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Ex Chairman of Actors Guild of Nigeria,Ernest Obi was on location weeks back,putting together a movie title(ONE DROP OF BLOOD).While on set,he manage to squeeze out extra time and talks about Nollywood.

How is the shoot going?

Very stressful but like they say, the show must go on.

Why would it be stressful seeing that you have some very experienced actors and crew members here?

It has been a great experience but I honestly wish I was shooting this movie some ten, fifteen years ago. Then people were still passionate about stories than what we see nowadays. I guess I am even still lucky that I have some of the older hands because I am sure that if it were the younger ones .things will be worse off than it is because these days everybody wants to shoot for a day or two and run off to another set, should I call it the poverty syndrome where it is not about the creative or artistic part or the professional aspect of movie making anymore but it about where is the next job coming from so that I can round up with this one on time and move unto the next one and it is sad really. Maybe that is , what depresses me at times when I am working. It was not like this ten fifteen years ago. I personally believe that things have taken a downward turn. This was not the pace we used to work with these days everybody is so laid back and relaxed that you as a director need to work five times as hard to get things done

But at the same time there looks to be an upward turn in the fortunes of Nollywood, a clear demarcation from the Onitsha Films-the straight to video titles and the Cinema movies. What do you attribute this to?

I don’t want to be a judge of anybody’s work but I don’t think there is a huge difference between a movie shot for the Onitsha market and the Cinema, maybe just a few. I have seen a few at the cinemas and I was a bit disappointed because I ask myself why would I want to go to Cinema and watch this crap. But like I have always said everybody has creative or artistic license. We are not yet there. I personally think that movies which are shot for the Onitsha Market or Asaba, it is actually called ASABA WOOD are an embarrassment. This is a place where people work at ridiculous paces and hours to churn out extremely low quality movies with little or no content. It is just about the number of movies you can make at a given time and not about the quality of the movies. It has totally killed the Industry. There is simply no way to describe it or tell you what is going on but like I said everything has been commercialized, the actor has been commercialized, the director, if you can call most of these people directors ; the technical crew. I mean it is so bad that anybody who can switch on a camera in Asaba is a Camera man, anybody who has enough gumption to mouth the word action automatically becomes a director. It is depressing and it is so sad.

But it is still our Industry, isn’t there something we can do to clean things up?

The obvious answer will be that with time things can change. When w e started, it was about the passion for the job, it was not about money.

We wanted to do things right, lay emphasis on details but now it is not the same. Then we blamed the rot on the so called marketers, the actors wanted to do a good job now it is the other way round. It is the marketers who want to do things right and all that the actors are interested in is how to make money. It is now about who has the most expensive car, who lives in Lekki and who becomes the next Glo ambassador. It is no longer about creative excellence. You see a situation when somebody is on your set and he is already collecting money for four other movies and he is telling you the director to hurry up and shoot his scenes in two days so he can move unto the next set. He tells you that he the actor has budgeted that he should not spend more than two or three days on your set. It is ridiculous. As for how we are going to change things, my brother, there is no industry yet. What we have is a hugely financially uplifting and thriving business but we don’t have an industry yet. Ghana has an industry, we don’t. We don’t have guilds that are functional. We are not members of the labor union. We don’t have a marketers union that is streamlined, they are disjointed, there is discord everywhere. There is a producers guild that does not know how many members it has, a directors guild that has no control over its members where anybody can waltz in even if he cannot read a script and call himself a director. So how do you even go about correcting things? Where do you start?

Are we not the ones who created this monster?

We are based on the fact that a lot of us took the back seat when we should not have because we were tired of the whole mess. You know people complain that the deterioration came in when we allowed Ghanain actors in but I don’t think so. I think that Nigeria still has the most fantastic actors in Africa. The problem is the commercialization of our brand. Our actors have lost integrity. They have lost the right to say I want to be in a good film. I call it the hunger syndrome. There is a poverty syndrome and there is a hunger syndrome. When the poverty syndrome sets in, you have an actor who wants to do as many jobs as possible. He is humble and his humility envelopes you. then when he thinks he has made a headway the hunger syndrome sets in, he wants to be in as many movies as possible because now he is no longer satisfied with the money he has in his account, he continually wants more so he is no longer bothered with the artistic or creative quality of the movies he is in. all he wants is more money and that is the worst thing that can happen to an actor.

You started out as an actor and I am sure that you still act. If you are to compare acting and directing which one is more fulfilling for you?

They are both fulfilling in different ways. One of the major reasons why I went into directing was because I saw a lot of lapses from the directorial and I said to myself “Ernest quit complaining you go do this thing and do it right” I love acting. I was passionate about acting but I am not keen on acting anymore because you ask yourself what are the stories being told nowadays? We keep churning out the same stories over and over. But based on the frustrating nature of directing for directors in Nigeria, maybe I will just stick to the acting because it does take a lot to be a director in Nigeria, maybe I will just stick to the acting.

You are the immediate past Chairman of the Actors Guild Lagos Chapter, how far did you go in your assignment towards moving the industry forward?

I went very far without leaving where I was. I have the tag of being a rebel, rebel because I refuse to kow tow with the norm. I think things should be done right but all said and done at the end of the day you are one single individual facing a community that is absolutely resistant to change in any form. If you are not careful you “rebellious voice” gets drowned out. There were too many challenges, too many problems that were beyond me and then we don’t love ourselves. Nobody wants to join you in doing what is right and nobody wants to even support you. in the actors guild you are caught in a quagmire where nothing you do is right. Everybody waits for you to climb into a position and they immediately start looking for how to drag you into their mud.

So what does the future look like for Nollywood as we know it now?

I will start by saying that we heard that the President of the country released 200 million dollars to the entertainment industry which is not just the film industry but also music and the rest. That money like we heard was released to an industry without structures, without enabling laws to help the practitioners. Let’s give ourselves four years, come back and ask me what happened to that money and we will find out that it would have gone the same way that the others that have been released to us without us knowing have gone. A few people will come together, claim to be who they are not, share that money and the groove goes on. You ask me about Nollywood. Nollywood will go as far as breaking into fragments where people will do their own things without a re-course to the associations and guilds. It has already started. That will go very far and Nollywood will come to the brink of collapse. It will look as if it is going to die. It almost died last year due to what was being churned out of Asaba. We had movies into part one to eight or ten and people are paid for one movie. And when you call our a-list stars, the people who are actually reaping from it to a meeting, they are not interested. They are at one location or the other. The only time they remember you is when they run into problems and they need the guild to intervene. So it will disintegrate and probably come back, probably.

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