From Street Hawking to Leading Filmmaker

From Street Hawking to Leading Filmmaker

Nollywood is fast-growing, but there is a concern about the production value of most of our movies. Fast-rising filmmaker, Femi Johnson is playing a key role in improving the sector through his MonoRoom initiative. He has worked in different capacity on some major Nollywood projects like The Johnson, HUSH, Hotel Majestic, Oloibiri and Voiceless, among others. He shares his dreams for the industry with Chinedu Ibeabuchi

Tell us about your childhood experience and how it has shaped you?

I grew up in Orile Iganmu, a ghetto in Surulere Lagos; life was not rosy. I remember hawking foodstuffs with my mother in big men areas and how I was fascinated by the good life of kids in those areas. I saw the difference between the life we were living and the life these other people were living; I desired that other reality. So I used to write stories of how I would one day become rich and famous, that was how I started as a writer. From writing stories, I went into stage drama, first in my parent’s church, then in school and later in Daystar Christian Center and then to proper filmmaking.

How did you learn the art of movie-making?

I am a self-taught filmmaker but I cannot deny the knowledge and experience I gained working with Rogers Ofime, the CEO of Native Media and producer of The Johnson, HUSH, Hotel Majestic, Oloibiri, Voiceless and many more. I worked on some of these projects in different capacity.

What do you think has evolved over the years in the movies industries?

There is an unfortunate shift in the TV and film industry that bothers me. During the 70s, 80s and 90s, the picture quality and cinematography work were not top-notch but the stories and the acting were very good. However, in recent time, the cinematography is far sophisticated but the quality of stories and acting has greatly reduced. It is so bad that the actors that are celebrated now parade under average acting skills. It is quite sad I must confess

Do you think the Nigerian government has done enough to support the creative industry?

The Nigerian government has only scratched the surface when it comes to supporting the industry. The BOI loan was a good initiative but it has only benefitted a few and the process of accessing the loan is getting harder. The creative industry cannot survive in this kind of environment. A lot more needs to be done in the areas of capital investment and legislation that will create a framework for development.

How do you rate the Nigeria movie industry compared with Hollywood and other industry across the globe?

Nollywood is faring well, no doubt, but there is a lot more to be done. There are so many things that go into filmmaking that we have not developed here. I believe one of the problems Nollywood is facing is capital investment; the kind that will allow filmmakers to make believable movies. Most of our stories are caged in rooms and deserted streets as if that is all about our reality whereas Hollywood will shoot just one scene on a very busy street as it is in real life. To make believable movies like these, we need a big investment in the industry.

You are a critic of Nollywood movies as per production value, cinematography, storyline, etc. How do you plan to improve on the shortcomings you see in our movies?

MonoRoom is part of my contribution to the improvement of the industry. I believe that if a premium value is placed on good acting and if mediocracy is relegated, actors’ performance will become easy to watch. I have also resolved to tell stories that are meaningful and impactful and not just to make commercially viable movies.

What is the idea behind MonoRoom and who is your target audience?

MonoRoom is a reality series created to give upcoming actors a platform to display their talents and register their names and faces in the minds of the audience. The series which will air on TV is targeted at upcoming actors across Africa.

Which of your projects would you describe as most challenging so far?

I will say the production of my first feature film because I produced, directed and sourced for all the resources by myself. I spent my life savings producing that movie coupled with investments from some families and friends.

What themes do you enjoy exploring the most in your art?

Love has always been at the centre of my works. I enjoy telling stories of how love rules the affairs of men.

Do awards mean anything to you and have they been coming?

I believe awards are mere collections of fancy props meant to beautify shelves and nothing more. The true validation of how well you have done is the satisfaction and joy that you get from what you do. Some people have gotten all the awards and are still not happy. So for me, the satisfaction of watching my idea on screen is most important. I have had some awards in the past, best director in 2013 and 2016 from Daystar Christian Centre.

How do you unwind?

I watch movies and spend time with my wife and kids. My home is my safe haven where I am relaxed the most

What is your life philosophy?

If you don’t know where you are heading, you will end up anywhere. Vision is very important; if your vision is clear to you, it will be easy for you to achieve it.

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