NOLLYWOOD EXCLUSIVE: Obi Emelonye Speaks About Life As A Film Maker, Nollywood Film Distribution & The Launch Of Obi Emelonye Foundation

Obi Emelonye is a Nigerian born multiple award winning film maker based in London who gained the world’s attention after his award winning movie Mirror boy featuring veteran Nollywood actress Genevieve Nnaji went ahead to clinch multiple awards through the year in major African film awards. This was followed by Last Flight to Abuja which did impressive too, Onye Ozi and the recent critically acclaimed  film Oxford gardens which won three awards out of its seven nominations at this year’s African Film Awards in London. Obi Emelonye is currently in Nigeria on a project and in an exclusive interview with Chiazor Daniel of Glamsquad magazine over the week, the award winning film maker opens up about life as a film maker, Nollywood, piracy, his family, what has kept him pushing and growing stronger all these years and the launch of the Obi Emelonye foundation next year on his 50th birthday which would be channeled at helping young and aspiring talents find their path in the emerging industry.

Your movie oxford gardens just won three awards out of its seven nominations at the African Film Awards in London, lets pause and applaud to that; Congratulations. Are you hopeful of more success and recognition for this very film?
I know this may surprise some people, but I do not go into any film with any expectations for awards. You want your film to do well and you want people, including critics to enjoy it. However, you do not set out with the projection of winning so and so awards. One is enough but if more come, then to God be the glory.

What was growing up like for you, did you ever think you would one day end up in the movie industry?
I grew up in a large, creative family as part of a set of twins. My dad was an artiste and painter and I guess I had shown artistic promise as a child. I had such a multi-facetted talent base that my Dad told me constantly that I could be anything that I wanted to be. But there also was a problem because unless I was focused, multiple talent could become a curse. I have over the last 17 years focused on film and things are getting better. When I was a kid, I believed that I was programmed for success. However I had to work hard to discover what field the success lay. Films found me and I am happy I allowed myself to be found.

You had an amazing career in the law field and just when you were about to be made a British solicitor: you pull out of law school. How was that decision like for you, I mean did you have to rethink that over and over again?
Our lives are replete with many twists and turns. But we would not be who we are with out those shifts that help to shape us. I studied Law as a pragmatic move to better my chances of success when I arrived the UK in the 90’s. It became a stopover career on my way to doing what I love and loving what I do. Law is also a career with transferable skills and my status and knowledge as a lawyer have become handy in the business of films. Do I miss the practice of law? No. But I will remain a lawyer, in the practice of films.

Now back to movies, what kind of stories interest you?
I am interested in stories that suck you in and carry you through the clouds to a place you are not used to. That is what films are supposed to do. That was what the early Steven Spielberg films that shaped my imagination did. It doesn’t matter what the genre or style is, a good story is a good story and that is what interests me.

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Obi Emelonye’s Last Flight To Abuja

You tried your hands on a TV drama The Calabash sometime, how was the experience; are we going to see more TV drama series from the stables of the Nollywood factory?
All over the world, particularly in Hollywood, TV dramas have become the new film. So, my foray into that world in 2014/15 with THE CALABASH was strategic. It was also a huge learning curve and shooting 100 episodes in one go allowed me to come to terms with the challenges of industrial level film making. I am still learning and some of that education will be brought to bare on future TV series. I am actually in pre-production for another one and by God’s grace, we’ll keep improving.

What is the most important aspect of building a great character?
The most important aspect of building a character is making them believable. Whether they are good or bad in the sense of morality, it is their roundedness and authenticity that makes them worthy of the audience’s investment of time and empathy.

The Nollywood film industry has grown from a self-financed institution to the world’s second largest movie producer. However, one problem it’s still grappling with is piracy. Do you have any suggestions as to what can be done to curb this counter-productive trend?
I will disagree with you that piracy is not the biggest problem debilitating against Nollywood. The biggest obstacle to the growth of the industry is DISTRIBUTION. The DVD/VCD was the mainstay of the industry for a while. However, films are now selling just a few thousand DVD copies, compared to the millions in Nollywood hay days. With the decline of the DVD format globally, the industry needed new platforms. Then the cinema emerged as an option about 10 years ago but in a country of 180 million people, there are only 21 cinemas. Films have to run for months to make any money at all but they are only guaranteed one week in the cinemas on release. The Online platform raised hopes but our bandwidth problems have hampered the pioneering efforts of many online platforms. So, with the above scenario, pirates, who in other territories are lower down the food chain find themselves at the very top of the Nigerian entertainment food chain because of the inadequacy of the legit distribution structure. The pirates end up selling more than the mainstream structure and end up as, they did in Nigerian music, a parallel market which usurped the official one.

What has kept you going over the years?
Filmmaking for me is a passion. I will even go as far as saying it is a calling. When something is a calling, it does not matter whether you make money or not; whether you are successful or not; whether the world likes you or not. You continue to do it because that is what you are called to do.

Looking back at all you have been able to achieve these past years since you took that bold step; did you at some point ever question or regret your decisions to quit your profession as a British solicitor to pursue your movie goals?
They say the regrets of life always come at the end. It is not the end for me yet so I cannot say. But I find courage and encouragement in another fact that when people are about to die, what they regret most is not what they did wrong, but what they failed to do at all. I am happy as a filmmaker, telling African stories to the world. Law, as well as all the other things that I have done in the past, including professional football, has helped to shape who I am. I think I made the right choice. Anybody can study and be a good lawyer, but not everybody can study and be a great filmmaker.

Just recently, you wife and kids were luckily rescued from a bomb scare in London; how was the experience like for you; does this mean that terrorism is slowly creeping into the Queen’s land?

Coincidentally, I am answering this series of questions on the day the world changed recognizably, as far as I am concerned. Donald Trump just became President of the United States of America. There is a ominous trend the world over for anti-establishment and fascism. Whether you are in Maiduguri or Syria, or Iraq or the UK, we are living in a dangerously unraveling world where danger, terrorism, famine and bloodshed will become more widespread. Our prayer is that God keeps us and our families away from the perpetrators of evil.

Obi Emelonye and family at the Europe Premiere Of Oxford Gardens

How is your relationship with your family despite your workaholic schedules?
(Laughs) I don’t have a workaholics schedule oh. I work hard, yes, like most fathers do. But I also create time for my wife and my family and I value every minute I spend in their company. They know we have to make small sacrifices in our quest for a good life and they understand that for me, it is not all about making money. It is a calling, like I said earlier and they have to support me.

Your son is gradually becoming an established teen actor, how does that make you feel as a father; is this his decision or something his father wants him to do?
I am not one of those parents who would ram a child down a particular path, whether they like it or not. I have allowed my children to indicate what interests them and then I will support them through it. D’Kachy, my first boy has acted in my film ONYE OZI and did well. However, I am not in a hurry to force him into another film. My daughter D’Richy made her debut in Oxford Gardens and did well too. But if they say they would like to do other things when they grow up, my wife and I will support them.

Oxford gardens has a story line and genre a lot different from what self-financed Nollywood film makers won’t dare put their finances into because of the new trend that comedic genres these days gross more in cinemas; what’s your take on that?
I am a commercial filmmaker. Having said that, I am not a trend follower. I am not going to make a particular kind of film because it is ‘reigning’. I take my craft seriously and know that a film with the right subject matter, well made, well promoted and lucky will always be successful. I have made comedy films with Onye Ozi and my earlier work Lucky joe and I will continue to make comedy films. Not because someone else made money from a comedy film, but because I believe in the story and I am passionate about it.

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BTS pictures from the making of Oxford Gardens

What has been your biggest challenge in the industry?
It is hard to find the financial backing to match my ambition. You can have all the great ideas (they cost money) and unless you can find the finance to make them happen, they will never rise above- just ideas. It is frustrating but it will get better. That is my hope.

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Obi Emelonye at the Europe Premiere of Oxford Gardens

The brand Obi Emelonye has gained a lot of recognition and wide acceptance through your inspiring movies and the Obi Emelonye foundation; years before now did you ever think this was possible or this kind of success was attainable?
Only God can bless ones effort and I have no expectation of success. My part is to plan well, do the best that I can and leave the rest to the Most High. I am humbled by what we have achieved but I also believe we can do more, through His grace.

Do you have young people you mentor, those who look up to you for advice and motivation?
You just mentioned Obi Emelonye Foundation. That is what I am hoping to achieve with that foundation. This is because, there comes a time when a man’s success is no lingered measured by his bank account or the number of awards he has won; but by the number of lives he has touched. When it launches next year, the Obi Emelonye Foundation will help young/new creatives and filmmakers and actors and actresses find a path into the very top of Nollywood; through 50 commissioned film projects to mark the 50th anniversary of our birth. (my twin brother and I). You will be hearing more about it. It is something that I am excited and proud of.

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What does it really take to be successful in the film industry?
It takes God’s grace, passion, training, hard work, strategic thinking, never-say-die attitude, luck, contacts and impeccable timing…not necessarily in that order.

What are your two favorite quotes and advice to struggling talents?
Keep believing and keep working. For a world that turns around like a wheel might make today’s chaff tomorrow’s wheat.
Keep learning but keep doing. Doing is the best teacher of the skills you need to stay at the top, when you get there.



Glamsquad magazine is an independently operated online fashion, beauty, style, entertainment, and health blog. Its features are both inspirational and accessible, giving our followers a scoop on what's trending now in the fashion, beauty, style, and entertainment industry.

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