• Speaks on ties with ‘Baba Wande’, Atorise, Adewale Ayuba
Yemi Amodu is a filmmaker, storyteller, actor, script writer and producer. Amodu, who just turned 50, in this interview, reminisces on his early life, his journey in the movie industry and his expectations.
Turning 50, how does it feel?
I feel so happy turning 50 even though I still work like a boy of 25. I am still very strong because I work for 20 out of 24 hours every day.
How do you describe your early life? And how long have you been in the movie industry?
My early life was rough. My father was a civil servant with the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources but he died young. My mother was trading in vegetable which I must hawk in the morning before resuming in school for the afternoon session. The death of my father impeded my education. I had to wait for one year at home before I could be enrolled back to school after transferring to Mafoluku Grammar School Lagos from Obaseku High School Eruwa where I started my secondary education. But along the line, I enrolled with Ori Oye Theatre Group where I was groomed into an actor. The combination of my talent and the informal training shot me to local stardom in Mafoluku Oshodi and by the time I got back to school, I was already a group leader.
I found Christ Performing Troupe in July 1983 but that did not flourish until after I passed out of secondary school. That was because I became the President of Omo Oduduwa Troupe of Mafoluku Grammar School. I won many awards for my school as a poet. I was picked as the best poet during a competition that was held for secondary schools in Lagos Island. So I became the voice of MAMSER and I would be put in a Land Rover mobilising with the PA on top of the vehicle. I left secondary school in 1986 and fortified my Christ Performing Troupe to a formidable group performing in churches across the South-West. The group was later to become the Unity Theatre Group which produced the likes of Olanrewaju Omiyinka aka Baba Ijesha, Joseph Oladunjoye who today is one of the best directors of photography in Nigeria among others. But in 1992 after the production of my first film as a producer/actor, I decided to go behind the camera. I wanted to know more about production. I love to acquire proficient knowledge of every aspect of production.
That is why I pitched my tent with Seyi Afolalu, a thorough teacher who taught me cinematography and editing. I was combining this with the running of our production outfit, SAF Production. In no time and, because I was learning from a practical man who have depth knowledge of the apparatus, I became a factor to reckon with in production. That is why Kareem Adepoju, aka Baba Wande, joined us immediately he left Mainframe and we handled about five of his productions. At a point, I was producing beyond films because of our kind of skills. I produced Christ Life International Church programs for Pastor Joshua Matiminu, the World Bible Church for Pastor Kumoluyi among others.
Our outfit consulted for Christ Embassy supporting his Night of Bliss with apparatus and personnel. I have also produced and directed many award winning musical videos for Adewale Ayuba, Wale Thompson, Lanre Retina, aka Atorise, Abel Dosumu, aka Mega 99, and many others. In the area of documentary, I have produced and directed many for Fungtai Engineering, Ebony Casket (Dehinde Harrison) like the plane crash at Itokin etc. I have packaged many great occasions using multi-cameras and running OB as director. I have delivered many papers as a filmmaker even before I went back to school to obtain diploma and Bachelor of Arts degree in directing from the Dept. of Performing Arts, Olabisi Onabanjo University.
Which of your films would you rate as number one?
What informed the production of Shadow Parties?
In 2000, I was nearly killed in the war between Ife and Modakeke. I was on my way to Edun-Abon for a social event and boarded a bus from Iwo Road in Ibadan heading to Ife. Shortly after Gbongan, the bus branched off the road on the grounds that he was avoiding the war. He drove into the bush and before we could blink our eyes, youths armed with amulets, cudgels, machetes and local guns swooped on us speaking local dialects. Only three of us that had Lagos or contemporary intonation were spared by luck. We ran through five towns for six hours before we got help. Since then I have been trying to do something on evil inherent in communal clashes. Thank God for the golden opportunity to contribute my quota against such vice as a survivor of that sort of madness.
As a seasoned actor and producer, what advice would you give an investor hoping to go into the industry, and how could they possibly recoup their funds?
Our industry is a very good one to invest in despite the hiccups some investors experience for investing wrongly. It is more profitable than oil. There must be a plan the investor must work with. Return on Investment must be factual and realistic. The story must treat a virile and didact theme. It must go with the audience because the returns are with them. The film must have a good commercial value by featuring the faces that will readily sell the film. It has to be handled by erudite and skilled people with no sentiments. If the proposal cannot dissect all these elements so clearly, then it is either a sham or substandard one which will lack capacity to return investment. Filmmaking is not a child’s play even though it is majorly done for survival in Nigeria now. The investor must also understand that it takes time to make a movie that will achieve its aim.
Should you have the opportunity, what kind of advice would you offer government to keep the movie industry on the desirable track?
I am a Nigerian by all standards and I have been and will continue to defend our unity with my films. We have discussed this severally with government but I think it will get better if they can improve on the Nolly Fund Scheme put together by the Bank of Industry and bring back the Project-Act Nollywood. They should provide scholarship to filmmakers to go back to school to acquire formal training. They should create the enabling environment for the film distribution to thrive. Today many films treat trivial and frivolous story lines that do not promote our culture or sanitise the society just because there is no standard. Government should ensure the passage of MOPICON very quickly to set the standard and create quality control.
Producers and marketers often breach contractual agreements. What do you think could be the cause and how can the menace of piracy be curbed?
Who are the marketers? What is your definition of a marketer? Or is it the bespoked definition given by our people that you think of marketer. The major problem we have is that our industry was started in an unstructured way which does not allow for specialty. What they represent in our industry is what is called studio in the developed countries. A studio will appoint executive producer, engage producer/s and hire a director interpretation of the script after a final draft is done by a screenplay writer. But here in Nigeria, they see themselves as mere marketers yet take over the ownership and the entire right of a film that is produced by another person from another source without knowing what the law says. We all need to sit together and find solutions to these disagreements. And who says films are no more selling? Our people just refuse to key into the dynamism of the industry. They are rather stagnant and not following the trend. Or they camouflage that films are no more selling. If a medium fails or is phased out, what happens to the other media? Are they not selling online? What of Pay Television like DSTV, Startimes, MyTV among others? Are they not getting sales from the rights to terrestrial televisions? It is a terrible thing to think films are no more selling. In fact it sells more now.
Piracy is truly menacing and destructive to us but that was then. Ask average ‘marketers’ about piracy, they will tell you how many VCDs they are unable to sell. If we follow the trend, we will be able to exterminate piracy. And government should amend the laws on piracy. I strongly recommend a stiffer punishment to them through the laws of our land.
There are some Nigerian youths who would love to pick a career in the industry. What do you have to tell them?
Our industry is good and big enough for you to showcase your talent. But you must be trained. You must acquire the knowledge from a good school of learning so that you help the industry grow.