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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Those Using Nollywood For Porn Movies Are Guerrilla Film Makers, Not Nollywood People


  -Emeka Ossai (Top Nollywood Actor and Director)


Top Nigerian film actor Emeka Ossai is one of those referred to as Nollywood's favourite faces. Ossai rode on the back of good-luck, into a blossoming film industry, that was just taking off when he graduated as a food technologist from the University. Armed with a background in modeling and having just emerged as Nigeria's First Choice Model, Emeka Ossai made an instant impact in Nollywood. He won AMAA Best Supporting Actor Award and went ahead to become a successful producer and movie director.

In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, Emeka Ossai reveal his current lifestyle as well as lifestyle issues in Nollywood such as Sex for role, X-rated Nollywood movies and the drought in new stars in the industry.  

Has Nollywood produced stars in recent times?
It is actually very difficult to say because the individuals still recognised widely across Nigeria and across the world, are stars that have been created in the past. One of the things that I have noticed is that there are some people who ought to be stars at it were, based on their new entrant into the industry. But we have found out that such popularity does not go beyond the social media. So they are on social media and they have lots of followers but in the real world, little number of people know and recognise them. Some of them seem to be popular in the Lagos circuit, but once they are outside Lagos, no one knows them. When you are a star, you are a hit across the country. You are easily recognised across the country. You are more or less a house hold name. So you find out that the general recognition of people as stars, in the movie industry, goes back to people in my generation. So I would say that the industry has witnessed entry of good, bold new actors, but that has not made them recognisable stars as we had in the past.

Is it easy for anyone to become a star in Nollywood these days?
It is not easy at all because the platform is not as widely spread as we had in the past. Then when we majorly had our movies on videos, the cds and videos spread across Nigeria at the same time. Then when we say a movie is a hit, it was so because in the North, down to the south, East and west, people would have consumed the content and would have been familiar with the artistes in the movie, and the stars resonates. And even in the other parts of Africa that the movie goes to, the same effect will be seen there and in the Diaspora too, not forgetting the Caribbean. But you don't have such these days. That is why it’s difficult for anyone to become a star these days.

Do you foresee newer stars emerging in the nearest future?
I do not know whether the individuals that are supposed to emerge are presently given the consistent exposure necessary for that because the turnover of new entrants is very high. Talents I can say are so much these days but no enough time even for an individual talent or group to blossom or grow, especially now that things are done in a half-hazard manner. More so, the industry has become so segmented that different segments have their array of supposed stars, bringing out products that are competing with each other, competing for space in the established markets of Nollywood. And there is really no particular one that has been outstanding over the others. Look at the movies that have come out in the past to become hit films, they became so because, established cast in the films were brought back to give impetus to the production and you can see that it is a new trend now. Old stars are brought in which was the trend in our generation. However, at some point, there was a dis-connect.

How was it done then?
What used to happen then was that, when some people have made their names as stars, they were used alongside new budding talents to grow them into stars. That is how it was in the days of Barbara Soky down to Genevieve Nnaji, Jim Iyke and others. After that generation, the budding talents didn't have enough time to blossom like them. And there were concerted efforts made by those who referred to themselves as the new Nollywood to create a new industry, to create a new set of talents that would take over but never took off. Apparently that went on for a while and when it became obvious that there is no way they could outdo what we had in the past, they came back to the system that we had in the past. Those who were already established worked with the new talents until the new talents became known and recognised. That has been a natural order in the film industries across the world.


You have been an actor and a director, what can you say about the use and dump of actors in Nollywood?
Well, if you are an actor, you are paid to deliver a particular role or roles as the case may be on a set and you are paid for it. I do not not see where using and dumping come to play. There is always a reason when a producer stops to use an actor. That is because if i'm doing my productions and I am using a particular actor who is guaranteeing me returns from my investments, I will be happy.

However, let me tell you where the idea of this use and dump of actors come from. A lot of people by the new Nollywood mentality are on social media, they hype up their follower ship and call themselves influencers and Producers believe that when they use such people, half of the supposed millions of their followers will patronise the product to move the film up. Only to use such actor or influencer and nothing good financially comes from the product. So what do you do? Ofcourse you dump such actor or influencer because the basis for the use of the person, is a facade. He is fake and not real. It is better to work with actors with real social media following not a fake, hyped, social media following that runs into 500,000 and millions but gets you nothing.

Over the years actors turn into celebrities faster than producers and directors, but are the latter making more money than the actors?
I think it all depends on the position of the director or the producer. There's nowhere in the world where the producer or director is richer than the actor especially if he is strictly a producer or director hired to do the job. There are producers and directors who are hired to do the job but there are also producers and directors who own their productions. If you are the owner of the business, there is the tendency that you will make more money than the people that you hire. It is the actors that actually create the whole essence of the product that is monetized.

What is the natural progression because, what we notice in Nigeria is, people become actors, then producer and then a director.
It depends on the individual aspiration. It is not compulsory that having been an actor, then you have to move on to others. Like in my case, from day one, I wanted to be at the pinnacle of affairs in the film making chain. And that is, rising from being an actor, to being a producer and then owning my production house and directing my productions. It is not everyone endowed with the ability to manage the rudiment of conceptualising a project, waiting to se the project through, waiting through the gestation period for the project to make money. Some people are just talented to be actors and can blow you away with their acting skills. Just like in the music industry, not all musicians should own a label.  

Okay for you, how do you combine your marital life with being an actor, director and producer?
I think because I have been in the entertainment industry for very long,. I have learnt to handle that over the years. 

How many years have you been in the industry?
I started out as a model. I rose to become Nigeria's First Choice Model before I got into the movie industry from way back in1986 while I was in school. It was when I graduated that I decided that I could actually make a living through the movie industry, though I studied Food Technology. Within all these years, even to the time that I got married, I have been able to strike a balance between work, business and home. I don't think that there has been any clashes so far.

But then again, these days, I have not been away from home as I used to do when I was much more younger. I have the advantage of having started very young. So the time I needed to stay aways from home a lot, I sacrificed that when I was much younger. Now I have more time to myself, I am more into family now especially since I now run my own business.

You play the life of a rich man in movies, is it okay to act the life of a rich man at home too? How does one draw the line?  
In reality I don't know the difference between the life of a poor man or rich man, I just live life the way I can afford it. If on set you are given a role to play as a rich man and you think that because of that you want to replicate such lifestyle in real life, you will face it alone! For instance, if you drive a Rolls Royce in a film and you don't have it in real life to drive, will you go and kill yourself? So an actor has to live his life the way the actor is in reality but then, nothing stops an actor from aspiring to be a better person like the life he lives on set if it is that of a rich man. The entertainment industry is one that allows people to be easily carried away with the mirage lifestyle that even when they ought be building gradually to get to where they want to be, they tend not to do so. They are easily tempted or lured to want to do it faster. But if one has a proper orientation, one will not be caught in that web. It is not only in Nigeria, it happens all over the world and sometimes before they realise it, it will be too late.

You talked about your marriage just now but how did you meet your wife?
I met my wife through a friend during a social outing. What attracted me to her was that, first of all as a lady, I saw beauty in her, she is beautiful, but it wasn't so much of the physical attributes because I was matured enough to go beyond looking at that and seeing the more enduring attributes of a woman in her. I saw an exciting person and we got dating and before we knew it, we were talking serious and got married.

You have lovely twins, is any of them thinking of joining you in the entertainment industry?
They are still young but the natural attributes are there. I have a beautiful girl and a handsome boy, even just recently, my son became Mr Greenville. That is the name of his school. So with that, I can say that the traits are beginning to show. It was actually a pageant which he won just like his father who won to become Nigeria's First Choice Model.

For a successful director will you say you flow with the latest trend of fashion and style?
The truth is I don't really think that I have had enough time to worry about latest fashion trends and how it concerns me. That maybe because, I have lived a fashionable life all through my youthful days where I bothered about what I wore, how I wore it, so it has become natural with me. When I'm seen out there, I get commendations about how I look, but I don't really see it as different from the usual because I just dress as I have become used to it over the years. It has become a natural rhythm for me to wear what looks good enough for people to commend. My fashion and style has become a second nature to me.

Is your wife in the entertainment industry like you?
Oh no, she is in the Telecoms industry. She is not anywhere around the entertainment industry.

In recent times, actors and entertainers have swung into partisan politics, have you tried it?
Yes, I have tried it even much earlier before other artistes started dabbling into politics. I am from Delta State. At the time that Chief James Ibori was governor of the state, I went into the political terrain. It wasn't the best experience for me. I got to realise that for most people to succeed in politics, you probably have to be very compromising. I was not too comfortable with the things that I was expected to compromise over. It got to a point where I had to tell myself the truth that politics was not meant for me. Prior to that time I thought it was an opportunity to show my zeal to serve the people and make things better. But I got to see that it goes beyond that. Some people are not sincere about their claims to serving. So I ask, why do you fight if all you want to do is to serve? But people are ready to go to any length. So I opted out but if I am appointed I would serve but not partisan politics.

What's your greatest work as an actor and then as a producer/director?
One of my greatest work was 'Dead End' which was made by Chico Ejiro. It was one of the biggest films that came out of Nollywood. It was the film that put me in every home in Nigeria. The other one was 'Check Point' which was done in 2006 or thereabout, it was directed by Bond Emeruwa, it was the film that won me an AAMA Award for the Best Actor in a Supporting role. That was a big milestone for me to have won an Award on the biggest stage of Africa. AMAA is our own African Oscars. That remains memorable in my mind. Then as a Producer, I will say that 'Thorns of Rose' has been my greatest work. It brings a lot of fond memories to me, first because it was a prove that I could pull off a big project successfully and I had Omotola Jolade in it too. It was her first major role in a movie set. Omotola then was still in secondary school. I think it was her last year in secondary school. She used to come to my set then in her school uniform. That was also the Shan George era. I actually brought Shan George into the movie industry. I taught her acting. The first time I saw her, young and beautiful, I said even though she has never acted before, that my director will work on her to be able to deliver. Ofcourse, she was able to deliver. And that became her in-road into Nollywood and today, she is successful. I can say I am proud of her.

Is sex still an issue in Nollywood?
I don't know to what extent it is an issue in Nollywood but the truth is, giving what you have to get what you want, has always been an issue in all industry. Is it the banking sector you want to talk about, people try to use what they have as an advantage to leverage on what they want. Nollywood as an entertainment industry is not different from any other entertainment industry in the world including India that is supposed to be a very conservative industry. What adults do is left to adults but what one should speak against is rape. I don't think it is an issue in Nollywood. I don't put myself in that position.

There's also this new one online called Nollywood xrated movies, is it truly Nollywood?
Ofcourse, people are using the name Nollywood to sell those films. I don't know anyone in their right senses who would be making X-rated movies, where do you want to sell them? Who will be your customers or which traditional channels will buy it? So I think it is guerilla film makers that are using the success of Nollywood to do that. Like I will say again, it is not peculiar to Nollywood, it is there in other countries. Unfortunately, the internet has given opportunity for all sorts of things to be uploaded.

You are still not looking different from a model, so how do you handle ladies who refuse to accept the fact that you are married? 
There are always ways to handle that. Like I said, I have been in the entertainment industry long enough to have devised different ways to handle different situations. I will not say that I am a saint, but I can assure you that I am old enough and responsible enough to know where to draw the line, and when I should. And that has helped me to maintain sanity even in my family life. It is not like a formula that I have written out and apply when it happens, but as it comes, one knows how to handle it. Again, I am not the most perceived when it comes to being friendly. It is not likely that someone will see me and think I am that friendly to try frivolities with. So that part of me has kept a lot of people at bay.

What do you think is the next stage for Nollywood?
I am not one of those who are too enthusiastic about a Nollywood/Hollywood collaboration. Nollywood has been able to prove its mettle without collaboration, or support from anywhere. We were able to create an industry that was able to cultivate Africa as our own farmland for entertainment. I think we have not been able to explore 20% of Africa. Even Nigeria where we say we are 200 million people, if you do a movie and sell even just a million, you know what that means? So we have not even scratched the surface and potentials that we have in Nigeria not to talk of Africa. Whatever name we have all over the world, it is because of the success of we doing our own thing, in our own way as Nigerians.

Now the revolution all over the world is making movies on video! When we were doing that in Nollywood we were being laughed at. But today everyone is coming into it and how many people are waiting to do movies with celluloid these days? So the next level is to consolidate and build structures for our industry so that the potentials that we already have, can be converted into real market. Like they say, the bedrock of any film industry in the world is television. We need to consolidate our Tv content production.  

Surulere in Lagos used to be the home of the movie industry, is it still so?
When the industry started, it used to be one big family and ofcourse, Surulere was home to Nollywood. Yes there were a few people in Ikeja but it was at Surulere that plans were made. Then, how many people could afford offices? Zeb Ejiro's office was the place for most of us for instance. He had a big office where people could use to run their projects. Festac was our shooting studio at that time. But the industry has become so expanded and decentralised and people operating from different places. But we still have meeting points in Surulere today. Then there was also the craze for Nollywood people wanting to live in Lekki but these days I think they are even moving towards Epe. It is no longer Lekki phase one. Unlike in those days that all production equipments were in Surulere, these days people can afford their own equipments, so it is a decentralised industry today.

How about your fond holiday memories?
We go on holiday once every year after a hard year's work. We have been to UK and other places in Europe but Dubai has become our main destination. We have explored and explored Dubai though there are still areas that we have not been able to go because of security issues.


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