Archive for the ‘On location’ Category

Over the weekend, Tunde Kelani and his dedicated crew completed their 170th slate. And with many more characters and scenarios to shoot, the production of Dazzling Mirage is not even yet on the home stretch. This gives you an idea of how many minute fragments it takes to compose a feature-length film. As each “slate” identifies a new camera position, a new angle from which to gaze on the action of the scene, you can also get a sense of how much time is involved in capturing these small fragments. In the past, Nollywood producers could not afford to take the time on set necessary to shoot a scene in such detail, which gave early Nollywood films their characteristically slow pace: long takes with lots of dialogue. Kelani, on the other hand, who was trained as a cinematographer, has always had a particular appreciation for storytelling through image making.

Kelani adjusts the settings on the monitor, checks composition and lighting. © Connor Ryan

Kelani adjusts the settings on the monitor, checks composition and lighting. © Connor Ryan

A cast with notoriety: Lala Akindoju, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Manuel. (And Bisola Ojo - continuity.) © Connor Ryan

A cast with notoriety: Lala Akindoju, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Bimbo Manuel. (And Bisola Ojo – continuity.) © Connor Ryan

Dazzling Mirage - Sarafa Abagun

Cinematographer Sarafa Abagun changes the lens before second take. (Seun, Sarafa, Jelili, Kelani.) © Connor Ryan

Sarafa Abagun, pictured above, got his start as an assistant cameraman at Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in 1979, almost three years after Kelani had become a cameraman for the nation’s only television station at the time. In 1995, Sarafa left NTA to freelance on commercial advertisements and to work with Kelani’s Mainframe Studios shooting footage for BBC and Reuters. I asked how shooting for a film like Dazzling Mirage differs from shooting an advertisement. As it turns out, there is no difference. In terms of capturing a particular style of image and using a certain set of standard shots, the film “language” is the same, as Sarafa put it.

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Tunde Kelani is well underway with his newest movie titled Dazzling Mirage, adapted from the novel of the same title by Yinka Egbokhare. The production has an ambitious schedule with scenes being shot all over the city of Lagos. Location, location, location, as they say. The crew and leading lady, Kemi Lala Akindoju, have all been up to the task though. Patience and professionalism are the order of the day.

TK snaps a portrait of lead actress Kemi Lala Akindoju.

TK snaps a portrait of lead actress Kemi Lala Akindoju. (Kemi Lala Akindoju and Tunde Kelani.) © Connor Ryan

Dramatic lighting takes time.

Dramatic lighting takes time. (Kemi Lala Akindoju, Seun Akindele, and Tunde Kelani.) © Connor Ryan

Reposition camera, double check lighting and action.

Reposition camera, double check lighting and action. (Tunde Kelani, Bisola Ojo, Kemi Lala Akindoju.) © Connor Ryan

Actor Seun Akindele in the kitchen, the weight of the world on his character's shoulders.

Actor Seun Akindele in the kitchen, the weight of the world on his character’s shoulders. © Connor Ryan

Alongside Kemi Lala Akindoju and Seun Akindele, pictured above, the cast of Dazzling Mirage includes Yomi Fash Lanso, Bimbo Manuel, Kunle Afolayan, Taiwo Ajai Lycett, Ayo Badmus, and Tosin Bucknor. I will be following the cast and crew as they continue shooting through September. You can also see updates at the Dazzling Mirage website.

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Bishop shoots comic chase scene. © Connor Ryan

Bishop shoots comic chase scene. © Connor Ryan

Over the weekend I was able to catch up with the comedian actor Ime “Bishop” Umoh on the set of his upcoming film “The Champion.” The new film is the project of Morris Sesay (executive producer, producer, and story concept), the head of Believe Media production company which also produced “Cat and Mouse” and “Believe.” The story of “The Champion” follows a comic villager, Ifiak (Ime Umoh), who travels to Lagos after his womanizing lands him in hot water. Old habits are hard to break and Ifiak continues to create conflict and comedy in his new environment. The story resembles Ime Umoh’s most recent hit, “Okon Lagos,” a film that became one Royal Arts Academy‘s highest grossing films, according to the producer/screenwriter, Uduak Isong Oguamanam. I asked Ime Umoh why the scenario of a villager coming to Lagos was inherently humorous. Our conversation honed in on the question, why do we laugh at the incongruity between “civiliation” and “illiteracy” (or rather our social perceptions of them)? Ime Umoh, who was trained in philosophy at the university and is remarkably insightful and articulate about his craft, explained that this type of humor both disrupts the way things “ought” to be and also teaches us the value in doing things from a reasoned standpoint. In his words, “If you learned to read and write a little, you would’ve read somewhere that you ought not to live or behave that way, in this way, taking the spoon, stirring the tea and than drinking the tea like soup. Okay? It’s funny. You’re turning the whole action upside down. It ought not to be that way. So that’s where the illiterate man is funny. And the exposed man and the literate man will just look at him and, ‘Oh my god, where did they bring this one from?!'” But there is a message in this type of humor as well, he insists. The viewer will understand that, “by the time you are educated it opens many many many doors of possibilities for you.”

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Kate Henshaw, Emeka Ossai and Eke Ume on the set of Crossed Roads.

In a recent conversation, Bond Emeruwa suggested that, in these tough times in Nollywood, some filmmakers might be returning to television production as an alternative. I jumped at Eke Ume‘s invitation to observe the set of Crossed Roads. Ume, production manager and associate producer of the program, has a long career straddling both TV and film production. When I visited the set, Ume and the crew were shooting for the upcoming fourth season of Crossed Roads. At the center of the scenes for the day was celebrity actress Kate Henshaw. who has accrued her fame from her work in Nollywood films. In fact, after asking around a bit, it became evident that nearly all the crew, from DP to boom operator, have worked in both video film and television.

The schedule was tight, and the crew worked professionally and efficiently to shoot twenty six episodes (half a season) in a matter of fifteen working days. Ume tells me that, when he shoots for TV, he is most concerned with conveying a compelling story, rich characters, and enthralling dialogue. When he works on film, he has more freedom to capture the camera movements and physical action that entice viewers. Financing of TV production is also virtually all from private investment, whereas films have more avenues for formal loans and alternative financing. This means financing for TV is harder, and since media outlets rarely fund production, the executive producer is left to absorb the financial risks. In the case of Crossed Roads, all the funding comes from Golden Pyramid, a private studio headed by Emeka Ossai (CEO). Besides acting as executive producer and producer for the program, Ossai also plays the lead role, a character named Vaugh. Crossed Roads will be aired on TVC, DSTV, and Africa Magic.

It is acknowledged often and widely that Nollywood videos bare a close relation to serialized television programming. Films are almost always split into part one and two, and the door is never closed on the possibility of producing a sequel if a film proves successful. The aesthetics of melodrama and the heavy reliance on dialogue as a vehicle of narrative development implies a consonance between video film and soap opera formats. And finally, the two mediums use the camera in a similar fashion. Shots are often stationary, and the use of close ups is intended to enhance the emotive impact of the dialogue. Alessandro Jedlowski might remind us, furthermore, that TV and Nollywood are both highly accessible, widely distributed (portable), and “communal in [their] modes of exhibition” (“Small Screen Cinema” 439), and that “Nollywood produces something that is located in between cinema and television” (ibid. 432). Jedlowski goes on to suggest that Nollywood’s recombination of cinema and television has engendered a “remediated” form he describes as “small screen cinema” (ibid. 439).

Beyond these aesthetic traits, we might also look to the specific history of television and film in Nigeria. In his essay “From Folk Opera to Soap Opera,” Wole Ogundele describes the evolution, or we might say the “remediation,” of Yoruba traveling theater into film, television, and later video film. He describes television as “a strong alternative and parallel medium that dramatists like Ogunde and Duro Ladipo used alternatively or in combination [with stage performance and film] (in Haynes 2000, p. 95). Indeed, we know that, in the earliest years of video film, those filmmakers who had formal training, like Tunde Kelani, were those who had worked for Nigerian Television Authority.

From Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Basi and Company to other popular television serials like New Masquerade, and The Village Headmaster, the medium of television has always existed as an important parallel medium alongside video film (see Haynes’s “What Is to Be Done?” [2010] and Adesokan’s“The Idea of Nigerian Cinema” [2012]). And the line between video and television has only grown more porous since the advent of M-Net’s Africa Magic satellite TV channels. (However, one must keep in mind that DSTV has only some 5 million subscribers in Nigeria, a nation of over 150 million.) I wonder if we should still think of television and video film as parallel media, or as two industries constantly at a crossroads with on another.

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Tufts Magazine — my alumni publication — ran a recap of my year in Nollywood in their Fall 2011 issue, which you can access here. However, much of the published article was edited for length, so I’ve taken the liberty of including the original version below.

A video shop at the Nigerian Film Market in Surulere, Lagos. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

Nigeria’s Booming Movie Industry

By: Bic Leu, A07

“I think that if you all are half as fast as I am, we can be done in no time!” is director Desmond Elliott’s rallying call to cast and crew in the midst of a grueling shooting schedule that packs two feature-length movies into eleven days. With such speed and arguable efficiency, it is no wonder that Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is popularly known, was recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as the second largest film industry in the world in terms of production volume–almost on par with Bollywood and far eclipsing Hollywood.

I arrived in Lagos, the heart of Nollywood production, in September 2010 on a Fulbright grant to research the industry’s social impact. This marked my return to West Africa, where I have frequented since the age of 19 – first as an exchange student at the University of Ghana and then as a participant in a Tufts-organized research trip to investigate corporate social responsibility in the Ghanaian gold mining industry. However, this most recent immersion in Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous megacity – home to at least 15 million inhabitants – proved to be more stimulating and challenging than any of my previous experiences in the region.

Over the next ten months, I followed four Nollywood productions–Tunde Kelani’s Maami, Muhydeen Ayinde’s The Return of Jenifa, Elliott’s Midnight Whisper, and Daniel Ademinokan’s Ghetto Dreamz– through the filming, post-production, and marketing stages in order to track the transactions first hand. I had hoped that my on-the-ground observations would demystify the size of the industry by showing me the process and parts needed to produce a film, total unit sales and revenue, as well as the long-term effects on the lives of Nigerians, such as job creation and poverty reduction.  I discovered that Nollywood’s impact goes beyond what could be measured by numbers.

The industry’s commercially accessible format distinguishes it from other African cinema cultures–in particular that of the Francophone countries, where filmmakers produce highly stylized “art films” driven by socio-political messages.  Francophone African films are primarily funded (and thus shaped) by the French government and distributed internationally to film festivals and other noncommercial channels.  Nollywood films are self-financed, with historically little government subsidy or foreign aid. While African audiences rarely see most of the Francophone products, their Nigerian counterparts are characterized by a capacity to transcend local ethnic and national boundaries to be voraciously consumed by millions of viewers across the continent, the Diaspora, and everywhere else in between.

Nollywood’s emergence in the late eighties coincided with a national economic crisis that depleted filmmakers’ access to expensive celluloid film stock. This led Yoruba traveling theater artists to record their live performances on videocassettes, which were sold by electronics dealers in the markets. One such dealer wrote and funded a feature film shot entirely with a VHS camera. The result was “Living in Bondage” (1992), Nollywood’s first blockbuster, with sales of more than 750,000 copies. Today the independently financed movies continue on VCD and DVD, with an increasing number of cinema releases. The predominantly straight-to-video release format allows films to be produced cheaply, for $USD 30,000 to $USD 200,000, and quickly, with shoots lasting three to four weeks. They retail for a mere $USD 1.50 to $USD 3.50 and are voraciously consumed by millions of viewers across both the African continent and the diaspora.

Since the industry’s humble beginnings, production volume has reached epic proportions. The Nigerian National Film and Video Censors Board, the federal regulator of the industry, received 1,612 local films for censorship classification in 2010, which averages an astounding 31 new releases per week. Given filmmakers and marketers’ disregard for government regulation, this number does not include the scores of “un-authorized” films that bypass the Censors Board on their way to market release.

The set of legendary director Tunde Kelani’s Ma’ami was my first opportunity to jump in at the ground level.  I joined Kelani and his crew on location in Abeokuta, about 100 km north of Lagos, for the three-week shoot of his eighteenth feature film in October 2010. Since establishing Mainframe Productions in 1992, Kelani has consistently released movies like Thunderbolt and Saworoide, which have cemented his reputation as the most celebrated director in Nigeria and have become favorites in Yoruba households across Africa, Europe, and the Americas. After pirates cut in the profits of his last film, Arugbá (2010), by selling illegal copies a few days after its release, Kelani resolved to tackle this copyright infringement by releasing Ma’ami only in theaters—a surprising move given Nollywood’s distinction as a video film industry and given the focus of its distribution networks on home entertainment consumption.

On the Ma’ami set, I was also struck by the widespread extortion that exists in movie-making in Nigeria. Kelani concedes that he keeps a budget line titled “community relations” for such occasions as when Nigerian Railways Corporation officials halted production to demand to see film permits, though the railroad tracks on which the scene was set had not functioned in decades and at that moment were covered by a bustling market. The demand was resolved after some crew members accompanied the officials to the local police station, where further “negotiations” were made to secure appropriate shooting rights to the train tracks. The community relations dilemma continued when our exit from the train station was blocked by a crowd of “area boys” (gangs of under-employed street youths) who demanded more “dash” (i.e. bribes) for shooting rights as well as the chance to meet the female lead, Funke Akindele, who is widely considered to be the biggest star in the Yoruba language film genre. I breathed a sigh of relief (and disbelief) when the Production Manager negotiated our safe passage for a paltry N1,500 ($USD 10), which was distributed among approximately 20 area boys after a nearly hour-long stand-off.

On The Return of Jenifa set in Lagos in November to December 2010, this shadow fund came into play when local area boys again stopped the equipment truck and demanded N20,000 (USD $134) per car to enter the private housing estate where we had planned to shoot a scene. Determined to continue the shooting schedule, director Muhydeen Ayinde and director of photography DJ Tee changed locations to a nearby hotel.  The boys followed us to the hotel, where as day turned into night and as the pile of their discarded beer bottles swelled, they grew increasingly insistent in their demands for more money. This disruption escalated into a rowdy fight and delayed production until midnight.

I was invited to join The Return of Jenifa set by Funke Akindele, who I met on the location of Kelani’s Ma’ami. After honing her craft on hundreds of movie sets over the last decade, Akindele’s career exploded in 2008 after the release of Jenifa. She wrote, produced, and starred in the Yoruba-language comedy chronicling the title character’s misadventures when she leaves her provincial village life behind to attend university in Lagos.  The low-budget movie took the country by storm, selling approximately one million copies and introducing such catch phrases as “bigz girls”–Jenifa’s backwoods terminology to describe the “in-crowd” on campus–to the Nigerian popular vernacular. The movie’s popularity can be measured in the culture of celebrity that surrounds Akindele wherever she goes.  On location, her every step was echoed by screams of “Jenifa!” from adoring fans. Crowds in the dozens gathered to intently watch, discuss and document Akindele’s every move as she performed the most mundane tasks in between takes–from napping to eating lunch.

In The Return of Jenifa, the much-anticipated third installment in the blockbuster Jenifa trilogy, Akindele hopes to use the momentum behind her celebrity to go beyond the sales success of the original. Akindele aspires to turn Jenifa into a franchise and a cult figure, much like Tyler Perry’s Madea. A self-described “youth ambassador”, Akindele plans to use Jenifa the character to reach out to young people living with such challenges as teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS on a future Jenifa-hosted talk show. In addition, plans are in the work for a Jenifa sitcom, followed by the establishment of a Jenifa Foundation to support youth with showbiz ambitions.

This celebrity culture followed me to the set of Ghetto Dreamz in late February 2011. The movie chronicles the meteoric rise and tragic death of Da Grin, the wildly popular 23 year-old rapper whose life was cut short by a car accident; some mythologize him as Nigeria’s own Tupac. By the time that I arrived on set, the entertainment blogosphere had been buzzing for weeks about the last-minute crew changes. Avid Da Grin fans were highly critical of executive producer Ope Banwo’s abrupt departure from the original director and his decision to recruit the relatively less experienced Daniel Ademinokan to direct and to write the script. Fans also disapproved of the acceleration of the production schedule to meet the April 2011 theatrical release date, which was designed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Da Grin’s untimely death. Ademinokan completed the casting process in January; shot the film over three weeks in February and finished post-production in March.

Like Ghetto Dreamz, Desmond Elliott’s Midnight Whisper had an equally ambitious shooting schedule. The drama marks the first time that two language versions of the same film were shot at the same time: English and Ibibio. Producer Emem Isong aims to target the Ibibio-speaking people in her home state in the eastern region of Akwa-Ibom, while still making a commercially viable product for the rest of Nigeria. The two versions will be packaged as two separate films and will be released at different times in different markets. When I visited the set in early February 2011, the production schedule covered 246 scenes (123 scenes for each version of the film) over an eleven-day period. Despite the grueling timetable, the set was a lesson in efficiency. Elliott–one of Nollywood’s most popular actors-turned-directors–allotted two takes per scene per language. First, he shot a scene in English in two takes: one wide-angle and one close-up. Then, the Ibibio-speaking actors rotated in and he shot the same scene, again in two takes.  Despite frequent power outages and the interference of generator noise with the on-set sound level, the cast and crew maximized this system to the extent that they were able to shoot an astonishing 40 scenes in one day.  The intense work pace continued beyond the completion of principal photography as Elliott began production on his subsequent feature the very next day.

It is hard not to get excited about Nollywood. Since its inception two decades ago, the Nigerian film industry has grown beyond a novelty in guerrilla film making into a sophisticated industry grappling with growing pains of piracy, quality control, celebrity culture and doing business in the informal economy. I set out to measure the social impact of the industry and found that Nollywood’s reach may be impossible to quantify with mere numbers. My fieldwork revealed the industry’s substantial capacity to create jobs and alleviate poverty, which addresses the critical issues of unemployment and income disparity in Nigeria. A standard movie directly employs 50-100 people, but its overall job creation is several times this amount due to the linkages with collateral industries created to provide services during filming and post-production, such as the yam vendors who supply the set caterer and the DVD manufacturing plants that fabricate movie copies. Per the government’s conservative estimate that 1,612 local films are released per year, I calculate that Nollywood supports hundreds of thousands of jobs annually–which present significant development potential for a country that the World Bank has estimated to have a 25% youth unemployment rate.

Since my Fulbright grant ended in July, I have been given the opportunity to leverage my research to affect change in Nollywood. What started as an intellectual pursuit has grown into a passion project, powered by the amazing individuals that I have encountered over the last year. I presently serve as the Project Manager for Del-York International, a media and communications company that is partnering with the New York Film Academy for the second straight year to facilitate a month-long training program in media production in August in Lagos. I have helped raise scholarships for close to 250 Nigerian students to get trained in such courses as Filmmaking and Broadcast Journalism. The Niger Delta Development Commission and Edo State Government are sponsoring students in recognition of the Training Program’s approach to curbing civil unrest and spurring job creation in oil-rich, but socially troubled Southeastern Nigeria by teaching employable skills to vulnerable youth.

Furthermore, I have introduced a weekly roundtable to the Training Program curriculum, Filmmaking in Nigeria, in which Nollywood practitioners discuss the local challenges of filmmaking, thus empowering a new generation of media professionals who possess both the technical and practical skills to succeed in the country. Last Saturday during the inaugural session focused on the history of the film industry, my good friend Tunde Kelani educated the students on the influence of Yoruba culture on his work – using many examples from the Ma’ami set to illustrate his points. In a way, Kelani’s lecture demonstrated how my year in Nollywood has come full circle. Despite intermittent power supply and harassment from external forces, Kelani, like many Nigerian filmmakers, innovate with limited budgets and tight production schedules to produce content that holds the rapt attention of audiences across the African continent and beyond. 

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I finally have the time and the bandwidth to upload a few behind-the-scenes videos of the Ma’ami shoot in October 2010. Please view them below and click here to read my behind-the-scenes coverage of the shoot.

Above: Tunde Kelani directs Funke Akindele during a scene in Lafenwa Market in Abeokuta. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2009-2011

Above: Yinka Davies & Gani Kayode-Balogun, Jr. perform a rendition of Owo, a song by the late Fuji maestro Ayinde Barrister, during a restaurant scene in Lagos. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2009-2011

Above: Tunde Kelani directs a masquerade scene featuring Wole Ojo and Tamilore Kuboye on the last day of shooting in Abeokuta. © Bic Leu and FindingNollywood.com, 2009-2011

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Daniel Ademinokan (Director). Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

I arrived on the Ghetto Dreamz set this morning and found it almost empty. Daniel Ademinokan (Director) explained that the cast and crew had been shooting Da Grin’s death bed scene in a local hospital until 2AM the night before. Thus he wanted to give everyone some extra time to rest–especially since today’s shooting schedule would be equally hectic. Yemi Awoponle (Director of Photography) explained that he plans to capture the pivotal car crash scene tonight on an Ikeja expressway using ropes, a tractor trailer, and two cars–including Da Grin’s own damaged vehicle.

Titilayo Akinode (Make-up) preps Trybson (as Da Grin). Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

Doris S. Ademinokan (as Chi Chi) in the make-up chair. Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

By noon, everyone was ready to resume work. We shot a restaurant scene with Da Grin and Chi Chi, his girlfriend, in which the rapper reveals a softer side. Per Trybson (as Da Grin), he has recorded a single, Life in the Ghetto, which will be released on the movie soundtrack by Stingomania Records. (Stingomania Records is owned by Executive Producer Ope Banwo).

Doris S. Ademinokan (as Chi Chi) and Trybson (as Da Grin). Photo © 2011 Bic Leu

Ademinokan expects to finish shooting by Friday, after which he will spend two weeks in post-production to complete a cut by mid-March. The film is scheduled to premiere around the April 22 anniversary of Da Grin’s death.

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