Celebrating Nigerian US-based Cinematographer

Abiola Matesun

Nigerian-born cinematographer and Creative Director of Malekfotos USA, Abiola Matesun, has clinched four titles in USA to his name – two Emmy and two TELLY awards. He shares the secrets of his success and concepts to amplify the Nigerian movie industry. Rebecca Ejifoma writes

Abiola Matesun, popularly known as Abi, is just your next door neighbour – simple, nimble yet very adroit and industrious. It is hard to come to terms with the weight of his portfolio in a cursory glance. But truly he is a two-time Emmy award winner – a prestigious and admirable title for excellence in television in the USA, and a two-time TELLY award winner.
Truly, Abi is a filmmaker, cinematographist and Creative Director of Malekfoto Films and weddings in the United States. He was all smiles as displayed his glorious golden trophy- a yellow and black box set on a square glass centre table in the studio in Lagos.

How He Started
“I started off as a photographer in year 2000. I got a camera as a gift from a friend. I soon realised that I was gifted in being able to frame, capture lights and all those kind of things,” he narrated.
Abi was drooling over photography with enthusiasm when his calling bloomed. “I was in college studying management information systems but the passion for visuals and the act of communicating through visuals just kept getting stronger and stronger. “

Switch to Film
Because photography was not enough to reel the kind of stories he wanted, the filmmaker took his first baby steps in 2004 when he visited Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria for his project on poverty, HIV and children. “I was still very into photography then. But I came against the frustration of the stories that I saw, photography wasn’t adequate enough to tell the stories the way I wanted it told.”

Thus, he switched to film productions Indeed, Abi gave no room to procrastination. He zoomed off from what started as a mere photography then swiftly metamorphosed it into a movie firm. And in five years, Abi clinched the four laudable awards now to his credit.

“I am a dream, I started as a dreamer. The thing about dreaming is that it costs you nothing. You can dream as big as you want. That dream is a little spark that can cause a huge fire. All you have to do is dream. That’s it.
“Before that, I was doing a research on the kind of cameras, light and the equipment we needed. What I realised was that video was pretty expensive. If you have to do it well, and you buy the right equipment it’s really pricey which is the reason video is not cheap if you’re doing it rightly.
“I didn’t get here by myself. It took a village to get me here; I have a team that helps with shooting and lightening and more. I have another team – my wife and my kids. They are the first people that see what we produce and critique it; you need all that input.

“We started shooting small projects here and there. This year has been phenomenal for us. We started this year with the Canon Africa Project, which we shot, directed and edited. I came up with the script with TyBello and did the photography as well because that was my background before I got into film. “Then we shot this piece that took us all the way to Iceland. From that beautiful piece birth the Tele awards which is an important international awards for video production and advertisement. It is very big in the art world,” he enthused.

Consequently, fortune smiled on Abi and his team after sleepless nights. The Nigerian-born US based filmmaker said his secret to success is grace. “We had a lot of no sleep or little sleep, I mean working round the clock to make it happen? We decided to do it and we did. That was not the reason we won afterall your competitors did the exact thing. I think it is grace. You do your work and leave the rest to God.”

On if he deserved the four awards now to his credit, Abi bluntly declined. “I am not even close to deserving. It was just grace. We worked hard. We could even be one of the hardest working teams in the industry because we have a pretty fast turn around; the kind of commercial we spend three days on, we spend over a 1,900 hours for a 30-seconds commercial. Yes, we worked pretty hard but deserve, no. This is purely grace”.

Like every other person, Abi went through the paths of acrid challenges but he was unperturbed. “I had regular challenges like everybody else. Clients that you know want to pay little or nothing for your ideas and efforts, team members that are not really team-oriented and always looking out for self or sabotaging from behind”.

Award Winning Movie
About the award winning movie – Inner Conflict, he shared with THISDAY what the movie entails. According to Abi, Inner Conflict is about a professional boxer that had one of the biggest fight of his life. He had that fight and had to battle the needs of his mother on cancer. In the process, she gives up the ghost while she is expecting a baby.
“He won that fight. But in all that is he happy? What kind of emotions is he feeling because when your biggest fan is not there to cheer you, it’s a lot of conflict which is the reason we need the peace in the conflict. When I heard of it, said I needed this project because my mother passed on of cancer when I was 17; hence, I could relate to the kind of things that he was going through.”
For Abi and a lot of filmmakers, their most passionate projects are the ones that they could connect with.

Plans for Partnership with Nollywood
Abi has not only got plans for his company but also for the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood. He said although bringing a change is not something one man could do, “we will have a meeting to know where we are trying to go, the goal – to make money or an impact because they’re two different things. What a lot of people don’t understand is that when you make impact, you make money”.

Abi humbly announced his interest in partnership to move the film industry to a unique spot. “I’m a Nigerian. I’m a black man. We just have to focus on the kind of content we are creating. I am interested in partnering as well. you know charity begins at home; it is not handout. It is love, dedication, the desire to elevate and make better”.

Malekfotos in Nigeria
Abi has a chronological fashion for Malekfotos. “I don’t have any office in Nigeria yet. I am not interested in coming in again as a one-man show. I am collaborating with existing outfit and figuring out what we can do to make it better, more global. I want to see our movies win Oscar awards. I believe it is possible”.

Meanwhile, Abi has rolled up his sleeves. “We are working on some things. I want to be able to at least work on few major projects in Nigeria; really nice quality stuff that is of international standard. The music industry has got to that point, it’s a little harder for film but we can. For the film industry let’s collaborate let’s do something; Auntie Mo, let’s do something”.

On his 25 years relationship with his wife, unbelievable but true, Abi has been with just one woman for 25 years. “I have been with this amazing rock up woman for 25 years. She is honestly the best thing that has ever happened to me. She is Sumbo Matesu, nee Soya before we grabbed her and changed the name. We have two kids – Zion and Judah.
According to the movie producer and father of two, he met Sumbo in high school. “We got married in 1997; went to court same year then went to church in 2004. Our children are aged 12 and seven.”

He expressed with such nostalgia. “We have sleepless nights in this job. So, when you fall you have to pick yourself up but when you have people that help you with the process of being picked up, it is way better. So, my wife has been amazingly supportive. Yes, I love her and my kids very dearly.”

And because Abi believes in spending quality time with his family, he makes astute use of his time “It should be one or the other. It is work life balance really. There is no project you are working on continually; you get burnt out so you have to space yourself. I believe in spending quality time with my family”.

In the same vein, Abi urged the youths and everyone to dream, adding that it cost nothing and no one charges anyone for dreaming. “Dream, believe and work towards it. This principle has worked for me.

“If you are trying to get into film, go under someone; you don’t have to start your company. That’s the issue; everybody cannot be the head. It is only God that promotes. When your time for promotion comes, it will come but don’t back stab or try to kill someone else’s dream for yours.”