Kunle Afolayan, is a film producer, director and actor. He is one of the sons of the late famous theatre and film director cum producer, Ade Love. Kunle has produced and directed popular films like Irapada, The Figurine, Phone Swap, October 1, Roti, Omugwo, The Tribunal, The CEO , Mokalik and The Citation. He shares his thoughts on a number of industry-related issues with Festus Akanbi. Excerpts:
Sometimes in April 6, 2015, you raised your voice against the issue of piracy. Of course, it became controversial. What is the situation now?
Well, nothing much has changed. What has only changed is the fact that we have alternative distribution channels, which is the online streaming. It seems to be killing DVD. The piracy online is even worse than the one perpetrated through the DVD. However, the likes of streaming companies like Netflix, to a large extent, have come to rescue film makers. This is because before now, if a film was made, you only had just three distribution channels. These included the Cinema. If your film is a cinema standard, you can explore that window and then you have African Magic or terrestrial television, and then you could go on to DVD. Right now, the television or terrestrial TV and even African Magic don’t seem to be taking a lot of contents. What this means is that not much revenue is coming from that window, same with the cinemas, of course, because of Covid-19 and all of that.
So how do film makers make their money?
Well, you can make some money through cinemas, but once you are out of cinemas, what do you do with the film? But with streaming, if you go on Netflix now, you will see more than 100 Nigerian contents there. Some of these films are acquired just to stream them in Africa and maybe in the UK, and some of them are acquired for global views. Recently, Netflix released a press statement, announcing that it has just acquired some new films which are being shown. I mean which are acquired as Netflix original. And if the film is Netflix original, it means it is showing globally, it means it is going to be subtitled in like 50 something languages. Interestingly, the pirates still get to copy these films from those platforms and then they put it on YouTube and in some of their own personal websites. I believe it is up to filmmakers to find a way to bring those links down, if they can. It’s tough because it is distributed among several links. So, it’s difficult to completely eliminate piracy, but if you are really monetising your film legitimately and you think you have covered a chunk of your revenue, at least you’ll be a bit relaxed, that all you labour is not lost.
What is your assessment of the film industry in Nigeria today? Will you say they are reflective of the current situation in the land?
I can’t speak for other people, but for me, I’m always conscious of shooting films that have substance. And when I say substance, it must reflect who we are. It must talk about social issues. Yes, entertainment is key but there are other values; it must be educative, informative, and that is why I have my own followers who are die-hard fans. And they do that because these are things they want to keep in the archives and also to show their children. These are not films they watch once and forget easily. They always want to go back to those films. And I have seen a couple of people like my mentor, Tunde Kelani, whose films are mostly satires. He seems to follow the same kind of trend and there are few other people like that. There are few other people who rather would cover the glamour and the development aspect of the country, showing the rich, showing all of those things. So, there is nothing bad in having different flavours but for us, substance is key.
Some critics believe some Nigerian film makers find it difficult to criticise governments in their works because some actors have pitched their tents with politicians, with many of them serving as aides. How correct is this?
Well, I wouldn’t really say yes because even in America, you get to see a lot of people come out and support political parties and presidential aspirants and we have some people who will come out and criticise them. Whether they get paid for it or whether they get remunerated for what they do or for lending their voice, I don’t know and really, I don’t care. But around here, it’s the same. We have some people, who will stand for something and we also have some people who will do it for money because, of course, I wouldn’t say there is hunger in the land but I will say that fingers are not equal. People have needs and they have their plan on how to make ends meet. Musicians also do it. People in the art space are influential. So, whether they get paid for that or not is not really the thing. If politicians are going to them, it is because they know that they have voice.
What is your take on the view that it’s only the female actors that are breaking even as the number of big girls flaunting their exotic cars and expensive mansions on social media keep rising? What is happening to the men?
Nothing happened to the men. I think a lot of the females in industry are also entrepreneurs. If you go to their pages or blogs, it’s either they are selling jewelry or they are selling clothing. Does the revenue from those clothing amount to owning a house? I don’t know, but different people have different ways of structuring deals. For example, some of them are ambassadors to some of these real estates agents. They can do a deal and say okay be our ambassador for five years, this house is N40 million, okay we will give you part cash, part barter and so there are different ways to strike a deal and the male actors like AY and all of those guys are doing well.
The period of lockdown created different scenarios to different people. How did you organise yourself during this period?
It is true that we all went through the lockdown phase and all of that, but it was a busy period for us because, number one, the Covid-19 lockdown started just as we finished shooting our latest film, The Citation. After shooting, the next stage was post-production and this required staying in the studio to do the work. So that sort of fits into our next line of action. Asides The Citation, we were renovating our new Hub, ‘the KAH’, The Kunle Afolayan Hub, when the lockdown started. We were renovating at that time. So, it also gave us a bit of time, for our people to work and get ready for post-Covid-19 dispensation. But most importantly, it gave me that time to really sit back and plan future projects. I was able to read a lot of books because I was looking at doing some book adaptations. And that really gave me enough time to read series of books from different genres. I watched a lot of films from different genres. So, it was as if I was re-energised and it also has given me the time to reflect and spend time with my family. So, I would say, to a large extent, 60 percent of the lockdown period was a sort of advantage for me.
Can you shed more light on the Kunle Afolayan Hub you talked about?
KAH is going to be a one stop place for creative people, not just film people, because within the hub, we are having a film and television academy and that is called KAH Film and Television Academy. We already have a studio, a sound studio and an editing studio. We’re going to have a sound stage, where people can come in and then create sets, do video shoot and photo shoot. We are going to have a 120-seater cinema within the hub, I mean within the same space. And we are also going to have a bar and a restaurant where people can come in, sit, relax and eat. We are going to be doing live band. So, it’s a cultural centre pretty much. And there will be a shop for arts and crafts and all of that.
It’s natural to ask for the source of funding for this gigantic project. Who is bankrolling you?
Well, we actually accessed loans. We accessed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Creative Industry Loan, which we got through Access Bank Plc and we have completed the first phase because the loan was only able to take us through the first phase. It was for the renovation of the building that occupies the production side, Golden Effects, which is the equipment side. Then part of the film school will have the space downstairs. Now the next phase that is being constructed is the Cinema- KAH’ Cinema, restaurant and bar and then a studio where people can come and shoot and all of that. So that is in the works now. Well, if we have enough funds, we are hoping that by December, the whole hub should have been completed.
How much was the loan?
I will not like to disclose that.
What motivated you to begin acquiring old cars?
I’m a collector of vintage cars. I have like four of these vintage cars and I started that when we did October 1 and it was because it was so difficult getting cars that were in vogue in the 1960s or of 1950s. Of course, we were able to pull it off. If you go to South Africa and you want to shoot a film that was set in 1920, the cars are there. If you go to Europe you will get what you need but in Nigeria, we don’t have such opportunity even if you go to the museum, hardly will you see such cars. So, I just told myself, if I believe I’m going to be in this space for a while, I needed to do something, and to me, these are not personal collections. It’s because of work. Now, I’m working on a project that is set in 1986. I know all these my cars can actually fit in and then I’m going to actually need about 50 more because we need to create Lagos Island in 1986. So, when I’m working, those are the things in my head. I realise that there are other passionate people who have similar passion for these old cars, so I joined two clubs of vintage car owners. This makes it easy for me to go to our groups and tell them I need some of these vintage cars and in that way, we can make an amazing film, you know, it all started when we did October 1.
When should your fans be expecting another blockbuster movie, like The Figurine that won more than 5 major awards in the African Movie Academy?
Well, October 1 won more awards even at AMVCA and the rest of them but I think The Citation is in that category. Again, sometimes, it’s up to the film maker to decide how you want to position your film. You can make a film and say, look I’m not submitting for festivals or I’m not submitting for awards. It’s your film and then you can make some films and then there will be some sort of restrictions after selling it to platforms. A lot of people don’t understand these things. So, The Citation has been acquired by Netflix and it is going to go to Netflix in November. It means that we may not be able to submit it for anything that is happening this year, maybe until next year. And if you don’t submit a film at a particular time, you probably have lost out. We are working on several other films. We have another film set in the 18th century. So we will keep working.
When should we expect The Citation to hit the Nigerian cinema?
Well, we are not taking it to the cinema, but we have started doing private screening. However, it’s going on Netflix exclusive on the 6th of November.
Nigeria has just entered another round of recession. Do you have any fear that the development may affect patronage of the entertainment offerings?
When they say there is recession, what comes to mind is there has always been recession. So, I don’t know why they are saying we just entered recession. The recession had always been there. And we have always managed, we have always coped. I just hope that we get out of it in time if there is anything like recession at all. I believe since I was born in this country, there has always been austerity and recession.
You once worked in the banking industry. Has there been a reason to regret dumping the banking job for the entertainment industry?
It is impossible. But it was such a good start because that has helped in structuring the business side of what we do today. If I was only wearing the cap the likes of my father were wearing, you know, most of them died broke because they were in that industry for fame and the money came and went. When they released a film, they made money, before they made another film, the were broke. There wasn’t a proper structure that helped sustainability and that really affected my father before he died and I saw that in a lot of his contemporaries as well. Yes, I worked in a bank but this has helped me a lot in my career in the film industry. My relationship with a lot of experts in the industry – from public relations, marketing and brand – have really helped in shaping the proper entertainment company I have today.
Entertainers are known to surrounded by a bevy of women. Are you going for a second wife?
If you look at the economy, that is not happening these days. In the past, the environment, society and culture permitted actors to marry many wives. A lot has changed. It does not mean that if you want to, anybody will kill you. It’s your prerogative but there are some factors you will have to consider. I think I’m more well to do than my father when he was my age, but if you look at the economy and then you put it on a scale, the children and the school they attend now is all private and expensive. It’s just not worth it. But if God says you will do it, nothing can stop it.
There used to be collaboration between Nigerian and Ghanaian movie industry operators. Is it still in existence?
I think they still do it but it’s not like in the past. Like I said, a lot of those films, those straight DVD films are dying because people are now watching films on their phones. So, a lot of people are not buying DVDs anymore and then if you want to get to the scale where you can have your film on Netflix or on YouTube, the production quality has to be better. In The Citation, we have one Ghanaian actor. At least, I have worked with a few of them but I don’t use them except the story allows it. The Citation is set in the university and since we have lot of Nigerian students in Ghana and a lot of Ghanaian students in Nigeria, it was natural to have a Ghanaian actor.
What is your message to Nigerian students who wants to take acting as a career?
I always say if you are opportune to attend a university and, maybe you studied creative arts, performing arts, theatre arts and dramatic arts, don’t limit your focus to just one line. In this field, especially on the technical side, some of the crew members that work for us do so at the GRIP department. The GRIP handles the crane, the track and all these things. A lot of them are not university graduates. But quite a number of them earn as much as N1 million on a project, a project of four weeks. So that is why learning crafts is one of the things I’m doing for my children now. If you have the talent to be an actor and then you find yourself in a space where production is going on, nothing should stop you from saying I want to intern in costume department, oh , I want to intern in makeup department, I want to intern in camera department, because this has happened a lot of times. There are a lot of people who are into costumes but when you want to do a production you realise that they can double as a makeup artist, so it means they can actually earn from two ends, so they are not stuck. There are a lot of people who are gaffers. Gaffers are the people who handle the lights but they also fit in when they come to GRIP department. So, what I would say to people especially people who are trying to learn film making is to learn as much or as many of the departments as they can. Because when the opportunity opens you just realise that oh, you can actually fit in here or you can fit in there. You must equip yourself with enough knowledge and then there’s also the business side to film making. These are all the things we are going to be teaching in KAH film school.
If you say the era of film marketers is gone, it means film makers will no longer blame marketers for the poor quality of their films anymore. Is this what you are saying?
Now, most of them have moved to YouTube. In fact, it’s as if every marketer in Idumota now has a channel on YouTube. Now they do digital distribution, that is one platform. Of course, you can also make money and it is open to everybody. If you are a fan of so-so film, you know where to go to. You will, maybe, go to YouTube or go to HBO or you go to iTunes and Amazon.
What are your plans to assist old actors, with many of them living in penury?
The thing is, I have feelings for their set. There is a film on Netflix, The Bridge. It was produced by Lasu Re but I directed it. Though we both worked on it and in that film, I decided that I was going to bring back almost all of them, so we had Baba Eda, Jimo Aliyu, Olowomojuore, Iya Awero, Oga Bello and many of them like that. I’m doing this because these guys don’t have retirement benefits and in fact, they are not supposed to even retire because they are actors. So, as long as they are fit and their sight is good, why not.?There is a film we are working on, it’s going to be like Oyo Empire setting in the 18th century. So imagine you want to do that kind of a film and Aderupoko will not be there, it is impossible. The likes of Baba Eda and Baba Wande, a lot of them will naturally fit in. For me, I always like to get a blend of the old generation, the set after them, our own generation and the ones coming behind us.
Do you feature in other people’s films especially your siblings who are also into film business?
I don’t mind featuring in people’s films. If they call me, why not? I will go. But the thing is, my brother Gabriel Afolayan is not a producer. It’s not like he has produced, but I’ve worked with him on a couple of things not even just one thing. I did one film with Moji, my sister one time. The thing is, logically it is wrong. Like if I’m acting in a film and then you now bring any of them to act, they will act as my brother or my sister. They can’t act any other role because it waters down the film. It is not even professionally logical but there is nothing stopping me from acting in their films. I mean, everybody is grown. So if anybody is doing anything and requires support, we support one another.