Victor Sanchez Aghahowa needs no introduction in Nollywood circles. If you follow Nollywood, I can bet my grandma’s toothbrush that you must have come across his works, either as a director or a screenwriter. How She Left My Brother, M-Net’s Tinsel and a host of other beautiful creative pieces carry the signature of this Future Awards nominee and Afrinolly Cinema4Change director.
Below is a very fascinating chat to the man who refers to himself as a geek and Doctor Who fanatic.
How did you come to filmmaking?
I was a Pharmacy student in the University of Benin – for a short while, but I always wanted to be a story teller of some sort. So I was an aspiring novelist for a while and then I wrote and directed my first stage play (while still in school) and the bug bit, I mean stage is like practice 20 times to put on a play once, film is like shoot it once and show it forever. The laziness won, film it was [Laughs]. Dropped out and started working at a production house while sending out spec scripts, and then I finally sold a TV series and it spun off from there…I never did finish school. Sad. Kinda. Not.
What’s your opinion on film school?
If you can afford it, go – if you can’t, that won’t stop you from making great films if you want to.
What does filmmaking mean to you?
Telling stories, on the grandest scale, so make sure it means something. To you or the audience. But make some form of meaning.
What inspires your art?
The crippling fear of poverty [Laughs]. Actually, the need to connect with other people. I have an incredible lack of social skills. My art is the only way I seem able to communicate with people without them wanting to punch me in the face. So hey, let’s go with the less painful option.
What are your thoughts on the insistence by some that directors must be ‘auteur’?
Different strokes. I am blessed enough to work in TV and crossover to film and this is the crux between both, in TV – you work for the showrunner/EP’s. You are adding to/assisting someone else’s vision. In film, it’s your vision and your fingerprints can be all over it. I just feel some work will be more personal than others. Some need to come from your soul. On other projects, you contribute your part to make a greater whole.
Take us through how you prepare for a shoot…
Read the script a gazillion times. I rarely storyboard. Bad habit. I make a shot list. Worry till I get a near ulcer. Talk the cast and my frequent collaborators through my plans. Multiple prep meetings. Get on set, throw out all that planning and get by on a wing and a prayer[Laughs].
Which do you prefer: Directing television drama or making a film?
Directing TV. It’s easier. And I’m lazy. Actually both. They are so different it’s apples and cashew nuts. If I had to pick one, I’d quit and stick to screenwriting.
What’s the most interesting aspect of directing?
How everyone thinks you know what you are doing. Even when this is sometimes clearly not the case. At all. In any way known to man. Or any life form. In any solar system.
What’s the most stressful aspect of directing, in your opinion?
Working with a crew who are not on the same wave length. Hence I have my band of frequent collaborators. And then the physical stress of a low-budget shoot. [Sigh…]
What’s the silliest mistake you ever made on set?
Refusing to fire an actor who was clearly not working.
How do you work with actors?
I love actors, I think what they do is – special. I tend to have several long conversations with an actor once they are locked on cast. In fact for me, casting is rewriting. I am very protective of my actors and that has crossed over to my personal life, where most of my closest friends are actors. Their name and face is on the work, they have to go to extremely vulnerable places because they trust you to hold their hand and lead them there – and then bring them back. It’s a gift they give daily, my job is to make sure I don’t abuse that trust.
Beyond directing, what other aspect of filmmaking fascinates you?
Sound design and scoring. Immense implications on the finished product.
Are you the kind of director that understands and loves technical aspects of filmmaking, or do you work with capable hands and concentrate on story and directing the performance?
I am equally into both, but I do the techie stuff in pre-prod and post. On set, I need the capable hands; performance can be tweaked in post, but can’t be created, so I have to get that on the day. I can insert a car in the background in post, I can’t put truth in an actor’s eyes. Man that was a pretentious sounding line –LOL! But I stick by it.
Digital filmmaking is gaining ground by the day…what are your thoughts on this?
All I’ve ever known is digital. So, no comment. I was on a set that ran film only once. It was voodoo to me.
What do you think of Nollywood? Would you like to be known as a Nollywood director?
I’m Nigerian. I create content in Nigeria. Therefore I am Nollywood.
Do you believe there’s a ‘New Nollywood’? If yes/no, why?
A name was needed to separate the straight to DVD market and those who focused on theatrical releases. I guess that was the best we could come up with. It’s just a name to me, a shorthand for parts of a greater whole.
What do you think should be the ultimate aim of a film: to entertain or to educate the audience?
Both. It has to be massively entertaining but contain a kernel of truth that resonates. A story with no point = Jack and Jill (the nursery rhyme). Immensely popular, but has never amounted to much. Personally that doesn’t interest me.
What would you say to fellow filmmakers who are also at the point of making a career breakthrough?
Just make stuff, don’t worry about how to sell it yet, or if it will. Just make.
And to those coming behind
There are people behind me!? #clutcheswallet. LOL. Keep doing what you love; I may be working for you someday.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Possibly retired from active filmmaking and concentrating on teaching or in charge of some yearly franchise a la jason blum. Who knows?