is Kenneth Okonkwo. So, these four people Iâ€™ve mentioned are those who have been able to help rate the bar, make the industry get to where it is.
I remember a time when the marketers called for a break, and we said the least paid actors, that is the â€˜extrasâ€™ would take home a minimum of N5,000 . The big actors at that time would take home like N500,000. At that time, some of us were being paid like N250,000 â€“ N300,000 and at the duration of that break, the marketers had their own meeting and said that if the big names donâ€™t take N100,000 that they should take it or leave it.
When some of us heard it, we screamed, like over our dead bodies. Weâ€™re coming from almost N300,000 and dropping to N100,000 for something you didnâ€™t do. I had made most of those guys millionaires today. So, if the industryâ€™s going bad, itâ€™s not because of us butÂ because of your (marketers) own greed.
So, thatâ€™s notÂ right. ButÂ to our greatestÂ surprise,Â 98% of our people went back and collected a N100,000. So, those of us thatÂ didnâ€™t collect were now the bad guys. TheyÂ surprised us.
So, that made you go back to collect N100, 000?
Never, I never did that kind of stuff .
None of those guys that were with you?
No, likeÂ I told you 1,2,3 of us said, no and we stuck to our guns.
And thatâ€™s how you became a director and producer?
No, no, no! But the point is this, a point, when they got tired of using those that collect N100,000, they came back to us but instead of meeting us at N300,000 like before, they met us at N600,000.
Thatâ€™s what they had to pay us. And then, these other people that were collecting N100,000 , when they saw that we were collecting N600,000, they protested and they started earning up to like N400,000. What Iâ€™m driving at now is that the industry is full of people who are readyÂ to sell you for any thing.
Thatâ€™s not right and thatâ€™s why I think that we have to put our act in order. The other day, we were at what was going on at the secretariats and all that. Itâ€™s a function of the industry not havingÂ its focusÂ right. This is an industry of too much, we are one of the highest employers of labour, what we contribute to the economy is so huge.
I think weâ€™re third on the line after oil and telecomms . If we get the industry right, we might even go higher than telecomms.
Is government doing the right thing?
The government is not. The stipends they give to the censors board is nothing. What they did to the filmÂ cooperation in Jos is nothing. The government understands what it has. The clamour for alternative way of making money for government, this (movie industry) is one clear way of making that money. They donâ€™t need to depend on oil to make money. Itâ€™s a way of taking youths out of the streets.
Particularly, as weâ€™re talking about re-branding.
Absolutely! Iâ€™ve said this in so many forums that government needs to build multi purpose centresÂ across Nigeria, 36 states and Abuja build. Build them in viable local government areas.Â lt will reduce urban migration and employ a lot of youth. When they build these centres, they should lease it out to people and theyâ€™ll see the kind of money theyâ€™d get out of it. When youÂ release a movie, it has a chain.
Every actor that features in that movies will pay tax to the government. Every exhibition has governmentâ€™s share in it. But people are not seeing these things. Sometimes,Â when I talk, I wonder, is it that these people donâ€™t understand who are the people speaking for us? Why is it that they canâ€™t see whatâ€™s going on there? All over the world, filmâ€™s a big revenue earner.
Itâ€™s also a huge PR tool. Hollywood is Americaâ€™s biggest propaganda weapon. Same thing with Bollywood. When you see Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone in a movie like â€˜Ramboâ€™ going into a town, because his boss was captured somewhere, me and you know itâ€™s not humanly possible.
But when America builds your subconscious, donâ€™t mess with America because one of us can take all of you out and you begin to believe it at a point. Until 9/11,Â people thought America was invincible and thatâ€™s the picture Hollywood is able to print and thatâ€™s why when weâ€™re talking about re branding, I feel very sad.Â Itâ€™s all about lip service.
I know the Honourable Minister has good intentions. But I look at myself,Â I have a project that started long before HeartÂ of Africa came, let alone re branding Nigeria. If I had been on this journey long beforeÂ re brand Nigeria came, donâ€™t you think you should embrace me first because Iâ€™m somebody whoâ€™s genuinely interested in changing Nigeriaâ€™sÂ image. I went in 2004 to shoot a movie that would address this issue, to change the image of my country men and women. I developed a couple.Â I also designed to find a way to change our image locally and internationally.
If you have thatÂ kind of scenario and you have a government that says it wants to re brand andÂ you have people whoÂ have genuinely contributed…. When you say youâ€™reÂ re-branding and you have somebody. I know Iâ€™m not the only one. I know there areÂ a couple of people who have the same zeal for Nigeria, I think people like that should be called upon, because Iâ€™m not trying to enrich myself.Â Iâ€™m trying to find out how we can work together.
Who could be called re-brand Ambassadors?
Yes . Unlike people who are there today trying to give you proposals because youâ€™re trying to initiate something new. No, Iâ€™ve this genuine intention.Â I want to spend my money, put my money where my mouth is. I think when youâ€™re part of people who have genuine intentions, youâ€™ll also inspire others coming from the back.
Youâ€™ll also make people wanna volunteer in other areas of life, because Nigeria is our own, whether we like it or not.Â I mean, no matter what you do, you can only be a stranger in America. You and I only have NigeriaÂ to build.