Femi Oyeniran: Filming With Intent
Femi Oyeniran was inaugurated into the halls of black British cultural history with the release of his second film, The Intent. The now-famous director talks to The Guardian Life about missing actors, 419 boys and the battle between love and hate.
Why make a sequel to the Intent?
The Intent 1 was a massive success and there was a lot of demand for a sequel but personally, I also felt the story was incomplete. I really wanted to make a crime thriller and I just wanted to create something in that world while keeping it fast-paced and fun like Fast and Furious.
What’s your drive behind making films?
Storytelling has been an important part of my whole life. When I was growing up in Nigeria, in Modakeke, there was no TV so at nighttime the kids would gather around and a person would weave a story all night. Later in the future, when people would tell stories about how my late father loved storytelling, it became even more important to me because that became the only way to keep him with me. So storytelling is wired into my system, it is part of my heritage.
What roadblocks did you face when you were starting out?
I saw a caption “The Revolution Must Be Financed” on Instagram the other day. Raising finance in any industry is difficult, that’s the way of capitalism, and as a filmmaker, it’s hard to get money. My first film took me 18 months to raise money.
What are the worst things that have ever happened to you on set?
Actors randomly disappearing. One day, I needed an actor to be in London for a shoot and he delayed till the next day. Equipment breaking is another. We were doing a scene and the DP (Director of Photography) had a brilliant idea to chase the actor, and he fell over. Equally, stunt scenes. We were about to shoot a stunt scene and the stunt guy goes, “where’s the paramedic?” The production manager had forgotten to book a paramedic so we had to scramble looking for one within the hour. The funniest thing was on the set of the Intent 2 when the police wouldn’t give us permission to use guns. We sorted it out eventually.
Why the interest in Jamaica?
It was a natural decision. The Jamaican cultural influence in Britain is undeniable. More recently, West Africa, specifically Nigeria’s influence on Black British culture in the UK is undeniable which is why the Intent 3 will be partly shot in Nigeria because Nigeria is a huge part of what it means to be Black British.
Do you feel black directors have a moral obligation to speak out about political issues when making black-centred films?
Yes and no. Yes, because as blacks, we don’t have many films about us on an international platform to shift the way films about black people are perceived. But I also say no because films are meant to entertain. It’s meant to make you feel different things. For example, when you watch Ava’s films like Selma or When They See Us, you realize she’s found a way to produce political black content. I suppose the sweet spot is to create content that is political and entertains just like Black Panther.
What in your opinion is your greatest achievement to date?
In terms of film, The Intent. It put us on a map and put us in a position to do Intent 2 and get a deal with Netflix. Also getting a law degree from London School of Economics has enabled me to pay bills and do business in a way that other actors have been unable. And in terms of life, I’m raising two sons to be intelligent boys that go on to positively influence the world. I don’t know if I’ve achieved that yet but the process of achieving that has been an achievement in itself. I and my father never did that because he passed away, so I look at that personally as an achievement.
What book would you love to make a film out of someday?
I Did Not Come To You By Chance [by Adaobi Nwaubani]. I love that book; the way she ameliorates a 419 boy has never been done before, you feel sorry for him and you understand why and by the time you realise that he’s a criminal you love him too much to abandon him. It’s brilliant.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a life creating films?
Believe in yourself and you have to develop a certain degree of resilience. People are always going to say no to you, investors are going to say no and people are going to say they don’t like your film.
What’s your favourite film and how many times have you watched it?
Godfather. I can’t count but definitely over 20.
What do you want to be known for?
“The goal is not to live forever but to create something that will.”
What’s your favourite film quote?
It’s from Do The Right Thing. “Let me tell you the story of right hand, left hand/it’s a tale of good and evil/hate/It was this hand that iced Cain his brother/ love/ it Is these five fingers that go straight to the soul of man/ right hand/ the hand of love/the story of life is this static/one hand is always fighting the other and the left hand is kicking much ass/ I mean it looks like the right and love, is finished/ but hold on stop the presses,/ the right hand is coming back/ yeah he’s got the left hand on the ropes/ BOOM/ it’s a devastating right, and hate is hurt down/ left hand, hate, KO’d by love/ If I love you/ I love you/ but if I hate you/ BOOM!”