Filmmaker, Uduak Steps Out Solo With Falling
After years of producing under her sister’s outfit, Royal Arts Academy, talented producer and screenwriter Uduak Isong Oguamanam has unveiled Closer Pictures, a new film production company set up to produce film and TV content that is locally set – and globally appealing. Already, plans have reached advanced stage for the release of her first movie under the stable titled Falling. Written and produced by Uduak and directed by Niyi Akinmolayan, the highly emotional and thought provoking drama, which touches on the subject of love, marriage, commitment and devotion, stars Kofi Adjorlolo, Desmond Elliott, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Adesua Etomi and others. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the graduate of Communication and Arts/Russian Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, with a Masters degree in New Media and Society from the University of Leicester, UK, spoke on her experience as a filmmaker, her new movie and challenges facing the creative industry.
How did you get involved with Nollywood?
I’ve been writing, but I started with prose and poetry; I switched to film when it looked like it was the more lucrative thing to do. When you are writing prose, nobody is really buying books in Nigeria unfortunately. So, when I discovered that Nollywood seems like it was growing, I started writing screenplay.
Before now, very little was known about you, you appeared to be silent in the industry?
Well, that’s because I work with my sister; I used to distribute under her label, but now, I have my own production company called Closer Pictures. So, Falling is the first film under Closer Pictures; all my previous movies were distributed under Royal Arts Academy.
Could you tell us other movies you’ve produced?
My first film is Okon Lagos, and then I had the Sequel to Okon Lagos called Okon Goes To School. Then I did Desperate House Girls and then Kokomma before Falling, which is my first film under Closer Pictures.
What’s the idea behind Closer Pictures, what do you intend to achieve with the platform?
Closer Pictures is a new film production company, which I set up to produce film and TV content that is locally set – and globally appealing. We are committed to telling our stories as Africans, for Africans both in the continent and in the diaspora while promoting our culture and values to a global audience.
So right now, you want to be on your own?
Well, I guess it gets to a point in life that you decide, ‘ok, I think I can stand on my own now.’ I learnt a lot from Emen Isong; basically production values and the fact that you must place quality above everything else. There’s a new wave in the country now; everybody think it’s all about hanging camera in the skies and picture quality and nobody thinks about the quality of the story. Emen believes in story and character first and that’s what majorly I’ve learnt.
Let’s talk about your new movie Falling, what’s inspiration behind it?
The story is about a very lovely couple (Imoh and Muna), who thought that they had everything and nothing could ever separate them. Then an accident happens and Imoh gets into comma, so, Muna is torn between letting him go and waiting for him. The title is random; it had to be called something, so, we chose Falling. As for the inspiration, I’m full time writer. Usually when people keep asking what inspired the movie, I’m never really sure because, this is what we do for a living; I had to tell a story. It’s not like I went somewhere and then one wave of inspiration came to me; we had to think of stories all the time. So, this is one of those stories.
Aside from monetary value, what do you intend to achieve with this production?
I wanted to provoke thought about women and men being judged by the same standard; if Muna were the one who was in coma, will Imoh be expected to wait? I’m careful not to give much of the story away, but she kind of had an affair, but is it justified, because she waited for him for nearly a year? If roles were reversed, would we judge the people in the same manner?
So, it’s all about gender quality?
Well, not necessarily, but it’s left for people to interpret it the way that they want to; it was not my intention. This was her own angle saying that she did the best that she could. At the end of the day, she’s a human being. She’s the one who threw the question to her husband; ‘you probably wouldn’t have done things for me.’
Is this a true-life story or a fiction?
It’s completely fiction, it didn’t happen to anybody. As for the characters I worked with, I had worked with Koffi before, like four or five years ago; I wanted to work with him again. So, when I had this script, I thought that he would be the perfect person for it.
What’s special about this production?
It’s very passionate for me. The reason why it’s different when you are writing for somebody else, even if you put in the same amount of work, it’s not being interpreted by you. So, most of the movies that I’ve written, I have hardly been satisfied with what I’ve seen. So, when I’m making my film, I try to make sure that the mistakes that that director and producer made, that I don’t make them.
What’s the budget of this movie?
I spent about N10 million making this movie. I’m also been known for making low budget movies, so, this is the first time I’m making a movie with this type of budget.
How did you raise the fund?
From family and friends. Really, most of my funding comes from family and friends; all my movies were made with fund from family and friends.
The Federal Government under Goodluck Jonathan, created opportunities for filmmakers like yourself to access funds for film production, why didn’t you take advantage of that?
I applied for Project ACT Nollywood myself, but I didn’t get it for whatever reasons, but I know that some people got it. So, the funds have been disbursed and some people have got it. But I don’t know if anyone has made a film yet, so we cannot say how relevant or not relevant the project was.
There were rumours that some of the people that got the money are not filmmakers and that they went about buying cars?
I didn’t even know that they money was that much for people to go buying cars. Well, I don’t know what their criteria was, so, I don’t know.
When are you releasing the move and how long did it take to shoot?
The movie will be out in the cinema on September 18; it will be premiered on that same day as well. We spent about two weeks on locations; the movie was shot in Lagos here. However, I shot Okon Lagos in five days and it’s been one of the highest selling films in the country, so, it has nothing to do with time.
It seems you want to make a statement with this movie?
For one, this is a much higher budget; like I said, I do majorly low budget movies. This is the first time that I’m saying, ‘ok, let’s try something bigger.’ Though Okon Goes To School was in the cinema, but I didn’t set out to put it in the cinemas; I just showed it to Silverbird and they felt we should try it. This is the first time that I’m making a movie for the cinema, so, I took my time on so many things. We just made the music video for one of the songs; I was involved from the pre-production, production to post-production. I sit with my director almost everyday; this is not something I do with some other projects. But because I got some money here, I faced it squarely.
It appears you are comfortable making comedy films?
It’s not really difficult writing it comedy; I like humour and I’m quite witty. But again, the challenge is in people laughing and accepting it. So, I’ve done four comedies and they’ve all been very well accepted. I may not do comedy anymore because it’s very dicey; with other genres, you are very unlikely to go wrong. Nigerians love grass to grace stories; we like love stories and drama. We can’t do action yet because our budgets are still very small. But with comedy, if you don’t get it right, then here’s a problem. Again, it’s also because I’m quite commercially inclined. I’ve realised that most successful movies in Nigeria have been comedy; from Osuofia to Jenifa to Okon Lagos and most recently 30 Days In Atlanta. So, I consider that as well.
What are the challenges facing the movie industry?
I think funding is among them, but before that, I would say that it’s tied together; it’s distribution before funding. Even if you get the money to make a movie, if you cannot sell the movie, what’s the point? 30 Days in Atlanta was highly successful and this would have probably been the first time that someone bought a house in Ikoyi from film, if he had made the kind of money he made in at the cinemas from DVD sales as well. But the pirates came out before he came out; that’s our major challenge. Our films are everywhere in the world, but they are all pirated. If the money, even if it’s one per cent of it, was coming to filmmakers, I will have a private jet. It’s not as if we cannot find money to make film, Nigeria is very uncertain right now and people are looking for where to invest, but I cannot show them the book. So, 30 Days In Atlanta has made a hundred a N130 million, but no other movie has made N20 million since then. So, we don’t have an average, which makes it difficult to sell it to prospective investors.
How do you intend to handle the issue of piracy?
There are people that are trying to fight piracy as much as they can, but what we are doing now is that we are putting a hold on DVD in our income stream; we are not including it anymore. We just enter cinema, cable rights, Internet rights and the rest. So, by the time you do DVD, whatever comes, you take.
What do you consider the way forward in the fight against piracy in Nigeria?
They need to put it into law; police cannot arrest someone based on piracy because constitutions not very clear on piracy as a criminal offence. I believe that if that is done and they make a few arrests, it can be curbed; I don’t think America has been able to stop that. There has always been piracy, but you don’t know who they are. But now they are on the streets, they are everywhere.
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