‘Why I starred rookie artistes in my movie’

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Reginald Ebere, script writer and director talks about his craft and his latest movie. He speaks with Justice Ilevbare and Bem Adoor

How did your directing career start? My directing career started long time ago. It all started while I was in school because that is what I studied. Right from the first day I decided what to do with my life, I knew I was going to be a movie writer and director and when the opportunity to sit for the Universities Matriculation Examinations, I filled theatre arts as my course of study. That was how it all began. I later majored in script writing and directing at the University of Jos. So, I can proudly say I'm one of the lucky people who are doing exactly what they read in school.

When exactly did you start directing?

I joined the movie industry officially in 1994 and I have directed many films. My romance with Nollywood started immediately I left school. Then I started working with Hints Magazine as a writer and assistant editor. I later resigned from Hints and decided to do my first movie, When the Sun Set in 1996. After that, I went on to do Tears of Love. So far, directing is beautiful. I can say I am one of the people who are enjoying themselves in the industry and I am happy doing it, it's been beautiful, every movie is a new experience. Although, it could be challenging at times when you have to work with people you probably have never met before but somehow we have been able to pull through and every movie I have done keeps coming out good

How was your upbringing like?

I was born in Lagos in the early 60's, into a family of two boys. I have a very good background and well-to-do family. My upbringing was quite interesting.

Which was your first movie?

The first movie that I directed in Nollywood was The Testament What was the movie all about?

It was a story of 419, a young group of boys who were involved in 419 after dropping out of school and driven back home. Then 419 was hot and we needed to make a statement about it and that it was not good.

Have you ever had any problems with artistes on set?

I never had any problem with any body except for ego problem. A lot of artistes have ego problem but when such people realise that what your are telling them to do is something that will benefit them them, they tend to appreciate it. Every director have his own method of directing. The method I use is to put my hands around a man's neck and tell him I believe in you, you can do it better than you are doing and once you put a responsibility on somebody's neck, the person must deliver. I think one of the reasons why people have ego problem is that, they are unsure of themselves.

What exactly does a director do?

A director is a man manager, there is a difference between a director and a producer. A producer's business is to conserve money, while a director is a material manager, he is the one who uses people, names, materials and resources to bring out the story that the writer has put in the script. So a director is a thinker, visionary and sees what other people do not see, he can tell the end from the beginning, that is what a director does in a movie.

You directed a movie titled Tonnie Fishbrain which was premiered recently, what is the movie all about?

Jesus Christ gave us a commandment in the Bible that we should go into the world and preach the good news to all Christians and to all mankind. That is exactly what informed the decision to put the movie together. I am preaching the good news and I am making use of every material, every opening at my disposal. Now we are making use of television to preach the gospel, we have found out that movies have come to stay, and people are watching and the devil is using movies to trap people's hearts and mind. In Nigeria the major complaint has always been that our movies are full of rituals, so we decided to use the same source to preach the gospel. That is the basic thing that informed Tonnie Fishbrain.

Why the title Tonnie Fishbrain, how did the name come about?

Tonnie Fishbrain is the nickname of the lead actor in the movie, how it came about was that, he was a little kid that was a bit challenged with not being able to do things just like a lot of people. And his parents not understanding that they could help him out, decided to call him fish brain all the time, they believed his head was not taking in anything hence that name. But faith come by hearing, the same way destruction came by hearing. What you hear or see is what you finally believe. So, as this young guy kept on hearing the name 'fish brain,' he never thought he could be a success in life and somewhere along the line he made a mistake of falling out of school and later ended up in prison. But in the end God found him, brought him up in the prison, preached the gospel to him, he started hearing new messages, he started hearing that he could be somebody, he could do something. When he started hearing and practising these positive words, he realized that he could actually be a success in life. Then his life was now used in the prison to reform the prison, to affect the prisoners, to give people a new direction in life, to preach the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ.

What major challenges have you encountered in the cause of putting the movie together?

It was challenging because everybody that worked in this movie was a novice. But now they are no longer novice, the major challenge was money, because with money you can get anything that you want, you can get the equipment that you do not have, you can get the technique and ability that you do not have.

What is the way out of this?

The way out of it is what we are doing now, we have been relying on producers, marketers for a long time, other people have been depending on government to create what we call the enabling environment, the government cannot create the enabling environment for anybody, or for any profession anywhere in the world - you take the bull by the horns and do what you have to do by yourself. We generate resources. It is so sad that some artists who are paid cannot come together to do a quality production that can earn them more. They are still waiting to get paid.

Why did you use completely new faces in the movie?

I have been a maker of film stars for a very long time. I am not boasting, I brought in the likes of Omotola. When they started, they were not stars, they were just ordinary girls who wanted to act, but somebody gave them an opening and they came in and they acted and people believed and they grew to become stars. But the major reason that informed why we used new faces is that a lot of people in the movie industry who would say they are Christians don't understand what Christianity is all about. We need to bring up new stars, new faces that have so much talent that has not been harnessed yet and hence marketers don't want to harness them. But we are doing that. All the characters are Christians and not just Christians, but born again, spirit-filled Christians

After Tonnie Fish Brain what next?

You should be expecting a soap on national and international television and a lot of other movies. We also intend to put together a Christian movie channel if we get the license for it in Nigeria, we will use this as a tool to preach the gospel.

What impact do you feel this movie have had on the society?

We are looking at souls being won into the kingdom. We are looking at change and reform in the educational system, in the family sector, in the prison system and affecting the society is what we have done, more so building on minds and psyche of Nigerians.

How long did it take you to do this movie?

It took us two years to put the movie together.

How would you describe the premiere?

To us it was a success. I don't think anybody has done this in Nigeria. Many people have done premieres, but nobody has put together this kind of Hollywood razzmatazz.

How do you mean?

That's the organisation, the Limousine, dresses and all others. We managed to put that together and our expectations was that a lot of people would come but unfortunately Nollywood did not come because they did not really understand what we were doing. They did not see the like of Omotola on the posters and in the movies. But people that believed in God were there to witness the event. So, to us it was a big success, we have received massages from across the country and people have been asking what is this all about, the premiere is to create awareness.

Would you say you are fulfilled doing this?

Yes, I am happy that things have turned out this way because you will realize that all our effort and time did not end in vain. But I won't say I am fulfilled yet because if you are fulfilled you are finished, you can never be fulfilled, there is always something to aspire for. I am thinking beyond Tone Fishbrain.

What is Christian Foundation International all about (CFI)? CFI is a group of people who came together and decided to do something for the kingdom of God with their talent and CFI also intend to make quality gospel movies that are beyond what we are doing in Nigeria, with local talent and local money.

How would you describe yourself?

I don't have any special thing about my life. I am the kind of person who can play ball on the street with children in the morning and sit in government house later that same day. I grew up in a very disciplined environment and I realized that if I had to achieve any thing in life, it is not going to be by chance

What turns you on and off ?

I like poems. I have that kind of mind, I like beauty, I like life. When I was small I thought I was going to die, so I love to live. I don't think that there is anything anybody can do to make me dislike him. Take a knife and kill the whole of my family, I will still like you.

What kind of changes would you like to see in Nollywood?

I like to see a change in our method of financing, I am not asking the government to bring in money, but that people who are investing a lot of money in sports also does that for Nollywood. I like to see a change of marketing, because marketing and distribution is a big problem in Nigeria. Once you put these things in place, Nollywood will be better for it.
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