“If no one is going to do it, it probably means you should do it”. This had always been my self-imposed life code. Whether it was walking out an RCCG Area Pastor at age 15 from my church because he was been fraudulent…or Confronting my Rector and other senior staff at Yabatech for doing a terrible job since the SUG excos were mute…or making an action/sci-fi movie for nollywood as a directorial debut. This mantra gets me into trouble all the time. But for Kajola, it almost killed me.
- I called some friends of mine to join me in being awesome. We all had a passion for animation and visual effects. We were doing stuff for advertising companies, music videos etc. we were learning a lot and making stuff. We worked round the clock. We were making money. We called our house an anthill. I had learnt directing and done some documentaries but I didn’t care about nollywood. Those yeye people that don’t know how to do cool stuff. God forbid I made anything nollywood. We decided to work on an animated show for kids. We hoped we would make an animated feature too.
Late 2008, 2am. Four armed robbers burgled the house. They tied us up like goats. Beat us and almost broke the head of my lead 3d animator. I thought he was dead. They robbed the house for about an hour. Packed everything, ate the rice in the kitchen and messed up the toilet and left. In one moment, everything we had worked for over a year disappeared. I had let my team down. I had let myself down. I told all of them to leave and go start their own stuff. They refused.
I was depressed so I started writing. The only nollywood films I had seen were Tunde Kelani’s films. I thought they were unique because he used film as a metaphor for society. He was the only Nigerian filmmaker I cared about. I decided to write a dystopia about Nigeria. Using the future to reflect the present. I thought maybe I could make it a graphic novel. I couldn’t let depression win. I had been influenced a lot by the Matrix trilogy and other films like Vexille, Final Fantasy:Advent Children, Minority Report, Equilibrium and Gataca. A lot of development was happening in Lagos island and it didn’t seem anything was happening on the mainland. So I thought to myself. Wouldn’t it be cool to blow up the third mainland bridge and let all the rich folks move to the Island, start a new government and consider mainland Lagos as rebels. This of course would mean a major war had happened and only Lagos survived. The idea was so cool it kept me awake at night. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I called it “The BlackHole”
I had some savings then but advertising companies owed me money. It was crazy. I hear they are still like that. I went to meet the main one owing me and the the oga told me.. “guy, you lack packaging, you don’t look like someone we should pay money ”. He was being funny but to me I figured he meant I was a nobody. So I got back that afternoon, coincidentally, the generator at home had broken down so all the boys were idle. I told them. Fuck this! We are going to make the greatest Nigerian movie ever, it will be action/sci-fi with lots of effects and we were going to win an Oscar. Fuck these advertising people.
I told them I had about 400k and that would do it. We would borrow Camera from Church, set up a green screen in the house and call for an audition and make a movie. We don’t need any star. The effects will sell the movie. We were the change Nigeria was waiting for. I called up my friend James Oludare to help call for an audition. He did music videos so he knew people. He was in on it. Almost everyone I invited to the project didn’t have a second thought. We were all young and crazy. We found Keira Hewatch at the auditions. She said she had always wanted to do an action movie, she was going to do it free. She became family. We started with concept art and storyboards. Jide Olusanya drew great ideas. Different robot concepts based on the story. Bisi Adetayo showed us some simulation he had done and started working on the 3d models. We were ready. Remember we weren’t making a short film o. we were making a feature.
James had a music video job in PH and he wanted to do some green screen work. I used to be one of the go to guys then for green/blue screen work. The music video needed a crowd scene and they asked if I could create crowd with a few people. I went to PH and I did it. I met the record label producer. His name, Adonijah Owiriwa. He loved the work and accidentally heard me talking about my film to the guys in the music studio. I wanted them to create a score for the film. Adonijah called me aside and said, Hey, an action/sci-fi movie, please I want to audition for a role. Of course we all thought he was joking. We came back to Lagos.
We started fight rehearsals, costume making and creating props. We made everything ourselves, bombs, guns, even cool looking Kevlars. I ran out of money but I wasn’t ready to quit. Almost like he was watching from PH, Adonijah called and said “ hey its been 3 months since you talked about shooting. What’s happening. You haven’t invited me. Have you guys run out of money”. I told him yes we had. He begged to come audition for the role and promised to support us. He was such a humble dude. He came and auditioned. He did everything we asked him. He got the lead role. I got money. He suggested we find a star to play the bad guy. We thought about Eedris Abdulkarim. We visited him. He was high and was just rapping so we left. We called Van Vicker, he wanted lead role so we yanked him. We finally settled for Desmond Elliot. Everyone wanted to be part of the movie. The ideas were very revolutionary. Somehow they all actually believed we could do it.
We didn’t bother doing any test to even see if we could pull some of the ideas in the show. Everyone was telling me I had a great story and a great idea. One veteran compared the story to a wole Soyinka work…Ha!! I believed we would figure out the rest. We shot for about 12 days at Veritas studio Yaba. We shot with Panasonic P2 cameras. We shot on DV tape. Adonijah suggested we come to Port Harcourt to finish the work. He rented an apartment for us and told us to take our time. He wanted to be part of history. We had a cook and 24-7 electricity. We too were set to make history. Then the post production began.
I edited the entire film. All Greenscreen …about 42 DV tapes. If you were an editor then, you know what that meant. The first problem was DV noise. I had read so much yet made a huge mistake of shooting chroma on DV. I wanted to make the film so bad, I forgot the basics of handling chroma. I spent months trying to fight the DV noise. Then it was time to start creating the CGI and effects. Bisi had shown us some cool stuff before filming but when the time came to do the real thing for the film, I started seeing how bad the effects were. Some of the ideas I put in the story required computation that we weren’t capable of. Because it was film, they had to be photo realistic. This was mid 2009. I was going to loose my mind. I was mad at my 3d animator. I believed he lied to me about what we could do. I had shot greenscreen blindingly and couldn’t fix it. But we couldn’t tell Adonijah. He would come to the house and we would lie that the renders weren’t ready. He never put any pressure on us. I’m yet to meet a more passionate lover of nollywood like that man. How do I solve this problem. All my cool robots, explosions etc were looking terrible. I had believed effects would sell my film and here I was.
I started cutting off scenes from the film. About 40minutes of film. Scenes that were crucial to the story were also scenes that had the most visual effects work. I found some young guys in PH led by Bobby Rak. They wanted to make chinese type kungfu films. I decided to write some new physical action into the movie to replace the scenes I had taken off. It didn’t save the movie. I changed the title to kajola. I thought that would make it more Nigerian. Adonijah kept spending money to keep 5 of us. Word had gone out. People were excited about what we were doing. I wanted to run away. Adonijah thought we should put out a teaser. That was my specialty so we did. He took it to silverbird. They had never seen anything like it before. Without asking for money, silverbird put kajola on TV. The teaser ran almost every hour. At the premiere of a major Hollywood film at silverbird Galleria, they showed the kajola teaser first. Ben Bruce spoke with me on phone commending the work. The nollywood revolution had started. Everyone wanted an interview with me. All they had was a teaser. They believed I was the shit!. I wanted to just eat shit and die. The more people were excited for the film, the more depressed I was. I became a wreck. Fought with all my guys. By December 2009, we decided to show Adonijah the film.
He didn’t get mad. He asked if we had a solution to the bad effects. We suggested more computer power. He bought them. Millions of naira. He sold a property just to have us do our best. We couldn’t give what we didn’t have. We decided to jump on the hype the movie had and release the film. We chose July 30th 2010. The Abuja cinema was new then. Ben Bruce decided we could use it for the premiere. Free of charge. I prayed for an alien to abduct me. Adonijah had been so kind to me and I had let him down. I decided to just go with it.
The opening weekend was something else. Lots of people queued for tickets. It sold out. Everyone wanted to see what the buzz was about and then the worst happened. People were expecting the Matrix and I gave them Kajola. They stormed out of the hall. Threatened the ticketing guys. Demanded for their money back. People found me on twitter and facebook and cursed me to death. At a press conference, a reporter threatened to slap me, a small boy for claiming I made a movie. After two days, the movie was taken off cinema. If i had a gun, I would have ended it all. I told my guys to go back to Lagos while I stayed in PH. I needed to pay back my debt to Adonijah. I offered to do any work he had for free for a year. There was no home for me to go to. I had spent two years away from Lagos and everyone. I had failed. I genuinely wanted to be hit by a car. I tried it twice in port-harcourt. Even Death was disappointed in me. Eventually I left PH. Penniless. I had to manage with a friend. Slept in the store. People would come hoping to meet the Kajola director and I would run away.
About a year later, Desmond Elliot called me up and asked me to come help direct a small action scene for his movie, Kidnap. He had become a nollywood director. I declined. He told me he believed I was still the guy for the job. He showed me how nollywood worked. He taught me to think about the audience and what they wanted. We began a great work relationship that continued until he left for government. Because of him, I decided maybe I could give film making a try again. I did.
Adonijah owiriwah, despite loosing a lot of millions on kajola still went on to produce 76, One of the biggest movie coming out this year. Almost every member of the first Anthill crew had gone on to bigger stuff. While I had thought I was a failure, kajola was stirring up some young people. They became my students and later went on to make their own sci-fi short film. Genesis Williams made “The day they Came”. Eri umusu made “ The SIM”. Right now at Anthill studios, we are making really beautiful animated shows for children and we are pleased with the work. Most of my core staff were influenced by kajola. A lot of people later told me they started their filmmaking journey because of Kajola. I had managed to stir up something after all. In all these experiences, I learnt some vital lessons that would change my approach to filmmaking forever.
LESSONS I LEARNT
STOP TRYING TO BE THE FIRST AT ANYTHING. BE THE BEST
I still see a lot of this misguided zeal among young filmmakers; The need to be the first to do something. It can ruin you and get you making bad decisions. Apple wasn’t the first at smartphones. Facebook wasn’t the first at social media. Even Google wasn’t the first at search. Think about that.
RESPECT THE AUDIENCE. THEY MATTER
I learnt this one the hard way and its still a lesson I’m learning. It’s easy to get caught up in your own hype as a filmmaker. You are making films for an audience. It doesn’t matter the amount of work and effizy and hype you put into the film. If it doesn’t connect well with them, it won’t work.
START SMALL, GROW NATURALLY
If I had stuck to Kajola as a graphic novel, who knows what it would have become. If I had made it as a short film first, I wouldn’t be under pressure to deliver and I would have learnt what worked and what didn’t.
I know all these guidelines are good but then I ask myself: Would I be were I am today if I wasn’t the reckless guy that made Kajola, hmmm… I will never know the answer to this question.
Think about that too.
And here’s the pdf file of the first draft of the original script incase anyone wants to read. blackhole
watch the Kajola trailers below and other sci-fi stuff from my proteges Genesis William and Eri Umusu. I’m proud of them