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Nollywood Filmmakers Can Build a Better Nigeria!

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

In this last part of Filmtalk with Mathew Simpa, words of advice can never be enough for young film industry practitioners as much as they should be humble and willing to learn professionally.

Video Editor at Galaxy TV, Ibadan 2019

Efefiong: You’re now Head of Department film production of Ben Auto Entertainment.

Matthew: Oh no! That is history now! I am no more with Ben Auto. In fact, in between time I’ve consulted for a TV station. I'm now on my own; but the

thing is, I still have a relationship with Ben Auto. This movie, Ito Okunrin was funded by Ben Auto; but I'm no longer actively working for them.

Efefiong: Okay; so, but that's a serious collaboration. You know, we were talking about funding. I mean, if businesses can fund the film industry, then there could be a way out. So, how would you recommend collaboration between business and film.

Mathew: Yeah! Well, the thing is first we need to understand that film business is business. They say, ‘There's No Business Like Show Business.’ To me, most of us in Nigeria still don't understand that filmmaking is business. They think it is a play, you know. When we were growing up you say, we want to watch play. In some places they'll still tell you, there's a play going on TV. They look at it that way.

I've worked with some people whose idea of film business is so ridiculous. How can people be thinking like this now? In the first place, moviemaking needs thorough planning. Like contracts, agreements and all those things. However, by and large a lot of Nigerians at least those that are related with film, don't take these things serious.

Some people hate signing agreements. They try to run away from this. Project collaborations need to be spelled out on paper, black and white. As a matter of fact, I'm secretary to the committee on co-productions in the film Producers’ Summit that I told you about. In our report we recommended proper documentation; proper paperwork before any co-production deal is supported. We recommended that when we finally sit down to collaborate and formalize, committees should have oversights. They should check all the agreements; sign the ‘ts’ and dot the ‘ís.’ So that there won't be any chance for anybody breaching agreements.

It's always because of breach of trust that things collapse; but you know banks come together. Accountants come together. In fact, you can't as an accountant have a company on your own. It's always done in partnership. Even law firms do it; so why can't we do it. I think we need to seriously sit down and not be afraid of putting things down on paper. Maybe a lot of people fear that in the future they can be taken to court; but if you want to go far, you must be willing to go through all this.

Efefiong: It irks me. I feel for Nigerian Arts; because if people cannot afford to trust and collaborate, it means that we cannot even run our guilds.

Matthew: Yes!

Efefiong: That's a big issue; if you cannot run guilds well, how will you now run businesses?

Mathew: I don’t know how we are going to solve it; but that's the only way out. When you watch average American and Indian, even Korean films, there will be like ten producers; five executive producers. You will have co-producers; so, you have some companies coming. I mean more than two, three companies coming together to do this project. So, I wouldn't know if they are not human beings like us. I don't know, why we have problems like that. We do not really understand what gains are in collaborations.

You know the Yorubas have this saying that, it is when you clasp hands together that you can beat your chest. You can't beat your chest with one finger now. People will say you are a dunce; so, we need to really reconsider. The guilds, in fact it's another story entirely. Well, it is what it is, like they say.

Efefiong: In Yorubahood. Let me use the word Yorubahood there used to be this collaborative effort; where you could even do something on credit for somebody. I mean pro bono; and somebody else will ‘repay’ pro bono. Why is that spirit not manifesting in the real business itself?

Mathew: I don't know about now; maybe they still do it among themselves. Of course, at a point I regretted not sticking to them much longer than I did. You know, anytime any of them had problems, they would come together and work on movies for the person. You could easily approach a Yoruba person and say Ore(friend) this is my problem. I have little money. Can you help me do this and it usually worked for them. I think to some extent, they are still doing it. It's just that they don't do it in a big way. I wouldn't know for the other woods that you have out.

Efefiong: During pre-digital era, you helped in the production of a celluloid film, Jangulabi (1988). I respect the fact that you started from celluloid. You knew about reverse technology. How did this experience really build you?

Mathew: Well, you know back then we were really using so to say stone age technology compared to now.

Efefiong: Some people would say celluloid was the thing.

Mathew: Yes of course compared to what we have now. Celluloid technology wasn't commonplace. You couldn't easily buy one; though at the time I bought myself a Super8 camera. But it wasn't something you could easily take and use like they do these days. So, you had to learn how to use all those things the hard way.

Now I remember having to load the films in what was… I've forgotten the name for now. The casing that I put the film, when you are mounting it on the camera. It's not something we did in the open. There was this black bag in which you put it. You put the…I think it's blimp. Something you put the film in and tread it through.

You won't look at it; but felt, put and thread it. You must thread it right; otherwise, it would jam in the camera. Or you do it in the darkroom. So it was that kind of orientation I had. I never had the opportunity to do things as easily as people coming into industry right now. I learnt the hard way.

Of course, it has enabled me do much with little. If I have like five six million, what I would do, may even beat what somebody with 20; 30 million would do. I know my way around, when it comes to even editing. I learnt you know, everything I needed to learn; while we were using reversal technology. That is still impacting on me now.

Efefiong: Well, I am still talking to Matthew Simba, whose experience can be really enriching. Which among the roles: screenwriter, producer, director or cinematography, perhaps acting are your favourites or strong points?

Mathew: Actually, if I had my choice, it would be screenwriting. I could just stay indoors, write my script and send it out without needing to interact with anybody. Otherwise, only if they ask me to come on set. That one would really help me avoid a whole lot of conflicts. But you know, the country in which we found ourselves, forced me to do everything.

I started out as an assistant director like I said; but even before then was already trying my hands at writing. I wanted to be a writer, when I came out; but there was no role for writers then. Later the opportunity came and I wrote.

I also think directing will be better for me; because it is the ultimate in the whole chain. It is actually the director's film. It is the director that conceives gives shape to the whole thing. So, I'd really like to be a director and be in full control. Because, if I write my script and give it to somebody the person may not direct it well. As a matter of fact, I didn't direct Oto Okurin. I could even have done some things differently. So that's the way it is.

Efefiong: What's your evaluation of those roles in terms of skills, education, labour rights and guilds organization in Nigeria?

Mathew: Well judging by what I see on screens, I don't know how to really thumbs-up for

screenwriting. For example, I watched the Blood Sistas. Is that not the film that, that late guy produced? I'm sorry to say. I don't understand how you could write a thing like that and put it on screen; in a big place like that. That kind of crime that was committed. No, I don't know! Maybe I have not really moved in those circles to know how big crimes can be done and then not found out.

So, it’s like screenwriting is weak, you get my point? I've watched some of those movies like that. I've not really seen anyone among them that I can say the screenwriting is really superb. But when it comes to directing, I think directing is okay. A lot of directors get their acts very well. Then to edit, yeah editing at least for Nollywood (that is not counting Yorubawood and Hausawood) I think editing is really something you can thumbs-up for.

Recording an interview at Farewell Crusade of Evangelist Reinhardt Bonnke, 2017

For guilds, I don't really know how they are helping their people. I'm not really involved; but I’m in just one, GEMPC, Guilds of Elite Motion Picture Producers and Content Producers. So, I don't know how they run the other guilds; but from fillers I'm getting they really aren’t doing much for themselves. Maybe ANMD, Association of Nollywood Movie Directors is trying, but most other ones, just a few of them are up there. They try to corner everything and marginalize the others.

Efefiong: How do we now face this issue of screenwriting in Nigeria; because people complain a lot? I mean screenwriting education is very important. You don't even have to go to campus to earn degree to become a writer. But how do we help students in Nigeria. How do we have that aspect; the foundation of filmmaking. Okay you read about Parasite, the Korean film. How it blew up in Hollywood and it was a fantastic story.

In Nigeria people keep saying we are trying. We are facing problems, but then what stops us from trying harder? What is the problem? Is it education? Is it willingness to do it well? Is it about earning immediate money or that producers are killing the writing industry?

Mathew: You have nailed it down to two, three things. One is that people instantly put out whatever they write. If I tell you that Oto Okurin has been with me for like six, seven years now, you won't believe. It evolved from being a short story, a short film to being a feature length film now. I'd wanted to do it as a short film long time ago; but when the right time came, I expanded.

The screenplay I wrote about a teacher, a woman who helps fight for women's right and others has already been finished. But something came up and I said okay, I will revise it. I'm not even showing it to anybody. It's just between me and my wife. I'm not in a hurry to get this thing out. I need to be sure that this story is really going to have an impact. I don't see many people doing that you know.

In Nigeria we are not very much given to taking our time to do anything. Then of course, people don't really want to pay for screenplays and stories. So, there's no incentive to want to sit down and really write good stories. I've had complaints.

I was involved in a project like that around 2012. I got a story from a guy and said we should pay just 12,000 back then. The executive producer refused. Now, if you want to build a house won’t you pay for land? Don’t you know that story is known as (intellectual) property in filmmaking?

It is a property; you have to pay for it. Of course, they didn't pay the guy and it was really painful. I think they still basically do it. Only a few people get money for their stories and screenplays. So that is kind of discouraging!

Efefiong: We have heard about some Nigerian movies winning awards abroad. Sometimes….

Mathew: Who gave those awards? You know, its people coming together to award themselves. Have you won an Oscar? Have we won a Film Door? What award have our films really won abroad; so, until we begin to work like others work; like the Koreans. Until we begin to do things like that, we can't get far.

Like you and I have tried to train people in screenwriting. They are not willing to even learn. I've had some people send me scripts. They will summarize the cast the props and everything in the screenplay. That's during the narration, you know. You know the narration is not supposed to be screen directed. They just write things that will not cut ice in the international scene. So, I think we need to learn. We need to want to learn.

Efefiong: What if someone like you wants to you know branch out from all this noise and have a regular storytelling and screenwriting summit once in a while?

Mathew: Well, it will depend on having money. That's why I'm not even in a hurry to do anything now. I could easily, between my wife and I gather maybe a few hundred thousand and do something. But then where would that get me. So, I've made up my mind to come out with something that at least would be of standard. Something that even the international community can see and say yes, this is worthwhile.

Efefiong: A word of advice for the young ones coming and the ones that are not practicing well.

Mathew: We need to be humble you know? They just believe, because they make money that makes

them. No! It's not all about money. There's this Yoruba adage, sorry I grew up among Yorubas, so I'm more adept.

Efefiong: Where are you from?

Mathew: I’m Ibira from Kogi State. They (Yorubas) say the hand of a child cannot reach a tall object; neither can the hand of an adult enter a gourd; you understand? So, what an adult will see sitting down, a young person will have to stand up to look; even tiptoe to see it. So, once they are ready to learn from us adults and veterans, they will make a headway. But you know moving close to some of them they can be arrogant. They can be downright arsenene.

Sometimes I just decide to just let them be. I’ve worked with even some editors. You know when they edit you wonder.

Recently I had to work with some editors, here in Abeokuta. I paid them to do the job, but I had to teach them how to edit. The simple things about editing they didn't even seem to know. They were surprisingly established editors. One of them was even said to be the best; if not one of the best in Abeokuta. They would not even want to listen to advice; so, I just let him be. But they have to be humble and be ready to learn.

Efefiong: Well to close this interview, let me just give you a personal experience. In recent

times, I watched STV and they were interviewing two professors. One was first female mass communication professor in Nigeria. She assessed that TV has now been devalued; because the value and skills of presenters had fallen. One of the TV program presenters wondered what other sector in Nigeria has not lost value. Where do we go from here; especially for the media?

Mathew: Incidentally you know I worked in TV. When I was at Black drum TV, I had a running battle with a presenter. She just didn't even care, first thing about ethics of the profession you understand. She was arrogant; not ready to take instructions and all that.

She was good at presenting; but you know not with what could make the show last. She was not ready to give it. I began to wonder what causes all this? But then having met some of their lecturers in mass communications departments, I cannot, but conclude that, it is what they learned that are practicing. Some of their teachers are half-baked; so, it's what they teach them that they practice. So okay, yeah; every sector has been degraded; and all that. But you see: television is a journalistic medium, huh?

Efefiong: Yeah!

Mathew: It's supposed to be part of the fourth estate of the realm; so, if it is devalued, how do you now help the other sectors to regain values?

Even film, is supposed to be at the vanguard of changing society. So, if we too have lost our own value, how do we now build value in society? That's the tragedy of the whole thing. So, people, who want to change society are themselves not changed.

Efefiong: Thank you so much Mathew Simpa. We are on Facebook and Instagram. At; if you go to our site. Thank you so much! Do have a nice day!

Mathew: All right!

Efefiong/Mathew: Bye-bye!

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