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‘93 Days,’ my most challenging movie yet – Steve Gukas

Weekend Magazine: Which of your movies has been the most challenging to make and why? Steve Gukas: Each movie has come with its own set…

Weekend Magazine: Which of your movies has been the most challenging to make and why?
Steve Gukas: Each movie has come with its own set of challenges. But I would say in terms of size and scope, ‘93Days’ has been the most challenging. It needed more money plus the huge challenge in shooting in a metropolis like Lagos. You could hardly do a two-unit move in one day because of the size of the crew and traffic. Then you put on top of that the challenge of funding and the pressure of telling a story so close to our collective memory.

WM: What was the idea behind having a combination of actors from Nollywood and Hollywood?
Gukas: From the beginning, we realised we had on our hands a story that will resonate across the world. The choice to cast from both industries was to give it the wings it needed to do well locally and travel well internationally.

 WM: Was there any specific reason for the individuals who make up the cast for ‘93 Days’?
Gukas: I knew going in, that this was a film that will not have any razzmatazz. That it would swim or sink on the strength of the performances and the look and feel. On that front, talent was key in the casting. I knew we had to get actors with depth and capacity to deliver powerful yet, very nuanced performances. Secondly, the events in the film are so recent and close that a lot of people knew who the characters were – some, intimately and others from the media. Either way, it was still very fresh. I did not want people, particularly in Nigeria, struggling with the narrative on account of the actors’ looks. So it was very important to me that the actors looked like the characters they were portraying. Worst case scenario, that where they don’t, then at least some physical feature of the real character be seen on them.

WM: With the kind of acclaim ‘A place in the stars’ received, did you have any concerns about ’93 Days’ not doing as good?
Gukas: I didn’t. I knew we had a story that will resonate with many people. It is a story many Nigerians feel ownership of. So I knew that if done well, they would come out to support it. My concern was with how it will be received, because every time people heard we were making a movie on the Ebola incident, there was a rush to tell us individual experiences. People knew exactly where they were when these things happened. Everyone has a story of the period to share. The expectations of the movie were therefore very high. Yet the canvas in terms of both time and resources was not big enough to accommodate all the narratives. And that was a major concern for me.

WM: You have described ‘93 Days’ as a story about Nigerians told by Nigerians. How well would you say that the choice for a non-Nigerian scriptwriter has captured this and also why didn’t you use a Nigerian scriptwriter?
Gukas: The decision to use a non-Nigerian writer was informed by the need to have a screenplay that is international, with a strong chance of cross over in the in global market. That’s not to say a Nigerian writer could not have written the story. The difference is in the flavour of language and writing style. I worked very closely with the writer to ensure that the ‘Nigerianness’ of the story was retained. So you could say I am an ‘uncredited’ writer as well. However, the writing is only one aspect of making a movie. We had a crew that was 100 percent Nigerian.
WM: There were speculations last year about this work not lasting beyond 93 days on the shelf. With how far it has come, what is your response to this?
Gukas: I do not know the basis upon which the statement was made but I will not dignify it with an answer.

WM: What did it cost to make ‘93 Days’?
Gukas: Over N400 million.

 WM: Why did you decide on Bimbo Akintola to play Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh?
Gukas: I was very clear from the get-go who I wanted to play the role of Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh. For me only Bimbo Akintola had the depth and range required to do justice to this role and boy did she deliver. Bimbo gives a tour de force performance, vindicating my confidence in every way. It is not every day you catch a performance this powerful.

WM: You worked with Gideon Okeke in ‘A place in the stars.’ Didn’t you worry your audience may be bored with seeing him again in another of your works?
Gukas: It is very common to find directors working again and again with certain actors. You have Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington, etc. I think it speaks to my confidence in his talent and the fact that he has enough range to inhabit different characters and do it so well that you do not see Gideon but the character. I believed he could and he delivered 100 percent.

WM: What’s it about him that made you work with him again?
Gukas: His talent and work ethic. He commits to the character in a way most actors don’t.

WM: Do you have a particular target audience when you make your films?
Gukas: Always. It helps in the crafting of the movie. It is never the same audience though. It shifts from project to project. The determining factor is the story.

 WM: What are you working on at the moment?
Gukas: I have a number of projects in development but none is particularly on the front burner. Trying to give my total attention to ensuring ‘93Days’ succeeds fantastically.

WM: Who are you looking forward to working with?
Gukas: Can’t say until I have a project. That is usually the pointer.

 WM: What’s been the biggest challenge making the kind of movies that you have?
Gukas: What I try to do with the films that I make, is make them to last – to be good enough to hold their own anywhere in the world. That requires a lot of attention and money. That is always the challenge, but one that I enjoy. Doing projects in the scale that I do means that I can’t do a lot of films in a given span of time. So I try to enjoy the journey of each project, regardless of the challenge.

 WM: After each successful work, what is the first thing you treat yourself to?
Gukas: I go home to my family. The projects take so much of my time and attention and I try to make up for lost time with my family. Mostly, we try to get away to spend quality time.

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