The problem with Nollywood and way forward,  top filmmaker, Zik Zulu-Okafor – By AZUH AMATUS

Zik Zulu-Okafor

Despite recording huge successes and currently being

ranked as the third largest movie making empire

globally behind Hollywood and Bollywood, passionate and leading filmmaker Zik Zulu-Okafor, in a no holds barred

interview with AZUH AMATUS, insists Nollywood came

into being by an accident.

 

Meticulous and cerebral Okafor, the producer of wave-making soap, Heaven’s Gate, currently running on MBI, DSTV and

other stations, also spoke on how he intends to use

the soap to win more souls for God.

 

Aside lambasting and calling some moviemakers’

impostors and interlopers, he further accused them of

hijacking the industry for their selfish aims.

The theatre arts graduate, also threw some jabs at the

government and corporate bodies for constantly

neglecting the industry.

 

The ex-journalist also spoke glowingly on the way

forward for the industry, among other germane issues and much more.

Enjoy the interaction!

 

Let’s begin this interview with your wave making soap, Heaven’s Gate and how you intend repositioning it for the next level?

 

We started from Sliverbird TV,

but the programme was yanked off air, quite a number

of times without informing us, the producers of the

programme, which is City of David’s Redeemed Christian

Church of God. I was also not informed either. I wrote

them a couple of times, to protest such treatment, but

the problem kept repeating itself for a very long time

and the owners of the programme decided to try

elsewhere. Originally, we planned to take it to other

stations, in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other places.

Right now, it’s on MBI. We decided to move, having

suffered blackout for a good number of times, in spite

of the fact that we paid for such airtime, the owners

of the programme decided to look elsewhere and I had

no choice, that was how we moved to MBI.

Well, we have been on MBI for two quarters now, I’m

not advertising them, but we all know they have

clarity and a wide reach. They are in Abuja, Lagos,

Eastern and South-South states.

 

If this crisis is resolved, do you intend going back to STV?

 

Well, I don’t know, but the decisions as to where

Heaven’s Gate would run depends entirely on the City of

David. I only carry out their instructions. Aside MBI,

it is also running on DSTV. I think it is reaching out

and at the appropriate time, they would definitely

take it to other stations.

Heaven’s Gate is not just a drama or soap, it’s a

ministration. It is an instrument for disseminating

the gospel. It’s something that has to do with God, and

City of David has pastors who are deeply rooted and

entrenched in the service of God than I am. They pray

for the government, the artistes and anything and I

know that God directs them appropriately on where to

go and how to go at anytime.

 

How did you conceive and create Heaven’s Gate for RCCG?

 

Well City of David and the Apapa family of The

Redeemed Christian Church of God, used to have big

events and bring international artistes and I was

usually invited to always come and cover it. After

covering it for a couple of times, the late pastor

Eskor Mfon, who was in charge of City of David, felt I

was very professional in my approach and invited me.

He sent my own pastor, Femi Obawaya to invite me. At

the invitational chat, he told me he had a vision to

use drama to disseminate the gospel and asked if I

could. I told him I studied drama and understood my

subject and could do it properly. He later gave me an

idea of what he wanted and told me to go and think

about it. I eventually left and came back with the

story of Heaven’s Gate. After reading the synopsis, he

prayed for me and said he was very sure; I was the

person he was looking for. This happened in 2004, it

also came on air that same year.

 

What would you say are the major challenges so far?

 

The challenges are no doubt enormous, but the truth is

that City of David and late Pastor Eskor were and are,

still a delight to work with. Pastor Eskor, perhaps,

remains the most significant factor in my entire

working life. City of David’s parish has also taught

me how to excel and do things with the spirit of

excellence. Normally, when you work with organizations

as complex as the church, there are a lot of

bureaucracies, but in City of David, the pastor, after

reading my first episode, told me I was in tune with

his vision and that I was an instrument he was going

to use to translate that vision into a concrete

reality and then we started. Since then, I have never

requested for anything they did not grant. They have

made sure that the resources needed to produce that

soap excellently are provided. I have worked with them

for four years now and it has been a smooth journey.

 

As an accomplished film and soap producer, what is the next level for you?

 

Well, I would draw inspiration from Heaven’s Gate to

do my next soap. For now, let’s leave the title till

I’m set, but it is still an inspirational soap. I

can’t embark on any project that people will not learn

from.

We are doing this new movie so that Nigerians will say

that this guy is coming from a background of

excellence, which Heaven’s Gate has provided. Despite

doing my own soap, I also believe that Heaven’s Gate

will run forever, because it’s a ministration, unless

we are saying that the church will end. We will

continue to send the message of the gospel to the

world through Heaven’s Gate. Reach out to those in the

dark, because the world is constantly in turmoil. City

of David provides the light for those in the dark, to

see that this is the way to go. So, Heaven’s Gate has

to run continuously, but for me, pastor Eskor, remains

my inspiration.

 

As a passionate and leading voice in Nollywood, we would like you to share your vision and mission with us?

 

With the support of City of David, I believe that

Heaven’s Gate would go beyond the frontiers of Nigeria

to spread the word over. Every day, we are dreaming of

improving the quality of our production and we have

consistently done this every quarter. I want to

believe that someday Heaven’s Gate will play in some

of the stations in the U.S and Europe. I have no

doubt, its already running through DSTV to some

countries.

 

Does that mean you have abandoned movie-making for soap productions?

 

No, I didn’t abandon movie making for soaps. I am

still interested, but don’t forget that Nollywood is

an accident. Nollywood is the child of a man who

exploited the lull on the TV stations, to try out

something that became Living in Bondage. He did not

produce as a professional theatre filmmaker; he

produced as a businessman. So for Nollywood, the

spirit and inspiration is commerce.

In fact, the spirit is money. What it means also is

that structures were not in place when it started.

Professionals on TV then, took a plunge when they saw

the success recorded with Living in Bondage. It was a

rendezvous of both professionals and thinkers,

everybody started hustling for a living, without the

structures in place. And all efforts made to put

structures in place, have been constantly thwarted,

what we have was the dialogue of the dead. People did

not understand one another. And after producing over

seven good movies, I had to sit back to review my

journey thus far, for me, it was a tragedy. The three

years I had spent in the industry then was more of a

tragedy than anything else. I produced what I

considered very good films, but because the structures

were not in place, there was no transparency, no way

to monitor sells, you feed on what they tell you. My

films cost me pains, losses instead of happiness. At

some point, I had to sit back to ask myself if I had

gained, it was that bad. I was disillusioned; life

became a wilderness of pain. It was like I have

reached the cul de sac, there was nowhere else to go.

I told myself it was time to re access my old age and

make a decision that was how I decided I had to leave.

 

So, when are you planning your second coming to Nollywood?

 

The worst thing now is that the fate of films in

Nollywood is so uncertain. Every other thing in

Nigeria is going up and film is going down, from N300

to N80 per copy now. You will now find out that my

profession, film making, which I cherish so much is

living in bondage. Going back to film making at this

moment, will amount to what I would consider the

economic castration of myself. We have to wait and

pray, we are also discussing with people and corporate

bodies, and we hope they will join us in making

Nollywood what it used to be. We are having meetings

with corporate bodies, for them to inject some good

capitals into Nollywood, so we could restructure it,

make films and be able to earn a good living.

 

In your views, as a vocal voice in the industry, what is the way forward?

 

I think we have had a number of meetings in the past

they have not taken us far, but I believe there is

still hope. There is need for all of us to come

together and dialogue. There is need for us to come

together and sincerely discuss the business life of

Nollywood. Others are also saying the guilds should

get stronger, so that all of us can meet and discuss

the way forward. For me, the way forward is that we

have to begin from the foundation, which is scripting.

There is a need for us to start looking for a

rendezvous where we will talk solely about workshops

on scripts alongside conferences. Without good scripts

we would continue the recycling of same stories.

People write scripts in two days. That’s a

crucifixion… With a successful script, the next thing

becomes how do you earn a living from the practice and

that is why we have to get the issue of marketing in

place. We have done the best we can for Nollywood,

this is now the time to come together and seek

professional advice on how to restructure our

industry. In doing this, we have to bring all the

relevant bodies and stakeholders, for us to come

together at a rendezvous of harmony to understand

ourselves. In Nigeria, we have over 500,000 video

rental shops, who still rent our films. Censors’ board

must be able to give us the accurate figure of how

many video rental shops we have in the country. None

sets up without getting the approval for the structure

by the Censors Board. In every organized system, after

making a film, you go to the cinema, from there to the

video. Censors Board with the Nigerian Film

Corporation most come together with the producers and

marketers to agree on this. If we don’t restructure

our marketing department, Nollywood will only remain a

paper tiger.

 

Do you think government is doing enough for Nollywood, in terms of support?

 

The success of Nollywood depends first and foremost on

Nollywood itself. But there are a lot that the

government can do for us, but unfortunately, they have

not done enough for Nollywood. For example, a Ghanaian

film cannot enter Britain without being censored… But

our censors’ board has not been able to reach such

bilateral agreement with countries like South Africa,

U.K and the US, and so our films are taken to these

nations and sold without any control. The government

still needs a lot to do. Also, the video clubs are not

giving us a fair shake of the dice. Let the Censors

Board come out and tell us how many video rentals we

have in Nigeria, so that we can meet and reach an

agreement with them on how to do genuine business.

Nollywood has taken Nigeria to places; therefore

government still has a lot to do for the industry.

 

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing Nollywood?

 

For me, capital is our biggest challenge. Funding,

without good funding, a movie will be incomplete. Most

times, we shoot films in less than a week or five

days. It is that bad because we are looking for Sesame

Street to success, a shortcut, a magical road, so that

we can save funds. This is the problem of Nollywood.

Funding is the greatest problem, but beyond that, is

the fact that Nollywood is a rendezvous, a meeting

point of both professionals and thinkers. One person

tells the story, writes the script, with little or no

knowledge, produces and directs it. So what you see is

mediocrity, there is need to professionalize. With all

my credentials and experience, I have never directed a

movie for Nollywood. I write my scripts, nobody has

ever written my scripts for me. And it is not because

I don’t want somebody to write but because I’m still

searching for quality writers. I also produce my films

because I crave for professionalism. Mind you, when I

say fund, it should be more from the corporate bodies,

which is what is obtainable in Hollywood and

Bollywood. Unfortunately, the Nigerian corporate world

are arm chair critics, they stand on the sidewalk and

point out what is wrong with Nollywood. They

criticized and never appreciated Nollywood, it took

foreigners, before they could wake up to the fact that

Nollywood has become a phenomenon. At the peak of

Nollywood, they never bothered coming out then to help

us grow.

 

We learnt you are planning something big for Nollywood, what is it all about?

 

A few of us have come together to plan something big

and memorable for Nollywood. The idea of some of us

coming together only when a colleagues dies, is not

the best for the industry. We want to create an arena

in, where we can gather once in a while with the eyes

of the world on Nollywood.  Place where Nollywood will

exercise and re-enact its histrionics, a happy night.

Nollywood will dance, speak, sing and act, because we

have all these. We want to tell our members their

stories, give them hope and let them know that at the

end of the Golgotha is the green light of a new dawn.

A lot of them have been in this industry for more than

20 years, yet they can’t earn N20, 000.00 from a

production. It will be a nite of hope, happiness and

peace of mind. It is coming up soon. It will hold

twice in a year, starting from Lagos, but would be

rotated as we consolidate.

 

Are you not scared or concerned that Eskor’s demise may hinder the smooth running of Heaven’s Gate?

 

I have never for one-minute nurture the fear that

pastor Eskor’s demise might affect the running of

Heaven’s Gate. At City of David, we work like a

family. Even though Eskor inspired it, there is a

collective support for it. They call me, watch me,

advise me and also appreciate me and point out certain

things. Eskor’s death was perhaps, the greatest shock

I have ever received. It shook me by far more than my

own father’s death. At the age of 74, I was prepared

for my father’s death. Pastor Eskor’s had become my

inspiration and mentor, through what he taught me, by

the things he said and how he said it. Therefore,

there was no thought he was going to die soon even

though death is inevitable. Even when he was ill, I

was so confident, he was going to get better. I don’t

think or believe that City of David would discontinue

the soap now that Eskor is gone. It is a ministration

and they are supporting it.

 

What would you say are the major lessons learnt from Eskor?

 

I miss most, his spirit of excellence, from which I

draw inspiration. Secondly, his passion to assist the

human race, his love for the down trodden. He set up a

school for house helps and maids to get educated and

be able to read the holy bible and also be able to

excel in life. His ability to work with different

people was amazing. He never looked for your weakness,

but strength. Through utilizing your strength he gives

you confidence and the strength to sustain that

confidence, for you to be able to excel. I have always

strived to work hard in my entire life, as a

journalist, I won the NMMA, after my first year in

journalism. So, I have always wanted to excel, but

when I met pastor Eskor, I saw a different way to

excel. He gave me a sense of organization, a sense of

time and timing. He taught me how to work with people

in unity. He also showed me there is a difference

between being together and having a unity, oneness and

harmony. And through that, I have been able to work with

a large cast of Heaven’s Gate without having a

problem. I have been for almost four years, with the

same cast and they are still eager to work with

passion. I miss pastor Eskor a lot because he was a

fountain through which I drew and still draws

inspiration. A source of inspiration in terms of quest

for excellence, in terms of looking up to God as that

being through which we can accomplish everything.

 

What separates Heaven’s Gate from other soaps on air?

 

It is inspirational and takes you to the right place

of God. The soap is basically dwelling on the reality

of life without Christ. It is a strictly Christian

soap that tells you there are hope with God or Christ.

In the soap, viewers are being told that the greatest

quest is the search for God. When I started pastor

Eskor told me to give my all to Heaven’s Gate and I

would be blessed and I dare to say that I am blessed.

Because of the soap, I have been called and given

briefs that shocked me. Because of this same soap, I

have been invited out of this country to package

things I did not imagine I would have done in time to

come. And these makes me feel really awesome. I feel

great and give God all the glory. I also thank City of

David, for giving me the awesome opportunity and

privilege to show that I can excel in an area I

consider not just my profession, but my vocation,

which is the production of drama in an excellent way.

 

 

Tell us more about yourself, starting with your background

 

You see, I have always called the story of my life,

the wind of silent mystery. I’m 43, I was born on

August 27, 1964. I’m from Ibuzo, in Oshimili North LGA

of Delta State. I have a degree, in Theatre Arts from

the University of Ibadan and a Masters in

International Law and Diplomacy from the University of

Lagos. I practiced journalism briefly for two years

and won the News magazine reporter of the year at the

1992 Nigeria Media Merit Awards, was also a nominee

same year for the crime reporter category. I was the

pioneer president, Guild of Movie Producers and later

president the Association of Movie Producers. I’m

married to Adaora, my pretty wife, we have two boys

and a girl. My wife has in me a great husband and

thoroughly enjoys and supports my work. I also tell

her always how beautiful she is and that she has been

a fountain of hope for me.

Lastly, we will never disappoint our viewers

because we will continue to get better and give to

them that which will enrich and nourish their lives.

 

First published, October 2007

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