-Award-winning director and head of the production outfit, Royal Roots Production Company, Greg Odutayo has carved a niche for himself in the film industry.
-Having produced soap operas like “About To Wed, Edge of Paradise, My Mum & I’‘, among others. He has remained consistent in delivering good production content to the audience.
-Greg Odutayo, in this interview with Esther Odili, he speaks on his new movie, the challenges and Nollywood in the past and now.
Can you talk about your experience directing the movie “Beyond Blood”?
Well I feel happy. I felt to an extent fulfilled. Everybody has been speaking well of the movie. And it is different from all other Nollywood movies. I think that is the most fulfilling thing for a director. For your audience to accept what you have done. And we are happy about that.
You said the movie is different from others, How?
Am not the one that said so. People testified to this. But essentially the quality is different. And if you look at what you call the production value, it is much higher than what you will get in Nollywood. We shot on 4k and we finished on 4k. And you rarely get that you know. Usually when people shoot on 4k, they go to standard definition or 2k to edit but we did not do that. We maintained the quality all the way through and it reflected in the production. The sound is very good; I make bold to say that there are very few movies that have the quality of sounds that “Beyond Blood” has. So that is also a big plus for the movie. And casting, directing and so many things. I know it is different, because of some of the things that have been mentioned by the audience. And it is not a predictable story. The story is the biggest point in this movie. It is not a story that you will start, as they say in Nollywood movie, that you already know the end. Having said that, Nollywood is doing a lot, it has improved tremendously, and we believe that we can only keep improving.
Gives synopsis of the movie, “Beyond Blood”?
It is a story of an oxford-trained young lady, who takes women off the street. She has a social conscience. And she is getting ready for her marriage. Series of event happened which makes her to abandon that marriage and she does so under the guise of going abroad; travelling to London specifically to look for her brother who ran away like six years ago for what he did at home. So she was given one month . When she arrives London, she finds out that her brother is in very serious trouble. So in trying to save her brother, in trying to save herself, she had to rediscover herself. In doing, that she finds out that she needs to deal with many things. She needs to deal with society. She needs to deal with her father, she needs to deal with some other people she comes in contact with and the process of doing that is what actually concludes the movie.
Why did it take this long to produce your first movie?
This is my first film feature. Have done short films. But this is my first full feature. Essentially, am a businessman, and before now, we could not really see the business. A lot of times, with like television, you know what to do, you know how to put things, and you know what platforms to use. Cinema, film is still a little bit shrouded in a lot of mystery. So that has been the major hindrance. Because you do not want to put your money into something and you don’t get it back, why? So let me just go and be doing my television. We had the script and it has been a long time since we started working on it. We wanted to do something different, something that will win us accolades, and something that will win us awards. So that was the primary objective, yet to make money also ultimately. So that is what has kept us away or so long. But the question always comes up when you criticize other people work that where is your own, which one have you done. We felt that it was necessary to push out something into the market from Royal Roots stable and that is why we did that.
What influence your choice of the movie “Beyond Blood”?
We wanted something dynamic, international and appealing. Taking up all of those boxes. Languages were spoken in English, Yoruba, French and pidgin spoken in the movie. And am a strong advocate for our culture in terms of what we do. That is a striking thing for me because also is a way we talk ads Nigerian. And is something that deals with a lot of sensitive things and we felt that because this time was appropriate for us to push out some of these things and back them up with our own artistic flavour. But we did not set out to do a theme based movie, we set out to do a movie that will be interesting, exciting, that will be fun to watch and then in doing all of these things , in watching , if you get ideas from this film, excellent. You know we did not set out to do a theme-based movie.
What inspired the choice of cast?
The cast was inspired by the story. We had a story, and we wanted to match that story with the appropriate cast. We also wanted to show it to an extent how casting should be done. If you look at all the characters, the two families involved, you will see some semblance and that was deliberate. It was not an accident. We wanted to ensure that when we cast, we cast appropriately. We also wanted a mixture of the older generation and the current generation. And I think they achieved that balance very well and we put out a believable family. It was not an accident, it was deliberate. Because when you look at it, it is one of the things that they use to degrade Nollywood, that the father and the daughter do not look alike or the mother and the daughter does not look alike. They do not really look like each other. You know we wanted to correct some of that and I think to a large extent we succeeded.
Your experience while shooting the movie?
We shot in Nigeria and in the UK. There are challenges. They are not things that are peculiar to “Beyond blood”. They are things that every Nigerian artistes or anybody would have experienced. The challenge of shooting in Lagos is legendary. I can write a book on it. We experienced all of that. The challenge of shooting abroad also was there. We had issues trying to get French and German visas because some character had taken some people to France and just before that time, and they never act film and they never returned. So when ours’ came in there, it went under very heavy scrutiny and they told us we needed to keep it, for a certain number of days. And that would have gone into our plan. We needed to shoot in the UK. So that was the challenge in itself. Logistics in the UK because of traffic, because we were quite a large team. 18 of us left Lagos, so that was also a challenge. Gathering everybody together. But once there are challenges, they are meant to be surmounted.
What was the special role played by your wife, who is the producer of the movie?
She is the producer. The producer is the one that hires everybody. She hired me as the director. It is a balance that every production needs to have. The producer is the engine room of production. The producer is the one who hires everybody. The producer is the one who ensures everything we need on location is provided. And I think she did an excellent job of a producer. So it was not a difficult task for her so to say, but the job of a producer is very key to any production set-up. Because they are the ones who have hands on top of all issues that come up. My role as a director is just to come on set and ensure that my actors are there, let me shoot. Let us do rehearsals, let us go on. But the producer and her team do all the background work before we get to that point in which we come to take all the shine and glory.
What is the moral lesson of the movie?
I will not talk about the moral lesson. What we set out to do was beyond that. Like I said, we did not go out to shoot a theme-based movie, we want to shoot a movie for people to go into the cinema, have fun and enjoy themselves. Then reach a conclusion that they want to reach. There are issues we treated in “Beyond Blood” that if you watch it, you will know we did not take a position, we did not say this was good, this was bad, you should do this or you should not do this. No, we did not do that. Because we believe that, every audience has a choice and that is what we have given them. Ours is to project the story, ours is not to proffer an opinion. Let the audience take away from the movie what they want to take away. The good thing about the way we have written this movie is such that, it is about the window in which you look at the world. So it could be from Moji’s view, it could be from Akins’ view; it could be from the mother’s view or the father. But it is saying that whatever window you as an individual member of the audience is looking out from in the movie, you should choose. So we have not set out to say this is the window you should take out from the movie or this is the lesson you should learn from this movie, No. Everybody should learn his or her own lessons from the movie.
When should we expect a great feat like this from your stable?
I hope that we will be able to do this every year. My producer has said that we must do this every year. Sincerely speaking, it is very tough. And this is the one we have done; this is the benchmark in which we will be assessed. So the next movie we are doing must not be lower. We cannot afford to go lower. We can only go higher. So that puts a challenge itself in front of us. So we are hoping that we would be able to do this every year. Like I said, it is difficult for us. The whole process of this movie took over five years. But from the time we actually started auditioning and shooting, it is almost seven months. It took us seven months at a stretch. So for us to do this, if we do not get seven months, we will not be able to achieve something great like this. If you want to have that perfection in it, it takes that time to do what you want to do.
How did you get funds to finance this movie?
Funding came from multiple sources. There is the project Act Nollywood, the Intervention Fund of The Federal Government. They gave us partly Sum. But that Project Nollywood was actually what propelled this movie. Because immediately we got that money, it was very small. It became a positive albatross because it is the government money. And we believe that we are to use it for the purpose in which they had given it to us. At that point, we had to go and look for other money. A lot of it came from Royal Roots. We had two other partners; HF Media partnered with us, they invested into the movie. We also had corporate support from Heritage Bank, who supported us tremendously. And Africa Alliance Insurance, who provide us with our insurance needs for the project. But a lot of it came from Royal Roots. And it is not so easy when you have to do that. But we are hoping that by the time we call for the next movie, we will have a lot of corporate support guiding our back.
As a couple working together, how do you manage your family?
We have always worked together. We have been working together for close to 2oyears now. It is not the easiest thing in the world but it is about understanding each other say. It is also about understanding the other person and about ensuring you do things that would make that person continually happy. My kids are all in school but I am a deep family man. I take my family very seriously. I do not joke with them. Because they are the reason why I wake up every day. They are the reason am working. Because I want to be able to give them the full benefit of my working life.
As an experienced director, briefly tell us Nollywood in the past and present?
Nollywood is doing very well. With all due respect, to whatever anybody says. I believe that Nollywood is doing very well. Like I said to someone recently, Nollywood at 50, is better than Hollywood at 50. The things that we have achieved, the things that we are doing, the things that we have done in this 50-year of existence. When Hollywood was at 50, I do not think they have achieved this much. There is still a lot to be done. We still need to continually improve on our production value. But like I always say, it is also about the needs of the market. It is about what your audience wants. It is about so many factors that you as a producer cannot really control. And in Hollywood, the big exhibitors, distributors, they commission you as a producer to go and do content for them. In Nigeria, like I was complaining to my distributor, I have to do so much. The film is ready, I go to cinemas, get the actors go with me, am spending money and so on. That is not my work as a producer. I should finish it, hand it over, and move on. But we cannot do that in Nigeria. So you still have to ensure your distributor is doing the right thing. So those are the areas I think, the exhibition and the distribution has not caught up yet with Hollywood production. The Nollywood production is still afar ahead. There is still a lot of bad production. Because no artistic work is bad. There is still a lot of sub-standard production in Nollywood. If you look at it, even Hollywood, Bollywood, they have bad productions. They have productions that they cannot be proud of. So bad productions, Sub-standard productions, they are not going to go away in Nigeria. Because there is an audience that consumes it. So it is going to exist for a long time.
What are the qualities of a good actor?
A good actor should be able to deliver on whatever role he or she is given. The problem I have with a lot of Nollywood actors is that they are lazy. They are not ready to be pushed. You want to direct scenes in swimming pool and you have the actors sit by the edge of the pool, you put their legs in and so on; it is because they cannot swim. And that person will call himself or herself an actor. No, there are some skills that are life skills. That you need as an actor. An actor that cannot swim, ride a bicycle, ride a motorcycle, a horse or pilot plane. Every actor that desires to be a proper actor must be able to do all of this. These to me are life skills. The earlier the actor gets into it, the better. Every actor must be ready to work hard. If it is your business, you will want to work hard and do it well. So every actor must be ready to go and extra-mile in whatever role it is given.
Advise for upcoming actors?
They should go to school. A lot of people talks about things like, there are actors in Nollywood who did not go to school. I do not believe in that. Identify top five quality actors in Nollywood, they went to school. And not just going to school, they went to theatre school, film school or drama school. People like Rita Dominic, Stella Damasus, Stephanie Okereke, and Richard Mofe Damijo, to me these are some of the best male and female actors in Nigeria. And there is no way you can remove that from their background and from their learning. So anybody who wants to become an actor or actress, I will say go to school. Go and learn the craft, art, rudiment and perhaps have a foundation. When you have done that, then you start learning all over again on how to build on that foundation that you have. And be ready to work. Am not saying skill is not important, am not saying talent is not in it.Talent is in it but you can only push that talent to a level if you do not have the rudimental skill to push it further. They should go to school and constantly re-invent themselves and ensure they are doing very well in whatever they are doing.