Popular Nigerian actor, Saidi Balogun, has spent over 40 years in the Nigerian film industry. In this interview he shared some of his experiences and challenges of the industry and advised his colleagues not to collect money from politicians for campaigns.
Daily Trust Saturday: You have remained relevant in the Nigerian film industry for over 30 years. How have you been able to achieve this feat?
Saidi Balogun: I have been in the Nigerian film industry for more than 40 years. You have to move with time and as changes come you also have to do a lot of research, know who you are and check your age as well. More so, be ready to learn always, and do not let the term, ‘legend’ confuse you; it is just a word. You have to learn every day and move with time.
The grace of God has been sustaining me. All these, put together, but without the grace of God you cannot do anything.
DT: What are your thoughts about the new crop of actors in the Nigerian movie sector?
Balogun: You can be lucky as there are some people born with the natural ability to act; however, you need to train yourself. I feel all newcomers should learn everything that has to do with the theatre because even if you are lucky, you cannot be lucky forever.
My take is that the upcoming ones should learn, read and move with time. If you get it easy now, do not think it would be easy forever. You should learn more and train. They should go to skilled people to give them more tutelage.
DT: What is your opinion on the emergence of streaming services in Nigeria?
Balogun: As the years go by, new developments are springing up. When we first started, all we did was stage a play and few television stations. Then we gradually went to the highest level of celluloid; after that, we moved to VHS cassette players and others.
So as the world is moving, technology is improving. That is why I said you had to move with time. In the past, if you shot just one interesting movie, the whole world would come to see it, but now, with population and other factors, there are so many distractions. However, it is a good development, just that you have to know where you fit in and do your part well because if you are not careful you will be a jack of all trades and master of none. I love the development, but one just has to learn and move with it.
DT: Some people will argue that stage play is dead in Nigeria. Do you agree with such a school of thought?
Balogun: I do not agree that it is dead in Nigeria. It was placed on a ‘low key’ but it is coming back. I make bold to say this – if you are an actor, either offline or online, if you have never done any stage play and gone through the rigours, then you are not a thorough thespian. I am sorry to say that, but in the entertainment realm you are just a fluke, and a fluke is someone that becomes a champion accidentally.
The stage play is coming back gradually. Our population is getting much, and too many movies are coming out of Nigeria, but very soon, we will separate the boys from the men. If you check actors in the United States and United Kingdom, most of the A-list actors still do stage plays, the likes of Tyler Perry, Al Pacino, Eddie Murphy and Demi Moore. They all still have to go on stage. They have their calendar; some will say they have scheduled three months for stage plays.
Most British stars rose from stage plays, as well as American stars. If you are a Nigerian star now and you do not have stage experience, I will say you are still in kindergarten. We call stage play the engine room, the powerhouse that gives you the will to do anything.
The experience, from my first two-cast movie in Africa was gotten from my experience doing stage plays. We do a one-man or two-man show for hours and you have to entertain people or they will stone you.
We call stage play, ‘no amendment act’ because once you make a mistake, that is the end. So you must get it right, unlike in movies. That shows that you are qualified to be an actor and you have the ability. Once you are a stage actor, doing movies is like a walk in the park.
DT: Some people believe that actresses in Nigeria are richer than their male counterparts. Is this true?
Balogun: It depends on the way people see it. More so, we all have different ways. I believe that there are too many things for a lot of men to cater for. They have too many things to do than go on the social media. They see themselves as fathers. The women are always there; that is how our women behave, and they can be loud about things.
Sincerely, sometimes a lot of rich people dole out cash to our female counterparts because they have what we do not have. If any rich man helps me now, he does it because of the will of God and my talent. Some people give gifts to our female counterparts expecting something in return. However, it is not all of them that do such. So it depends on how people see it.
Some people, especially the men, build houses but they would not say a word. I believe that if they announce it, some people would still crucify them – that what are they trying to show off. We are doing well in the industry. This is just my opinion.
DT: You have spent over 40 years in the Nigerian film industry. Do you still face challenges?
Balogun: There are still a lot of challenges. We are begging Nigerians to come out and watch movies in cinemas. The statistics they are having now, forget the figures; I will not say more than that. Out of 500 films, very few make it. Even the very good ones may not be that lucky.
Another challenge is that we have too many movies coming out of Nigeria. And most of these movies are bought by online streaming platforms; hence, once a movie is uploaded on any online streaming platform, that is the end of it because once the movie is shown, anybody can download it to their device. The era of believing that you can show your movie around the world is over.
If I spent N100million on a film, once it is put on an online streaming service, everyone can download it and that is the end of the film.
Also, the film aggregators are not doing the right thing. They are now turning into film producers. These aggregators are meant to distribute our films, but they have turned to filmmakers. If I am a movie producer and a movie aggregator turns to a filmmaker, there would be a clash of interest and he would put his project before mine. Some people are often afraid to give their films to them because an aggregator can watch my movie and steal my concept. And this is very dangerous. Everyone wants to do everything at once.
There are challenges everywhere. I pray to God that the cinemas do not die soon; but how long will we keep coming last? If I take my film to the cinema now, only about 35 per cent is my money. The rest goes to them, so how do I make my money?
We are facing serious challenges. It is not like the cinema owners are bad people; they have bills to pay, which shows that everyone is facing challenges. We all have to come together before things fall apart.
DT: You have always said the government is not doing enough for the Nigerian entertainment industry. In some months from now, new government officials would be elected. What are some of the things the government ought to do for the entertainment sector?
Balogun: Thanks to the Lagos State Government that gave out loans without interest to filmmakers. It is not easy, but I pray that entertainers should campaign for any candidate of their choice without collecting money. Let us go there first with our proposals on how to make the entertainment industry better, telling the politicians that if they come to power, this is what we want. We do not want their money. We can campaign for them for free, but they have to adhere to our proposals.
But if we go there to collect a large sum of money, they have paid us for the business of the day. So, if they get into power and do not remember us, no one can complain. It will be like a transaction. Campaign for anybody you want, but go to meet them with a proposal that will benefit the industry. Tell them what we want.
When I became the president of the Golden Movie Ambassadors of Nigeria, before I got into power, my colleagues asked for my manifesto, which I presented to them. I was asked questions for months and I answered to their satisfaction. They did not ask for money from me. All they said was that I should go and deliver for them.
Before campaigning for a politician, entertainers should look at what the person had done before seeking power. I know Nigeria is hard, but this is my personal opinion.
DT: What are you currently working on?
Balogun: I have some movies in the pipeline. For instance, Finding Ireti is coming to the theatre. I have other movies like Master P, The Scourge and Swap coming into the cinemas soon.