How I controlled Omotola and Genevieve on set of IJE – Chineze Anyaene

If you haven’t heard of the movie, entitled Ije, it’s either you’re not as passionate about Nollywood movies as you thought or the Nigerian movie web may just have caught you napping and passed you by. Whatever the case, MERCY MICHAEL came across the name behind the movie, Chineze Anyaene, and she opened up on several issues, including her experience on the set of the movie. With Ije gradually setting a record as the highest box office movie in Nollywood, Chineze is hopeful that she is set to make more money. She also talks about her encounters with two of Nollywood’s celebrated actresses, Omotola and Genevieve. She also speaks on lessons she learnt as a first time filmmaker.  

Excerpts from the interview:

ONE of Nigeria’s box-office movies, Ije, is finally out on DVD. How do you intend to distribute it without facing the wrath of pirates?

Distribution has always been a challenge in Nigeria for filmmakers. And that’s why people like me have not gone back on set. It does not make any sense for you to release a movie and then have it in your cupboard or give it to pirates to handle. We spent over fourteen months working on distribution channels. First of all, we decided to go to the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board to get a license.

Then, we registered with the Marketers Association in Lagos and Onitsha. In the last fourteen months, the company has been working, gathering outlets around West Africa, to be precise. It was very challenging because we tried to convince them that the only way we can stop piracy is for them to support us to get the films out there. If the movie is available, then there will be no piracy. Distribution is a challenge. But for me, I really want to remain in this industry for a long time to come.

The cinema aspect has been taken care of, but there is no structure in DVD. So the company decided that instead of us going back on set to shoot another movie, we should rather invest in distribution, using, Ije as a sample to see how the distribution turns out. Until I distribute Ije I can’t go back on set.

Chineze Anyaene

Chineze Anyaene – Producer of IJE The Journey

Quite a number of filmmakers have said that presently the cinema is a reap-off. As a filmmaker, what was your experience, and would you honestly say you made money going to the cinema?

From my point of view, I won’t say the cinema owners are reaping-off producers because I understand the business of filmmaking. Cinemas have rules and regulations. They work with 40 percent, 60 percent, depending on the contract you have with them. It’s the same thing internationally. It’s even worse in London and America, because you get less percentage and the cinema gets more.

So I don’t see what Silverbird or Genesis or the Ozone is doing that filmmakers claim they are being reaped off. I don’t think that is correct. If you work with international distributors, you will see it’s the same model they use everywhere. As a producer and director, I haven’t still made my money from Ije yet, but I think we have limited cinemas. I released in only six cinemas. I think it did well for six cinemas at that point. But like I said, I haven’t made my money yet, and that’s why I decided to release the DVD.

Most filmmakers on the international scene don’t even make their money from the cinemas because of the whole sliding scale of percentages, so they rely on on-line or DVD’s to get the buck of their money. I haven’t made my money yet, but I hope to. However, I made lots of money from the cinema because the percentage was fair to me, and I think it was a good deal compared to what I was getting from London and America and even South Africa. But with on-line and DVD, I’m sure to make my money.

You were said to have made N60million at the cinema, yet you say you haven’t made your money. How do you mean?

I spent a lot of money shooting that movie. I also spent a lot of money on publicity. So I haven’t made my money yet. By the time you remove your capital, you will see there really isn’t much left. But of course, the film business is over a period of time. For the next hundred years, I can continue to make money from this film. Even if it’s pirated, I can still get royalty. Now it’s out on DVD, I will get money from there. I have money coming from on-line, TV rights. That’s how you make your money. But I haven’t made my money yet.

Was Ije really your thesis back at the film school?

Yes, that was a thesis. It was a school project.

So how did it translate into a commercial film?

I was in the film school for four years. At the film school, we shoot short-films, 15 minutes, 5 minutes and we spend a lot of money. You spend as high as 20 thousand dollars to shoot a short film that will not get you your money back, apart from festival accolades. So when I decided to do my thesis in school, my project, I was looking at spending a lot of money, so I had to look for a way to make it commercial. The reason I decided to use the celebrities in the movie, Genevieve and Omotola is because the first time I went to film school, it was a diploma.

I finished my short-film and I came back to Nigeria. I was all over the places telling whoever cared to listen that I could shoot a short-film, but nobody was listening, so this time I decided to be smart. Like they always say, your last project is your calling card into the industry. So since I could not afford to use American stars, I decide on them, so maybe from there someone will see and hire me for their project. So I called Omotola and Genevieve on board and they were supportive.

When they saw the script, they decided to give it a try. Back at school, my supervisor was like this project is too big for you. You are a first-time director; you can’t be shooting a court-room drama. Just do like a simple story, two people in a room. But I was like no. I need to push myself further because if I don’t start that way, I will keep limiting myself. In fact, initially my supervisor said no to the idea because a court-room drama is deemed for professional filmmakers.

Omotola and Genevieve Nnaji

Omotola and Genevieve Nnaji

Genevieve and Omotola are two of the acclaimed highest paid actresses in Nollywood. As a student back then, how were you able to convince them to come on board?

As a student, it was very challenging. I had to fly down to Nigeria to look for Omotola. I chased her and chased her. In fact, I started with Facebook, harassing her via Facebook. She refused to listen to me. I came down to Nigeria to shoot the Nigeria scene. I came to shoot, based on faith. Omotola later gave me audience. I got the synopsis across to her and she promised to get back to me. Then, I started looking for Genevieve round Lagos. She’s here today; tomorrow she’s in another country. Finally, she told me that she was in London. I flew straight from Nigeria to London. I met her in a coffee shop. She looked at me and said, ‘you’ve been harassing me Chineze’. And I was like yes.

She said she read the synopsis and that she liked it, but she’s really worried about how I was going to pull off the prison and the court-room. She said she didn’t want any hazy stuff. As a filmmaker, you are like a marketer. You have to sell yourself. But even after that, they still didn’t believe me. But I was very persistent. I was like if you don’t like what I’m doing, three days after you come on set, you can go back. It wasn’t really about the money for them. Yes I had to pay them. Yes I paid them well because it’s show-business, and I will love someone to pay me back. Nothing is free.

But for them, it was about the story and the fact that they saw that I was going for something different. And when they came on set, the first day, I didn’t bring any of them on set according to schedule because I was nervous. But they were there that first day to see what I was doing. And they were like oh she’s serious. You won’t blame them. They are experienced. It was my first time. I was a novice. I’m still learning. But like I always tell actors, don’t underrate people. You never know who will be the next James Cameron. It could be one small boy on the street. So you have to learn to give people a chance. I kept asking them to give me a chance. Besides, how do you support the industry if you don’t give people a chance because they are not big names?

There has been this notion over the years that Omotola and Genevieve don’t see eyeball-to-eyeball. On set, was there any kind of tension between them?

See ehn, I don’t like gossips. I don’t believe in gossip. I heard about the stories before I came. People said to me, oh you want to cast the two of them? I couldn’t be bothered because I was after what they had to offer, their talent. So I didn’t care if they had problems. Like I always say, the director is the sailor that sails the ship. So whatever you bring on is what the cast and crew pull-off. They were very cordial. They respected each other on set. And I respected the two parties. My set was strictly professional. According to Omotola, ‘there was no time to smile’. You only smile during coffee or launch break. I had a mission, and that mission was to finish the film. I made sure their egos didn’t clash. And the best way was just to ignore the notion.

There must have been so much tension on set…

There is always tension on set. But talking about having both of them on set, I think I had it easier with them. Whenever it was their scene, I always smile because you know they are professionals. When my camera rolls, it’s like I’m always smiling because whenever I see the two of them acting, you see that chemistry and you see professionals acting. When they are done, I’m always like ‘oh my God! These people are so good’. You are so happy, you forget the tension.

But prior to them coming on set, you are like I hope everything is going to be fine today. In as much as you do not want to believe the notion, you can’t but pray nothing goes wrong. When they come and I say action, they start to do their thing. They love their work. I saw that on set. These girls love to act. They are not in there to play. They are there because they love acting. Whenever the cameras are ready, you see them change and they are ready. At the end of the day, if a director cannot control his set, he has failed. Like I always say, if you give me Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston tomorrow I will still control them.

Chineze Anyaene with Omotola - IJE Premiere

Chineze Anyaene with Omotola at the screening of IJE in Los Angeles

Will it be right to say that Ije brought these two together?

I don’t know. Professionally, I think they do well together. I don’t know anything about my artiste’s private life. I don’t want to know. I think they did well. We partied together. We ate together and did everything together.

You said you paid them well. Did you have sponsors?

It was family. My mum, I’m grateful to her. My mum has always been bankrolling all my projects. So it was family that bankrolled Ije.

Did you grow up without a father?

I’ve always had my mum and my dad.

It’s interesting to know that it was your first attempt and it was a success. What are some of the lessons you learnt. And secondly, what would you describe as the secret of your success?

Lessons that I have learnt so far are in the area of marketing and distribution. I’ve always thought that shooting a film was tough until I got into selling a film. I’ve learnt to plan marketing and distribution ahead of time. And the secret of my success are hard work, persistence and patience. That’s just it. I’ve always been patient. As you can see, I shot this film in 2008, I released it in 2010 and I’m doing DVD in 2012. So it’s all about patience, persistence and hard work.

Was there ever a time you felt like giving up with the project?

Of course there were times I cried and felt awful, like just forgetting about the project and go and start selling Brazillian hair (laughs).

So what kept you going?

Like I always tell people, I think success is doing what you love doing. And that has always been pushing me. But whenever I try to give up, there is a thing that always rings in my head. I remember when I was doing my post production. I told my mother, I was done with it, but she said to me; ‘do not come back to this house until you finish this project’. I come from a stuck of people who do not quit. To quit is like a taboo. So I didn’t have a choice than to continue.

With 6000 outlets splashed everywhere. Do you see any room for piracy?

Every film is pirated in spite of whatever you do. But the reason why we have more outlets is to reduce piracy. And that’s why we cut down the price. We got like a professional price. Pirates might have space, but I won’t give them that chance. And if I get a pirate, I swear to God, I’m going to invest in him. But like I always say, pirates will sell and I will sell. But I won’t be happy if I get a pirate. I will push it to the end.

You look like the regular Nollywood actress. Any plan of acting in future?

No, at all…

Are you saying you are never going to act even if the script is good?

I can’t act. It’s funny because I read Theatre Arts. But all I ever did were extras. I can never act. Even Genevieve… said it, but they saw it that I can’t act.

Why Theatre Art in the first place?

It was by chance. I was supposed to go and read law, but somehow I found myself studying Theatre Art at the University of Abuja. But I found out that Theatre Art department in Nigeria focus on acting, and I knew I wasn’t cut out for acting. I’ve always known uncle Zeb, and he will say to me ‘you look like an actress you should act’. But at the end of the day, I realized that it was directing, and I went into directing.

So I won’t fool myself and I won’t fool myself on the screen. I respect actors because it’s not easy to constantly change to different characters that are not your real self. I’m being me now, but to be somebody else is difficult. It’s challenging. Being an actor is tough. So I respect them.

What was the first thing your mum said to you when Ije became a success?

She said: ‘I’m proud of you darling. But you have more work’.

We’ve seen Ije. What next? Do you have anything in the pipeline?

Yes. As filmmakers, we always have like screen plays lined-up you know. I will go back on set next year. I hope to release in 2014.

You hope to…

Yes. It depends on when I go back on set next year. Of course, I have a lot in the pipeline. But I have to do something better than this.

Tell us about your background.

I’m from Enugu State. I’m the third of four children. I was born, bred in Abuja. I had my primary, secondary and university in Abuja, and the rest you already know (smiles). My father is Architect. My mother is a teacher, educationist.

The fame that came with Ije, what has it changed about you?

The colour of my hair (laughs).

What’s your idea of an ideal man?

God fearing…please I don’t want to answer any personal question.

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