Exclusive Interview with OC Ukeje (Part I)

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OC Ukeje and Viva Naija

OC Ukeje was in town for the UK premiere of his new film When Love Happens, and I know I have already waxed lyrical about the film, so I’ll stop for now (Come, why have you not seen it yet?? Odeon. Any Odeon. Showing now. Oya now now as I’m looking at you!).

But I had to wangle an interview with OC Ukeje. Aka Boo of laive. They’re many. I know. I’m seeking help. My therapist is aware. He very graciously accepted to meet on Sunday, his one day off from…I dunno…superstar tinz, so I was over there like a shot.

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We met for coffee and chats. He is funny, he is suave, he is charming, and only the Holy Spirit helped me that yesterday o! Only Him.

Here are the notes from yesterday. This isn’t structured with any rhyme or reason. We had fun, we laughed, I asked questions, he answered them:

VN: I watched a previous interview where you said that Hollywood is now making allowances for non-English films to get a look-in by way of a new category – Language Films. Now that the opportunity is there, how can we get to that level of being good enough?

I think the first thing we need to do is to be honest with ourselves. That our standards need to improve. The fact that we make money within our own society does not mean that we are Oscar-worthy. We have to continue to strive for perfection at a global level, not just at a Nigerian level.

We need to find opportunities along the value chain that will impact on quality and have an impact on profit too. Marketers and producers are concerned that if you spend all this money on a project, will it not still sell the same as a film that is created in 2 weeks? So the producers have to show that better-made films are worth watching; the actors have to want to attach their names to quality productions; the audience have to support the industry by putting their money into cinema tickets for quality productions.

OC Ukeje and Viva Naija
See Rachel of Viva Naija shining teeth like she has never seen fine boy before

VN: It seems you have been this way from the beginning though. Right from the start, you have attached your name to really good work. How did you find the crack in the industry? Or did you make a crack?

(Laughs) There was absolutely NO crack when I started. Marketers called the shots and producers had to make the sort of films that would sell. The producers who were doing passion projects did it from their own savings, so if you worked with them, you knew you would get paid little or no money. Everyone said my dreams were Hollywood dreams and simply not the way things were done here. The commerce of the business meant that the rapidly-shot videos worked, they made money, so there was no quality control or reason to change it.

However, evolution of the arts; a new middle class audience and social media along to crumble the old ways and brought a gap – the exact gap I’d been preparing and waiting for. So when it happened, I was right at the forefront ready to be picked.

VN: But I still don’t understand how the Film Industry was not ready for the change. The Music Industry has been changing for a while now. Right from Styl-Plus and Plantashun Boiz, it was clear that this wasn’t King Sunny Ade tinz anymore. Why did the film industry not try to get on the same bandwagon of change at that time?

Oh, we knew about the change, but there was no documentation. Listen, there are certain parts of corporate Nigeria who wanted to get involved, back films, and make it work. But we simply had no figures, no stats, no records. If a concert sells out, a businessman knows what he’s working with. If you have a million views on YouTube, you can get a sense of your ROI. But Nollywood couldn’t bring convincing figures to investors, and they got cold feet.

Change requires funding. You need time to make the film. It’s not the same as a music video. During this time, you will need cameras, cast, lighting etc. Now the film is ready, you have marketers, bloggers, TV and radio shows – how many people want to share the profit? When the film is ready, how many cinemas do we have in Nigeria? All of it requires money, unfortunately, and Nollywood couldn’t present itself as a viable investment.

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VN: What a palaver! Okay, so let’s talk about you for a minute. With your impressive back catalogue of work, do you still have to audition these days or do you get work just written for you?

It usually happens in one of three ways. The first is “We wanna do a film and we think you’d be perfect for it. How much do you charge?” Hahaha! Naija sha! I’m like can I see the script first before we even talk price? But yes, if it’s good, then I take the work.

The second, sometimes, a script is written with me in mind, but the director or someone else doesn’t agree for a reason. I will be invited to do a closed audition, which I truly do not mind. Casting is very important.

The final one is getting work outside of Nigeria where I may still have to show my acting chops. It’s not quite standing in a corridor with a thousand other hopefuls, I’m grateful for some of the good work I’ve done, but it is still auditioning.

VN: Aha! And what are you working on right now?

It’s a play that will come on in Lagos – 1st to the 4th October. It’s called London Life, Lagos Living. Directed by Kenneth Uphopho and produced by Kemi Lala Akindoju.

Click through to part 2 for the really juicy stuff – how does he feel about being a sex symbol?? What are his thoughts on online dating? Click here one time for your holy mind >>

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