BY CHUKS NWANNE
I walked in the scorching sun to the Ikeja, Lagos, office of Kunle Afolayan, only to be told he was not on seat; the whole place was hot, no thanks to the notorious power holders... sorry... holding fellows! I quickly put a call across to him and he promised joining me in few seconds; he had series of meetings to attend that day.
Kunle as well grumbled of the hot weather as soon he stepped into the office, with his laptop bag hung on his shoulder. In fact, the filmmaker had to pull off his shirt as a result of the heat; the fans were blowing hot air and the generator couldn’t get the air conditioners to work.
“Bros, I beg, give me sometime, this weather is terrible,” he pleads, putting a call across to someone who must be very intimate. Few minutes later, he was ready.
“Kunle is a jolly fellow, just a common guy like any other person, who is interested in filmmaking. Moreso, I’m very passionate about what I do for a living; whatever I do, my work comes first.” That was exactly the introduction he gave.
For those, who see him as one of those Nigerian filmmakers, he says, “I’m not just a filmmaker, I’m a businessman. I run a production outfit where we do equipment rental and consultancy for people on production, within and outside the country. We’ve collaborated with people; basically, all we do revolves around film and TV production.”
Though, he has been in the entertainment industry for long, it was the movie, Irapada, his outfit’s production, that brought Kunle to the limelight. But just as it looks like the son of the renowned theatre practitioner Ade Afolayan aka Ade Love (late) has arrived, dispute erupted between him and his guy (who remains anonymous), about the ownership of the script of the movie.
“There’s really nothing to say because, when people don’t have knowledge of intellectual property and how to run film business, such things will always happen. But it’s been cleared, in fact, as I speak, Irapada is solely owned by my company. It was a good experience because it has taught me to be more careful when dealing with people; I’ve learnt to be very specific and formal, when dealing with people.”
Just as the Irapada saga was raging on, the filmmaker returned to location and bounced back with Figurine, which is currently generating wide interest from different parts of the world. From all indications, that production is a kind of Kunle’s response to critics, who had accused him of riding on a borrowed horse.
“Well, not really; I had Figurine script before Irapada, but it was not fully scripted. It took me four years to come up with it; at the moment, I have about four different versions of the script from where we selected the final one we shot.”
Notwithstanding, Kunle’s choice of producing and directing the script alone was deliberate. “I wanted to prove a point to people,” he sings. “Some people even said Irapada was successful because I co-directed with somebody else. For me, Irapada was a learning stage because, it was my first film; it was an experiment; I also acted in it. I did the same in Figurine and it still came out well, even better than Irapada. First, I just wanted people to know that things can be done better in this country and secondly, I intend leaving a mark with the production,” he enthuses.
Though the film had been screened in different cinemas within and outside the country, Figurine will return to the big screen this yuletide due to popular demand.
“The film will be in four venues in Lagos — the National Theatre; Aquatic Hall, Ikeja; Abidab Hotel, Ipaja; and Ozone Cinema. It had at a time been shown at Ozone for about six weeks, but they’ve called for it to be screened this Christmas.”
Meanwhile, Figurine is already attracting attention from organisers of international film festivals around the world.
“We premiered the film in London and later screened in like two different cinemas in London after the premiere. Now, it’s being requested for, in Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington DC and African Film Festival in New York. We are also looking at going to Cannes and some other places.”
How come the growing interest?
“I was part of a conference in London with the University of West Minister; some of them were privileged to see the film in London. Also, reviews from newspapers and the trailer on the Internet…people didn’t just believe that such thing could come from Nigeria. First, it’s a fantastic story, well told. Secondly, the technical quality is very high; it’s more like Irapada 20 per cent and Figurine 100 per ecnt. It’s such a bold step; I think that’s why it’s getting all the attention.”
Throughout the better part of next year, Kunle will be touring round the world with the film, if things move as planned.
“Well, those one in Atlanta, I’m not sure. The New York one is supposed to be the US premiere and when you are doing a premiere in such region, you don’t screen before the premiere. So, I’m still trying to consult and see if it’s advisable to do those ones in February.”
So, which ones are certain?
“I’m sure of the Africa Film Festival and the New York in April next year. Meanwhile, Rotterdam Film Festival has also requested for it; I’ve sent them screener and it’s in February.”
At the Abuja premiere, the Minister of Information and Communication, Dora Akunyili commended Kunle for his creativity in Figurine. In fact, Akunyili spent over two hours during the screening.
“She was glad and commended the film,” he notes.
But just recently, Akunyili pointed fingers at Nigerian filmmakers, accusing them of denting the image of the country through their films, even when the government has been paying lips service in supporting them.
“I think, generally, she was talking about most of those films that portray Nigerian in bad light; probably she should have been specific, maybe mention names, but she never did. For me, Figurine is an export for Nigeria; if you go online and search; there are lots of write-ups. It’s a new era in filmmaking in Nigeria; I hope others will toe the same line because you won’t only make a statement, you will also make money; a good product sells itself.”
So, have you made money from the film? “Well, I’ve not recouped my investment, but we are getting there. At the moment, the film is doing well and it’s still going to do well; we’ve not even released the VCD/DVDs. I’m very positive that we will make the money back.”
How does Kunle intend to maintain his current rating? Who knows; the young man may spend years in a bid not to go bellow expectations.
“Irapada was shot in 2006 and released in 2007; I shot Figurine this year. I intend doing another film next year, but believe me, the quality would never be compromised; I will never do a story that’s not strong, a story that doesn’t depict Africa.”
SO what really happened about Irapada; why the controversy? It seems the success story of Irapada, which was screened on different cinemas around the country, brought about the disagreement?
“The guy thought it was his involvement on his original script that brought about the success of the film; but he’s, so far from it.”
Who owns the script?
“He brought the original script, which was adapted and funded by me. So, he doesn’t have any stake, aside from the old script that he brought.”
Was he paid for the script?
“He wasn’t paid for it because he came with a bad debt; he said he’d been shooting the film before and he had bad debt of N800,000, so, I rescued the project. I decided to inherit N500, 000 out of his bad debt. He later came up with another huge amount of over N6m, which I also paid, so, he didn’t have any physical cash.”
He continues: “I did that because I thought, ‘okay, this guy has invested in this project and for him not to lose totally, let me give him a stake.’ The arrangement was that, when we start generating revenue, investment will be recouped and profit shared on 70 – 30 per cent ratio; I just wanted to be fair. But when the film became a success, he thought … he was denied visa to go to London film Festival; I don’t work with the consulate, but I did my best. I got our sponsorship, I got him letter from the organisers of the festival, I got him a letter saying we would sponsor,” he narrates.
Did he accuse you of masterminding the refusal of his visa?
“No, but that was when he started feeling bad that he had a stake in the business, but he was not enjoying as much as I do,” he notes. “But I told him I had been traveling ever before I shot Irapada. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of a thing and I thank God for that.
Where is the guy?”
“I don’t even see him anymore because he’s not a filmmaker; he’s just an average marketer that made some money and wanted to play around; for me, it was a different ball game. He thought we would just do it and three months after, we would release it. But it never happened that way because we did private screening, we did cinema and all that. But it was a good experi