By Charles Uwagbai
Prolific filmmaker, Charles Uwagbai, has been at the forefront of projecting Benin folktale. He was on set producing a new TV series for iROKOtv, titled Blood of Enogie, when COVID-19 pandemic broke out. In this interview with Chinedu Ibeabuchi, he shares the impact of the pandemic on filmmaking and also his passion for Nollywood
Having recently jumped ship from single to married, how has this impacted on your work life?
Marriage has elevated my work life as it motivates me to work harder than ever. My wife has lived a completely different life than me, so she offers a different perspective to my creativity which inspires me to think outside of the box
You have produced a couple of Bini folklore, why are you so passionate about Bini?
I am passionate about Bini because it is my root and culture. I am proud of our history and how far we have come. Our stories are unique and diverse so they translate well to film.
In Nollywood, when movies stay in the cinemas for a while, the rights are bought over by content aggregators, OTTS, SVOD, TVs, etc. Do you think that film distributors and producers are doing right by cutting off the DVD sellers? Are we not losing a lot of money from cutting that chain?
I will not say that distributors are cutting off DVD sales, but I will rather say that asides from fighting piracy, times have changed and things are different. You will agree with me that DVDs are not so much in high demand as it used to be. So naturally, the supply will fall.
A film producer chooses the script, directors, characters, location, etc. He also takes key decisions for every project. Asides funding, government support, societal issues, etc, can we say that the ineptitude of producers are a major chunk of the issues plaguing the Nollywood industry today?
Again, I do not agree totally with this, even though there might be some upcoming producers that are learning the ropes out there. A lot of those issues listed in your question cannot be so in every movie.
Also, remember that the audience has a lot of say with the kind of movies that Nollywood producers make as with other industries around the world. Many producers will want to produce similar content to anything they feel will be successful.
With regards to film productions and distributions, is Nollywood where it should be?
Nollywood is not where it should be, but not where we started from. The industry is growing and really growing fast.
What measures do you think can be taken to have more quality productions/distributions for our movies?
What we need in Nollywood is more funding, training, retraining and the right partnerships.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about what you do?
One major misconception is people think that filmmaking is such an easy job and not for serious people. Filmmaking is hard and tasking and needs a lot of intelligence and commitment.
If you had the opportunity to go back right from when you started, what will you do differently?
If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I will do things smarter but I will not change a thing. However smartness grows with experience.
Was there a time you almost gave up your art? If yes, how were you able to pull through?
It wasn’t easy at the beginning as I studied electrical engineering as my first degree and my parents didn’t want to hear about filmmaking.
Apart from no support, I was stressed out daily to get a real job and almost gave up the dream but I am glad I am here today.
Please share four tips for filmmakers who are hoping to become successful like you in the entertainment industry.
Don’t sit and wait, Get up and do something.
Strive to be better on every job. Consistency is key and humility will take you places
Tell us about your new projects
I have two new works in the making Charlie Charlie (the movie shot in Nigeria, Ghana, Canada and Italy) and of course, Blood of Enogie Series coming soon on IROKOtv.
Since you started your career, what has been the most challenging job you took on, and why?
My most challenging job so far is the Blood of Enogie Series; 78 days on set and counting, and we are still not done with principal photography, over 400 casts and crew. Permit me to talk a bit more about this film we are creating. The Blood of Enogie is an epic series produced by Creative Unit Studios for RokTV Nigeria. The plot begins with a stinging message from the gods which sends panic to the household of the Enogie (king) of Idugbor community in the ancient Benin kingdom. After five miscarriages and an unending pressure from friends and kinsmen, the Enogie marries a new wife with hopes that the gods will grant them favour and mercy.
Then, there is a conspiracy in the palace. To secure her place as the only wife of the Enogie, the new wife devises a well-thought-out plan. A taboo is said to be committed and the first wife is sentenced to death. Unknown to everyone, she is expecting a child, a possible heir, so the story goes.
Shot in several locations in Benin and Abeokuta, the intrigues of Blood of Enogie Series centres around a simple story, simple yet so captivating. I dare say you cannot read a few pages of the over 1250 scenes script and drop it. Apart from this, the production design, arts, sets, locations, costumes, etc, were so real and beautiful. I am excited to have done this work.
I also need to add that the actors were on fire.
They came with a passion and preparation I have never seen. Stars that featured are Chioma Akpotha, Caz Chidebere, Maryanna Apollo, Etinosa Idemudia, Angela Eguavoen, Iyabo Ojo, Moyo Lawal and many other amazing actors.
Finally, the culture and traditions of the Binis (people from Benin, Edo State) played dominant in the Blood of Enogie Series. The costumes, the music, oh my God! I can’t wait for the world to see what we have prepared with the Blood of Enogie Series.
In what ways would you say COVID -19 is impacting the movie industry?
As per the health care professionals, COVID-19 spreads through close contact with others so the current advice is to practice social distancing. A good quality movie, even with very few actors, still requires a crew that works so hard behind the scenes; from lighting & sound operators, to costume, makeup and everything else in between. We need each member of the crew to work on set. With COVID-19, it is unsafe to continue filming while around several people. This has caused a lot of movie productions to be put on hold. That being said, I would assume a lot more people are spending a lot more time watching movies now they are stuck at home with the country on lockdown.