‘A woman can be good at what she does in a male-dominated field’
Though a first class graduate of International Relations from the Eastern Mediterranean University, North Cyprus, filmmaking and music remain a passion for Blessing Uzoma Chibuike, otherwise known as Uzzi in the showbiz industry. Right from her days in the university, she was organsing music tours for notable Nigerian artistes, promoting Nigerian music in Cyprus. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Uzzi spoke about her passion for the creative industry and experiences operating in a male-dominated field.
Your studied International Relations in the University, at what point did entertainment come?
Actually, I started filming and a bit of the music business while in school. Those days, I would organise shows for artistes from Nigeria. We had Iyanya, Teckno, Wizkid… I got a lot of them to perform there. Then, I took filming as elective in school and that was when the journey of filming partially started. However, music was still dominating; I kept struggling with the whole thing until I returned to Nigeria.
How big is Nigerian music in Cyprus?
Very big; they actually pay to come watch Nigerian artistes perform. It’s very big because we have a lot of Nigerians in Cyprus. In fact, now, they are much more now. So, our music is very big over there.
It appears you are concentrating more on filmmaking, what’s the attraction?
Things come to me in pictures more; when I hear a story, I’m already visualising it, thinking how this can be interpreted visually. I feel when people see visuals, it sticks to their mind easily, than when they hear stories; that forms memories in your mind. So, creating such experience is something I really like. Meanwhile, I served with AIT for one year when I returned and I did a few documentaries with them; that helped to bring the film thing alive. Then, I also did a talent show in 2015, Rising Stars, which was targeted at promoting Nigerian music artistes. It was in that process that I met Mr Tayo of Showgear Ltd; that was how I landed in Lagos from Abuja. Moving down here, I ran Showgear Records for one year and then I resigned to focus more on filming for now.
What was your first project as a filmmaker in Nigeria?
My first film in Nigeria would be the documentary I did for the Abia State Government on Ariaria Market in Aba; I just wanted to expose the guys. I actually wanted to do one other project with them, but I guess they felt I was too young; they didn’t take me serious. They took the idea and failed; I didn’t do it with them. But I filmed the documentary, spoke to people that make shoes in Aba. That was the first project I did here in Nigeria.
How has the experience been as a filmmaker so far?
It’s been an interesting journey for me. In fact, my second job was for Cobhams; I directed his Starlight video. He hadn’t even seen anything that I had done; that was so strange. He knows me, but more with music and Showgear; he didn’t know the filming aspect of me. So, when he played the song for me, I was like, ‘Coby, are you doing a video for this?’ He said, ‘Yes, but I’m going to America in five days; I don’t think I will have the time.’ I told him, “I will do it before five days sef if you are willing.’ On a normal day, I would have though that he would ask what I’ve done before or get his people to ask me all these questions, but for some strange reasons, he was very comfortable. Like joke, I got location; I got everything needed for the shoot. He sent me money and said, ‘let’s shoot it.’ It wasn’t like a low budget video, it was actually expensive, but he didn’t mind to take that risk, which is why I love and respect him; it’s not everybody that will put such resource in your hand without seeing anything. Till today, he says that’s one of his best videos because I took him outside his comfort zone. I took him to a beach, got a female vixen to be with; he danced shaku shaku, it was fun. Immediately I did that video, I started getting more jobs.
You co-produced Onyeka Nwelue’s movie Agwa Etiti Obi Uto (Island Of Happiness), how did you get on the project?
Onyeka just messaged me randomly on Facebook and said, ‘do you think you can produce a movie?’ I said, ‘why not, I can.’ You know him now; he just sent me the script. The next thing I saw was that he sent money into my account; it was like joke. I never take Onyeka serious, but when I saw money, it was obvious he wasn’t joking. So, I had to travel down to Oguta to plan the shooting. That was my first time of doing a feature film in Igbo language and from there, the journey just continued.
What’s your interest in music video?
Funny enough, I didn’t plan it; I think shooting music video will be me marrying my two loves. I’m in love with music; I’m such a music enthusiast. If I hear a good sound now, I can call all the OAPs and TV stations in Nigeria to say, ‘there’s a new song you must play.’ I don’t even have to know that artiste; I’m that passionate about music. Having to interpret somebody’s music, somebody’s lyrics into a video is something I found very interesting, especially with the short time a music video has. Most of these music videos, you spend just one day to shoot them; many don’t have a budget for two days. So, it wasn’t something I planned, but I think it just happened that, since I’m in love with music, I could just marry both. So, it was a good starting point for me to show the directing part of me.
How important is video to song?
It’s very, very important; it can’t even be over emphasised. These days especially, people don’t really care about audio. Personally, once I hear a song, I go searching for the video on YouTube. Music can easily die if there’s no video; it brings music to life. On the other hand, you also don’t want to be running around radio people, begging them for airplay. If you have a video, even online, you can share it and get people’s attention, especially if the video is good and engaging. As an artiste, video sells your face; it helps put a face to a name.
How comfortable are you filming music videos as a lady?
I’m very comfortable doing that, but recently, I’m realising that people are not used to women in this field. Somebody once sent me a message on Instagram and we were talking about technical stuffs with shooting. I was chatting with him thinking I was talking to a colleague, but he was like, ‘wow, I can’t believe I’m having all these technical conversation with a women who is a director.’ I was like, ‘Hmmmm, in 2019? Are you joking?’ He didn’t just end there, another day again, I sent a five or ten seconds clip on my page and he messaged me again saying, ‘I can’t believe you shot this video, I’ve been watching it and I couldn’t think a woman shot it.’ I didn’t know whether to be angry or be happy, but I don’t like taking things to heart. Pretty much, I’m very comfortable, but the question would be, are other people as comfortable as I am when they see a woman directing?
The other day, I was doing a video in Abuja and that was the first time my family saw me directing. They just hear I’m a film director, but they don’t really know what that role entails. My mother especially was always asking me, ‘are you acting or what?’ So, they came on set when I was shooting and when I got back, they were like, ‘we felt for you while you were shooting. We were looking at the people you were commanding on set and we were afraid for you. You were talking to all those grown me, how would they listen to you?’ I was like, ‘for God’s sake, it’s work we are doing; I’m paying them to work for their service.’ It’s not about who is grown and who is not grown; it’s work.
But do you some times experience such on set?
Well, that’s not a lie; I face it. Sometimes, you have people on set and once they see you are a woman, they are like, ‘what? This small girl is the one directing the shoot?’ And then, when you are now telling them the exact thing for them to do, it’s more annoying that you are not only a woman, you even know it. So, you experience things like that.
How does that make you feel?
I don’t think it makes me feel weird; I actually think it’s to my advantage. I think it’s very cool that these men feel threatened a bit. And I think it’s very good that a woman can be good at what she does in a male dominated field. I’m probably pushing for something that may not manifest now, but in the nearest future, you will have more women in this field. Sometimes, I wish I could have a team of ten women; my producer should be a woman, my gaffer… all these things that men do. But we don’t have a lot of women who are in that field; there are just very few of them. I feel like, with time, when I keep doing what I’m doing, more women would join.
You recently shot a video for Mo Benjamin’s Sink or Swim, how did you arrive at shooting on the Abuja train?
Moses is very talented and creative; he came back from Los Angeles and now he’s in Lagos. He’s an artiste, who has visual sense very well. He was in America when he messaged me and said he was coming back and he wanted to do a music video; he wanted it to be a full story. He sketched the first draft and sent to me; I edited it and we kept working on it. He was like, ‘what do you think about we shooting on a train?’ I said, ‘that’s a very beautiful idea if they would allow us use the train.’ He told me he could talk to them, so, I was like, ‘that fine.’ Of course, they have to be moving; I can’t shoot on a static train. He spoke them and they agreed. It was a very good experience; a lot of people love the video.
So, what are you working on right now?
I’m currently working on a documentary on skin; I’m focusing on different skin challenges. I will be interviewing about three people in it, creating a back-story; it’s like a docu drama. I’ve spoken to Peace Anyiam-Osigwe of AMAA and she’s open to it; I’ve also spoken to another lady in Ghana. Then, I’m currently in talks with Teni the Entertainer; I’m supposed to do a feature film with them, with Teni playing the lead role. I’m hoping it goes through as planned.
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