Chris Ihidero’s love for TV drama cannot be hidden. He is presently head writer on Mnet’s raving TV Drama, Hush. He produced MTV Shuga and brought us the many episodes of Fuji House of Commotion. Chris is a master storyteller, a chip off the late Amaka Igwe. Who walks away from his PhD to be a movie maker? Chris. He is an award winning producer, director and writer. According to him, discipline and training trumps talent eventually. CPAfrica spoke with Chris and bring you the juicy details.
You are more known as a television Series producer. Why TV?
My training in Television started when I joined Amaka Igwe Studios in 2007 as a Training Unit Director. Before then, I had done stage as an actor and director for 10 years, so my introduction into motion pictures came through Television. Television allows you to tell longer stories. It gives you time and resources to tell fuller stories.
There’s a constant battle between whether I prefer TV or film making. TV is currently pretty interesting to me because, for want of better words, the film making is largely comatose in Nigeria as we speak. So, I find TV more interesting at the moment. Some of the best works that are being done anywhere in the world right now is on TV. Look at the U.S. for instance. All the big players in film are going to TV. Franchises rule Hollywood now. The studios are playing it safe with stories. They need to know the stores will return investments.
In Nigeria, I think the future is TV. The atmosphere has changed, even if deep down, I’m a film person. I do short films because they give me opportunities to address issues. The issues I have are often tough issues and it won’t be done in a full feature film because that’s going to be a big risk in a market that hardly returns investment even though I will never make any film that has nothing to say. Short films allow me to say what I want to say and as harsh as I want to without encumbrance like I did with Big Daddy. It talks about rape and I put it there – what I hope rape victims would do to their rapists – shoot them. And that was what happened in Big Daddy.
Would you ever produce a Nollywood big hit?
Absolutely, Yes. But I don’t know when. Once I feel the environment is conducive. If I were to do one now, I will be taking too many risks. For Instance, I can’t do DVD distribution because of piracy. The cinema is still very lopsided in favour of the owners. Cinemas take 50%. I’ll pay tax and other deductions at the end of the day, and you don’t get return on investment. The atmosphere is too risky for me at this point.
We still don’t have enough cinemas, so the atmosphere is still risky for me. DVD distribution is all but dead. Yes; I can sell to cable operators, online distributors, but it’s all pretty small money. Making a feature film is a big deal for me. You can also want to ask why I am not directing for other people for instance. I am not because I am never going to be the guy to call after you have put your crew together, you have done the casting, then call me two days before the shoot commences to direct. That’s not how Chris works.
So how do Nigerian film makers break even with all of these?
Well, the big question to ask is, “Do they break even?” Some claim to. Okay, look around. If you do the Asaba kind of film, those are the ones who actually do film for business. Say, they spend 5 million naira, and they make 7 million naira. They do another for 3 million, maybe they make 5 million and they go on to make another and another.
Guys who do film for cinemas hardly ever make money. The average they recoup from cinema is 5 million. So if you spend 10 million making a film and you recoup 5 million you’re at a loss already. That’s not the kind of risk I want to take. A lot of people who make cinema movies do it for pride, and for red carpets, pictures, to be on NET, TNS, LIB, Bellanaija and other blogs. But I am not interested.
I don’t do red carpets. I run away all the time. I am not a celebrity. I just want to make money with my skills, my training, this techniques. That’s all I want to do. I’m not interested in the celebrity life. There are people for whom premiering a movie is a big deal. Good luck to them. It’s not bad, but it’s not my thing.
How does Chris work?
To direct a film for me is 3 months of engagement…minimum. There will be one month of pre-production, one month for principal photography – which is the actual shooting, and at least one month for post production. So if you pay an average director N500,000 for a job, I am not the guy you will pay N500,000 for 3 months. I’m sorry. So I would rather do TV. I would rather write and produce for TV.
What values resonate with you and have helped your career growth?
Rule 1 as Amaka Igwe taught me: this business is a marathon not a dash. You are going to take time to get there, and when you do, you will be a reference point, then you make money. And that’s what has come true.
If you want to call Chris Ihidero to be your story consultant, you have to have a certain kind of budget to call me. I have produced MTV Shuga, the most expensive TV series in Africa. I have produced Fuji house of commotion. You are not going to call me for a low budget project, except we are all doing pro bono for a cause. The rule is to see the long term goal and that is what has worked for me.
Amaka Igwe taught me very early not to be too worried about whatever money I was making, but to keep getting better every single time. So I directed Fuji House of Commotion for 5 years. I directed Now We are Married. I directed a bit of Tempest. Nobody knew my name until I did Big Daddy and won an award with it. I learnt it’s the most watched Nigerian short film on Youtube. It’s a 12 minute short film about rape that I made in 2011.
And Rule 2?
Talent is the cheapest commodity, but technique and training and discipline is the way to go. People pay too much attention to talent and too little attention to training, techniques and discipline. Our industry is one where being an asshole is a thing of pride. If you know the job, you can truly act, direct or produce. It’s not that hard.
Also, loyalty is key to me, whether with friends, staff or family. My sense of purpose is not to make the greatest film. That’s not what drives me out of my bed every day. I live to give. I have to give because I have been given so much. Every opportunity I get to be able to give, I take it; either my time, my money or skills. I get more joy from teaching than writing, producing, or directing. Put me in a room with young people with open minds and that’s my heaven.
Do you need some specific talents to make a fantastic producer?
What you need is training and not talent. It is good to have some people’s skills but what you essentially need is training. The producer’s first role is to deliver on time and budget. That is why the executive producers hire you. To do that, you need discipline. Without discipline, you can’t run a set.
Technical skills or storytelling, which is presently Nollywood’s bigger headache?
Nollywood became a global phenomenal based on its story telling abilities. Some people think what Nollywood does is not fantastic because it doesn’t feel like Hollywood. I disagree. Every film tradition is defined by its context. Nollywood came out of Television not cinema. It copied the mold of TV. Prior to Nollywood, we had cinemas through the likes of Baba Sala, Herbert Ogunde, Ola Balogun, Eddie Ugbonma, but when Kenneth Nnebue released Living In Bondage in 1992, it birthed a sort of change for the film industry.
There was a dearth of TV drama. NTA had stopped producing drama and we were importing Telenovellas. So the first set of actors, directors and producers all came from Television. Our sound has improved, the lighting is better, but our stories are wacky now. In my opinion we are paying little attention to stories while we have improved technically.
The most difficult aspect of film making is the story. It is the basis of everything, isn’t it? If you don’t have a story, then what are you working on? People have found out that the inadequacies where stories are concerned are many, so they want to cover up. Then you see cameras zooming up and down, so much that you are almost dizzy watching it. I think we are losing the act of storytelling. This is why I started Story Story, a story telling class to understand story telling whether as a writer, producer, director, editor or even as a cinematographer.
You are big on storytelling, yet you have vehemently refused being called a film critic. Why?
I am not a film critic. I don’t write film critiques any longer. It’s painful because that’s my training. I studied Literature and my area of focus is Literary History, Serial and Criticism, so I am a trained critic. However, critics don’t usually make money. So, I sold my soul to the devil. It is not so much about the money but we live in an environment where criticism is not encouraged or appreciated. That’s the problem.
When we started tns.ng, my online platform for Nollywood, all I wanted was a review blog but for every review. But you can be sure there are people on Twitter abusing us. I walked out on my PHD in 2007 to be a film maker. That’s what I want. If I had completed the PhD, it would have given me more claim to criticism. So no, I am not a critic. I am a film maker.
How rich is Chris the film maker?
Rich? Chris is not rich! How will he be rich? He is a bloody writer and director who has not made a major film. In fact, I no longer call myself a film maker. I am a content entrepreneur. I make and sell content. I do print, radio, TV, film. But I don’t have money.