by David Osairemen
“It takes a village to make a film” is a statement popular among filmmakers after every successful production. But what happens when the village chiefs repeatedly butt heads in disagreement?
Sharing his uber-dramatic experience with a young, female Executive Producer, this decade-long Nollywood Cinematographer narrates his rude awakening (in the most brutal way possible) to who [truly] ‘calls the shots’ on a film set.
Please o, I’m not a chief abeg.
But you are. Your rich body of work proves it.
(laughs) I still don’t think I’m a chief. I just enjoy doing what I love.
Playing the humility card. Classic.
(laughs again) Haba, come on. I have senior colleagues I call Chiefs, I can’t even class myself among them.
Hmmm. What excites you about cinematography though?
Wow. A lot of things. A lot. As a boy I was fascinated by film. The science behind them and how they were made. Generally, the whole process that made it possible for me to watch it on screen. I was very inquisitive as a boy. I still am.
Interesting. Any parent or family in film?
Funny enough, no. My dad was a Pastor, my Mum a banker.
Oh, I see.
But we had a very good cinema culture in our house. Growing up, my Mum made us watch a lot of Nollywood films on VHS.
The glory days.
It was all so simple then. The industry was at its budding stage but the effort and heart of the filmmakers leaped off the screen. Nollywood time was family time.
Any famous titles you recall?
Ah, they are plenty: Igodo, Egg of life, Ijele, Across the Niger, Dangerous twins, Isakaba, Karasika and the comedy sketches of Aki and Paw Paw, Mr. Ibu, Sam Loco and the likes. I watched all.
You’re a true Nollywooder.
You can say that again.
How long have you been active in the industry?
I’d say 10/11 years. I was an intern for the first three years and after that I started to try my hands as a stand-alone DP. I got gigs, not as frequent as I expected, but enough to build my CV. Ever since, in my short time so far, I have scaled the breadth of the industry. Traveling across Nigeria either for film or some other DP jobs. Working with both the nicest and weirdest people and everyone in-between.
You’re a Chief.
Stop am abeg. Really though, it’s not been a joy ride, entirely. Believe me when I say I have seen it all: the good, the bad, the ugly and the very annoying.
Start with the ‘very annoying’. What happened exactly?
This one happened recently. I’ve never been so insulted as a professional. Even as an intern, I demanded my respect and got it. But this one pass my power.
Talk to me.
One day, I got a call from my friend about a gig.
Who’s this friend?
Oh, he’s a director. We literally started out in the industry together. Together we attended the National Film Institute at Jos. We’re like brothers. We’ve worked together on some sets. When we’re not working together, we’re referring each other for jobs.
So, he called me and told me about a girl. She just returned from the United States where she attended film school and wanted to make a film. I had no second guesses because it’s common practice for him to refer me. In hindsight, I wish I had asked the right questions.
The girl called for a meeting. At the meeting, I introduced myself. She, in turn, commended a few of my work she’d seen. Seeing her for the first time, she was young, jumpy, full of ideas. Strange ideas.
There were five of us at the meeting. My friend and I, the girl and two other girls. One was the producer, the other one was the costume designer. They were all friends. After the pleasantries, we got talking, discussing the story. I skimmed through the script she wrote herself. It was not bad. The next meeting we had, we discussed finance and contracts. Then I was to present my ideas, breakdown and shot list. The moment I discussed my shot list, the problem started.
And so it begins…
For every idea I presented, she had a counter-suggestion. Always referencing something she watched on Netflix or somewhere else. It continued for a while, I was this close to exploding but my friend, the director, had a way of calming me down. After the meeting, I told my friend I was no longer interested in the job. He encouraged me to stay and just flow with her ideas (which were not entirely bad but I did not like them). I was adamant. My friend persisted. To be frank, the only positive was the money. It was good. Very good.
Money for hand, back for ground.
You don get am. I needed the money. So I listened to my friend and agreed to ‘flow with her ideas’.
What happened next?
It was straight to set after contracts had been signed. I met the other members of the crew. All young, budding filmmakers. Some I’d worked with and others I was meeting for the first time. I loved their energy. It was all fun as we canned our first two scenes in record time. Then the devil stepped in…
The next scene was a quite difficult one. It required we did some very nifty blocking. Nothing I’ve not done before. I solved it and was well into it, about to start rolling when madam Executive Producer called my friend (Director) and myself aside and told us this and that was her idea for the scene. I tried to explain to her why her idea would slow us down and consume more time In fact, it was totally off from the storyboard we had agreed on. She started yelling how doing it my way would affect the transition bla bla, and that is how she feels the scene should be done. Her voice was loud enough to draw the attention of the cast and crew present, I felt embarrassed, so I asked for about a minute break to go clear my head.
You really needed it.
I was actually very angry. No one yells at me. As I moved towards the exit, she yelled at me again and again for walking out on her. The next thing I heard was a vociferous “You’re fired”.
It’s a lie. What?! She did what?!
True talk. I stopped, turned to her. My friend had his face in his hands already. I looked straight at her, fuming. She said it again, “Please leave my set”. In that moment, I felt my muscles stretch and a cold breeze coursing through my body. I looked around, the young crew members had eyes on me, everyone had pity in their gaze. I said nothing, walked over, picked my bag pack and walked out. A thousand sinister ideas flooded my mind but I fought them off. I just walked out, leaving with what was left of my respect.
You did not deserve that at all.
I cared less. I did not mind at all. I saw it coming. I only cautioned myself to be careful selecting employers in the future.
What happened with the film?
Of course she hired a replacement immediately who did a fantastic job. My friend continued as the Director.
That day I was fired, I reached out to the Producer girl and returned the advanced payment I had received.
Nothing in particular. I didn’t need it.
I understand. Thanks for sharing this.
What’s the title of the film though, so I know who to send my boys to?
Of course, you wouldn’t. No hard feelings from me. I still like her Instagram posts. In life, you gain some, you learn some.
(laughs) You this guy.