I want to use the medium of film to change the society, top movie director, Teco Benson – By AZUH AMATUS

Teco Benson

In Nollywood today, one of the names that rings a bell

when it comes to action packed and quality movies is

Teco Benson. He started first as an actor, later

producer cum scriptwriter, before finally berthing and consolidating as

a top-notch director.

 

And interestingly, he has been at the top of his

thriving career since his debut in 1994, getting accolades and

winning several awards locally and on the foreign

scene, respectively.

 

In this interview with AZUH AMATUS, the movie-maker with

over 30 hit flicks to his credit, among them the

recently released “Explosion”, bared his mind on

several issues, especially those germane to Nollywood.

He also spoke about his recent trip to Tel-Aviv,

Israel, where he took the gospel of Nollywood to and

came back with a sweet tale and song.

 

Enjoy the interaction!

 

You just returned from a trip to Tel Aviv, Israel, what took you there and what was the experience like?

 

Honestly the trip was very, very exciting and I

brainstormed, it was an experience I would not forget in a

hurry. Well we got to Israel safely and we were

checked into a hotel because we went as a delegation

kind of contingent, it was before the war with Lebanon

. I said it was very wonderful, I must say it is very

good for Nigeria as a nation that we went there, we

did very much to launder the image of our country and

our dear nation, and there’s no other country we can

call our own. I am a staunch Nigerian and I believe so

much in Nigeria, it’s a country I love so much that

even in my own industry when people are talking about

how to get to Hollywood I tell them that I am going to

stay here and transform here to something beautiful

than Hollywood and I believe that is how it should be.

The trip was organized by the embassy of Nigeria in

Israel and it was part of a cultural exchange

programme to show the Nigerian culture, paint the real

picture of Nigeria. At the event we had exhibition of

fashion shows, all the fashion in Nigeria, we had

cultural shows all the tribes in Nigeria, we had

dances and so many drama presentations, and we had

Nollywood which was represented by “Explosion”

directed and recently released by my humble self. The

premiere was wonderful, the turnout was impressive

and what actually touched me was that people were

clapping intermittently as they were watching the

movie and at the end of the whole show the impression

about Nigeria changed. Yes, the theme of my movie is

419 and all of you know the negative and ugly trend it

has done to Nigeria’s image. It has given us a bad

name, for some of us who travel often, we face a lot

of embarrassment at the airport and at other port of

entries in other countries; once you have that green

passport you have a kind of inferiority complex, they

will search you even to your pants, even sometimes

they take your private part and manhandle it

unnecessarily all in the process of conducting their

search and this is very embarrassing. I have

taken it upon myself to see how this image about

Nigeria can change because like I said there’s no

other country I can call my own no matter how you want

to run away from Nigeria one day you will still come

back and no matter how you run away you are a

Nigerian. We were there for five days actually, at the

event, you could see the excitement, you could see

appreciation of Nigeria in there, because, before we

came the only impression they had about Nigeria were

that of illegal immigrants because they had to even

deport all Nigerians there, most of those deported got

there illegally. Minister of Information Mr. Frank

Nweke Jnr. was also there; he stood up and spoke so

beautiful about Nigeria as a nation.  I feel so glad

that I was chosen to be an ambassador of Nigeria and

Nollywood.

 

What would say is the impact of your trip on Nollywood?

 

Well, the major lesson is that out there, there are

lots of regards for Nollywood, there are lots of

expectations from Nollywood. Our films have gone much

farther than we believe and people expect much from

us, so for me and my colleagues I think it’s time we

sit up because I believe to whom much is given much is

expected, we have to really buckle up and eschew

mediocrity, pursuance of money at the detriment of

professionalism kills the industry and honestly I feel

very bad when I see people throw professionalism to

the gutters because of money that will be here today

and tomorrow is not there anymore. God has given this

industry to us as a medium for a purpose. My vision is

to change the society through the medium of film and I

have been following it squarely, all my films have

instant messages. Yes, for now I don’t have access to

government, I don’t have access to political power,

and I don’t have access to the pulpit, but I have

access to this medium of film. So whatever I want to

get across to my people I know how to do it so and I

use the film medium.

 

Why are you so passionate about your latest project, Explosion?

 

Honestly ‘Explosion’ is about my biggest project in

recent times. The drive for that movie was borne out

of a big burden on me. I sat down for more than eight

years to look at Nigeria, the people of Nigeria were

not created to be thieves, we are very hardworking

people, but all of a sudden this 419 thing came and

every young man abandoned what they were doing and

jumped into it because of the fast cash that comes

with it and I must tell you it has done more harm than

good. 419 is robbery, theft, murder, it is evil

personified, but we have clothed that in very

beautiful attire and call it some beautiful names and

people tend to forget that this is a big sin not just

against God but against humanity. You rob a man under

a guise and you go home and enjoy your loot, live in

glass houses with your family without knowing that you

are inflicting curses on your children, you are

inflicting curses upon yourself and the man that you

have robbed will never be happy with you, he will even

pray to God to punish you for that crime. So people

don’t know the other side of it, all people know is

that they make money from it. So I have sat down and

observed that many of our young people who are even

into legal businesses already are leaving them for the

fast lane because they make it faster when they come

over here. I decided on my own to contribute because

government has done much to curtail their excesses but

it has not been easy because of so many bottle

necks.  Since I have this medium of film, I think I

can through this medium tell or contribute in my own

little way so that the menace can be stopped. My style

is to expose the tricks and modus operandi of these

guys to the international community to make sure that

people won’t fall victims to this ugly stuff any

longer.

 

Are you not afraid for your life and that of your immediate by exposing these heartless souls publicly?

 

Well I am an apostle of change, God has sent me to do

this and God will protect me.

I am not scared of anything. It’s already out and

doing wonderfully well in the market, courtesy of my

recently floated marketing and distribution outfit.

Honestly, a lot of millions was spent trying to make

this movie measure up to international standards.

Permit me to be silent on the particular figure, but I

would tell you that a lot of millions have gone into

the production but I might not be very, very specific

as to the exact figure.

 

Aside Explosion, are you also working on other projects?

 

Honestly, aside Explosion I haven’t done another

movie. My plan is to release it before I go into

another, if my colleagues can borrow a leaf from me

the problem we are experiencing would not be there

because most of them are rushing and releasing movies

as if the world is coming to an end tomorrow. It is

absurd that sometimes a production company can do like

seven films within one month sometimes ten, which is

terrible and by the time you push all these films into

the market and you expect the same Nigerians to buy in

a month fifty films, it’s not possible.  Producers

should be disciplined do you understand. I want money

as well, I need it to exist, I have my family to feed

as well, you know but I just don’t look at that money.

I look at the value of what am doing I look at the

effect on people, I look at the buying power of

people; do you understand these are things we need to

consider. There’s no way somebody can buy all these

films. That is why I also encourage people to buy

films based on the name of directors they respect, it’s

much better, by so doing they will not be deceived.

 

Unlike other production houses, yours release fewer movies on a yearly basis, why?

 

It is maturity, I think I am getting more mature and

understanding the reality of life. So many producers

churn out thousands of movies and in the end they

don’t even have any money in their accounts to show

for their efforts. I believe it’s good for one to be

focused there’s no hurry in life, anything you want to

do, do it well, do it properly. I might not stick to

three films every year, sometimes if I have the fund

and time and if I have other people who can also work

under me I can increase it to five or thereabout but I

can never go the other way where people churn out

movies as if they are making popcorns. Apart from

movies, I am into commercials, T.V series, and studio

use and equipment rentals.

 

What was it like, starting your outfit, TFP Productions?

 

Actually this company was established in 1996 but not

registered then, but in 1997 I registered the company.

In 99/2000 I got a place and moved in. it’s been a

very nice experience, we have made tremendous impact

in the movie industry. We have edited movies for

almost all the big names in the industry. T.F.P stands

for Teco Films Production.

 

As a leading name in the industry, what would you say are the major challenges facing Nollywood and its practitioners?

 

The biggest challenge here is the Nigerian factor,

number one, most of us are used to making films in one

week, so when a Teco Benson wants to work, it

stretches into three weeks because I want to get

things right, you see people complaining here and

there giving you hell, you know, complaining and

harassing you and all that and sometimes you feel you

are doing something wrong. The problem with most

artistes is that they are always in haste; secondly,

is the financial challenges. Our counterparts in

Hollywood, Bollywood and other advance nations who are

making movies sometimes are opportune to work with a

budget of about two hundred million U.S Dollars but

here we have very lean budget and our economy is so

poor our movies are released directly to videos and

the scenes are not encouraging at all. Sometimes you

make movies you don’t even make profit, even when you

make profit it’s not even enough to take care of you

until you do another movie. So these are problems that

we confront and sometimes there are things you would

ordinarily want to achieve in a movie but because of

financial constraints you have to cut corners to make

do with what you have and manage and sometimes it

doesn’t make me feel good. The economy of the nation

might be the biggest problem that is what is

contributing to these problems. People don’t even have

enough to eat let alone lavish money on acquiring or

buying movies, you know that is the problem. Then

another big problem is the lack of expertise, I have

done a lot of action movies. You discover that as a

director I do my job and the job of so many other

people because of lack of experts, we have in advanced

countries what we call stunt coordinators, we have

technicians, we have a lot of things, and a lot of

people that can help you achieve a lot of things. You

want to fire gun now there are experts that can help

you even to burn cars professionally among several

others. But here our engineers cannot even make a

razor blade let alone trying to do a dummy of a car

for you, so it’s a shame and they are the people

sitting at home and criticizing Nollywood that we are

not doing well. Meanwhile till now, we don’t have a

100% Nigerian made bicycle, it’s a shame; do you

understand so they should sit up as well. You see

Nollywood is part of the same Nigeria but we have gone

ahead of every other sector; I know it’s doing well

now, Nollywood has gone ahead to turn water into wine

because from nowhere we have been able to make

Nollyeood a brand. The name Nollywood was even given

to the industry by the Washington Times, it wasn’t

even given to us by ourselves, that would tell you the

extent we’ve gone and everyday you see analysis of

Nollywood in foreign magazines, foreign papers and if

you travel abroad you receive a lot of accolades from

fans all over the world, you get e-mails from all over

the world, anywhere you go, which goes a long way to

show the extent Nollywood has gone. Another thing that

makes me happy is the fact that in Africa for now the

birth of Nollywood marked the death of Hollywood.  Do

you know that in most African countries people don’t

watch Hollywood again, Nollywood is it everywhere, and

they don’t watch Hollywood movies anywhere again?

 

As a director, your passion for making action movies is legendary, why the special interest in such films?

 

Good, before I delved into action movies I have cut my

teeth in other genre of movies, I have done lots of

Christian movies, I have done lots of thrillers, I

have done lots of other genre of movies but my

entrance into action movies was borne out of the

messages received from people. You see, the quest to

be different was what pushed me into action movies.

 

How and why did you join Nollywood?

 

Well, I came into the industry in 1994, but before

then I was a civil servant that didn’t find

satisfaction with my job. I was working with Anambra

State, actually I read sciences in school, I read

Environmental Health and Pathology. I discovered that

what I actually read in school was not actually my

calling. Is all about calling, before you were formed

in your mother’s womb God has already destined you and

planned what you will be. I thank God for the

experience. After acting in some movies, the offer to

produce a movie came my way in 1996, Sunny Collins

told me that he wants me to produce a movie for him,

but I had never produced a movie before then. Yeah!

That was my first movie and his first movie as well.

So that was how the journey began “Compromise” was the

movie’s title. I also produced other hit movies like

“Suicide Mission”, Scores to Settle, Abandon,

Confusion, Narrow Escape, Atrocity and many others.

Later I directed “Waterloo” and went on leave because

I was not satisfied.

 

Which was your breakthrough movie in Nollywood?

 

Honestly, the funny thing was that from the time I did

Compromise the name was everywhere, but when I now did

“Eye for Eye” an action film people starting raising

eye brows, because I was a writer and a producer and I

was an actor too, the face was there. I want to use

the medium of film to change the society I have to

supply the content in that case, you have to choose

the script you are shooting. Honestly, it will be

difficult to answer the question because you keep

doing jobs and people appreciate you because almost

every of my films is a commercial success. It’s so

because I take my time to do all my movies. When I did

State of Emergency in year 2000 it was a big shock to

the nation and I think it ballooned me to higher

grounds. Even with the entire name as a director, my

movies are less than 50.

 

Is the government doing enough for Nollywood in terms of support and technical assistance?

 

You know the answer before you asked me this question

but I will still answer you. The truth is that

government was not prepared for the boom that we

experienced in Nollywood, they never cared, just out

of nowhere Nollywood just started from efforts of

individuals, the industry has so boomed now that

it has attracted the attention of government.

Government is beginning to notice the impact of the

industry and is trying to make an in-road into the

industry. So if there’s anything they are going to do

it is now, but I must say that Obasanjo government has

impacted positively on the industry because for the

first time in this administration the former minister

of information, Chikelu Chukwuemeka did a lot for

Nollywood; and after his exit, Frank Nweke Jnr is

doing one or two things also to encourage the

industry. They have not done enough, everybody knows

that but with the effort they are trying to make now I

believe the future is brighter and by the time

government comes in properly there will be a change.

Nollywood will now get to the next level.

 

As a major and critical stakeholder, what would you say is the biggest problem facing Nollywood?

 

The biggest problem facing us now is piracy, and then

the second monster is anarchy.

 

Anarchy?

 

Anarchy because the industry is in shambles, we are

not together; we have problems facing us here and

there, associations here and there, multiplication and

duplication of associations. You see an association of

producers here; you see another association of

producers there. That is why there is no

professionalism and that is why one person can release

forty films in two months and nobody can tell him not

to do so, there is no control. So there is total lack of

control in the industry and that is because the

industry is not together and that is why the pirates

are feeding fat because there is no law. We are not

united. And any nation that is divided against itself

can never stand, until we come together; to the

drawing boards we can never, never make a head way. So

these are the two biggest problems from my own

perception in the industry and until they are uprooted

to their roots, we cannot make any headway.

 

So, what do you think or see as the way forward?

 

The way forward is still connected to what I have said

before now, by coming together government has already

started to establish film makers council and the aim

is to professionalize the industry and bring everybody

together and eliminate the problems I have enumerated.

So if they can follow that to the latter I believe the

industry will move forward because the industry can

have standard now, you can decide on anything and

follow it to the end, you can agree on minimum

standard that nobody should go below and there would

be penalty if anybody goes against it.

 

We would like to have your views on the rampant issue of sexual harassments in the industry?

 

It is a very difficult question to answer; I don’t

think I will be able to answer the question. The

accusation we hear often is that male producers are

harassing female actresses.

 

As a leading filmmaker, what motivates you?

 

Basically, for every man created on earth there’s a

purpose, God created me for a purpose and that purpose

is part of my vision unconsciously I took that vision

as my vision in Nollywood but later I realized that,

that was even my purpose in Nollywood. God planted me

in Nollywood to be able to accomplish these things

through me and I’m going to do a lot more of exploits

in the future, and my dream is to even have a movie

ministry where I will be evangelizing through movies,

but my own kind of evangelism will not be the full

blown type, you see when you look at a situation you

know the best way to approach circumstances and

situations. Like in the world of today, if you just do

a film and make it a full blown Christian film, it is

only born again Christians that will watch it, the

unbelievers who you are targeting will not watch it.

They will give their lives to Christ without anybody

forcing them, without anybody harassing them or

anything, but when it comes overtly, when it comes

from the beginning you make it obvious as a Christian

film, you are only preaching to people who are on the

side of God. But God has told us to go inside the

world and make disciples of all nations, the people you

need to convert are the unbelievers.Tthe only message

you need to give the believers already is to encourage

them and warn them against backsliding and the dangers

of it.To constantly remind them of their covenant

with God, but for the people in the world there is a

different message for them and that is why am here. My

motivation is first of all from God, it comes in your

mind, you think it’s just your mind talking to you, but

it is God speaking to you through your mind.But first

of all like I said earlier, I look at things happening

wrongly here and there, I don’t feel happy about it,

but I feel bad about them. So there’s this push in me

that the nature and creation is waiting for me as the

only person who can solve the problem. So whenever, I

am doing films I put my life down, I put my life in

every film I do even if I am doing the film for

somebody. I must have to change the script to make sure

that there is a message at the end of the day, there

must be a moral message at the  end of the day.

 

We would like to know more about your background?

 

Oh I am married to Uju Blessing Benson, Uju is a young

beautiful lady in her twenties and God has already

blessed us with three kids, three boys. I have a

wonderful family; we are from Ojoto, Anambra state. I

read Environmental Health at Enugu State School of

health technology like I said earlier. Then I did a

P.G.D in Pathology at Nnamdi Azikwe University Nnewi

Campus, I am planning to further in an area related to

the industry.

 

 

 

First published, September 2006

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