Ayodeji Rotinwa attempts to peel the layers off the somewhat enigmatic but highly acclaimed director and filmmaker, Clarence Peters.
What is one to expect when interviewing a director? A complex, abundantly creative, intelligent, eccentric, obsessive-compulsive, a tad narcissistic man that pores over scripts, is at Zen with the camera and barks instructions, to get his subjects in line so as to interpret his vision, capture a particular reality, tell a story? Clarence Abiodun Peters is all these and more.
Walking into his office, which apparently doubles as living quarters, one is met with a picture of orderly chaos: music video props, unfinished carpentry work (props in the making) strewn around neatly and a curious number of assistants, apprentices and perhaps, yes men. Is the boss in? Yes. One assistant motions to the other. Go call Capital. Capital Dreams Pictures is the name of Peters’ media content production company and apparently a makeshift nickname. A few minutes pass with the assistants/apprentices/yes men talking about a few hit songs. One realises that all the videos for these songs were shot by Peters. A door opens in near distance and a dreadlocked man in a grand, white, floor-length tunic walks in with some men (more assistants, perhaps) in his wake. He stops. Follow Me. This is the famous Clarence Peters.
Going deeper into the building- the editing room, to be precise- new-age-technology video editing, sound mixing equipment beckons invitingly. Peters dashes around quickly, tapping away at different keyboards, checking on pending work and giving out a few instructions to employees present. This is the battle station and he is its commanding officer, a role he has played since he was a child. As at seven years of age, he knew, undoubtedly, that he would, one day, become a director and had started working towards that capacity on movie sets, a familiar turf even at that time. He is the lovechild of two entertainers of different fields. His mum is renowned actress, Clarion Chukwurah and his dad is Afrobeat pioneer, Sir Shina Peters. He spent his formative years in the full glare of klieg lights. The odd movie set or stage was his playground and school (during the summer holidays) and movie scripts were his textbooks. Working in the arts was not a calculated career choice that came to him in his adult years. It is a path that chose him; one that, quite literally, was somewhat predestined. “I was conceived on set and I was almost born there, were it not for the fact that my mother was moved in time,’’ He revealed, straight-faced.
Starting a career at childhood afforded him the chance to build a staggeringly intimidating résumé. Before finally directing, he tried his hand at almost every other arm of the business, preparing himself for a shot at the big fish. At different times, he has been an actor, assistant director, director of photography, post-production supervisor, continuity personnel, and all-round handyman on set. Interestingly, he never set out to be a music video director. All the work he did as a child, leading up to adulthood, were in television and film. He worked with notable names in the business such as Tajudeen Adepetu on several shows, most no longer on air, that remain indelible in the history of Nigerian television. With this, he was set for a career as a movie and television drama director. However, a hiatus from the industry for the sake of more formal education (a degree in Cinematography) forced him to change career route. “The three years I was away in film school was a transition period for the movie industry in Nigeria. It nosedived. I could not fit in with the regime when I got back.. Also, we were and still are very unrealistic about how to take the film industry forward. There were and still are no ideas as to how to make profit, to break even. The music industry, in contrast, was on the up-and-up”
He then decided to switch allegiances and start anew, from the ground up. With a business partner on board and operating out of a shoebox office, later moving to the garage of his house, he was able to build an enviable brand, becoming the much sought-after directorial powerhouse, that he is today. For every Nigerian music video that shows on terrestrial music channels (Soundcity, Trace Urban and MTV Base, for instance) and beyond, in a day, more likely than not, Peters directed at least a quarter of them. Little wonder, this. According to him, he shoots, on the average, 10 videos a month, an enormous number by all considerations.
One is curious as to how he manages the pressure of having to be creative and be original in light of such oppressive demand for his services. “To be honest, I don’t even like my work. I do not aim to surprise every time with my videos or push the envelope as such. I think I’m lazy. I just try to tailor my creativity to the needs of the artiste I am working with, brand wise and the mood of the industry overall. My primary objective is not to show off my artistic prowess but to project the music artiste in such a way that he/she will sell more records and go on to be more successful, overall.”
The latter point seems to be why Peters holds all the aces over other directors, why artistes covet him so- he works closely with his artistes/clients long before camera equipment is dismounted and long after the shoot is called a wrap, on varying issues from public relations to distribution and marketing. This, however, could always backfire, given the notoriety of artistes’ celebrity and jumbo-sized egos. Peters is unfazed. “The only ego that will fly during production is mine.’’ One can understand his no-nonsense stance on the matter. Alongside his media production company, Peters also runs a record label and has artistes that answer to him. Dealing with artistes on varying issues and if need be, overriding their egos must be second nature. He is the boss, after all.
Though titled with “Music Video Director” and “Record Label C.E.O”, Peters is yet unsatisfied. Film and television are his next conquests. Having started out in these fields but veering off, both represent unfinished business. He aims to take on a television project by the middle of the year and by so doing, readying himself for what he refers to as ‘the ultimate’, what he believes is his true calling – film. “I have no choice but to do film. It is not negotiable. I recognize its power, how much of a role it plays in culture, how it has influenced thoughts, perceptions worldwide. I want to tell the Nigerian story, the way it should be told.”
How will he cope with all these responsibilities, of being a music video director, shoot movies and manage artistes? Peters had an unusual answer “For one to be relentlessly artistic, you must first be dysfunctional. You must have an individualistic perspective of the world and have a unique way of being able to express this perspective. You must feel it to be able to express it.” Is this to say, he is, for want of a better term, a bit crazy? “Who isn’t crazy?” He shot back, laughing.
Peters is the complete package. He is a cocktail of agreeable qualities (for his profession) in the right amounts: intelligence, creativity, arrogance, eccentricity, business acumen and man management. In a career that is just six years old; he has blazed a lengthy, long-winding trail. For a man who used to be petrified of cameras and handling them, as he admitted, he has made short work of becoming a master. For a man, who doesn’t see his own work as anything special, he has gained recognition, respect and accolades from stakeholders at all levels in the industry, including his peers. Clarence Abiodun Peters is moving at sonic speed, full steam ahead.