Film maker, Theo Ukpaa, is the Managing Director/CEO of Tiger Republic Films and Group Head at Yes Africa Prime Inc. He has grown to become a great force in the entertainment Industry in Nigeria. Ukpaa has also helped to build some of the leading media brands in the country. He carved a niche for himself while surviving one of the biggest rape accusations in the country.
Ukpaa bares it all to Azuka Ogujiuba, as he reveals his journey from a young Surulere boy to finding love and becoming a notable brand in the entertainment industry
How did your love for film and television productions start?
I started doing art way back at the age of 16. I just love stage productions and started stage with veterans like Ben Chiadika, Wole Oguntokun, Sola Osofisan, Rogers Ofime and Femi Kayode. My love and passion for televison started way back from a company called Goldmyne International owned by Capt. George, husband to Mrs. George, founder of the Little Saints Orphanage. So, I used to volunteer to teach the children at the orphanage; teaching them acting and stage plays, while also working with Goldmyne and Compassion band. I would go and do my stage plays with Parters Heritage, dance with Spirit of David while hosting a talent show back then called Circle of Stars. My passion for media has grown over those years and I have loved every moment of it.
Did you study film making in school?
Not at first. I hold a B.sc in Economics from University of Benin after that I had a scholarship to do my masters abroad because I had a first class. While I was in the USA doing my MBA, I went to a film school as well, because I knew I wanted to do film. That was one of the best decisions I made in my life. So far, I have worked with television stations like Soundcity, SpiceTV and Trace Urban. Thanks to Mr. Taj Adepetu and Mr. Sam Onyemelukwe for their great opportunities. I have shot so many TV commercials for some very major brands in Africa and I have worked on major awards like Headies and MAMA Awards. I have also been directing ‘The Experience,’ Africa’s biggest gospel concert for the past five years.
Which was your favorite television show then?
I watched all of them but I would say Pot of life, Koto Orun, New Masquerade, Village Headmaster, Cock Crow at Dawn, and more so, these were my growing up shows and lot more.
So back then, which film maker was your role model?
I had a lot of great influence from the late Amaka Igwe – God bless her soul. She taught me how to write screenplays. I wrote some episodes of Fuji House of Commotion with her back then. Sadly, she passed away as she was about putting a great media breakthrough together. Tunde Kelani was a great influence too. My mum and Dad were big fans of Mainframe film, Ti Oluwa Nile, Magun, Saworo Ide and Agogo Ewo were some of the great classics I watched and got inspired to want to make films. Uncle TK, as he is mostly called, is an idol, a living legend.
Tell us about your early years
I grew up in Surulere, Lagos – Shitta to be precise. It was my hood and schooled there. I had nursery, primary and secondary school there and I had a great time growing up. So, when people say Shitta is all about the amala joint, I tell them that’s not all about the place. It’s a place that has information and a whole lot of talent has come out of there. It is a community that breeds young talents and I would say Shitta is inspirational; we had the stadium and the National Theatre not far from us and it adds to our upbringing. I also remember a time my mum was driving and she pointed to the National Theatre and said ‘that’s where they stage plays’ and years later, I found myself on stage acting one of Ola Rotimi’s plays, ‘The Gods Are Not to Blame’ at the National theatre. That is one structure that needs to be brought back to life.
What would you say was the best thing that happened to you in life?
I would say the best thing that has ever happened to my life was getting married to my wife and I would say that has been the best thing that has ever happened to me in life. She is an angel and wonder woman designed specially for me and to inspire this generation. God put a lot of attention in making a woman and that is why they should be cherished and giving all the attention.
What was the most difficult thing that has happened to you and how did you overcome it?
I think it was a very bad phase in my life that I hate to talk about. Sometimes last year, after my wedding, there was an alleged scandal and I thought it was the devils work but unknown to me, it was God trying to open a new path for me in my life. It was a very dark place though for me but God showed a very bright light for me above all and doors started opening everywhere. I found out that God uses a bad situation for a good one and I would really not say it was a difficult phase but a challenging one and it is God taking you to places. It was a false rape allegation from someone I knew 12 years ago and it came after my wedding and at that point, the only thing on my mind was saving my marriage. So, I prayed, took my time to save my marriage first before jumping into any conclusion. It was also a time wisdom came where I could tap advice and knowledge from people around me. It was really a challenging time but thank God for Jesus.
What has life taught you in general?
I have learnt to be very careful and watchful with people I relate with; also learnt not to trust people 100%; also know that people are around you sometimes just to use you but I didn’t allow it change the generous part of me trying to help people because when some certain things happen to you, you will not want to talk to people or help anymore but I didn’t allow that come into being. In addition, it’s only the grace of God that can make you a better person even though you have had bad experiences. I stand against sexual assaults, I stand against rape, I stand against women and child abuse; I stand against deprivation and marginalisation. My mother taught me that I should treat women delicately; they are like raw eggs and should be handled gently. I am a gentleman and I believe in a future where peace, Justice and equity will reign supreme.
What are some of the memorable points in your life?
I think it was when I picked up an award for my short film in faraway Berlin, because I was recognised internationally from a small Surulere boy to the world, to be recognised in a film festival in Berlin. Second was when I was invited to do a talk at a university at their film department. It was a big deal for me. It was a point in my life I realised that if you are diligent in your craft and trust God, there can never be limitations to what you can achieve or levels you can attain. From Shitta boy to a Media Executiv, God has been merciful and I thank God that I keep a level head.
What’s your biggest fear in life?
I don’t think I have any fear, I only fear God.
What are the things you so desire that you haven’t had?
I desire to have more money and more importantly I desire a perfect family. I like to be happy and influence positive vibes around me and luckily for me I have a wife that has that too. We just want to be happy, go to happy places, have happy friends and make the world a better place.
What’s your favourite food?
My favourite food used to be Pounded Yam and oha soup but when I got married, my wife makes the best sea food Okro. So, there is a direction from Oha soup to seafood Okro. The truth is she learnt it from Youtube and she makes it so well. I was talking about sea food Okro I ate somewhere and she said ‘let me learn how to make it’ and that was the clear point with all of that basically.
Do you have a nick name your friends call you?
I can remember, in my 200 level my class mates call me Tiger eyes, because they say I have brown Tiger eyes. As class representative in my school, all my lecturers would say I am brilliant, my senses are woken like a Tiger. Before you know it, the name Tiger stuck. I studied the Tiger’s brilliance online and agreed with it. That was how I got the name for my film company.
What do you think about the Nigerian entertainment industry?
I think the industry so far is suffering because the government is not paying attention to it. The movie industry today got to where it did by individual effort of passionate film makers in Nigeria. The industry grows when the government pays attention to it and I believe that soon it will happen. Piracy is a major issue we have and no one is getting penalised for pirating intellectual properties. Thank God for the new moves of AVRS under the leadership of Mahmood Alli Balogun. I am a member of the Directors Guild of Nigeria and I believe we need protection and the government needs to invest more into an industry that has grown into the 3rd largest in the world without support. Even the Bank of Industry is very selective about giving loans. You have to be a Nollywood veteran before they can pay attention to you. No hopes of loan or grant for young film makers like us. There is a lot the government can do to make this work. This industry employs millions daily and has potential to do more with a little more investment.
What do you enjoy doing the most?
I Love travelling, every opportunity to be in the air, I just take it. I love being in the air because when you are in the air, there is no hurry. I get time to write and meditate, and by the way I have a book coming out in 2020. It’s a book I have been writing for five years now.
Advise to younger film makers?
Stay positive, stay focused and don’t stop doing what you are doing because that is where your blessing will find you. Above all, Trust that Jesus is the key to a happy and fulfilled life.