In Conversation with Chris Ihidero
Bside recently caught up with Chris Ihidero, the producer of Nollywood's first animation feature film Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters to discuss the thrilling fantasy, other projects he has in the works and much more.
Just in case you aren’t already familiar with his work, Chris Ihidero, one of Nollywood’s forward-thinking directors and producers, is all about leaving an impactful legacy through content creation. “I want Nollywood creatives to be truly liberated”, He tells me over zoom one Thursday in late December. “In everything that I am doing, I am preparing for the time where the creator and the audience can meet face to face without anything in between them. He reiterates while speaking about the growth in the industry.
Minutes into our lengthy conversation, I asked Ihidero what it felt like working as a producer on Nollywood’s first animation feature film Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters during a global pandemic; he responds by saying,.."It was an amazing experience because we worked all through the pandemic. The team was about 30 animators working daily on it and you can imagine what it felt especially at that time, we didn't all understand Covid and all, and we were wondering if we were all going to die at any point in time."
Ihidero and I go on to talk about his latest projects and how they relate to his work as a creative. He discusses a documentary film project about Big Brother Naija, a series called Man Pikin that premiered [last] December, and the award-winning animation film he made at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) and Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMMA).
He also speaks to me about his plans for 2022, including the creation of three feature films, one of which is currently in development, and opportunities for young creatives in the film industry.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and context.
Bside: You made Nollywood’s first animation film, Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters, please talk to me about the process of making that project? IHIDERO: The Project started in 2019, I joined the team working on it in 2019 and they had been working on it since 2018. I signed up in September 2019 and it took me the next 17 months to deliver Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters. It was an amazing experience because we worked all through the pandemic. The team was about 30 animators working daily on it and you can imagine. You know, what it felt especially at that time, we didn't all understand Covid and all, and we are wondering maybe, we were all going to die at any point in time. But we managed to make history it. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have pulled that off and go on record as Producer of Nigeria’s first full feature animation film.
The film went ahead to win the best animation film at AMMA, and also at the AFFRIF in 2021, how did that make you and the team feel? I think that anytime you win an award, no matter how big or small the award is, it's important that your peers feel like, Oh, this thing you're doing is beyond just winning these awards, and I am grateful for them and the whole team is grateful for them. But beyond all of this is the satisfaction of knowing that one made a great film, that's the first satisfaction. You know it when you have made a great film and you know it when you have done crap, you just know it. So I feel like the first satisfaction is that you know that you've done a great job now when other people acknowledge it then that’s double [satisfcation]. Let’s talk about the year 2021, what other projects were you involved in? I think we did about four to six projects this year. We've also [completed] the second season of Man Pikin, which is another 26 episodes, and that's along with all the other things we do like the documentaries, Big Brother Documentaries. At every point, we always have something on the table that we are doing. So even after all of that, we go back on set and make those films for clients. Currently, I’m writing what will be my first major feature film next year. Big Brother Naija is a very popular show, why was it important to make that documentary and to tell the stories of people who went through that platform? Oftentimes, we are perhaps not cognizant of the fact that the frenzy and the fame of big brother Nigeria have become such a massive subculture for us here, Big Brother Nigeria is the biggest big brother brand, maybe worldwide but certainly in the African continent. And we wanted to examine what that meant for the participants, what it meant for the audiences, how they worked to deliver such a massive project. Whenever I have a conversation around what that means, how life-changing it is for a lot of people take Mercy Eke, for instance, you know you win big brother, and suddenly your life changes, you talk to someone who's been struggling to do music, take Laycon for instance, you do that, you win Big Brother and suddenly you are a star. So with big brother, we wanted to examine the power that Big Brother has and all of that. You mentioned that you are working on a major feature next year, what's that all about? Okay, so pinpoint media is going to make three feature films in 2021. We have stayed away from feature films for a while now because, for us, the atmosphere has to be conducive for that kind of spending. And the kind of work we love to do, we work very differently from the way people around here. As I speak, we are talking to investors, we are trying to raise a certain amount of money for the three films and we want to say to them that we will return your money and profit. Why? Because we have studied the environment. We have the brand recognition to be able to make these films, if we make them at this price, this is how much we can sell them here, there, and everywhere you know, so it looks like it's a time like the industry is ready now for the kind of productions we like to do and that the space is ready, we needed it to be ready. Nollywood is going through some phenomenal changes right now. We now have streaming platforms investing in our local content and distributing it to a wider audience, what do you think about this growth as a director-producer?
I think it's an amazing opportunity, and I want all of them to come. Amazon is already in town, Netflix, Amazon, Universal, wherever. They should all come so that perhaps in the history of the Nollywood creatives, we can have competition over our content. In our history, we have always moved with one major player, so at one point in time, that major player was Alaba, and if you're offended with a popular number of people in Alaba and they say your product will not sell, it will not sell. Then it moved from Alaba when DVD was dying out to African Magic and if the commissioning editors or buyers do not like your face, well good luck to you. Then, from Africa magic, there was the Iroko phase and all of that. Now that phase is Netflix, everybody, they begin to do cat wheels on the streets once their show gets on Netflix and that's cool. Netflix is okay, they are doing fine here. They are doing what they set out to do. However, I want Netflix, Africa Magic, Amazon to fight over one content whereby the producer has leverage. Right now, we have no leverage. There is a cinema phase where if the people like your face, the film will stay longer but if they don't, they would launch your film after five days. We've gone through all those phases, we are going through them. I want the Nollywood creatives to be truly liberated. In everything that I am doing, I am preparing for the time where the creator and the audience can meet face to face without anything in between them. So the next phase I want is where the platforms will be plenty so that the creator can have leverage. But I am already planning for the phase after that, and that phase is the super trend of content consumption. If you follow cryptocurrency or gaming, as we can already see in gaming where the gamer and the game can meet face to face without anything in between. It's going to be like that for content the same way in the next five years. Everything I am producing now, I am preparing myself for that time where I can sell to the consumer without Netflix in between us. What’s your advice to emerging content creators doing things on a small scale and are looking to evolve? Just ask. Take for instance, here at Pinpoint Media, we have over 100 of the best films ever made. We have like a 12ft screen. If you come here every day to watch a film, in fact, we will give you coffee and biscuits. I have a film library, books that I am sure many Nigerian universities don't have. If you come and read those books, if you do it well and we see that you are promising, if you do it well and say you want to do a short film, I will give you equipment free of charge. I wish that I were in your shoes. Tomorrow belongs to you guys and it's going to be amazing in a way that telling your stories wouldn’t be so hard. Platforms will die but there will be alternatives to a cinema. So what I am saying is that what saddens me is that when that future arrives, you guys will not be ready, you'd not have created enough content for you to play in it. You're worried about the useless things; they don't cast me, they don't like my face. If you work on yourself and you show promise, help is available everywhere for you. So you don't need my advice, you need my support.