Saturday, 20 February 2010

Chris steps in from Hollywood

CHRISTOPHER M. Anthony, CEO of Kayfabe Films Ltd., is credited with the role of Visual Effects Director on several Hollywood blockbusters including Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond: Die Another Day, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, 10,000 SC, V for Vendetta and Sunshine. He shares same birthday with Nigeria. On a recent visit here, he speaks with MICHAEL ORIE on his new film Sole Redemption that will soon hit Nigerian market soon.

Inspiration for the film
My inspiration came from the time I spent as a child in Nigeria, where my father lived and worked. I was inquisitive and I enjoyed exploring and I found that the more I explored, the more beauty I found. As an adult, I realised from seeing Nigeria in the press and on TV that there was too much focus on negative aspects and not enough on the beauty I experienced while there. I felt there was an opportunity to show Nigeria on screen in a much more balanced light. Still within the narrative of a fictional story, I wanted to showcase some of these themes but with a greater emphasis on what isn’t shown; providing a contrasting and balanced view. I wanted to show the prevailing good against the bad. As a director, I’m all about contrast. I think it provides great impact. I felt I could really present some of the beauty of the country that is often missed and show the best qualities of the Nigerian population.
I began looking at everything from the culture and the architecture to the villages and the wildlife. The germ of an idea quickly formed. I found myself remembering feelings, sights and sounds from my own experiences there and thinking about how to convey them on screen to an average audience. I realised that there was so much potential for an adventure story with perils and resolution, emotion and excitement – the recipe for a Hollywood hit.

Why did you choose to shoot the film in Nigeria?
My father introduced me to Nigerian cinema at a young age. My grandmother owned a cinema in Port Harcourt that screened Bollywood and Nollywood films. I cut my teeth early in the movie industry, with an emphasis on big Hollywood blockbusters. My research went from the creative side to the business side and I began to see the potential of the Nigerian film industry — an industry both huge and thriving but seemingly untouched by Hollywood or indeed, any other foreign film crews. I see an industry that is self-sufficient but eager to break out into the global mainstream markets. We could have shot in South Africa – a nation far more established for handling Hollywood films, particularly 35mm but in doing so, we would miss out on the massive amount of positive publicity we could generate from shooting successfully in Nigeria. With my heritage I felt if anyone was going to do this, it would have to be me!

You are shooting 35mm; how will it affect your work?
First, I feel that we still aren’t truly in the digital era. Most of the films in cinemas today are still being shot on film. That is not to say that there isn’t a place for digital… and the trend is to move in that direction. We’ve been shooting on film for over 100 years and shooting digitally for only seven, beginning with George Lucas’ Attack of the Clones. He had a guaranteed audience and most of it was shot in studios with large parts of almost every scene being digitally replaced or enhanced. The same is true for the recent blockbuster, Avatar. Our best film crews were making films when there wasn’t even a digital camera in existence. I believe the look of digital still doesn’t quite match film, particularly in a bright outdoor environment such as Africa. The process of capturing images is fundamentally different and even if digital gets closer, it may never match the organic photochemical reaction of celluloid.
Nigeria’s thriving film industry means that it has many of the grips (camera supports) and lighting equipment that we would require. We may still have to bring in new equipment. Restricting the film to a celluloid release will also help control the illegal distribution, which is something of great importance.

What is your background in the movie industry?
I’ve worked in the industry for many years, as far back as the mid 1990’s. My work has mostly been in film and more recently I’ve stepped into broadcast. Coming from a visual effects background I’ve always been a part of the cutting edge technologies, most commonly as a supervising technical director. I’ve been responsible for directing crews to design and deliver major sequences of blockbuster Hollywood pictures including Harry Potter, James Bond, Indiana Jones and many more.
In the last few years I have also been working as a producer, which is an interesting balance between the creative and the business side of me. Having the strong visual/directing background has made the transition to producing flow very smoothly. The
director in me wants to forget the organising and just spark emotions in audiences world wide. I occasionally sit in cinemas and watch films I’ve worked on just to hear the reaction of the audience. It’s comforting when the reaction is positive which thankfully it has been every time so far!

Transition from visual effects to directing and producing?
I’m happy to say that it’s been a very smooth and natural transition. I’ve gained so much experience over the years in the industry and worked on films with some of the greatest directors – the guys that inspired me as a kid – most notably Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. I’ve always been a part of the creative side of the business and over the years have been responsible for the entire design of a sequence right through to the cinema screen. You learn so much about what it takes to make an image look good on screen and how easy it is to get it wrong from your experiences.
I come from a lineage of mainstream directors who also came from Lucas Film. These include such visionaries as Michael Bay (Transformers), Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and many more. They all made that transition from VFX because they were people who thought visually and wanted to express that on screen. Directing and producing is about having the ability to keep your cast and crew in line with your vision. Self-belief is vital. You are the captain of the ship and if you don’t believe in your vision, nobody else will!

Nigeria often gets portrayed negatively in the media, how will this affect the production?
It is true that Nigeria is often shown in a poor light. The press focuses on the negative side, but I have lived there and I have seen the other side. Some of my best memories as a child came from my time there. It was my desire to shoot in Nigeria and I have made the necessary connections with my liaisons, HekCentrik.
We must not be afraid to show Nigeria in a familiar light and then introduce the positive aspects through the course of the film. An audience will be more comfortable if they are presented with the familiar and gently introduced to new ideas. Without revealing too much of the plot, I can say that all of the characters evolve. Some even begin with stereotypical views of Nigeria, which changes positively throughout their journey of discovery. Every film must have antagonists and protagonists. To avoid this would be naïve and leave the film flat and dull. What is important is to show that the negatives are in the minority and the positives are in the majority.
There are scenes and interactions depicting Nigerians as educated, thoughtful, courageous and caring people. The lead character, played by Nigerian actor, Oris Erhuero, is looked up to and respected as the head of the group. Other characters seek answers from him. He’s a positive role model. We also need to be conscious of how movies project characters on screen. The press wants to accuse and blame. Movies allow stereotypes to remain on screen and when we leave the cinema we do not carry that judgment. It remains in its fictional context.

How have you approached assemblage of your cast and crew?
We are currently in pre-production and looking at the availabilities of cast and crew. I’ve worked in this industry for many years and on many major films with some talented and experienced actors and crews. I’ve created a network of contacts at the top of the industry. Having worked at major studios around the world, I’m able to choose the best places to do my post-production, which is essential to keeping production value high and help to give confidence to cast and crew.

Do you see a risk in filming in Nigeria?

Every film is a risk, especially when shooting on location as so many things can go wrong. Shooting 35mm film in a hot country means special care has to be taken of the film stock. Getting insurance for the film will involve consideration of the safety of transportation of crews and equipment, and will be expensive for Nigeria. A successful shoot could lead to great publicity in foreign press. The cast and crew need to feel confident of the environment and able to concentrate on their work. We will need to ensure that we can send film stock on an almost daily basis back to London and Internet networks set up to receive digital rushes. We are currently assessing the equipment available in Nigeria to ensure that we are able to capture the shots we want.

Future of Nigerian Film Industry
I will love to see the industry expand outside of Africa and to see more and more experienced film crews wanting to work there. I will also like to see the standard of story telling and production value upped. There are great stories to be told in settings that will be fresh to non-African audiences. This is exciting and a necessary route to tapping into the foreign markets. Movie making brings communities together, generates a local buzz and brings significant revenue with it. It can allow other local businesses to flourish even after production wraps.
Continuing to expand Nigeria’s film industry would encourage growth in what is already the second biggest film industry in the world and would help discover new, emerging talent.

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