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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

WHAT I DID FOR MY MOM TO SPONSOR 'SANGO' MY EPIC MOVIE - FILM PRODUCER, FEMI LASODE



Popular Nigerian film and music maker, Femi Lasode, returned to the country a few weeks ago from the United States of America where he had gone to put together a movie, titled: African Stolen Treasures. Although the producer of the popular epic movie, Sango, is currently writing his PhD thesis at the University of Abuja, he said he would be going back to America soon because he is working on getting investors for his epic movie to be titled: Queen Mother Osun.


He spoke with PAUL UKPABIO on his lifestyle, his experience as a former president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and his association with the late Afrobeats musician, Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, among other issues.

IT seems you have not been around for some time…

Yes. I came back from the United State of America about four weeks ago. How long did you stay in America and what were you doing there? I was in the United States basically to edit a movie I have just completed. It is titled: African Stolen Treasures.
I was also doing small screening around some cities over there, to get a feel of it and also get a feedback.

Have more or less relocated to America…
Yes, I have actually been going back and forth from America, though when I come like that, I spend most of my time in Abuja where I am doing a PhD course at the University of Abuja. I am looking at the media and I am very fascinated with the modern day distribution of Nigerian movies. It is one thing for the Nigerian government to say that they want Nigerian arts and culture to be a foreign exchange earner, but what have they put in place to ensure that it can be done in a successful manner? What I have been trying to do basically is to research on the modern day distribution technique. Yes, Nollywood movies can be seen abroad, but are they there legally? Does the government benefit from it? Does the country benefit from it? Do the producers benefit from it? That is the issue.
So, that is my focus with the PhD programme.


So when will your latest movie be here? The movie is ready, but we have not done a major screening locally because we are trying to get a sponsor for the premiere in Nigeria. After that, it will go to the cinema. That is where we are now. But even then, my latest movie, which is waiting to be premiered here, is a warm up for the epic movie which I want to do next. And that is the movie on Osun. It is called Queen Mother Osun, which some people have started seeing as Sango Part 2.
There are two epic films I want to do next, and they are heavy budget. You know that with an epic movie, you cannot just rent somebody’s house or use your cars, since you are going to be depicting time. You have to build sets. I had to build sets in Lekki for African Stolen Treasures which I have just completed. But with an epic movie, it is different.

Femi Lasode with Late Christiana Essien 
When we shot Sango, we went to Kwara State, Ikorodu and some other places to build sets. When we finished shooting the movie, we had to leave the set behind, which was a sad experience. Why was it a sad experience? We should have a film village where we can build sets and leave them there to be used another time. With that, we can shoot and reshoot movies. We have been talking of a film village for some time now, but where is the government? There has been no action from the government.
If we have to shoot an epic film like Osun, we have to be as realistic as possible. So we have to build sets in Osun State. And the way it is done abroad, when you build sets for such epic movies, you are supposed to hand over such sets either to the university or to the Osun State Tourism Board, because movie sets are tourism sites in other climes. But the challenge that is even on ground right now is that we are trying to do this movie at a time that the state itself is financially challenged. But again, they are not the only ones that can supply the funding. There are international grants. For instance, Osun groove is a UNESCO, world tourism site. People come to Osun annually, but what do they take back when they come? The answer is nothing. But if they have a movie, for instance, that they can take back with them, that tells the story. It will make sense. And I believe that the movie should be dedicated to the Late Susan Wenger who came all the way from Austria to develop the groove.
UNESCO and other bodies can give grants.


Did you meet Susan Wenger when she was alive?
Oh yes, I did. I even interviewed her as part of the preparations for the epic movie. What kind of person do you think she was? Maybe we got her at a time she was ready to talk. She was lovely, intelligent and dedicated to the groove. Maybe that is the reason she was called Adunni Olorisha. So I believe we should do the Osun story just like we did the Sango story, not just for ourselves but for generations yet unborn.

How long do you think it will take to make the film on Osun?
The shooting will take 90 days. Where will the location be? That is exactly my concern. It is an epic story. It will be for the benefit of the state. The sets ought to be used and re-used even for tourism. So the sets will be at Osun or at a film village.
I also believe that every state should have a film village. In Hollywood, movie sets are tourism sites, and that generates its own income.

What should be the ideal size of a film village?
A film village should be at least one hectare, but it shouldn’t be limited to that size. Movie makers can come in there and do movies. Let me share with you the experience I had shooting ‘Sango’ movie, and I hope you can use that as a guide. When I went to screen ‘Sango’, at Atlanta, do you know what the organisers asked me? They asked whether they should wear our traditional dansiki when coming for the event. Immediately, they saw it as a cultural event.
There was a thirst and hunger for African things. Have you seen any other film on Sango after I did mine? On the day I screened the movie, people came wearing different types of African designs and clothing. And guess what? I, the film maker, was wearing jeans and T-shirt! It is an irony. It never occurred to me that as an African event, the dressing ought to also be African. So out there, there is a thirst and hunger for what is African and the African Americans are ready to find their identity. To buttress my point, every Osun Osogbo festival, you see them coming from all over to attend the festival. Like I asked earlier, what do they take back? That is where I come in. I will be putting the story on film soon.

Do you have a cast in place for the proposed Osun film?
That is another big issue. Some school of thought have arisen, saying that the cast should be Hollywood actors. But I think that Africans, Nigerians especially, are very sensitive about such things.
They will ask you, ‘Are you telling me that there are not enough actors and artistes in Nigeria that you have to bring people from outside?’ No matter how good a Clarion Chukwurah is; no matter how good Genevieve Nnaji or Omotola is, none of them can play the Queen of England more realistically than their kind in England. So, that’s my point. Movie making is about believability. We can’t put a white man there to come and play Osun.

Will there be a role for Susan Wenger in the film?
Not really, because we are talking about an epic film, and when you are shooting an epic film, you are referring to a certain period in history. So in this epic of Osun, we would be looking at the 15th Century. Susan Wenger had not arrived then.

As a foremost film maker in Nigeria, what was the reception like for you in the US?
I screened in Atlanta. But let me give you an analogy to answer that question. You see, Black Panther hit box office record.
It made over one billion dollars at the box office. What is the story about? It is about African women warriors, but it was based on fantasy. However, there were the real African women warriors; the Amazons of Africa; Dahomey warriors who were used to fight the Egba people of Abeokuta in those days. The point I’m trying to make here is that if you want to make a billion dollars at the box office, you need backing. The reason why ‘Black Panthers’ has been successful is that they had Hollywood money backing it. And that is the difference. That is why I’m insisting that the next level for Nollywood is coproduction like it happens abroad. Americans or Black American investors collaborating on production with Nollywood should be our next step. I am happy that we are slowly getting there.
It is inevitable.

Why is it slowly coming? Why can’t it be done straightaway?
The point is that American investors are saying why should we put down money and do films with you when the next thing is that we will see the movie on the street? We took some of our film ideas to the last Cannes Film Festival. Let me show you their reply (brings out his phone and shows the interviewer investors’ responses). They complained about the substandard state of Nollywood films and piracy. That is their feeling; that there is no control over here. That is their opinion.

What is your own opinion about the Nigerian movie industry?
The truth is that in front of the camera and behind the camera, we have good talents. If you give Nigerian professionals the right equipment, you will get quality jobs.
Basically, we lack the equipment to deliver the standard quality. But there are lots of talent here.

You have been in film making for quite some time. What has been your main stay?
I must say it is the passion. I love editing whether it is movie or music. For instance, you cannot have a good movie without a good soundtrack.
They go hand in hand. The only problem I am having is that I am not making much money from it.

Where then does your main income come from?
What has given me money in Nigeria and has remained the best sector that anyone can make money from apart from oil is property. Film making is just a passion.

You have also been involved in the Nigerian music industry…
Yes, music is something I have been involved in since my days at St. Gregory’s College in Lagos, when I first saw Fela who used to come to our school then to perform at our college party. He had returned from England then. I remember once when he came and his song, Jeun k’o ku, was reigning. That was what everyone was singing while we were at the boarding school. We used to sneak out to watch Fela play. There were other bands then which were equally popular. Fela had the Sunday Jump. We used to sneak out after church, and when we returned, our dad would be waiting for us with a cane (laughs). My dad would ask, ‘Do you want to become a Fela boy?’ And before you could reply, you got six strokes of the cane. But that didn’t stop us from going to Apapa from Ikoyi to be at those musical shows.
Those were the days before Fela recorded his songs ‘Gentleman’, ‘Ikoyi mentality,’ ‘Ikoyi blindness.’ Before he recorded them, he used to play them during his shows. Again, St Gregory College was known for its school band. But I was in the set before Ofege.

So that was how you got involved in music?
Yes. But that was one side of it. The other side is that it was we the ‘aje butter’ (silver spoon) children that were usually invited to the NTA children’s party at Ahmadu Bello Way. We had big uncles there. People like Friday Ifode, Segun Olusola. We used to go and watch them while they were producing such programmes like Bar Beach Show, Saturday Square, Art Alade Show and others.
That was where I got inspiration for film and music production. We had such access to NTA because my dad was a big man at P&T which later became NITEL, and he was on the board of WNTV (Western Nigeria Television). For me then, it was a very fascinating experience watching them produce programmes at NTA. When those uncles came round to our house, they told us, ‘Come let’s go to NTA.’

So why didn’t you work with NTA when you finished school?
I wanted to do that but my dad said no. He told me that I could always come back to that, but first, I should go and study something that would earn me good money.
He insisted that I should go and study Business Administration, which became my first degree in an American university in Washington DC. My master’s degree was in Communication Arts. That is the business aspect of communication.

People say you were close to the Late Chief MKO Abiola. What brought you together?
He was a family friend. At a point, I wrote a book which was sponsored by him. The book was titled:’Television Broadcasting: The Nigerian Experience.’ That was also the time when Chief Abiola had a bookshop. The book idea was my master’s thesis which I showed him. So he told me to turn it into a book.
During that period, I used to go around with him. That was how I got to meet Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and others at daytime parties in the late 70s. Chief Abiola knew my dad in Abeokuta, and you know he was at ITT, a telecommunications company, why my dad was at Post & Telecommunications. So we were family friends. He was a fascinating individual with his philanthropy. In fact, he was always dashing people money; both the poor and the rich.

When was the last time you saw Chief Abiola?
I can’t readily recall. But the funniest thing is that when he was campaigning for June 12, I was in school in America. I was thinking that my uncle was going to become President; that when I returned, I would have something doing. It turned out but a dream.

You also have a philanthropic side, because you are known to have helped many artistes...
I got that from him (Chief MKO Abiola). But I always had a dream that all the Nigerian artistes need is the right equipment.
Yes, I have had cause to be of assistance to quite a number of artistes. I worked with Daddy Showkey, Alariwo, Plantashun Boyz, Yinka Davies, Oliver de Coque, Sunny Okosuns and others. Also, when I was in New York, I worked at a radio station and the station used to promote African artistes. Some of such artistes were Sunny Okosun, KSA and Fela who all performed at the Apollo Theatre. I was the only African working there and was usually showcased by the radio station when African artistes came around.

What was growing up like for you?
It was fun. I grew up in Ikoyi and we were referred to then as the Ikoyi boys who went regularly to Ikoyi Club. We loved the cinema there in the club. The suya was great. We lived a stone’s throw away from the Ikoyi Golf Course.
My mum was industrious. She was a nurse but later became an entrepreneur. I had a particular gift that she liked. Whenever she sent me anywhere, I used to come back with something better than she expected. Soon, she started depending on me for her business. That was how she started sending me to China, Singapore, England and so on to bring things for her. I used to drive my mum then to Togo, Ghana and so on. I have never told anyone this, but it is because I was doing well for her that she gave me the money to produce my ‘Sango’ movie. It was out of the profits that I used to go and load her containers abroad.

First published by The Nation newspaper

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