interviewBy Anozie Egole
"Ije The Journey" has become a household name in the Nigerian box office. The film which was first shot in 2010, made unexpected impression. The brain behind the much talked about movie, Chiene Ayaene, speaks on the secret behind the success of the movie vis-a vis how she achieved getting Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Genevieve Nnaji on her sets.
After two years you produced the award-winning movie, Ije: The Journey, would you say you are better off today?
I wouldn't say I made much money from the film. We should all understand that the cinema owners have their rules and regulations. It depends on the contract you have with them. I have not recovered my money. I have only made N60 million and I think the film did well in the Nigerian box office at that time. Most movies internationally do not make their money from cinemas because of the percentages.
I have not recouped the money I spent on producing the film. But I hope to do so very soon. I made more money from cinema in Nigeria because the percentage was considerable compared to what I was getting in London and America and even in some parts of Africa. I know that with streaming online and DVD, I will surely recoup my investment.
How much did it cost you to shoot the movie?
I spent so much money shooting the movie as well as publicising it. Fortunately, I am still spending. Now, it will cost you not less than N100m to make a big budget movie. So, when you make N60 million, you still have about N50 million to level up. I'm convinced, with debuting Ije on DVD, I will continue to make more money in years to come.
How did the journey begin?
Ije was a product of my school project. You know, when we were in school, we always shoot 15-minute films with a lot of money. You could spend like $20,000 shooting a 15-minute film, a film that will bring any return on investment. I then asked myself, I have to look for a way to make this movie commercially viable instead of wasting time and money with no gain in return.
What were your reasons for featuring Genevieve and Omotola in Ije?
When I came back to Nigeria, I was so excited with what Nollywood practitioners were doing. I told myself that I wanted to shoot a film here and since I cannot afford to pay Hollywood stars, I decided to use the best of the bests in Nollywood. It was so challenging. I was having in mind that this project is too big for me. The director was telling me that I should shoot it like a simple story.
But I was determined to do a big-budget movie. At the initial stage, both Genevieve and Omotola declined to star in Ije, because, according to them, it was a caught room drama and it is normally very challenging. And I didn't have time. I needed something different. I know Nigeria have a lot of romantic movies. So, I decided to produce a different kind of film . I needed to be challenged intellectually that was why I did the film.
How were you able to get the two actresses to star in the movie?
As I said earlier, it was very challenging. I had to come down here to discuss with Omotola. It was a battle to meet with her "face to face". In fact, I would say, I contacted her for the project for the first time on Facebook. After discussing with Omotola, she agreed and said that I should get back to her with the script.
Then, I started looking for Genevieve. I searched for her all over Lagos without any success. When I finally got to her, she told me she was in London. I had to fly to London. When I got to London, I called her and asked where she was, she told me she was in a coffee shop. When I got there, she told me, you have been harassing me with calls, what is it?
I told her yes. When she read the script, she liked it. As a marketer, you have to sell yourself. You have to know how to convince people. Even after that day, they still didn't believe me. I told them to trust me that they should give me the chance and if they don't like what I am doing, they should feel free to leave.
To them, it was not really all about the money. Though, I paid them because it was not free. They saw the vision in me and wanted something different. And when we came on set, they were like, OK she is serious. I would not blame them. It was my first time and I was very nervous. I always tell actors, don't underrate people, you do not know who will be the next superstar. They should learn how to give people a chance because, they will get there someday.
Omotola and Genevieve have been at logger-head for some time now and they featured in your movie. Was there any kind of face-off when they came on set?
I don't like gossip and I don't believe in it. I heard about the news before I came looking for them in Nigeria. But I was looking at them as actresses and their talents. I do not care if you have problems or not. I think it is all about the film making. The director is the sailor that tells the ship where to go.
So whatever you put in the set is what every other person there will follow. So, I didn't notice anything. They were very cordial and respected each other. And I respected the two parties. It was strictly professional. There was no time to smile on the set. The only time for that was launch break.
All we want to do is to do the business and get out of the place. When I work, it is strictly professional. Keep your business outside and let us do the business here. I never wanted to interfere in there private life. I know I had a mission and I was working towards that.
Was there any tension while on the set?
Of course, there is always tension on set. I think it was not much with Genevieve and Omotola. Whenever it is there turn to go on set, I always smile because they are professionals. When they come on set after their make-up and everything, you will see the body chemistry working and you will see professionals acting.
So, you will forget the tension. I saw on set that they love their job. They are not acting because of money; they are there because they love acting. When other actors/actresses come on set, you will be scared if they will forget what to do or not.
Would you say that the movie brought both actresses together?
I don't know. Professionally, I think they did the work together. I don't want to intrude into their private lives. They worked and stayed together and after the job, everybody left.
What is your source of finance for this kind of capital intensive project?
My source of finance was my family. My mother was the brain behind the success story of Ije.
What lessons have you learnt so far from this production?
I think the lessons I have learnt is from marketing and distribution. I thought shooting a film was not difficult until I gave it a trial. So, I have learnt how to plan ahead of time in the area of marketing and distribution. I have learnt how to work hard and to have patience. I shot the movie in 2008, registered it 2009 and now in VCD 2012.
With the 6,000 outlets flashed everywhere for the distribution. How do you intend to fight piracy?
If a film is pirated, it is a big problem. The major problem we are having now is piracy. I will not give them that chance to pirate my work. I swear to God, I am going to invest in them. Like I always say, the pirates will sell and I will sell. But I will not be happy if my work is pirated.
Was there any time you get tired?
Of course, sometimes you think the whole thing has gotten to an end. You will feel like quitting. But as such time, I try to encourage myself without looking at people's faces. As I always tell people that success is doing what you like doing. Even though there is no money from it, you are happy anytime you see that. There is this inner joy and satisfaction you will derive and that has always been pushing me forward.