Prince Jide Kosoko is a proven actor cum producer in the movie industry. In this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, he speaks about the state of the movie industry, President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposed 3 billion naira largesse to revolutionise the industry and other topical issues. Excerpts:
As a proven professional actor and producer who was a former president of the Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP), how do you feel when people rate the technical quality of your production low?
Let me make something clear to you, if you are comparing the technical quality of movies they produce in America and other developed nations around the globe to what we do in Nigeria, you won’t be fair in your judgement. People tend to forget that the kind of support foreign movie makers get from their governments in their countries is missing in Nigeria. We can’t produce beyond our financial capacity. Having said that, I make bold to say that despite the lack of support from government, I know some Yoruba movie producers, who still go the extra miles to produce quality movies despite the unfriendly condition in the country. It is sadden, but that is the situation of things on ground and I am particularly not happy about it.
A good percentage of the stakeholders in the industry have continued to blame their inability to produce quality movies on government, what exactly is the government not getting right?
Government did not see the industry as a sector where it can make money and that is why we have remained backward in terms of quality movie production. The fact is that there is no production that isn’t censored. We pay money into the censors board account, but government ought to be adding more to it to improve the industry, but that is not the case.
But it appears the government is ready to support your industry now with the announcement of new incentives. Why do you think the government is listening to you now?
The government is showing support now because it has started seeing the success stories of Nigeria film industry in the last few years on the pages of foreign newspapers and magazines. Nigeria was rated 3rd highest producing home video country in the world. I think that development gave them the impression that something good could actually come out of our industry, but before now, we were not reckoned with. The country would have made more money from movies over the years if the government had paid active attention to our yearnings and managed the industry properly.
It was reported that you were not being reckoned with because of lack of representation at the top level of governance, what was responsible for this?
We have made quite a lot of representation at the national level before now, but it yielded no positive result. You know we have various associations and guilds. Recently, we made presentations collectively. The first government that showed little support was under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime when he released 100 million naira to the industry. Even though the money was not given to individuals, I believe it was a step in the right direction for the industry that time.
What about the 200 million dollars largesse from the Federal Government that was said to have been released?
I heard about the money, but I don’t know about its whereabouts.
Are you saying that as a stakeholder in that industry, you don’t know how the money was distributed?
What I heard was that the money had been deposited at one industrial company and that some people have started benefitting from it. That is the only thing I know about the money, nothing more.
Who are those benefiting from the money?
I have not asked for any money personally, but I know that some people have asked for it and they were given certain conditions before the money can be released to them. That is not even what I am talking about, my interest is not in the distribution of the money. After looking at the situation of things on ground, my concern is that the money should be used to regulate the industry for optimal and maximum operation.
Some of your colleagues were said to have been clamouring that the money should be given to individuals to produce quality movies, are you aware of this?
I don’t know about that and I honestly don’t believe in such insinuations. Like I said, I am not concerned about giving money to individuals to produce movies. People have been producing movies before the money was released so if the government can create that enabling environment for the practitioners, we won’t be looking for funds to produce our movies.
But they believe that if they lay their hands on the money, they will produce quality movies, don’t you support that?
I want to use this medium to appeal to my colleagues who have been calling on the leadership of the association to go and collect their share of the 200 million naira dollars to calm down. People have been saying ‘certain people’ have benefitted, but those who have been saying that don’t know the criteria that was used before the money was released to them, but I am yet to ascertain which production that has benefited from the money. It is so unfortunate that we have the best hands in the industry but they have nothing to show for it because of lack of funds.
What about the lack of structure and distribution network in the industry?
The lack of structure is another problem we are facing, because no bank will support your project without a structure, no matter how good your script is. If we have a good distribution network, banks will be chasing producers about. No bank will want to stake any amount, no matter how small. What I have been agitating is that the government should help facilitate the proper revolution of the industry through regulatory bodies.
At the recently concluded Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) held in Lagos, none of the Yoruba actors and actresses that was nominated in various categories won the award, what does this portend for the industry?
I was not happy that despite our hard work and improvement over the years, we were not able to win except Tunde Kelani. I think we have to give it to those South African producers; they have done greatly in the last few years by trying to work on their scripts and the quality of their productions. So, if they were rewarded for a job well done, I don’t have any reason to be against it. It was indeed a deserved honour.
But some of your colleagues have stepped up their game too in terms of script writing and technical finesse, why do you think they were not as lucky as their counterparts who swept the awards?
You have to appreciate good things and by so doing, you will get to learn from your mistakes and come up with something greater when you are appearing on the screen the next time. The fact remains that our producers have done well too, but I am not one of the judges and I don’t know the criteria they used to arrive at that conclusion. Talking about movie production in Africa, Nigeria is still ranked as the number one, but we have to live up to that level; we don’t just say it, we have to show the rest of the world that we are no lazy people, we know our jobs very well and we can compete with any producer in the world if we have the financial support of the government.
The young ones appear to have lost hope in the elders of the association, hence their resolve to have threatened to back out from the association. What are you doing to convince them to stay?
I don’t know about anybody dumping the association and I don’t want to believe it exists. But if it is true, I want to believe something is wrong somewhere. Let me be sincere with you, the youth have never been left in the dark about any of the steps our elders are taking. Another fact that most of them don’t want to appreciate is that we have taken the trade to a level where some of them should come out to take over from us, but none of them is showing interest. Even those who showed interest before now have not been enough commitment like before.
Are the elders tired?
I never said we are tired, what I am saying is that the young ones should come out and take over from where we are about to stop. Whether we like it or not, we will leave the stage one day for these young chaps. The youth have been briefed several times about the outcome of our reconciliation process. I can tell you categorically that we are making a huge progress and we are on the verge of saving the industry. In a matter of days, we will be coming up with some programmes that would not only change the face of movie making in Nigeria, but would give our people the confidence and trust in the leadership of the association.
How can you possibly achieve all these with the disunity among practitioners in the industry with a large percentage of the Yoruba actors and actresses not being reckoned with?
What do you mean by disunity? The industry is one as far as I am concerned. Whatever discrepancies you might have noticed in the past will soon be a forgotten issue. Thank God the government is listening to our yearnings now. I am optimistic that we will soon put all these problems behind us. There is love in unity, that’s why we are calling on all practitioners to join hands with one another for the sake of our jobs.
Why do you think the young ones don’t trust the elders anymore?
Don’t forget that this is a major means of livelihood for most of them, if things are not going properly, they have the right to voice their discomfort. The young ones are looking up to us and we cannot afford to miss the golden opportunity we have now to put the house in order. The fact that we also have children in this profession makes it very important for us to do things rightly. I am sure we would have gone far if the government had paid attention to us before now, but above all, we thank God that things have started to take the right shape as a result of government’s intervention and our togetherness.
Why did it take leadership of the association so long before taking these steps?
It is quite difficult than what you can just explain because we have different practitioners who joined the association for different reasons and you have to learn how to manage all of them. The usual saying then was Karin kapo, yiye ni yeni, meaning (the more, the merrier), but that has not helped us. In fact, it has bastardised the industry.
So you have been managing mediocrity in the industry?
You can’t rule out that, it is not a peculiar problem. You have mediocre in every craft that is money spinning. Don’t narrow it down to our industry alone because if one is not careful, the moment this interview gets published, what you will hear next are false tales, so let me make myself clear. You have those who are in the industry to make money; those who are there because they love acting and core professionals who have passion for the work and they want to make a difference with their productions. Look at ANTP today, 80 per cent of the membership have other things they do aside acting and producing. Some of them have no business in acting in the first place.
How do you define a situation whereby a practitioner’s movie is being funded by a marketer who does not care about the ethics of the profession?
How do you define a situation where the owners of the industry have failed to provide a regulated necessary entry for those who don’t know about the profession to come in? How do you define a situation where the so-called professionals did not handover to the marketers the condition for a proper working relationship? It is wrong in the first place for actors and marketers to be under the same umbrella. But I don’t blame them, we caused it and we have ourselves to blame today for that.
Can an unregulated association tell anyone that he cannot practice?
No way! That is the dilemma we have found ourselves today.
With the new wind of change blowing in the industry now and the cordial relationship that exists between these young actors, especially the ladies who throw themselves at marketers cheaply and the men who go cap in hand to seek financial support, don’t you think you are starting another war that will pitch the young ones against the elders?
Initially, the young ones thought we wanted to stop them from producing, no thanks to the marketers who called some of our young producers and said they should not listen to the elders. Interestingly, some of these marketers do come to my office to lobby for their producers. I told them I had set up a committee to handle the guild. I told them to tell their producers to go and team up with guild and convince the guild that they are good enough to do it. So, the war had started before now and it was engineered by the marketers and some greedy members of my association. There are some marketers at Idumota that are not supposed to be called marketers or distributors who are still there; those who cannot boast of three square meals a day.
Despite your spirited efforts to bring back the lost glory of the association, some people are still of the opinion that you have not done anything to better their lot, how do you react to this?
I am sad, and I will tell you why. I am sad because a lot of our people are ungrateful. They don’t understand what we are talking about and they don’t care. I understand everybody wants to make money, but that does not mean you should bastardise the system. You can make cool money on acting alone without producing movies. I have not produced a movie for the past nine years, but I have been surviving. I act in other people’s movies and I collect my money if I am satisfied with the fee. Yomi Fash-Lanso has never produced a film and he’s very comfortable. Point to any of those actors that produce films indiscriminately and tell me what they have achieved. They don’t know they are working for somebody else. It is unfortunate that we have sold our birth rights to marketers; we produce a film and sell it outrightly to them. In a proper setting, that you are giving me money to produce a film does not make you the owner of my film, but our people don’t know this. The first owner of a film is the one that writes the scripts, that’s what the copyright law says.