I Am A Business Man! - Chico Ejiro

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By @khamileon (Relocated to the forum from its 2004 home)

It's a good thing we know Chico Ejiro, it would have been impossible to get an interview with him. His Surulere, Lagos Nigeria is a beehive of activities. As we sat down waiting for the interview, I actually saw how busy the man is. Making phone calls, checking his new editing studio, Actors and Actresses trying to get an audience with him. One thing I like about him is his honesty; he is quick to tell you that he is first a businessman before a moviemaker. Below are excerpts from the interview.


KHAMILEON: You are welcome to Naijarules, an online magazine. Please tell us about yourself.

CHICO EJIRO: Thank you very much. My name is Chico Ejiro I am from Delta state. I have two other brothers Zeb and Peter Red Ejiro. I am the CEO of GRAND TOUCH PICTURES Producer-Director. I read agriculture in school, but today I am into movie production.

KHAMILEON: Why the sudden change from agriculture to Movie production.

CHICO EJIRO: When I was young, my mother used to take ZEB and I to cinema houses to watch movies. Besides that, I used to watch a lot of Indian movies in the seventies. From watching so many movies I developed interest in making movies and the rest is history.

KHAMILEON: Chico Ejiro is the most popular Director in Nigeria. Before going on further, can you first tell us about your earliest movies?

CHICO EJIRO: First, I have this background in Soap Operas with Zeb (Ejiro) RIPPLES, MEGAFURTUNES so because of the Soap…

KHAMILEON: (CUTS IN) what do you mean by background.

CHICO EJIRO: Background in the sense that I started as Production Assistant, then moved to Cameraman, Editor… So presently I can shoot, edit and design a set. After my era of soap operas, I shot my first movie DEADLY AFFAIR with my friend Opa Williams, from there to FLESH AND BLOOD, TEARS FOR LOVE, ONOME and the rest.

KHAMILEON: ONOME is a superb movie, was that the first time you directed Olu Jacobs.

CHICO EJIRO: Yes it was the first time. It was great directing someone who has been an international actor, and calling the shot. The guy was so nice.

KHAMILEON: Before it used to take Nigerian Producers and Directors at least two months to shoot a movie, but today people like you can knock a movie in one week. Why the rush. Why don't you take your time to finish a movie properly!

CHICO EJIRO: This is a very unique question and I love it. You said why the rush, there is no rush. It depends on your time as I earlier said; I have the background of being a cameraman so I know my shots. I don't go to location to take hundred shots, if I want a CLOSE UP I take one or two because I know my angle as a cameraman so I don't waste time. Again we also have the problem of cost. I cannot shoot a movie for one month when I know I am running the cost from my pocket. The more I stay on location, the more money I spend so I consider all these factors before I shoot a movie.

KHAMILEON: (CUTS IN) but don't you think this affects your production?

CHICO EJIRO: I don't think so. If it affects it, you won't be hearing the Chico Ejiro of today. I have won a lot of awards with these same movies. I have been to Geneva, South Africa, Cameroon, and Ghana for awards on my movies. Even in Nigeria, they keep nominating me every year as one of the best directors.

KHAMILEON: So Which awards have you won?

CHICO EJIRO: I have won three in Nigeria and two outside Nigeria. In Nigeria, I won the THEMA (Best Director of the year) CITY-PEOPLE AWARD (2001) 'Forgotten the other one, but it was for Tears for Love. FESTIVAL OF FIRE was nominated in Geneva Switzerland; I also went to Cameroon for an Award.

KHAMILEON: Looking at you, one will be very surprise that the great Chico Ejiro is just a little man.

CHICO EJIRO: Yes most of the time they are disappointed when they see me. They expect to see a big guy like Zeb or Andy Amenechi. And they believe Chico is one big millionaire but I am not, but I know one day we will get there.

KHAMILEON: (Jokingly) why would an Uhrobo man accept he is a millionaire.

CHICO EJIRO: (Laughs) I am comfortable.

KHAMILEON: You are married to…

CHICO EJIRO: (CUTS IN) Joy from Delta too, Sapele. We have two kids, a boy and a girl.

KHAMILEON: Back to your work, which of your movie was the most challenging to make?

CHICO EJIRO: FULL MOON. I traveled half of Nigeria, I traveled to Enugu , Onitsha, Olumo rock in Abeokuta, Sango Ota, Oshun State, with cast and crew in two buses. I spent about six million Naira to make that movie, and it was a huge success!

KHAMILEON: A lot of Nigerian Producers like recycling the same faces over and over again.

CHICO EJIRO: (CUTS IN) it's like that all over the world.

KHAMILEON: Ok now I am not looking at the Nigerian movie industry as a place for entertainment alone, but also as an employment agency creating jobs for talented people…So if you keep recycling only the known faces, how are the new ones going to get their break.

CHICO EJIRO: The young shall grow. Presently we have people like JIM IYKE, RITA DOMINIC, and others they are young and they are new. Yet people like LIZ BENSON, OLU JACOB, PETE EDOCHIE are still very relevant and I keep telling people besides entertaining you, the most important thing I want to do is make profit. I want to make money. I don't want to lose money just because I want to give a new artist a break, so what I normally do is use somebody like Liz Benson, Emeka Ike or Jim Iyke and pair them with the new actor/actress because if I should entertain you with your new actress/actor and lost out at the end of the day, I will pack back to my village and stay. So always remember I am first a businessman.

KHAMILEON: Okay, back to my question have you given anybody a break before?

CHICO EJIRO: a lot! a lot! People like Ramsey Nouah, Segun Arinze, (Silent Night), Victoria Iyama, Rita Dominic, Jim Iyke, Sandra Achums, Shan George (Outkast) a lot of them.

KHAMILEON: As the industry grows, lots of new directors are coming up every day. As a director yourself if I say you should pick out five good Directors that you really admire who would they be. (Apart from yourself)

CHICO EJIRO: I will pick more than five anyway but I admire a lot of them. You see I appreciate any work of art, I can never say, "This work is useless" no because the person has put something in it. So I must encourage them, sometimes people say why do you allow this person to come into Directing, "It is a free world". I admire Zeb Ejiro, Andy Amenechi, Fred Amata, Matthias Obahiagbon, Teco Benson… (His phone rings)

KHAMILEON: Sentiments apart how do you really see your brother Zeb as a director?

CHICO EJIRO: He's a wonderful director. He is one of the pioneers together with Andy Amenechi and Fred Amata they were the main pioneers of this home video stuff. People like me didn't go to film school; we learnt the trade as production assistant to Cameramen

KHAMILEON: So which are your latest movies

CHICO EJIRO: My latest movies are Blind Love, Emotional Pain, A night To Remember, Ghetto Love…. Then I have three others that I just shot that are not in the market yet, they are Lost Paradise, Street Life and Ladies night. Then two weeks from now I will be going to London to shoot London Forever (this has since been released already) from there I might go to New York to shoot Escape From New York. Then to Holland and do a joint (with Double "A" Ent. Holland) called King of Amsterdam.

KHAMILEON: With your busy schedule, you are still planning to travel the world, when does Chico Ejiro have time to relax?

CHICO EJIRO: When I get to London I will first take two weeks off to relax. I also relax when I watch football on Saturdays. Besides making movies another reason of going to London is to relax and watch Premiere League. But again since people heard I would be traveling, lots of Marketers have been coming. You can see how busy this place is, they want to Invest and they want to be the ones that will market the movies. I am going to London to make a statement! To Italy, Holland…

KHAMILEON: (CUTS IN) I know all this, but I also know you so it will be difficult for me to believe you will relax for two weeks in London.

CHICO EJIRO: (smiles) I am a young man. To rest will be difficult for now. My people say as a young man, when you are working hard and making money, why do you need to rest. The truth is as a young man I am scared to relax; maybe if I relax too much I will lose some of my skills.

KHAMILEON: Now to the actors, who would you say are the best in Nigeria?

CHICO EJIRO: We have a lot of good actors; to me Nigerian actors are even better than those Hollywood Actors…

KHAMILEON: (CUTS IN) Excuse me!

CHICO EJIRO: Hold on please. We have good actors like Pete Edochie, Olu Jacob, Sam Loco Efe, Ramsey Nouah, Jim Iyke, Emeka Iyke a lot of them… Saint obi and the rest, Actresses we have Liz Benson, Omotola, Shan, lots of them. I will give you an example if you watch TERMINATOR; you've seen all Arnold 's film. If you watch RAMBO, you've seen all Stallone's film. Again we don't operate on the same level; there you have Insurance and all that. Leonardo Di Caprio was paid $millions in THE BEACH (movie) give a Nigerian a bit of that money he will give you the best. Another example, while OKOCHA and KANU were in Enugu Rangers they were nobody but today because they play in the best league in the world, OKOCHA is among the top ten or twenty players in the world because they operate on the same level. Same thing with DEJI ALIU and MARY ONYALI. Now when you move a Nigerian actor and put the guy in Hollywood, he will perform. He will excel.

KHAMILEON: You have made lots of movies to you, which is your best.

CHICO EJIRO: It will be very difficult to pick… but I will say FESTIVAL OF FIRE.

KHAMILEON: Why festival of Fire?

CHICO EJIRO: Because of the storyline and message, also I made money. I have made money from some movies but I have also lost in some, like SLAVE. The worst was Slave I lost three and half million Naira. I shot it in a remote village in Abakaliki with more than 500 cast. I spent half a million Naira on costumes alone. Also feeding people in the bush three times daily. After shooting, one boy jumped into a big river and died.

KHAMILEON: Why?

CHICO EJIRO: He said he could swim when he could not, so it was a big problem. We had to settle Police, his family… Eventually when the film entered the market it was a big loss. I lost three and half million Naira.

KHAMILEON: That was really sad… Well I know you shoot so fast, what's the fastest movie you have ever shot and how long did it take.

CHICO EJIRO: I can't remember but I shot IYANGA in four days. When I got to Onitsha my hotel bills was running high, I had to feed people three times a day (Interviewer almost choking with laughter). I told you I am a business man. I have to pay this! Pay that! And I realized how expensive the town is. So before the people of Onitsha woke up the fourth day, they heard Chico is back in Lagos. I actually shot it in three days (Interviewer wiping tears from eyes) I also shot LOST PARADISE in four days.

KHAMILEON: So which actress do you love working with the most?

CHICO EJIRO: A lot of them, Shan George, Rita Dominic, Sandra Achums, and Victoria Iyanma. I am sorry to say this but in Nigeria there is what we call Cartel and Family. You have your regulars, so in GRAND TOUCH I have Shan George, Rita Dominic, Sandra Achums, Victoria Iyanma, I have like six of them. Regina Askia when she was still in Nigeria. And the boys I have Jim Iyke, Emeka Ike, Bob Manuel, Peter Bruno, Ashley Nwosu These are my people, so whenever I want to shoot they will jump in. When they charge others millions, they accept the half from me. It's like a family thing so if I shoot ten movies, they are sure of being in six.

KHAMILEON: I noticed that your wife Joy is sometimes in charge of costumes in your movies, does she still work with you.

CHICO EJIRO: Before now yes! We go to location together. She did the costumes for OUTKAST but now she has her own business called REAL COLOR BOUTIQUE.

KHAMILEON: Talking about the Movie OUTKAST I heard different rumors, that you had problems with the Censor's Board; they brought in the police to arrest you and all that.

CHICO EJIRO: Outkast was a unique story about girls and prostitution, so much glamour…. the costumes…so Censor's board felt that the film did not educate the public well. I personally don't feel so because if you watch Outkast, at the end there was a Message. But they did not see it that way so they brought in the police, arrested me, took me to the station but it was not a criminal offence.

KHAMILEON: (CUTS IN) But isn't that absurd?

CHICO EJIRO: Yes it is, but you know Nigerian government…. but at the end of the day I and the Censors Board sat down to discuss and they said next time I should just down play it.

KHAMILEON: But they are killing your creativity.

CHICO EJIRO: Yes they are, but this is Africa.

KHAMILEON: (CUTS IN) so in Africa we have to pretend!

CHICO EJIRO: Yes pretend as if everything is okay when it's not.

KHAMILEON: We are coming to the end of this Interview, so finally what message do you have for your fans.

CHICO EJIRO: First I must thank them for appreciating our works; they should give us more time to improve. We are young, we are making mistakes, Rome was not built in a day…Whatever you do, you must work hard and pray and you will get to your dream land one day. There is one question you did not ask; you see we don't have investors. We need investors to take the industry to a different level. We need equipments too some of our equipments are not up to standard… audio problems things like that. We also want establishments, cooperations that will bring things to facilitate the industry. We also need the public, banks to believe in this business. We have a hundred and fifty million people There is so much money to be made. We've created a lot of job opportunities taking so many people off the street. It also enhances the image of Nigeria outside. When Genevieve went to Ghana, more than 50,000 people came to the airport to welcome her. When I went to Cameroon The whole street came out to see Chico Ejiro. We've created this huge awareness so it's high time government recognize our contribution so we can take this business to another level.

KHAMILEON: Well it's been nice talking to you.

CHICO EJIRO: Thanks a lot!
 
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