Tchidi Chikere’s works speak for him. So much so that sets him apart in the world of make-believe, with deserved accolades and recognition over the years. That’s because he has been in the industry long enough to earn the term veteran, which is oftentimes inappropriately ascribed. With production value in motion pictures alone that numbers close to 400 aside music videos, Chikere holds a claim worthy of its place as a prolific scriptwriter, producer, director and an actor. These are works shot over a period of 20 years in the industry. The seasoned movie practitioner and businessman took time off set for a one on one chat where he talks about his new movie, life, his journey so far and the industry with Ferdinand Ekechukwu
Let’s start from your 20 years in the industry
If I send you a catalogue of my movies you wouldn’t be able to publish all of them. I have a filmography of about 400 movies shot in Nollywood in 20 years.
You started as an actor?
No I started as a scriptwriter in 1999. Then I started assisting Fred Amata as an Assistant Director and then by 2001, I shot my first movie that I wrote and directed- Fire Dancer. It featured Zak Orji, Chidi Mokeme, Genevieve Nnaji, Ayo Adesanya. But in 1999, I had done ‘Friends’ then I did ‘Alusi Iyi.’ I wrote it and I wrote ‘Sins of the Father’ between 1999 and 2000. The same November 1999, I wrote and co-produced ‘Ijele.’ In ‘Sins of the Father’, I played a pastor. Because I was always on set especially as a writer and co-producer, it was easy to take a role. By 2001, I was two years understudying, directing and editing the movies. Then the jobs started coming. It went on like that till I took a break in 2008.
I was actually coming to that because it appears you took a break from the industry at some point …
In 2008, first of all 2005; let’s say I was the highest paid director so to speak. I was the only director banned by the marketers because, well they said it was a ban, they said we were charging too much; they couldn’t afford to pay us. So they tried to subdue us by saying we wouldn’t work for one year. But I went and published my book ‘Strangers in Paradise’ in the UK, even though that same year, they (marketers) were shooting scripts I was writing. They will call me and say ‘Tchidi you know they only said you can’t direct, nobody said you can’t write’ because they wanted my script. That year, I wrote 24 scripts. They will take me to location, hide me in an hotel and I will write a directorial note for the director. But that started me thinking ‘you know what, this is not all that my career is all about’. Coupled with other experiences that I have had in Nollywood, I realised that I needed to start diversifying and thinking beyond Nollywood with writing my books and doing other art-related stuff; my music and all. Because I realised also that in showbiz, there is more business than the show. So you must not let the business suffer because of the show. I had to stay on top of my game, I had to redefine and that is what I have done in every step of my career.
So far, how has the journey been for you?
Twenty years on in Nollywood, I’m still as excited as I was at the beginning. I still have a whole lot that I haven’t given. I’m at the edge of experimenting with new genres, I’m at the age where I can take a risk and say ‘okay everybody is doing this I want to do it differently’. I want to take something outside of the box which is why I did ‘Everything Happens To Me’ the one coming to the cinemas on June 21. It’s a one cast movie I took one person and built a story around one character from beginning to end for 70 minutes.
The industry now compared to when you first started, what do you think has changed?
Outputting has changed a lot and that’s as a result of change in technology. You know change in technology drives change in human behaviour. Before, people were watching DVD, on VCDs. First, they were watching on VHS camera/VHS tapes but technology brought DVDs. Then change came again and brought digital file, which is what we are mostly making now. So outputting is mostly online.
How about the scripts because we have seen some quality scripts?
I was coming to that after talking about output, I have talked about technological changes, and I haven’t talked about performance. The faces you were seeing then the Liz Bensons and the rest of them, they are still there but not as much as you saw them then. Young people are coming in and a lot of influx of younger talent in the industry and it’s good because it brings freshness and newness to the narrative. So there is change in performance, there is change in technology, there is change in output, and there is change in storyline. There was a time they all were ritual movies. I remember there was time it was epic movies. Then after the blood stories, the epics, then the love stories and then it became comedy. Then love stories again and then rom-com. If you ask me now the industry is a healthy pot-pouri of everything.
There is this trend that a lot of cinema movies lately are produced by the females. What do you make of that?
Two things. I would say it has to do with women. When they want to do something, they are more out there, they are more up in your face unlike the men. Men are more reserved. The man will take his time. But then the women seem to burn out faster. It’s very easy to come and shine for five years. But we are looking at 20 years. We have a lot of men making movies. I will tell you why. When you have three women make cinema movies and you have 20 men make cinema movies, the three women will make more noise. It’s just like when you have a house with two guys and one girl living, you will always hear the girl’s voice. They tend to be a little more expressive than the men. So events that are built around women tend to attract more attention especially in this social media age. It doesn’t mean that the men are not there. If you check all the movies coming to the cinemas this month, you will find out that most of them are done by men.
What challenges have you had to face as a movie practitioner?
The challenges are a lot. For example the recent one I faced is health related. Let me talk about this. I came back with terrible back ache and neck pain. When I was in London last month, I had to see a Chiropractor and he said ‘you have been bending over for 20 years writing scripts, it is bent to show.’ So healthwise, it’s not easy to write and direct for 20 years. You need your energy level high. We have faced distribution challenges but I’m glad things are happening. Now, we can get distribution to the cinemas and online and other channels unlike when the marketers were the call all.
Your background shows you are very literary, how did your path connect with that?
I studied English and Literary Studies in University of Calabar and in my first year (first semester) I read 40 novels by force. And then in primary/secondary school, I read most novels that they were reading in the university. So I have a strong literary background and that helped to water my creative imagination. From a very young age, I started thinking in dreams. I would lock myself in my room and day dreaming. And stand in front of the mirror and act a priest with the water and wine and then I ran off to the seminary thinking it was my calling. Then I packed my bag one day and left and said I was done with this and went to UNICAL. Later on, I obtained a Masters degree in Literature from UNILAG
Talk about the awards you have won so far…
Movie awards are mostly the psychological makeup of the judge at that point in time which is why I like the people’s awards which is people stopping you on the road saying I enjoyed your movie, people calling and saying I watched this movie and it changed something about me; that’s the public award. Award of the market place is what I call it. Most of the awards I have won are mostly based on my achievements. I’m picking up three more this year. I’m picking up an award in California in November – the HAPA awards – Hollywood and African Prestigious Awards; I’m picking up another one in Texas – the African Heritage Broadcasting and Entertainment Awards in October; and then I’m picking up another one in Washington DC and in Poland for the Polish Film Festivals. Last year, I picked up about five from different countries around the world. That is what I like. I got nominated for the Best TV series with Professor Johnbull that I created and produced and wrote and directed for Globacom. Professor John Bull has about sixty something episodes. I wrote about 45 of the episodes. So I got a nomination for AMVCA last year 2018. I have got so many nominations from the AMAA. I have won City Peoples Awards and all that.
Who is Tchidi Chikere on the other side not related to movie making and acting?
Tchidi Chikere is a businessman. I love to travel, and I love to stay in a quiet place just chilling with my family (married to Nollywood actress Nuella Njubigbo) playing with my kids, eat and stay healthy, work out in the gym and travel with my wife. I like to go to the movies. I just like to live the good life … In all, I live with a very strong awareness of the existence of a supernatural being (God), who has planned it all out and giving it over to us to take charge of our destinies. I don’t really believe in happenstance. I believe that God has given man the authority to be the author of his own faith; to take dominion. So when I fail, I don’t blame God. I just feel it’s my fault, there is something I didn’t do right. I’m a real person whatever you see is what you get. Because I’m real, it’s effortless for me to be where I am at the point where I am. I’m very comfortable in my own skin and I have a family comfortable in their own skin; so it works for us. The kind of woman I’m married to is comfortable in her own skin. Like she is not home now, she is on set in Enugu. I’m the dad and the mum. Most of the time when she is at home, she is the dad and the mum. Most of the time we are together, oftentimes travelling together.