Film Adaptation can revive our Reading Culture —Augusta Okon
While growing up, literature and films have always been Augusta Okon’s first love. At the age of 14, she had become an author under the wings of Nelson publishers with her short story, ‘Bola and the kidnappers’. She won the maiden edition of the International Children’s Convention in ’93 organized by Interclassic ltd. Two years later, her second short story, ‘Trust No One’ was also published by Nelson. After graduating with a degree in Law from the University of Ibadan and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, she’s directed her legal skills at the Entertainment circuit and is now a lady of many parts. She opened up on a range of issues bordering on film adaptation and the need to revive the declining reading culture in this interview with Entertainment Editor, VICTOR AKANDE.
ORIGINAL works have always been the platform deployed in movie productions. Why the clarion call for Nigerian film adaptations?
I have always had two loves in my life from back in the days till the present and they are literature and film. Classic novels from British authors, African Pacesetter series, recommended literary books in school coupled with Chinese, Indian, and American movies made the platforms my numero uno. Unfortunately the reading culture has become virtually non-existent, which has had a negative impact in the publishing sphere.
Theatrical releases thrived back in the Golden years of cinema until it hit the folding up gong in the 80′s. However, its resurrection in the millennium alongside Nigerian filmmakers looking to the theatres to release their films rather than straight to VCD/DVD has given me hope that things are getting better. Over the years, there’s been a recycling of themes, dearth of originality in Moviedom and the success recorded by those who turned to film adaptations in Hollywood gradually turned the concept into a haven of box office hits. I believe it’s an untapped gold mine in Nigeria, it brings books to life via the big screens and since people love what they can see and hear to mere reading, there’s the huge possibility of a rise in the number of those who will storm the cinemas and buy the books at the stores”.
So there’s the possibility that foreign movies we’ve watched at one point or the other are actually based on film adaptations than original works?
Yes, Nigerians have watched many movies from the stables of Hollywood without knowing they were film adaptations and not original works. Examples are The godfather, Scar Face, The Davinci Code, I Am legend, Jurassic park, The Island, The last king of Scotland, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Man on Fire, Priest, Hunger Games, Troy, Chronicles of Narnia, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, V for Vendetta, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The King’s speech, The Hobbit, Life of Pi and many more.
Are film adaptations strictly from novels?
No, it can be from any other source. Film adaptations simply means the story was not derived from the original source i.e the script writer’s imagination. Adaptations could be from poems, plays, news, articles, short stories, TV shows, other films, and even comics.
You seem to be confident of the box office mileage film adaptations can have, are you saying such gives instant success?
It would be wrong to say that all film adaptations gives instant success because various factors such as the popularity of the author, the work being adapted, ability of the screenwriter to critically interpret the original work and make it exciting, the quality of the film’s production taking into cognizance vital elements such as sound, lighting, cinematography, editing, directing, cast, amongst other things, play vital roles in determining its success. However, it has been proven beyond our shores that in comparison to original works, film adaptations can supercede original works at the box office and other fora.
Have we had film adaptations of Nigerian works?
Yes we’ve had, but it’s a drop in the bucket in comparison to original works. The likes of Prof. Wole Soyinka’s “Kongi Harvest”, Prof. Femi Osofisan’s “The Restless Run of locust and Maami”, Elechi Amadi’s “The Concubine”, Bayo Adewale’s “TheVirgin” adapted by Tunde Kelani as “The Narrow Path”, TV series of the literary icon late Prof. Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, Adebayo Faleti’s “Thunderbolt”, Akinwumi Ishola’s “O leku”, and in recent times, Ebi Akpeti’s “The Perfect Church”, Olayinka Abimbola’s “Dazzling Mirage”, Femi Faseru’s “Married but living single”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of a yellow sun”, Ola Rotimi’s “The gods are not to blame” are examples of film adaptations. Filmmakers can embark on potential film adaptations of works such as The Famished Road, Zarah the wind seeker, The Secret life of Baba Segi’s wives, The Great Ponds, The Forest of a thousand demons, Waiting for an Angel, Second Class Citizen, Efuru and many more. One can even start from simple adaptations of the popular Drummer Boy, Without a Silver Spoon, Passport of Mallam Illia before trending on those perceived as being complex and very expensive to make.
Why do you think filmmakers are not keen on making film adaptations?
I believe it’s because they’re largely unaware of the endless possibilities associated with the concept. They don’t invest in reading books hinged on the poor reading culture; invariably they’ll have little or no interest in such.
A good example of a Nigerian filmmaker whose love for literary works has made him the number one producer of film adaptations is Tunde Kelani. Filmmakers also don’t want to go through the rigours of paying royalties to authors, which forces them to be legally complian and many still grapple with making churned productions. No author is going to be pleased in seeing his or her work churned out straight to DVD and watched as a home video. Authors want their books to come to life on the big screen; in theatres and when once a filmmaker has the vision to show it in Nigerian cinemas, he most often times than not, takes it out of the country for theatrical releases in the UK, USA and other parts of the world and puts it in for international film festivals. This gives the author wider exposure, the publisher gets to reprint the books while the filmmaker makes his money. It’s a win-win situation for the parties. Any filmmaker/producer going for film adaptations must be ready to produce with a good budget and not a shoe stringed one.
Don’t you think that the demand for payment of high royalties from the author can scare the filmmakers away?
High is relative in this case. What is perceived as high to one filmmaker may not be the same to another. Authors put in a lot of effort into creating beautiful stories, taking months and sometimes years to perfect. As you know the story is the fulcrum of the movie, so why shouldn’t they be paid well? If you can afford to pay the lead cast mouth watering fees why shouldn’t ‘the brain’ behind the story be equally paid well?
You can have the best A-list thespians, but if the story has no depth, it bombs! A filmmaker can also reach a compromise with the author, for example, legendary adaptation filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, once said that back in the days he had no money to pay Adebayo Faleti for the rights to adapt his work into a film. He asked the author to be part of the production, thereby waving his rights, which he gladly obliged. There can be compromise on the part of the author, just make sure what you’re bringing to the table is worth it.
Nigerians don’t buy books to read, they say it’s expensive due to the economic crunch, what’s your take on that?
Have heard that assertion before, but can you buy what doesn’t interest you? The dearth of a reading culture stems from the once fazed away public libraries, parental indifference, strong contenders for our time and money such as entertainment, inadequate book competitions and publicity, low level of research in schools, and of course the internet. Many surf the internet for information only when a school assignment has been handed down.
Social Networks, social bookmarks, sports, entertainment sites and blogs are largely surfed for fun, latest gist and gossip. How much do books cost?, say between N500 N2,500 depending on the genre, number of pages and whether it’s a hard cover or paper back. Now let’s compare it to others. How much do you spend to leisurely browse on your phone or at the café in a month?, how much do you pay to watch a movie at the cinemas for an hour thirty minutes or two hours depending on the running time, that’s between N1,000-N1,500, and if you’re a student it’s N500. A good number of Nigerians can afford to buy books, but there’s just no motivation to do so.
Why would you consider film adaptation to be important?
Besides serving as a better alternative source of recouped investments to original works, it creates a combination of literature and film which makes us eventually want to read the book, watch the movie while listening to the characters dialogue. It can re-vitalize the reading culture with time, build a book into a brand, and strengthen the collective promotion of the book between the publisher and filmmaker. Authors can make valuable contributions on set to the director and screenwriters who specialize in adapted works. It also boosts healthy competition between adapted and original film productions.
Are there any potential challenges faced in opting for film adaptations rather than original works?
Well there are always two sides to a coin. There’s the possibility of the film falling short of readers expectations and even the author’s, for example Wole Soyinka was unhappy with the 1971 Calpenny’s production of his work, Kongi Harvest. Some readers might prefer the film to the book and vice versa. Some might not like the modification, deletion of certain parts and would rather prefer the exact replica of the original work. There are lots of pages to compress within the two hours or less time frame, bearing in mind that an hour and a half movie will get more slots at the cinemas than a two hour movie. There’s also the possible shallow understanding of the work by the screen writer, replicated in the incorrect interpretation, that’s why it is good to engage the services of one who specializes in such or connects with literature and can easily interpret same.
What are you doing to promote the film adaptation concept?
Well besides, the media platform, such as this remarkable one I’m using to promote the concept, I also run an online blog, 9aijabooksandmovies, where I unveil books and also movies hitting the theatres. I see it as a platform, which with time, will become the reference point by filmmakers who seek books to adapt into films and net surfers will get latest information about both spheres. I have some other things lined up in the pipeline as well.
Do you think the concept is attainable in Nigeria?
I believe in proper growth and development. When a baby is born, he or she undergoes certain phases of development with time. Imagine being drawn to a four months old baby who is lying on the bed, the baby looks at you, sits up, jumps out of bed, walks to you, and then begins to speak fluently in English or your mother tongue, won’t you scream and run?.
You would, because it’s abnormal! That’s the biggest challenge we have in the system and in the country as a whole. We want results at once, we don’t want to follow the laid down stages and principles, guided by time in achieving things. It’s not done! Home videos had been in existence since the 80′s but Ken Nnebue’s ‘Living in bondage’ set the stage for the home video explosion or revolution. It’s one step at a time, and if filmmakers are patient and if they play their cards right and there’s a numeric explosion in cinema chains alongside distributors who know their onions, then the concept is certainly attainable.
What about the African continent?
It’s good to start from somewhere and home happens to be the best place to start. However, I’m not limiting myself to our borders; I believe that film adaptations can be used by African filmmakers and producers. In fact some have begun to see the possibilities.