Ibinabo Fiberesima: I’m Not Looking for Fame, Na Money I Dey Find Now

Nollywood actress cum filmmaker, Ibinabo Fiberesima is always never shy of the truth. Choosy with her words, the ex-beauty queen and model, appears to make bold statements at any given opportunity. Just like she did in this conversation with Ferdinand Ekechukwu.  She talks about her newly established Queen Bae Studios and its debut feature film – an epic drama based on a real character – titled “Amanyanabo – The Eagle King”

Tell us about “Amanyanabo The Eagle King”

It is an epic drama based on a real character, a King of Okrika, Ibanichuka, Ado the VI, Amanyanabo of Okrika. He was one of the great monarchs of Okrika that reigned over an era of prosperity, sterling diplomacy, astute trade relations and security. Ibanichuka is fondly referred to as the overlord of Okrika and the last of Okrikas grand potentates. The movie is a fitting tribute to his reign which was characterized by a lot of events that outlines some of his conquests, alliances and even a civil war. He weathers these storms while trying to unite a people already divided by the incursion of a foreign religion and finding a solution to colonial encroachment led by a sadistic British consul. 

When is it to be released? Will it be straight to cinema or streaming platform?

When you produce a film, you want to eventually get it to reach the widest audience possible. Were critically now in the marketing and publicity stage. There are a lot of options open to us. We are also being broached by cinema houses and some platforms but we are consulting widely to arrive at the best business decision that will reach the widest audience available. We want the movie to get to its farthest and we will choose any platform that can make that happen. But I will keep you informed in this regard.

What was it about this story that pulled you to it and what is the essence bringing this historical movie at a time like this?

First of all, the story is inspired by a book written by Dr. Alfred S. Abam, Ado the IX, Amanyanabo of Okrika. A lot of people rightly haven’t heard about Ibanichuka. I dare say a lot of Ijaws especially the present generation who aren’t in touch with their roots have not. Personally, I grew up reading about the great Bini Monarch, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi in a play written by the legendary Ola Rotimi. I read about the flamboyant Jaja Jubogha of Opobo and Nana Olomu of Itsekiri. But there were other leaders too that reigned around the time. King Ibanichuka was one of them. I was awed to discover about his exploits and challenges even in his household. I was pulled to the story because Africa has a lot of Ibanichukas whose stories have never been told. The Niger-Delta and even Nigeria as a whole has come to the point where it is necessary to look back in order to move forward. We have a proud history of honest, strong and wise leaders that inspired our people through tough times.

We need to remember who we are as a people and return to our principles. For instance, in those days it was an anathema to be labelled a thief. You and your entire family bore the stigma. But these days, you are even hailed based on the amount of money you manage to steal. You can steal and then hire fancy lawyers, make flamboyant appearances to court, frustrate the process with technicalities and hold your head high in the midst of the flagrant infamy. Even with that toga you can eventually even nurse the odious ambition to aspire for office. We have lost our values, but we must recover those values, one step at a time.

The story has been retold through oral and written medium. What difference does it make in film medium? 

Film is about entertainment and whoever pays to watch a film wants to be entertained. This singular fact was not lost on me. Indeed, even if you have a sermon, it is prudent to enshroud it in an entertaining form or you lose the largest part of your audience. ‘Amanyanabo The Eagle King’ has been packaged with every ingredient one can imagine. There is action, drama, comedy, tragedy and factual reality bordering on history. It is something you will want to pay money to watch and that is the difference.

You produced and also acted in the movie. What are some of the choices and factors you considered before taken up the production rein?

To tell you the truth when the script was written, the first factor I considered was its achievability with regards to funding. The cheapest you need to shoot a Nigerian movie replete with modern production standards that can at least compete contemporarily is in the considered region of $2 million. But you see, even with all the funds being bandied about, it is a very tedious and almost impossible feat to source funds for production and a lot of practitioners can bear me witness. The industry is in large parts self-sustained, albeit inadequately. I had to source funds by meeting old friends and liquidating assets. I had the choice to water the script down, but I also have a mission to challenge the very best in Hollywood just as some of my colleagues are doing presently.

I want to continue shifting the paradigm, to aim for the best. The technology to shoot any movie of one’s imagination is here with us, including the personnel to make it happen. I mean look at a movie like Avatar: The Way of Water. To shoot that sort of movie required massive funding between $350 and $460 million. But consider the end result and its financial dividends, as I write this, it has breached the $2 billion mark. Isn’t it mind-blowing? So why are we not achieving same? Funding gets you the best from scriptwriters all the way to post-production and marketing. My goal is to compete so I considered the best hands to work with. Acclaimed filmmaker, Izu Ojukwu was my Production Consultant along with Zeb Ejiro and the movie was directed by Fred Amata. I also had to assemble trusted hands as cast and crew and the result was more than I had imagined.

Share with us your role in the movie

I played Tamunoba, the goddess, a very minimal but impactful role in the movie as you will see. It was by choice. As a producer, I knew I would have my hands full on the project and I didn’t want to compromise my films quality because of ample screen time. I believe I’m already accomplished for that. I’m not looking for fame, ‘na money I dey find now’.

You seemed to cast only old hands in this production. Not even a newbie. Why?

Like I stated earlier, I needed trusted hands first and foremost. The dialogue of the movie was not the run-of-the-mill and no actor was permitted to improvise my lines, which is a quietly celebrated norm on a lot of Nollywood sets. I required experience and those that had discipline for the craft. I did try to get one or two newbies, but they had conflicting schedules. However, I had some budding actors on set who under my strict observation as Casting Director were fit to play the roles allotted to them, including Oluwatunmise Emmanuel Akinbo, the son of costume expert, Millicent Jack and Izuchukwu Ezeokoli.

I left no room for errors as a lot was invested in this. But I’ll say this. Most of these your newbies are arrogant and need to learn the discipline of the profession. It’s okay for your Instagram following to get you on screen but it will not sustain you. Your following will not help you interpret roles, respect production or get along with others. They need to ask why many veterans are ever-green and why newbies fade after a short time. The knowledge, respect and discipline for your craft are key factors. Nkem Owoh, Monalisa Chinda Coker, Walter Anga et al turned in dramatic monologues for my audition and when contracted were never late to my set. They never disrespected the cast or crew and were always standing by. I had two Ph.D holders in the persons of Columbus Irosanga and Ovunda Ihunwo who comported themselves and even helped the younger actors. Gentle Jack shuttled Delta and Okrika to ensure he delivered the script in precise words. That’s discipline and professionalism and ‘dem no dey buy am for Instagram’ (laughs)…

Do you think Nollywood is telling real African stories looking at some of the films that have been churned out lately?

Nollywood is trying its bit in the aspect of telling real African stories, but more can be done. A lot still gets lost based on the budget available. There are a lot of inconsistencies with the depiction of our culture on screen and this is because unlike our foreign counterparts most of our filmmakers work without consultants. For my film, we had a culture consultant. ‘Abeg, I didn’t want wahala with my people’ so I ensured I stayed within the border of acceptable plausibility. I find some of our epic movies funny especially the depiction of royalty which seems like a pale imitation of the British monarchy or comically copied excerpts from the fictitious Zamunda of Coming to America. No offence but some of those productions cannot be classified as true African stories. There’s a thin line in trying to balance fact and fiction, but we need to be more cautious so we do not lose the basic ingredients that make up our identity in the telling of our stories. It’s embarrassing when I have to answer awkward questions from some of my foreign friends as to the cultural authenticity of some of these epics.

What’s the major influence in your acting career?

The major influence on my career is the passion to tell stories. To tell stories, you sometimes need to play a character. It’s a form of escapism. I love that part of it all, when I have to drop the person Ibinabo Fiberesima and assume the persona of another character, either lovable or terrible. I cherish the honour to play someone else and in that regard make a positive impact on people’s lives. 

Tell us about your production outfit and how did the name came about?

To achieve my production objectives, I needed a vessel and that was why I founded Queen Bae Studios Production. I’ve always been referred to as the Queen Bae of the Niger-Delta by my close friends. So, when I was thinking of a name for my production house, I felt it was a nice way to immortalize the name given what I was about to embark on, and that was it, Queen Bae Studios Production was born. Queen Bae Studios is a small but beautiful Nigerian production outfit with massive dreams and even more immense potential. Queen Bae Studios loves challenges and will aspire to tell stories others shy away from. Our mission is to dominate the world stage with credible African stories beginning with ‘Amanyanabo The Eagle King’.

How long did it take to shoot Amanyanabo?

Principal photography commenced April 2022 and ended May 2022 in a total of 21 days. We used principal locations, including Mgbegbe-gboko Island, One Mans Island, Okoro Ama and Akalogbo Ama all around the beautiful island of Okrika. We have spent quite some time in post-production between May 2022 and December 2022 and that was due to the foreign consultants working on the movie in association with Izu Ojukwus House of Illusion. 

This is the first movie from your film house, Queen Bae Studios Production and the first time it will be captured in motion pictures. Were there challenges you had to deal with in the course of production?

Like I mentioned earlier, my biggest challenge was funding. I was able to shoot with a budget of approximately $1.05 million which is not a bad outing for a budding film house. I was able to pull elite thespians and high-end crew members to help me execute a world-class script. Other challenges were logistic in nature which isn’t out of the ordinary when one is making a film of such a magnitude. But in all, I really did enjoy the pressure and what more, I was shooting in my home town and thus I was a beneficiary of so much love and goodwill especially at the behest of His Royal Highness, King Ateke Tom, Amanyanabo of Okochiri Kingdom, Okrika.

What’s the next project on Queen Bae Productions?

We actually have three ambitious stories in the pipeline, scripted and ready for production, but we want to patiently see to our first baby’s progressive nurture. The incidents of ‘Amanyanabo The Eagle King’ must be sorted before anything else. We are motivated but we are not in a hurry.

Female colleagues in the industry have been accused of living above their means and are doing well more than their male colleagues. What’s your view about this?

As a rule, I try to mind my own business. There are a lot of hard-working actors and actresses out there who mix the craft with genuine business and I don’t think it’s fair to bunch them all in the same bowl. There will always be the bad eggs and you know what happens to bad eggs. They eventually begin to reek and are thrown into the bin. This is the word of an elder and it is true.

How do you relax when you are not working?

I watch movies, I read and I hang out with my friends and family.

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