THE CIRCULAR

Filmmaking through the eyes of Eddy Young | A Nigerian Filmmaker.

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The Nigerian film industry often referred to as Nollywood, is a global powerhouse that releases hundreds of African films annually. It is an avenue for Africans to tell their stories while also sharing their culture. The origination of the Nigerian film industry dates back to the 1960s when the first Nigerian films were created by historical filmmakers such as; Hubert Ogunde, Eddie Ugbomah, Ola Balogun and the likes. The phrase “Nollywood” was conceived by New York Times Canadian journalist Norimitsu Onishi in 2002, relating to the plenitude of filmmaking activities happening in Lagos, Nigeria, at the time. Statistically, Nollywood has fast gained an enormous following both in Africa and among the African diaspora, with it being the second-largest film market globally, amidst an estimated worth of $6.4 billion as of 2021. It is the largest in terms of value, number of annual films, revenue and popularity, as it produces about 2,500 films annually. For Nigeria and its citizens, Nollywood is a lens capturing and reflecting the lives and times of over 200 million people, speaking up to 500 diverse languages and united by one National identity.

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Edward Erhahon, popularly known as Eddy Young in the Nigerian film industry, hails from Edo State, Nigeria. He fondly refers to himself as “The Media Guy” because of his high interest in the media field. His likeness for media and acting kicked off in high school when he joined the acting department and subsequently graduated with an award in acting. After high school, Eddy went ahead to acquire a skill in editing and event videography where he quickly carved out a career path as an event videographer at the time. He has been directly involved in a couple of projects such as; Kasanova, Dejavu, Oslo, Man Like Jimmy, and The Badchelors, amongst others.

In my recent interview with him, the film genius extensively sheds light on how his sojourn into Nollywood as a film producer began.

Let’s talk about your previous experience in radio and broadcasting. That’s a long call from being a film producer, how was the transition into the world of filmmaking for you when you first started? How has it also evolved over the years?

It’s a long story, it’s been quite a journey. I used to work as an event videographer back in the day and in one of my numerous events, I came across Kiki Mordi and Chyka who at the time were working with RayPower 105.5 FM. The funny thing is, the first time I met Kiki she was rude to me [laughs], I don’t fail to remind her of this every time we meet or talk and I’m sure she’d laugh if she sees this. That was actually what motivated me to get into radio broadcasting because I believed that if she could do it, I could as well. So I went on to Vibes 97.3 FM and applied to work as an OAP alongside Belinda Otabor, long story short, I didn’t get the job but Belinda did because they needed a female OAP at the time, but that didn’t deter me. One faithful day, my friend and I were just out talking and he said “oh see this man who works at ITV radio station just drove past us” and then I said “who?” and he said “Sunny Duke Okosun” and immediately I ran after his vehicle like a kid on the streets [laughs].

Oh wow! That was you chasing your dreams on two feet [laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah! he immediately noticed and slowed down and said “young man why are you running after me?” and I was like “Hi sir, I’m so sorry to do this but I want to work on the radio” it was the most ridiculous thing anyone could have done but it was sort of daring. He told me to come to his office the next day so we could talk more about it and I sure did. Long story short, I began to work at Independent Television and Radio (ITV) where I was also trained. Bear in mind, that I was also at the University while doing all of this and I didn’t give up on the film aspect. In fact, in 2016, I hosted a stage play called “A walk in the past” and the sole purpose behind it was for me to make contact with the Nollywood stars who were going to attend and it was a huge success. I met the likes of Niyi Akinmolayan, Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun and some other prominent Nollywood stars. It was a sold-out show like I said and everyone wanted more but the stress of stage play wasn’t for me, I wanted to go into screen-play and that was how my journey into Nollywood began, the transition was smooth for me because I was already doing my thing in the media long before then.

What drives you to create?

Here’s the thing, a lot of the time my biggest battle is with myself. When I have an idea and I think it’s fantastic, I always have to fight myself to make that idea happen because I might think of it today as “brilliant” but wake up tomorrow and say “Nah I’m not doing it” [laughs]. So what I’ve learned to do is to always communicate my ideas with my friends to hear what they think and once they approve of it, they hold me accountable and that pushes me to achieve it. In all, I’d say that “self-fulfilment” is what drives me to create, to be honest. At the end of the day, I love to create content that is fulfilling and enjoyable for my audience.

As a producer, your sole purpose is to source for the different elements that potentially make up a film. By elements, I’m talking scriptwriters, directors and even sometimes actors. What do you usually look out for when selecting crucial members of your creative team?

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to make a film”. Now if you do not have the right people beside you, there’s going to be a problem, things will go wrong. When it comes to filmmaking in Nigeria or just anywhere in general even here in the UK, there’s a small community of filmmakers and word goes around easily so if I’m on the move to gathering or recruiting my creative team, I always look out for people’s past histories, their resumés and recommendations from trusted colleagues, there’s usually someone to advise me on the right people to work with and I’m thankful for that.

What would you say is the most challenging part of being a filmmaker in Nigeria?

Filmmaking in Nigeria is a serious ghetto, trust me. For the most part, if you’re working as an independent producer for companies or Executive Producers (EP), it’s a struggle trying to lead them on the right path to success for the film. Considering where I’m coming from, I’d say the most challenging part of filmmaking will be the distribution of our films. Distribution in Africa hasn’t settled in, we do not have enough cinema screens to show our films. According to recent data I came across a few weeks ago, Nigeria has the highest number of cinemas in Africa and while that may sound unbelievable, it’s facts. Hollywood thrives today because its films spread across the globe, and its distributors can afford to take their films to different parts of the world. We need more individuals to invest in entertainment in Africa, we need more cinemas across Africa, and we need a better distribution system. I don’t see any reason why we cannot have some of our brilliant Nollywood films in International cinemas, we have some very good Internationally-worthy films in Africa.

I know that filmmaking can be enjoyable but at the same time, would you agree that it could also serve as a tool for empowerment for a certain demographic or group of people in Nigeria? For example, people living with disabilities.

You know, it’s crazy because I was giving this a thought a few days ago but not in the line of filmmaking though, I was just thinking of it in a general way. Our society, considering where we’re coming from in Nigeria, we do not accommodate people living with disabilities, even our government do not accommodate them. If you look at our road structures, building plans, etcetera, you will see that no one is keeping in mind that someone with a disability may need to access these facilities. To answer your question in the line of filmmaking, I’d say it’s possible, it’s very possible but it’ll take a creative team with a lot of understanding, patience and empathy to work alongside someone with a disability. For example, if my director is someone in a wheelchair, I would have to consider the kind of filming locations that’ll be easily accessible for him, for instance, if we’re set to film in a high-rise building, will my director be able to climb the stairs? The answer is no. Does the building have the right facilities to enable him? In most cases in Nigeria, the answer is no. So there are a lot of things to consider but it’s not something we cannot do in Nollywood, at the moment it’s not happening because maybe we do not have a lot of creatives in filmmaking who are living with disabilities, there could probably be a few scriptwriters because that’s most likely the easiest aspect for them to take on but I’m not even sure about that because I don’t know of any but filmmaking in Nigeria as a tool for empowerment for people living with disabilities is very possible if our society can accommodate it.

Would you agree that directors play a key factor in how actors deliver their given roles?

Yes, I agree. The role of a director is both a creative and a technical one. A film is first a writer’s story then it becomes a director’s film, it does not even at any point become a producer’s film [laughs]. The reason it becomes a director’s film is that the director is the engineering factor in terms of how the story goes and how the delivery is given by the actor. Of course, an actor has to have talent but a director’s creative mind is what drives the delivery of every actor.

Do you think finance acts as a major setback in the running of the Nigerian film industry?

I say this all the time but some of my colleagues disagree with me. Money is not a problem in Nollywood, some people have got this money, and some people are interested in investing in Nollywood but the big question is “do we have the resources to gain the money back for investors?”. I know some people who are willing to invest a huge chunk of money in Nollywood films but are scared of not getting returns from their investments and that’s understandable. Finance is a big problem in terms of our creativity, quite all right but it’s available, the major problem is just that we do not have enough resources to make our films earn what they’re worth so that everyone can go home smiling at the end of the day.

In your opinion, what would you advise the Nigerian film industry and its creatives to do to make Nollywood better than what it currently is?

No matter how bad it is in terms of our resources as I have mentioned earlier, I recommend we treat our crew members right. A lot of the time, these people do the work and don’t get paid, which isn’t right. It’s bad enough that they don’t receive as much as they’re worth but owing them after they’ve done the work is just wrong. I understand that there may be budget and distribution constraints sometimes but once these people have been contracted to work, there should always be financial provision for them because, to be honest, without crew members films cannot be made, they’re the backbone of every film production. We need to create a more conducive working environment for our crew members. You hear on some film sets that producers treat their actors like Angels from Heaven and lodge them in 5-star hotels but put their crew members in less conducive places. Once again, I understand the challenges we’re currently facing with distribution and budget constraints in Nollywood but these are things we cannot afford to compromise on.

In all honesty, what aspect of filmmaking in Nigeria would you say has the most financial benefits? Where do you think the money lies? 

[Laughs] That’s a good one. I haven’t given this a thought in a long while, to be honest. I’d say it depends on the location. If we’re talking about Hollywood, then I’d say everyone goes home smiling. Most times in Hollywood, actors are contracted for let’s say two years because of a Netflix or Disney Plus TV series and they are paid millions of dollars. You’ll hear Hollywood actors say, “Oh! I only do one project in a year”, that cannot happen in Nollywood, we’re not there yet [laughs]. Actors in Nollywood can take on more than 5 projects in a month, the hustle is that real [laughs]. I may get dragged for saying this [laughs] but I’ll say it anyway, Nollywood producers don’t earn as much as people think they do. The numbers may be flattering, for instance, you may hear that a certain Nollywood movie earned huge profits in the cinema but at the end of the day, that film will be taxed by the Government and trust me, the tax is high, distributors will also take their percentage, which is also a lot. To answer your question, I’d say that actors earn more in Nollywood because they have the liberty to take on as many projects as they want. I mean that explains the Benz and the luxurious lifestyles they flaunt on the internet [laughs].

A major part of your job as a film producer is financing the project. Are there factors you consider before choosing to invest in a project?

First of all, I’m an extremely lazy reader [laughs]. The first time I receive a script from a writer it has to be worth my read, if I find it boring from the on-set or at any point at all, I won’t bother investing in the story. The first thing I look out for is whether the script is entertaining because that’s the whole idea of filmmaking in the first place. Another thing I look out for is the scale of the film. By scale I mean, how far can this film go? What channels are best suited to air this film? Sometimes, certain films are best suited for our local TV channels like Africa Magic, for example, not every film requires its audience to pay to go see in the cinema. Those are the two things I look out for before investing in a film.

In all your years as a film producer in Nollywood, has there ever been a project you have regretted getting on?

[Laughs] Oh my days! Well yes, I have. There was a time I had an investor come up to me with a story he already had written and when I went through the script, I didn’t find it interesting or entertaining at all. I felt like it needed to be rewritten for the audience to enjoy it and for the film to make profits but the investor refused. Working with executive producers in Nigeria can be tasking because a lot of the time, a lot of them do not understand the process but they want to control things and have a say in the creative process of the film. Long story short, after a lot of back and forth, we ended up making the film the exact way he wanted it which I regretted.

Tell us the whole story behind the birth of your Netflix blockbuster “KASANOVA”. How did you get on the project?

[Laughs] Here’s a funny story on how the investor for KASANOVA came about, I don’t think I’ve even said this anywhere else.

Oh! Some exclusive information. You heard it here first people [laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah! The investor for KASANOVA in the person of Faith Ojo sent me a direct message on Instagram proposing to work with me on a project. Her proposal came in the nick of time because my friend and I had just recently created KASANOVA in our minds at the time and I had even gotten a scriptwriter to write a good first draft so the only thing left was financing the project and once the investor came in, the rest was history. That’s basically how KASANOVA was born.

Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels

Was KASANOVA your break-out film?

Well, if I’m measuring it by the success of the film, I’d say yes it was my break-out film.

Let’s talk about life after KASANOVA. How has it been for you so far?

Life after KASANOVA has been interesting, to be honest. While we were doing the media promotions, I was opportune to travel to different states in Nigeria that I had never been to, I met a lot of Nollywood film lovers, I came in contact with colleagues that I had never met before that day, I made quite a lot of friends and new contacts which was great, I was everywhere. I got a lot of jobs producing for different studios and media houses. It was an amazing and rewarding process at the end of the day. I may not have made a lot of money from the film [laughs] but the journey was rewarding.

Watch the trailer of Kasanova on YouTube.

How would you say you handle constructive criticism?

Criticism is criticism whether it’s constructive or not [laughs]. To be honest, I ignore it when it comes from strangers. I take criticisms from only very close friends and colleagues whom I know have my best interest. Take KASANOVA for example, there is a lot of criticism about it on both YouTube and blogs, some people loved it while others didn’t. The truth is you cannot make a 100% perfect film, you cannot please every single human on earth, some people would always want to talk you down but I don’t let it get to me. When my film is selling in the market and making cinema runs, I try to shut out all forms of criticism because I don’t want to hear it. At the end of the day, when everything is over, that’s when I then go back online to watch critics speak about my film and most of the time they amuse me, to be honest [laughs].

How do you set yourself up for greatness?

“Determination” is the word I’d use, I’ve always had it. From the onset, I’ve been determined to make a fantastic filmmaker and that’s another driving force for me alongside “Self-fulfilment”. I made my first attempt at filmmaking when I was barely a teenager and that was only possible because I was determined. I’m also very intentional about the things I want in life and that’s been working for me so far. Here’s another gist I haven’t given anywhere else, when I was leaving Nigeria for the UK to study filmmaking, I received a job offer to work as an in-house producer for FilmOne TV but I turned it down because it has been a life-long dream of mine to be certified in filmmaking. When I’m determined to do something, I make it happen and not let side distractions dissuade me.

If you weren’t making films, what else would you say you can see yourself doing?

If I wasn’t in the media at all, I would have become a lawyer [laughs]. Growing up, I always wanted to become a lawyer until I picked an interest in acting in high school and plans changed [laughs].

Do you currently have any project(s) in the works? Any Hollywood or International aspirations we should know about?

Part of me wants to complete my program in filmmaking first before doing anything else but to be honest, a lot of projects are calling my attention back in Nigeria. I shouldn’t say much but there’s a feature film currently in the pipeline alongside Nora Awolowo, it’s titled “Women of Kuyu”. That’s all I can divulge for now [laughs].

What’s your favourite film quote of all time and who is it by?

Hmm… So I have two favourite film quotes of all time [laughs].

In Hollywood, it’s;

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”

The Godfather

And in Nollywood it’s;

The skull of an elephant is too massive for a child to carry. But no one, no one can seize my crown. My successor will be determined by me and only me. Yesterday I was, today I am and I remain the one to fear. The dreaded one. I am Eniola Salami, universally acknowledged as the monarch, King Of Boys!

Eniola Salami – King Of Boys

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