What if a man leaves the comfort of a bank job to face an uncertain future as a filmmaker and not long after wins the Oscar? Well, this may be the premise someday for Kunle Afolayan’s story. Hailed by the New York Times as the ‘Martin Scorsese of Lagos’, Kunle has continued to push back the frontiers of filmmaking in Nigeria. In this interview with SUI, he talks about his new film,October 1, and the journey so far as a filmmaker. Enjoy!
SUI: How was growing up like with your dad, Ade Love, and how has that influenced who you are today?
Kunle Afolayan: I would say my growing up really helped and influenced where I am today. It also influenced my decision to do what I am doing today -which is filmmaking.
I didn’t really have the opportunity to try my hands on the trade as a child but as I grew older, unofficially, my father got me involved in how to do cinema business not really how to make film.
I didn’t know anything about how to make film but how to do exhibitions, and also promotions of films, and I did that for some time before my father passed on and through that I also visited some of the movie sets.
That also got me curious and interested in movie making but to a large extent I would say my background has really helped in moulding and grooming me towards what I have become today.
SUI: Is being a filmmaker what you’ve always wanted to be, considering the fact that you majored in accounting else before you went to the New York Film Academy and you also worked in the bank as well?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, I would say yes and no, film wasn’t in my agenda but of course an average child who grew up around a movie making circle would probably want to be an actor, maybe not a film maker, you know as a child, almost all the children of the practitioners then were also involved in the same business then – acting.
For us our father shielded us away from it because he just said, you would be distracted and you needed to go to school and be educated. Yes, I always enjoyed the cheap publicity of being a son of Ade Love but it wasn’t something I really wanted to do, not until I grew up, the man passed on, then I was seeing new generation of film makers and I realized they were not doing as much as my father and those who started it used to do and I said to myself, I can actually do better, which was what really got me interested in making film.
SUI: How easy was it for you to leave the comfort of a paid employment to jump into the uncertain waters of filmmaking, I mean first you left for the New York Film Academy, what gave you that confidence that this was going to work out?
Kunle Afolayan: Well before I even became a filmmaker, I started off as an actor in 1998, and when the zeal , anxiety and dream of wanting to become a filmmaker came, I approached established filmmakers like Tade Ogidan and Tunde Kelani.
Tunde Kelani gave me audience and when I said I wanted to be a filmmaker, he said what do I know about films? That filmmaking is not a fluke – you have to learn it, you need to go to school – and he said he would advice that I start as an actor, that if I started as an actor, I could start like my father.
When it was time for them to shoot Saworoide, they invited me for an audition and I scaled through and that was how I started as an actor. But, the following year, I started working in the bank so that didn’t give me room to feature in so many films, so I think while in the bank between 1998 and 2004 I didn’t feature in up to ten films.
So in 2004 I said to myself that I don’t belong in the bank, I was making money, I was comfortable, I had a car, I was living in a 4 bedroom flat but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do and one day I just resigned, stayed home for 8 months doing research on what I wanted to do.
Afterwards I went to school, did a diploma in digital filmmaking, and came back, set up this production office, it was quite small, just two people and now we are where we are and I think it’s the passion really.
SUI: Apart from the normal challenges any entrepreneur faces, what was the most difficult challenge you faced when you came back from America to set up?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, setting up, as an entrepreneur, like getting an office was not difficult for me because there was someone who was just moving out of an office and the person had six months’ rent still available and he said to me, “Kunle, you can take over this office and when the rent lapses you can pay”, and I just said to myself, I doubt if I would be able to pay, because it was in Opebi, but I let me at least enjoy the first six months and I took over the office, I got an office assistant and it was just two of us, then I got myself a computer to learn editing, you know, then this idea of Irapada film came.
From ‘Irapada’ I bought my first camera, you know, so every project that I have done I’m always equipping myself for those projects, that was how it all started. After Irapada, we grew to maybe a company of five staff and we moved out of there to another office, a bigger space, but I would say we have really done well in Golden Effect between 2004 and now, and I think what has really helped or what has been keeping going is the fact that once I dreamt it, it had to be actualized, and I’ve always worked with practically the same people as crew, some of them on contract, some of them as permanent staff but I would say what has really helped is the fact that I’m able to combine my creativity in art with business, and that is why the show is still on because a lot of people don’t break even in art, because when you are doing film or you are doing painting, it’s art so it doesn’t really come with so much reward except a good name and all of that but here we’ve been able to balance it.
SUI: Out of all the movies you’ve produced and directed, which one is your favourite so far?
Kunle Afolayan: That’s a tough question because I think they are different genres, they are different kinds of films so people relate to them differently so they have their advantages. Irapada, which was the first film, cut across the lower Yoruba crowd; Figurine was what did it for me, it went really international, recognized all over the world; it cost me. In fact that was the most difficult film I have ever done in my entire life. October 1 is not even as difficult as Figurine.
SUI: And why is that?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, it’s because after Figurine, I did Phone Swap, so I’ve been able to master the flow, the trade and business. October 1 is supposed to be more difficult because it’s even set in a particular period and it benches you to a particular work flow, you can’t shoot in a modern setting and you can’t have cables and masts and billboards, mobile phones, you can’t have all of these showing in your film, meaning our direction must be accurate.
While for Figurine – going from Irapada to Figurine was a bold step. Figurine was a step that nobody in this country has ever tried before, so it cost arm and leg – we lost a lot of equipment, a lot of people fell ill after the shoot, it was really tough and it’s because we embarked on something that seemed bigger than we bargained for.
SUI: You are a very busy man and obviously you have to travel and be on the road most times – how have you been able to handle that and still stay happily married with four kids?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, they came into my life while I was already in this business, my wife of course knows what goes with the kind of job that I do so when I’m not working, I give them all the attention, and when I’m working, the one they can join and support in, they do; the ones they can’t, they give me my space and allow me do my thing, so really I’ve been able to balance both.
SUI: You wrote on your Facebook page, about a month ago, how you and your brother Gabriel were isolated on a flight to Seychelles from other Kenyans onboard due to the Ebola virus scare, how was the experience and have you had other related challenges lately as a Nigerian?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, I wasn’t really surprised because the Ebola thing was all in the air that time and when we even first got to Kenya because we flew through Kenya to Seychelles and while in Kenya we had to go with some of our Kenyan colleagues, when we got to Seychelles, they were coming from East Africa we were coming from West Africa and West Africa is where the Ebola thing has been reported, so even with my yellow card , they had to put me and my brother aside and allow every other person to go and we had to fill so many forms, we had to be sure that we were not coughing but because we were also invited by the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation, it was easy to just get out once they realized that we were government’s guests, they allowed us, but it’s normal, it’s good to take precautions, Nigerians would have done the same thing. I didn’t know the news was going to spread that much because I was just thinking out loud, I wasn’t reporting or anything.
SUI: Tell us about your latest movie October 1 and what was the inspiration behind it?
Kunle Afolayan: October 1 is a film set in Nigeria against the backdrop of the Nigerian independence in 1960. When the idea of the film came, I was initially going to run away from it because I knew it was going to be challenging and considering that in Nigeria we hardly archive things, we don’t even have records, we were looking for all the shot guns of the 60’s, we couldn’t even find them, but when I read the script I realized that yes it’s challenging but if I do this, it’s going to definitely put me on a new slate and it’s a film that we can cut across internationally.
So I decided to give it a shot and not just shooting it, but using actors that I believe would do justice to interpreting the roles, the project took us about two years, pre- production took more than six months, we shot for about two months, and post production took more than eight months, and right now it’s ready and it’s going to have its world premiere on the 28th of September 2014 at the Eko Hotel and Suites, and after then it’s going to be released in cinemas in Nigeria from the 1st of October and I look forward to that really.
SUI: How much did the movie cost you?
Kunle Afolayan: It’s a two million dollars budget film.
SUI: How did you get Sadiq Daba to feature in it?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, when I read the script and the script says ‘a northern police detective who is at the age grade of 50 and 60’, I looked around and I didn’t want someone who can speak Hausa, I wanted someone who can really represent the north when people see it. I looked around and he was the only person that came to mind and I looked for him and found him and I got him the first draft and he got excited and we pulled it through.
SUI: Has any of your children shown interest in acting?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, even if they don’t show it, sometimes when I’m looking for extras I always put them, at least it saves me cost but I know that there’s no way one of them would not end up doing what I’m doing, if they want to do it, I would give them all the support that they would need and if not, whatever it is they want to do, I’m open.
SUI: What’s your thought on actors going into politics now and do you have any plans of doing same in the nearest future?
Kunle Afolayan: Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger became a governor and Ronald Reagan was also an actor so there’s nothing wrong, first of all you have the advantage of having people who like you because you are a public figure.
But being a public figure as an actor is different from going into politics, politics is a serious game; for me, I am not interested, but I would always support anybody who I believe has good intention to lead. I’m not a politician but I would always do whatever it is in my capacity to support whoever that I think is chasing the right position.
SUI: Outside movie making, what are you other interest?
Kunle Afolayan: I play basket ball, I love basket ball. I don’t follow the league but every time I see a ball it excites me. I love music, I love entertainment generally but these days because I do a lot on my own, it has eaten deep into my style.
I don’t do much out of my work because before I think of how to raise funds for a film, before I think of how to execute the film, before I think of the directorial approach, after making the film, post production, I sit in the editing room for months; after that I have to promote the film myself, after that I have to work on how to sell the film, it’s a lot of work, but these days really, if I had people who would invest in films and probably produce it while I direct, I think it’s going to get there where the distribution thing is locked. You can do one film and make a lot to last you a year while you are working on another big film, that it would be better.
SUI: For young people who look up to you, as an aspiring filmmaker, what advice do you have for them?
Kunle Afolayan: I would say to aspiring filmmakers, there’s no way you won’t make some mistakes when you start but they will make you stronger. You have to watch a lot of films, you can watch those films and criticize but I would advise that you don’t become one of those filmmakers whose job is only to criticize because anyone who picks a camera and starts a project and completes the film is a superman whether the film is good or not – the fact that the film is made, the person has to be commended.
Secondly, education, education does not mean you have to study, degrees and masters and all of that, education is when you have the opportunity of learning even as an apprentice or even if it’s just to have an opportunity of being with a filmmaker, you can get to pick and learn a lot of things.
So I’ll say filmmaking is about passion, nothing is automatic, it’s not a case of I want to be a doctor, you study and you do your exams and you pass – no, film is practical and apart from things you are going to study, you have to also be able to visualize yourself, because there are different departments in filmmaking, you have prop, you have set, you have costumes, you have visuals, you have directing, you have producing, you have scriptwriting, you know it’s huge. It’s better to have an idea of every department in filmmaking, you don’t have to know all, you can now decide to master in one, so I would say education is very key – try and acquire it, now, even online, you can read tutorials, you can watch films, you can befriend filmmakers, you need to go all out to be a filmmaker and no film is perfect, even Spielberg’s films, none of them is perfect and people do films for different reasons, there are films that are educational in nature, there are films that are just for entertainment.
There are so many films , different genres of films, you also need to decide what kind of film do I want to be making – do I want to make commercial films and make my money back or do I want to do moral films just to teach people lessons? So there are so many and you even do documentary films, but the most important thing is education and you can learn a lot through watching a lot of movies and if you have the opportunity of going to school to study, it is important to do so.