The master and specialist of fact-based dramas and tragedies, prolific director and producer Afam Okereke discusses his rich career and amazing life.
Introduce yourself in your own words?
My name is Afam Okereke, I was born in Enugu on November 6th 1973. I have 6 brothers and 2 sisters.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married to Ugochi and we have a 3 year-old son.
How did you get into entertainmentI studied in Enugu and worked at the Local Department of Arts and Culture in Enugu at Broadcasting Services as a newscaster.
I also did all kind of jobs as a freelancer without pay, just for the fun of it making jingles, voiceovers and as an mc. The beginning was difficult. I then left Enugu for my Youth Service, after that I tried my hand at acting.
You are a movie director.
Yes, but as a director you do not limit your responsibilities to directing alone. You also try to lift up the industry, you have to do more. You have to learn how to perfect a lot of things like: writing, producing and editing among others. A director must be observant, human and focused.
Sometimes, the director isn’t even invited to the script conference where the cast is selected. That is so wrong because the director has a hand at all of the ingredients that have to blend into the process of making the movie.
The director sees the script beyond the eyes of the producer. He’s the link between all parties and the producer and he must make sure that the cast is made of properly selected professionals.
Was your family supportive in the beginning?
For a long time, I performed for the State Government without pay, my parents didn’t take that very well as it seemed to them that I was wasting my time and my energy.I was stubborn and went on against their will. My first appearance in a movie was a small part in Igbudu part 2 in 1996 and that was when my dream started materializing. It really was my breakthrough.
How many movies do you have to your credit?
I have produced about 125 movies, among others I wrote Aguba Igogoro, Lady Bianca and Okada Man. I directed Sister Mary and The Billionaires Club.
Who’s your favourite actor?
Richard Mofe-Damijo. He’s educated and always aspires to be the best.
How do you deal with criticism?
It helps a professional grow. The press speaks most times for the audience and so you have to learn from your mistakes. This industry is about the survival of the fittest and production rates are frantic.
It’s not really about how many movies you produce a year, it has to do with the quality of the product you put out in the market.
How about the shortage of creativity in Nollywood?
It depends on the individuals you’re dealing with. Half of the directors working out there are not qualified for the job, they just happened to get the right opportunity.
Some of them can not even correct an actor on the set because they don’t know their job.
How can that situation be remedied to?
The Censor Board has to review their records and make sure that the only directors allowed to take up assignments are Guild members.
The blame also lies on the side of the actors, some are so greedy to make money, they don’t control if the guy on the job is registered with the Guild.
And those adventurers are the ones producing bad movies because they don’t care about the standards of good movie making.
Why aren’t Nigerian movies made for the big screen?
The investments from the marketers who are also producers are the problem. They are on a budget and must look at their expenses to make sure they recoup their investment.
What are the tasks of a producer?
A producer is a very busy person. He’s a manager, he’s seeking up marketers for sponsorships, he decides who’s involved in the project, he chooses the director, he finds the executive producer who will carry the expenses and he makes sure the right cast is involved in the project.
Give us an example of production costs?
The quality of a movie depends a lot on the importance of the funds you bring in. For instance, renting a mansion costs on average N 30.000 a day and the same goes for a luxury car. The salary of the actors depends on the class they are in.
You have made a specialty of fact-based dramas and tragedies.
Life is bigger than fiction, that’s why I am always very interested in incidents, occurrences, and life experiences. The storyline in “Billionaires Club” actually happened to a friend of mine and “Occultic Kingdom” was based on the testimony of someone who went through those awful events.
Let’s talk about the “Billionaires Club”
It was my baptism of fire and my biggest project ever. Experienced and seasoned directors were pleading and lobbying to handle the project while I hardly had any experience in the field.
On the set, not only I was the youngest professional, but it was also an all-star cast. It wasn’t easy at all. Being conscious of my own shortages, I diligently let everyone contribute to my work and made corrections where they were needed.
Because I was so focused, my fears quickly disappeared as the actors encouraged me in my work.
The only dark cloud on that extraordinary adventure was that I lost a brother on the eve of the release of the movie in a car accident.
“Heavy Rain” was a resounding success as well. When can we expect part 2?
Very soon. There is at present time a problem with the marketers. Otherwise, the story is ready and I can confidently say that it is a bomb! It’s much better than part 1 and it is also a fact-based drama.
What about “GSM Wahala”?
When the mobile phone was introduced in Nigeria, many people went literally crazy!
I recall visiting Kumasi, Ghana, and a woman frying plantain on the side of the road was also having a mobile phone. The scene in which a stolen gsm rings in somebody’s purse while the owner is looking for it actually happened in a taxi I was in!
Tell us about “Sister Mary”.
It is also a fact-based tragedy, but we also added a part of fiction. The background of the story is fictional, but the facts are real. To this date, the place of her burial is a favourite spot for pilgrims who get miracles on a daily basis by praying there.
Oge Okoye did a great job as Sister Mary.
It was her breakthrough, she was still unknown before that part. She always mentions that fact in all her interviews. There was a lot of work involved for her to grow into the character and she was very grateful for the part.
Tell us about “Aguba Igogoro”
That was also a great enterprise. Patience Ozokwor worked hard to get into the character and there is a huge physical resemblance between the both of them.
She had to learn how to bike and use a sword, how to walk and talk like the character. Aguba is still a sensitive character amongst the descendants of the people she ruled so ruthlessly, so we did our job carefully trying not to offend anybody.
The elderly who have been narrated the story of this extraordinary woman saluted our work. We came very close to the nature of the real character.
It also was the first movie I produced with my own money, I paid the actors and also for the entire project. Because of that, the marketers refused to promote it. Although the movie bought me my first car and a duplex, I lost a lot of money because of the conflict with the marketers.
What is your best work?
The “Billionaires Club” without the shadow of a doubt.
What is your worst achievement?
“Return of Yesterday”, it was not properly handled. And also “High Class” with Franca Brown, even though I wrote, produced and played in the movie.
Are you a rich man?
We don’t earn so much money, that’s why I want to go abroad and perfect my craft.
How do you cope with female attention?
I value the appreciation I get for my work. I am a family man. My wife is very understanding and I remain faithful to the trust she has in me.
Tell us about the ghastly accident that almost cost you a hand a few years back.
It happened during the production of “Last Command” with Chiege Alisigwe and Emeka Ike. The driver of the car I was in lost control of the vehicle in a sharp bend and I was ejected from the car before it crashed. My hand was broken in two places and I was left unconscious on the premises.
I was later driven to a nearby hospital and was abandoned there. I spent 5 long months in that place. The press printed out all kind of lies about my condition, but nobody ever bothered to check up on me.
A doctor brought me the news that my hand was lost and required amputation, the date and time for the amputation was set.
I just sat there crying my eyes out in deep despair when another doctor walked in and asked what the matter was. I explained, he looked at my hand, recommended surgery instead and saved my hand!
The good side of all this tragedy is that I had a lot of time to think all by myself in that place and I conceived many storylines. In that sense, I really appreciated the time I spent there.
You were also attacked by armed robbers!
I have been attacked 3 times! The first time, they took my phone and broke my teeth with their gun.
A couple of weeks ago, my car broke down on my way to a party I was supposed to emcee and I was the guest of honour.
I took a bus further not knowing that there were armed robbers amongst the passengers. One of them made a call, a Mercedes appeared out of nowhere and parked in front of the bus forcing it to stop. They started shooting in the air, took all of us to a nearby bush and stole all of our possessions. They even shot a woman.
What about the Award system in Nigeria?
The Award system is more inclined to reward friendships and personal connections than actual talent.
How can the industry be improved?
Individuals must come and invest, the poor quality is due to the lack of finances. This is an enduring problem. We need support and encouragements.
Your advice to upcoming directors.
You have to go through what it takes to get the right qualifications and training.
Thank you for your time.
It was my pleasure. Anytime.