What if a man leaves the comfort of a bank job to face an uncertain future as a film maker and not long after wins the Oscar? Well, this may be the premise someday for Kunle Afolayan’s story. Hailed by the New York Times as the ‘Martin Scorsese of Lagos’, Kunle has continued to push back the frontiers of film making in Nigeria. In this interview, he talks about his new film, October 1, and the journey so far as a film maker. Enjoy!
How was growing up like with your dad, Ade Love, and how has that influenced who you are today?
I would say my growing up really helped and influenced where I am today. It also influenced my decision to do what I am doing today -which is film making.
I didn’t really have the opportunity to try my hands on the trade as a child but, as I grew older, unofficially my father got me involved in how to do cinema business not really how to make film.
I didn’t know anything about how to make film but how to do exhibitions, and also promotions of films, and I did that for some time before my father passed on and through that I also visited some of the movie sets.
That also got me curious and interested in movie making but, to a large extent, I would say my background has really helped in moulding and grooming me towards what I have become today.
Is being a film maker what you’ve always wanted to be,considering the fact that you majored in accounting before you went to the New York Film Academy and you also worked in the bank as well?
Well, I would say yes and no, film wasn’t in my agenda but, of course, an average child who grew up around a movie making circle would probably want to be an actor, maybe not a film maker; you know, as a child, almost all the children of the practitioners were also involved in the same business then – acting.
For us our father shielded us from it because he just said, you would be distracted and you needed to go to school and be educated. Yes, I always enjoyed the cheap publicity of being a son of Ade Love but it wasn’t something I really wanted to do, not until I grew up, the man passed on, then I was seeing a new generation of film makers and I realized they were not doing as much as my father and those who started it used to do and I said to myself, ‘I can actually do better’, which was what really got me interested in making film.
How easy was it for you to leave the comfort of a paid employment to jump into the uncertain waters of filmmaking, I mean first you left for the New York Film Academy, what gave you that confidence that this was going to work out?
Well, before I even became a film maker, I started off as an actor in 1998, and when the zeal, anxiety and dream of wanting to become a film maker came, I approached established film makers like Tade Ogidan and Tunde Kelani.
Tunde Kelani gave me audience and when I said I wanted to be a film maker, he said what do I know about films? That film making is not a fluke -you have to learn it, you need to go to school -and he said he would advice that I start as an actor, that if I started as an actor, I could start like my father.
When it was time for them to shoot Saworoide, they invited me for audition and I scaled through and that was how I started as an actor. But, the following year, I started working in the bank, that didn’t give me room to feature in so many films. So, while in the bank between 1998 and 2004, I didn’t feature in up to ten films.
But in 2004 I said to myself that I didn’t belong in the bank. I was making money, I was comfortable, I had a car, I was living in a four-bedroom flat but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So one day I resigned, stayed home for eight months doing research on what I wanted to do.
Afterwards I went to school, did a diploma in digital film making, came back, and set up this production office; it was quite small, just two people and now we are where we are and I think it’s the passion really.
Apart from the normal challenges any entrepreneur faces, what was the most difficult challenge you faced when you came back from America to set up?
Setting up, as an entrepreneur, like getting an office, was not difficult for me because there was someone who was just moving out of an office and the person had six months’ rent still available and he said to me, ‘Kunle, you can take over this office and when the rent lapses you can pay’.
I just said to myself, ‘I doubt if I would be able to pay’, because it was in Opebi, but I said ‘let me at least enjoy the first six months’. I took over the office, got an office assistant and it was just two of us. Then I got myself a computer to learn editing, then this idea of Irapada film came.
From ‘Irapada’, I bought my first camera. Thereafter, every project that I did, I’m always equipping myself for those projects, that was how it all started. After Irapada, we grew to maybe a company of five staff and we moved out of there to another office, a bigger space. But I would say we have really done well in Golden Effect between 2004 and now.
And I think what has really helped is the fact that once I dreamt it, it had to be actualized, and I’ve always worked with practically the same people as crew, some of them on contract, some of them as permanent staff. In addition, I’m able to combine my creativity in art with business, and that is why the show is still on because a lot of people don’t break even in art.
Of all the movies you’ve produced and directed, which one is your favourite?
That’s a tough question because I think there are different genres, there are different kinds of films, so people relate to them differently and they have their advantages. Irapada, which was the first film, cut across the lower Yoruba crowd; Figurine was what did it for me, it went really international, recognized all over the world; but it cost me so much. In fact that was the most difficult film I have ever done. October 1 is not even as difficult as Figurine.
And why is that?
Well, it’s because after Figurine, I did Phone Swap, so I’ve been able to master the flow, the trade and business. October 1 is supposed to be more difficult because it’s even set in a particular period and it benches you to a particular work flow, you can’t shoot in a modern setting and you can’t have cables and masts and billboards, mobile phones, you can’t have all of these showing in your film, meaning our direction must be accurate.
Figurine was a bold step. Figurine was a step that nobody in this country has ever tried before, so it cost arm and leg – we lost a lot of equipment, a lot of people fell ill after the shooting; it was really tough and it’s because we embarked on something that seemed bigger than we bargained for.
You are a very busy man and obviously you have to travel and be on the road most times -how have you been able to handle that and still stay happily married with four kids?
Well, they came into my life while I was already in this business. My wife of course knows what goes with the kind of job that I do; so when I’m not working, I give them all the attention, and when I’m working, the one they can join and support in, they do; the ones they can’t, they give me my space and allow me do my thing. So really I’ve been able to balance both.
You wrote on your Facebook page, about a month ago, how you and your brother Gabriel were isolated on a flight to Seychelles from other Kenyans onboard due to the Ebola virus scare. How was the experience and have you had other related challenges lately as a Nigerian?
Well, I wasn’t really surprised because the Ebola thing was all in the air that time. We flew through Kenya to Seychelles and while in Kenya we had to go with some of our Kenyan colleagues. When we got to Seychelles, the Kenyans were coming from East Africa we were coming from West Africa and West Africa is where the Ebola thing has been reported. So, even with my yellow card, they had to put me and my brother aside and allowed every other person to go and we had to fill so many forms.
We had to be sure that we were not coughing but because we were also invited by the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation. It was easy to just get out once they realized that we were government’s guests, but it’s normal, it’s good to take precautions. Nigerians would have done the same thing. I didn’t know the news was going to spread that much because I was just thinking out loud, I wasn’t reporting.
Tell us about your latest movie October 1. What was the inspiration behind it?
October 1 is a film set in Nigeria against the backdrop of the Nigerian independence in 1960.
When the idea of the film came, I was initially going to run away from it because I knew it was going to be challenging and considering that in Nigeria we hardly archive things, we don’t even have records. We were looking for all the guns of the 60s, we couldn’t find them. When I read the script, I realized it was challenging but if I did this, it was going to definitely put me on a new slate and it’s a film that cut across internationally.
So I decided to give it a shot and not just shooting it, but also using actors that I believed would do justice to interpreting the roles. The project took us about two years, pre- production took more than six months, we shot for about two months, and post-production took more than eight months.
Right now, it’s ready and it’s going to have its world premiere on the 28th of September 2014 at the Eko Hotel and Suites. After that, it’s going to be released in cinemas in Nigeria from the 1st of October.
How much did the movie cost you?
It’s a two – million dollar budget film.
How did you get Sadiq Daba to feature in it?
When I read the script and the script says ‘a northern police detective who is at the age grade of 50 and 60’, I looked around and I didn’t want someone who could speak Hausa, I wanted someone who could really represent the North when people see it. I looked around and he was the only person that came to mind. I looked for him and found him. I got him the first draft and he got excited and we pulled it through.
Has any of your children shown interest in acting?
Well, even if they don’t show it, sometimes when I’m looking for extras, I always put them. At least it saves me cost but I know that there’s no way one of them would not end up doing what I’m doing. If they want to do it, I would give them all the support they would need. If not, whatever it is they want to do, I’m open.
What’s your thought on actors going into politics now and do you have any plans of doing same in the nearest future?
Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger became a governor and Ronald Reagan was also an actor; so there’s nothing wrong. First of all, you have the advantage of having people who like you because you are a public figure.
But being a public figure as an actor is different from going into politics. Politics is a serious game; for me, I am not interested, but I would always support anybody who I believe has good intention to lead. I’m not a politician but I would always do whatever it is in my capacity to support whoever that I think is chasing the right position.