Funding and infrastructure remain Nollywood’s main setback – Biodun Stephen
Prolific filmmaker, Biodun Stephen is one of the female directors who is leading the way and inspiring the next generation with her works. She has produced top notch films like ‘Picture Perfect’, ‘The Visit’, ‘Ovy’s Voice’, the Africa Magic series, ‘Unbroken’ and more recently ‘Strangers’. In this interview with EDWIN USOBOH, the Edo State-born actress-turned-director talks about her love for crafts, her family and her latest project, “Stranger.”
You are among the elite filmmakers of Nollywood. What does the journey look like to achieve this feat?
Well, the journey so far has been straight and narrow, winding and bumpy. It was an opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn. It’s also an opportunity to grow as a filmmaker through collaborations, masterclasses, working with other senior colleagues and also learning from my junior colleagues.
I wouldn’t say the ride was smooth; it’s also humbling to be labeled as one of the elite filmmakers, but I’m happier that the works I’ve done are recognized and respected.
It’s a lot! As a filmmaker, you want to create pieces that people would find relevant and impactful and once they find their way, they find you relevant. I’m just glad that over the last few years the journey has been bumpy, had ups and downs, I’ve had my really ugly moments, but it’s been such a fun time to learn and unlearn and to absolutely enjoy the process of making a film and the appreciation for the work and all the hard work that goes into it. It’s really rewarding on top of that.
Among Nollywood fans and critics, Biodun Stephen’s name is to cinemas what Lionel Messi is to football. Would you say that you are now living your dreams?
You flatter me with some of the words you use. However, I just think again, I see filmmaking for me as a ministry. A ministry to speak a bit of truth to inspire, change lives, impact and highlight.
Also to highlight some topics that people can’t or don’t even talk about. For example, in Strangers, the story itself was exactly what I wanted to tell. Am I living the dream as a filmmaker? Well, not totally, but I’m very honored that my work is appreciated. It’s very humbling and also very pressing because you can’t just drop the ball.
There’s such an anticipation that comes with – Oh, it’s a Biodun Stephen movie. Biodun Stephen has his name on this project? So there is a certain standard that is expected. I don’t think about it yet as if I’m living my dream, but really, it’s a joy to tell stories through film, but it’s also such a pressure to try to live up to that expectation. It’s such pressure.
But for Strangers, I think it suits me perfectly as a kind of film that I would like to tell because it’s inspiring – Just watch the film. It’s such a great story and I love stories that have journeys, that take you on a journey and Strangers absolutely does that. It helps you to believe again – not just to believe in God, but to believe that your dreams are valid.
That’s what strangers do for you. It’s such a beautiful movie, I can’t wait for people to see it – Come on April 29.
As a director, what is unique or different about Strangers?
IIt’s a brilliant story of perseverance, a story that God can lift the stone to help you when He wants to – nothing can stop Him. It’s a story of relentlessness because the main character, the protagonist, was very relentless. It is a story that exemplifies excellence and diligence.
It is a moving story of a mother’s love. It has so many layers. It is also a story of faith because at the very heart of who we are is our creator who is God, and how he somehow orchestrates our paths in life.
Sometimes life’s challenges can take you off a certain path, but if you let go and let God, he will direct it as he wants. I really want people to come and see Strangers because it’s such a great story – it’s inspiring. You will believe again; you will smile, laugh. You will leave this room feeling good. That would strike a chord.
What’s it like taking the filming of Strangers to a remote area?
We wanted to do the film justice. We couldn’t go to the exact location the movie demanded but we found this beautiful place just on the outskirts of Oyo State somewhere so in the corner of the forest and we found this beautiful community . We had seen cattle and Fulani and were very worried about our safety but you would be surprised if it was Fulani, who spoke Oyo.
They were happy people and were so happy to have us. We made noise in this village and I remember that they cooked maize for us every day. They were such a warm community.
There was no power supply there. So we were like carriers of the vibrations. For the 10-12 days we were there it was such a joy to work and of course there was fresh oxygen to breathe in and it was also a peaceful place to work.
What factors do you pay attention to before embarking on a project?
History is king and that was what the outsiders had. It’s a beautiful, brilliant story that has never been told before. And that’s why I wanted to jump on this production and like I said, I literally begged the executive producer that I wanted to be on the project.
What motivated you to accept the job of directing the film?
At the end of 2018, I was introduced to evangelist Banji Adesanmi and we had talked on the phone about the project.
When he started telling me the story, I realized it was something I had read and it was pretty much what I wanted to do as a filmmaker. I like to tell very impactful and inspiring stories that speak to the truth of people and Strangers was exactly what I wanted. It was hard.
Actually, I’d let you into something – I wasn’t supposed to direct it. I don’t even think Evangelist considered me a director. He looked at me more for the production. I think I mentioned or implied that I would like to do this work.
It was just obvious when he told me the story. It was such a fascinating and inspiring story and I just knew it was such an honor to tell the story. I am very happy that he took this chance and gave me the opportunity to do it.
Funding remains a big issue for many filmmakers. How do you finance your projects?
I think funding is the major issue for us in Nollywood and we really hope that we can get international funding to help us. We can get creative loans.
Already we’ve seen that with the CBN creative loan coming in and I think with the funding we can do a lot more collaborations because if you got, I got, we got. If we put all our resources together, we can make the kind of film we want.
Collaborations can also help with funding. Government can provide support, as can international collaborations and grants. All of these can really help alleviate funding issues. But more importantly, when you get the financing, how do you explain the return on investment, which is very important?
Some Nollywood movies tend to do better than Hollywood movies in cinemas lately. Does it have something to do with quality or hype?
I don’t think it’s because of the hype. It’s more about quality because the story is king. This is the authenticity of the story. If the story is gripping and gripping, people will jump on it. And if you now add quality production and hype to that, it would go places, but the foundation of any movie is story.
So the story should be compelling; he must be powerful; it must be intriguing; it must be entertaining. It must suck you in. That’s when you’ll realize the value of production.
In what areas do you think Nollywood needs to improve and why? Infrastructure! Infrastructure!!
Infrastructure!!! We don’t even have the infrastructure to compete with Hollywood. We scratch the surface. Many of us are creating our own studios.
We really try to do the maximum and I always want to say this, I salute Nollywood, Nigerian filmmakers – we do the maximum with what little we have. Infrastructure is one of the main ways for us to even start making our life in Nollywood easier.
With your busy schedule, how do you decompress?
I like to sit and relax at home with my children. I just like being home, catching up on what I missed, hearing my kids tell me stories of things that happened around us, in their school, and I like watching TV. I’m a TV girl and I just love to sit and watch Lagos on TV and never get tired of it.
What does family mean to you and what kind of mother would you describe yourself?
Family is everything to me. I’m a working mom and try to be very hands-on. I am very lucky to have two children – a pre-teen and a teenager.
Luckily the days of diapers are over but now with the influence of social media you are even more active than before as there is so much going on around us and it is very easy to get caught up by all those rockers.
And I’m a praying mom, I’m an active mom, and I’m friends with my daughters, and I’m a stern mom. I wear the hat of the type of mom I want to be depending on what the current situation asks me to be.