In one of my early films, I had a small scene to shoot. A music star was involved. The producer needed her to sell the film. I thought it was a big deal too. I was looking forward to the shoot. I even bought her CD so I can learn all the lyrics of her song and become her big fan hoping that would help make things flow smoothly. I had never directed a music star before.
She came late but it was ok. I mean, she’s a star. Then there was the problem with the make-up artist…in fact she eventually asked her own make-up artist to come. We waited. She’s the star. Then there was the issue of her fried eggs been too brown. We ordered for new fried eggs. Stars don’t like their eggs burnt. The star sparkle was so blinding, I couldn’t see clearly to even introduce myself to her. The producer also forgot to do that. So we started the shoot and I assumed things would be smooth. I could always sing one of her songs later until…
NEPA take light!!. The producer didn’t make provision for a generator. The generator in the location we were refused to start. I assumed stars would be used to this so I carried my two left legs to her side and tried to be funny. She jumped up like grizzly bear and started shouting about how unprofessional we all were. She couldn’t talk to the producer for obvious reasons so she descended on me. The Ondo man in me wanted to talk back but I figured the movie meant a lot to me and the producer had sacrificed so much. She won. We begged and begged until we figured it out. I also won. The movie came out and made me very very popular. I was happy I didn’t fight back. I did throw away her CD though and drove over it…like a very bad guy!
VETERANS AND STARS
A veteran is someone who has had a lot of experience in a particular field. Even if they weren’t too successful in that field, their presence can add a feel of authenticity to a project. People can respect a project simply out of respect for the veteran. A star on the other hand is a little hard to define. Not all veterans are stars and not all stars are veterans (although dem no go gree). Sometimes we follow the growth of a star till its full sparkle….sometimes a star just pops from nowhere.
As a director, you will have to accept the reality that comes with working with these people. Now here are some key things you should respect.
THE POWER OF “PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS”
Walking into a film set is walking into a sea of preconceived notions. You can get drowned easily if you are not focused. A misogynist somewhere assumes an actress got a role because she had sex with the producer. An actor believes the star actor can’t act. The veteran thinks new nollywood is shit but that he’s just there for the money. The star actor believes a newbie can’t direct him/her. The make-up artist thinks an actress is crazy. The producer believes no one cares about his movie. The production manager believes minors are nothing but discardable extras. One crew member believes he’s being marginalized because he’s from a certain tribe. The caterer believes the people complaining about food are spoilt people and lack home training. Niyi believes the jollof rice is not on point etc. Most times as a new/young director, you will be handed over to an experienced cast/crew and they bring all their bad habits with them.
THE POWER OF CULTURAL INFLUENCES
This is mostly obvious on sets with a lot of tribal diversity. Yorubas will never understand why ibos don’t kneel or prostrate to greet their elders. Ibos will never understand why yorubas make up greetings for everything. I still don’t understand why I can’t hug a hausa chic with a hijab. Everyone brings their culture to the set and forget the hierarchy that the production establishes. While it’s easy to fix for younger crew and cast members, it’s not the same with veterans or big stars. And ignorance is not an excuse. If you mess up, they will remind you.
So what are the key things to do? Before we go there, remember, a movie is bigger than any single member making it including you the director. Think about the movie. It should be the biggest thing on your mind.
CONDUCT A THOROUGH RESEARCH ON THE STAR OR VETERAN
We are all terrible at researching stuff…black people. It’s very wrong for you to be working with an elderly actor and you don’t know anything about him/her or have seen his/her work. You must know his tribe, his personality and his body of work. You can’t separate Nigerians from their tribal upbringings. Respect it. You should ask from people who have worked with him/her about their experience. They will tell you the truth most of the time. When I first met uncle Jide Kosoko on Out of Luck set. Of course the first thing I did was prostrate on the floor. Even as a Yoruba boy I don’t prostrate for my parents but I knew where he was coming from and that was a big deal. I didn’t know what a camera was when uncle Jide was already a star actor. I had also taken my time to watch a previous film he did, The Department. I liked some of the performances there so I reminded him. We had a lot of laughs about it and he promised he had some new tricks for me in the film we were about to shoot. I notice this works all the time. From Desmond Elliot, to Femi Branch, to Ini Edo to all the other big names I’ve worked with. I still haven’t worked with Genevieve Nnaji (what is life :-(). I always approach them with the most beautiful thing about their culture and share a moment from some of their best works. An ego boost is good. We can never pay a good and experienced actor well enough for what they bring. At the end of the day, your name will be there as the director. Your role there is to merge everyone’s separate visions of the films into one coherent one. Be involved right from the start. Know your actors…and for stars/veterans, Know them very well.
BE THE SMARTEST PERSON IN A ROOM FULL OF ACTORS
You know what they say about a dog’s ability to smell fear and capitalizing on it, big stars and veterans are worse. They will sniff out the mediocrity in you like a greyhound. You must know the script like the back of your hand. You must understand what a character is doing and why. You can’t just act smart, you have to be smart. Because you are young or new, they will already assume you don’t know what you are doing. Shock them with a thorough knowledge of the plot and the general story. They will make suggestions and sometimes want to enforce them by looking at the producers face. Outsmart them. You can do it. All it takes is a lot of digesting the script. If there are parts of it you don’t understand, discuss with the writer well before you film. Most of the stars I have been told were impossible to work with, after working with them, they would come meet me and tell stories about all the dumb directors they had worked with. An upcoming actor just wants to be in a film. A star or veteran cares about how the film turns out. In the early days of Hollywood, some of the superstars chose who they wanted to work with. It’s that serious.
BASK IN THEIR EXPERIENCE AND LET THEM SPILL
I noticed that if you give them a listening ear, veterans especially love to share experiences, from their favourite work to the fine girl they toasted in some remote village. On the set of meet-the-inlaws, one of my upcoming films, we made a lot of changes to the script because Amaechi Mounagor and Tina Mba had heard similar cases like the one in the movie happen to close relatives. When I heard the entire gist, I stole some ideas from them and made it mine. If they notice you give a listening ear to them all the time, they will help you when you get confused. And every one gets confused at one point or the other in the filming process. If they notice you don’t listen, they will watch you fail. They’ve collected their big money o. This also goes for stars. Stars can whine like kids. Give an ear to them. Just listen even if what they are saying makes no sense. Listen first….seriously…shut up and listen. You will be shocked how it solves problems
THE CREW IS YOUR BEST FRIEND…MAYBE YOUR ONLY TRUE FRIEND
One of the big mistakes I see a lot of young directors make is befriend cast members and ignore or disrespect crew. You are setting yourself up for failure. Most of the time, you are nothing but a means to an end for actors (na kelekele love most times). If you are nice to your crew, they will have your back all the time and you are going to need it. Don’t argue with your DOP or even a PA in front of big stars and veterans. They will see all of you as the same. Even when a star actor or veteran accuses one of your crew of something, don’t join them in condemning the crew member in the open. Always be the mature one. Trust me, stars can be like little children…yes I said it :-P.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A STAR/VETERAN IS IMPOSSIBLE TO WORK WITH
True, there are some people, if you like, kiss them and rub their backs, they will still cause trouble. Usually, it’s either they weren’t paid well for the job or marine spirit is worrying them. What I always advice is, don’t rise to the level of the madness. Make your point logically. They might try to counter with irrational stuff like, “what do you know” blah blah…stay on your logical lane…say things like “Ma, this make-up won’t work because of who the character is”. Push for that logic up until you can’t push further. Then report to your producer. A sensible producer knowing that you haven’t screamed back or insulted the actor, will do the talking for you. Most times the star actor or veteran will agree with the producer but do you know what…he will realize that the producer trusts your judgement and will pick his fights better next time. Now what happens when the producer is on the side of the actor……hmmmm…let it go. You are still young in the business. The producer might be in it for the money and he just wants to put a face out there. If you walk out on the project or insult everyone, the news will come out differently. You don’t need that. Trust me…this work is serious…but it’s not that serious. It’s a business after all…we will have to make compromises whenever money comes in.
A jobless director is not a director.