Popularly referred to by his peers and admirers as Don-P or The Don, Chief (Dr) Obaseki was formerly President of the Filmmakers Cooperative of Nigeria (FCON). He became a lecturer of Theatre Arts at the University of Benin, Nigeria, at age 21. Arguably one of Nigeria’s most influential entertainment personalities, the blunt and outspoken Don Pedro Obaseki, is one of the pioneer founders of Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry. MORKINYO OLUGBIJI had a chat with him
You’ve been off movie production for a while. What’s happening?
I’m done with shooting films! I’m too old to start shooting films now. I mean I’ve been shooting films since I was a kid. Will I still be shooting films now that I’m almost 50 years old?
We have countless moviemakers abroad who are close to 60 and are still shooting. Why is yours different?
Well, it depends on the value proposition. On a very serious note, you have to move to other things here in Nigeria. That’s the main reason. It’s not because I don’t like to shoot films again. I now invest in films. I have a lot of equipment! They are state-of-the-art equipment. So what I do now is collaborations. If you are a good filmmaker and I see that I find value in your work, I can collaborate with you. That way I’m able to add more value to the industry. If I have ten cameras, I can decide that I’m collaborating on ten film projects at the same time. I’m able to assist where it is needed.
Basically, is that what has kept you off the scene?
No, I also have sundry duties. I sit on the board of DAAR Communications. I have a mobile TV project I’m handling. Filmmaking is a very engaging and soul and energy-sapping work. It’s not the kind of work a 50 year-old man would do with one eye closed.
From the way you talk, it seems you are dissatisfied with Nollywood
Yes! I am a part and parcel of erecting this industry. You hear many people’s names doing great in the industry and I think if you mention five, to be modest, in the history of Nigerian film industry, they will give me credit. I’ve been here from the very first beginning, from the second film after I wrote “Nneka the Pretty Serpent.” I was here before Nollywood started, so I see where we are going.
The only thing I’m not too comfortable with is that the new breeds haven’t learnt some of the things that we learnt because now it is easier to shoot a film. Back in the days, we had to use analogue to rewind, fast forward and so on, but today it is easier to shoot a film. Anybody can be a filmmaker and that makes things even more dangerous because people you cannot control will have access to the minds of your children. So we have to decide on how to build or bend the mind and that’s why I’ve been insisting that we must concentrate on the areas where those whom we are making films for dwell. We must focus on the dwelling place of our market. Look at you now, in those days if you were going to interview me, you’ll carry a midget but now you are using your mobile phone because it has more advantages over a midget tape recorder. Your smartphone is your pinging machine, your SMS reporter, your notebook, call phone, your interview tool. You can equally take enough beautiful publishable photos with it. You can record videos with it! This is your space. The world has changed. If I’m able to get into that space of yours, then I’m able to get to you.
Talking about using technology to improve the marketability of Nigerian films, how come many of your colleagues are still stuck with the old style?
It’s because they don’t understand. First of all what most of them don’t know is that, about 15 years ago, when I kind of moved away from films for the first time, I lost a lot of money. That was when I started the first internet site building company in Nigeria, iSat Nation; I lost a lot of money because nobody wanted to build a website. I didn’t let that kill my dream and I think I now have the biggest internet content distribution network. I have enough to take care of fifty thousand movies at the same time, and MTN has just signed a service level agreement with me. I’m launching the MTN Mobile TV using my portal.
Tell us a little more about that.
It’s called the African Content Company (ACC) that’s my company, so we are about to launch the MTN ACC Mobile TV. It’s basically about bringing your normal linear television channels like E!, Africa Magic, MTVbase, SuperSport, Al Jazeera, etc., to your mobile phone as if it’s a decoder. You don’t need an extranet, a walker or drifter whatever, like it is with similar existing product at the moment. Your mobile phone becomes your TV set and it is a locally developed protocol. MTN saw its workability and decided to sign a two-year deal, service level agreement and a joint venture. We are rolling out soon. On Monday, April 21, we are also launching a global web decoder. It’s a website that allows you to watch our channels live anywhere you are in the world. You just log on to the site, but unlike most websites, what you’ll find are thumbnails of different channels and once you click anyone, you’ll start watching. It’s a web decoder.
During your active period of production, is there any experience you can’t forget?
That would be when I was shooting “Igodo” in 1998/99. I wrote and directed the movie “Igodo.” We were at a mountain in a place called Iragbiji in Osun state. The town is behind Ikirun. There was this idol on top of the mountain and they said nobody can climb that mountain and that any man that climbs it, his manhood will shrink and will never rise again. However, I needed to climb that mountain to get a particular shot.
If you have watched “Igodo,” you’d see a thin line of people walking. I swore to myself I wanted to take that high angle shot. My cameramen refused to go with me. So I packed the cameras on my back, and the cameras were really big in those days, and ran up the mountain, set up the cameras and screamed from there “Dede, Nobert…make una begin dey come! So they started coming and as they were coming up, I started singing praises to God and praying silently. I was scared because of the thing the Baale had told me. He said that if I get to the mountain, my manhood will shrink and never rise again except I’m initiated. I still remember the Baale’s name – Muraino Oyelami. He actually swore to God that my manhood will not rise again if I go up the mountain. I can never forget that day in my life.
Did it shrink?
Never! I defied the idol of that mountain and even shot parts of the scene of the movie at the Osun Osogbo Festival.
The visit to the president by some AGN members has sparked a lot of debate. What’s your own opinion on the visit?
I think they should have gone there to request tangible things from the president instead of just going for going sake. Unfortunately they didn’t do that. Do they even need to visit Aso Rock?
What do you mean by ‘tangible things’?
The President should do concrete things for the industry and he’s doing it already. We don’t need to pay him jamboree visits. You get my point?
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