Na wa o…
It is important you understand that in this our Nollywood ehn, very like every other industry, you must pay your dues to reach a zenith.
I am presently producing a TV show and a few happenings are nostalgic. A younger friend of mine, to a pool of five short listed people, had recommended my presenter. Being a non-Hausa speaker, I had to step back while my manager handled the final selection. It was a little painstaking because they were quite a few she liked, but we needed just one. So we settled on this fresh graduate of theatre arts who had a good command of the language. The people skills and interaction, we believed he would acquire as we went along.
We negotiated a fee, he went for costume check, attended a few production meetings, had the show flow sent to him, he and I sat down to go over modus operandi a few times, hung around while we struggled to get the set we desired and all was set for him to kick off. Even though it was his first gig, he caught on well and quickly. Many of the guests who came on the show were impressed by his language command and mannerism. He hadn’t caught up fully with people relations, but he was trying.
One of our celebrity guests came up to me after the interview, very much impressed with what we had going. I was blushing and grinning from ear to ear with pleasure. The person went on to massage my ego about the set design and choice of presenter and asked if it was ok to take my presenter’s number and probably refer him for jobs.
“Oh sure. Why not?” I said. As I fetched my phone to retrieve his number, the guest asked how much I paid him. Still fiddling with my phone, I answered.
“What?!” the guest exclaimed.
That got my full attention. I paused, my brows coming together in a confused frown.
“Why would you pay that much for an unknown face? You are ruining his career that hasn’t even started”
My guest turned around, hand on hip, a little furious that I didn’t get the point.
Honestly, the truth was I did.
When I started my sojourn in the industry, I never negotiated a fee nor went for costume check. There was no set design to learn from. My first movie was The President Must Not Die. My second was Guy On The Line in which I played a supporting role as the lead character’s (played by Rita Dominic) friend. My third movie Checkered Fate was where I played my first lead role. I was excited. The movie was produced by Emeka Ossai, who also played my husband. I was playing alongside some of the biggest names at the time. Zach Orji played my cousin, while Paul Obazele was his friend. I honestly could not complain. Wasn’t this every young actor’s dream? In just a few months of starting out, I had played all prominent roles…including a lead role. Plus, I was mingling with A-Listers. I had arrived. I felt on top of the world. Being the “hottest” female character, I had every attention “havable.”
Now, a month before, I had attended an audition at the National Theatre. A producer, Kingsley Ukuegbu, had seen me and, unknown to me, penciled me down for a role in his next movie. More excitingly, Adim Williams was directing. When I got into acting, Adim was one of the directors I had hoped to work with. One day, while we were on location in Satellite Town, I get a call from Kingsley. I was excited. I was finally going to be directed by Adim Williams. Then came the sad news…it was only two scenes.
See, it is important you understand that for a true thespian, there are no small roles, only small actors. But how was I to know this? I was a student of French language in the University of Lagos. I had had no formal or informal training at the time as concerns acting or filmmaking. I was just a novice who was lucky with the kind of opportunities I had had. I automatically thought it was my right to get only supporting and lead roles!I made it a point of duty to inform Kingsley of my “stardom status.”
“Em, Kingsley, I dey shoot one lead role with Bond Emeruwa for satellite town.”
“Oya, make Bond give you half day nah. We go just knock off your two scenes sharp sharp. If he no gree, I go just find another person. We go work another time.”
I doubted if he heard what I said. I WAS PLAYING A LEAD ROLE! And here he was talking about replacing me sef. I went to my good-natured director and told him. He willingly agreed to give me the half-day off.
So, I got on the set at YABATECH where I played alongside Jim Iyke, Oby Edozien and Lillian Bach. Technically, I did my first “waka pass” after I got my first lead role. (The good part of this story though was that Adim was so impressed with my delivery, I actually heard him ask Kingsley how come I was cast for such a minor role. I went on to do bigger projects with Adim).
“When he gets cast for movies or other TV programs, he’d expect the same pay. He’ll call bluffs, believing he’s “good enough” for such remuneration without understanding that he has to pay his dues and earn every kobo. If word gets round…and it usually does…that a new unknown face is demanding such and such pay, no one will touch him for even 1 kobo. And by the way, the kobo will only come after he has done a few jobs, from waka pass to prominent roles, to supporting roles and then lead roles. Then he can begin to negotiate payment.” my guest said, snapping me back to reality.
“Chaiiiii” I said, shaking my head as a smirk played around my lips.
“This our industry sef! No short cut?”
“My sister if to say short cut dey, for this my over twenty years, I for get five houses.”