‘Weak distribution is Nollywood’s biggest challenge’
When it comes to acting, Ejike Okoye is not new. He has been in the business in the past 10 years. However, he has moved behind the camera and now calls the shots as a producer. Okoye has featured in over 100 movies like Issakaba, Black Angels, Igodo, Cry for Help and many others. His most recent movies are Far From Home, Onye Ichie In America, The Web, Village Boy in London and others. He won two awards last year and got five nominations at NEGA Awards as Best Actor and also at LANFA, which gave him Best Supporting Actor in Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Okoye said his journey in the film industry could be traced to his childhood days, when “I did too many stage plays in my church as a kid during my elementary school days. The fact remains that stage acting is harder than filmmaking. In stage, one has to be at least 95 per cent accurate because people are watching you live while in moviemaking, one can always stop midway and do it over again until the acting is good. Also, editing helps in filmmaking. Other kids used to look up to me; they wanted to be like me and I encouraged them to be part of the stage plays, but most of them shied away. When I played the role of Samuel in church, it attracted a lot of commendations. People were amazed at my performance. I believe that’s what led me into acting when I became an adult.”
He informed that before he accepts a role he would consider the script first, noting, “I like scripts that educate the viewers, scripts that are based on true life story, scripts that portray our culture. As a man of action, I also like scripts that have a lot of action, twist, suspense and stunts because I like doing stunts, but most importantly, scripts that can make positive impact on society. I don’t have a specific favourite movie role. I love most of my current movie roles though they were pretty much challenging in the sense that they were more intense, diverse and had a lot of ingredients.”
He said one of his role models was the late Chukwuka Emelionwu, popularly known as KASVID, producer of Issakaba, Last Burial, Please Come Back, Vampires’ Call and many more, noting, “Unfortunately, I lost him last week in a car accident. He is one of the biggest producers in Nollywood. He is a man with a good heart and will be greatly missed.”
He is currently working on some projects like Double Wahala, Xyza, Bloodstone, Shadows of America and many more, saying, “Most of my current movies are shot in America.”
Okoye also expressed his views about the film industry, and said there have been improvements in recent years, adding, “Nollywood today is far better than Nollywood of yesterday in terms of product quality. I am impressed at the rate at which production quality improves. Thanks to technology. The industry is generally improving and expanding appreciably, but it is yet to attain its full potential. Compared to what it used to be in the 1990s, things are a lot better. We now have professionals in the industry. Directors, actors, actresses, producers, scriptwriters, set designers, and even makeup artists are now more knowledgeable in what they do in the industry. I will say that we are making good progress in our stories.”
He, however, confessed that the only aspect yet to firm up is weak distribution system of movies, adding, “Thank God that the cinema culture has gradually returned. We just hope that government will continue to give us more support, especially in the distribution network aspect of it. Our government needs to device a means to curb piracy, which is taking a toll on our pockets. Nollywood produces an incredible 1,500 or more movies a year – far more than Hollywood, and second in number only to India’s film industry, Bollywood. Today, Nollywood films are available globally on cellphones, Netflix and YouTube, and on street corners across Africa. Nollywood is positioned to become a global brand much like the films of Bollywood or Chinese movies. This is despite the many obstacles filmmakers might face: electricity cuts, fuel scarcity, political instability and more.”
For youngsters looking to enter the industry, Okoye has some advice for them. According to him, “Firstly, look at yourself in the mirror and ask, ‘is this really what I want to do?’ If ‘yes,’ then go for it. Attend auditions. You have to step out of your comfort zone because auditions can’t come to you; producers can’t come to you, especially as an aspiring artist. You have to make yourself available. Make friends in the industry and seek advice from veteran actors. Ask questions. Stupid and dumb questions are the questions you never ask.
“I encourage aspiring actors to stay focused in life; set a goal for oneself and strive hard to achieve that goal. If you don’t have a mountain, build one and then climb it and after you climb it, build another one, otherwise you start a flat line in your life. Throw that ego away; care less about what people say as long as you are doing a positive thing. Above all, praying to God for direction to avoid making a wrong choice or bad decision which can be devastating.’
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