Nollywood is often seen as a factory, pumping out film after film at the incredible rate needed to make it the world’s second-largest movie industry by volume, worth more than a billion dollars a year. The human side of its story is often obscured by the red carpets, the makeup and the social media shoutouts of its stars. The story of Babaseun Faseru, who followed his dream to join Nollywood, is a reminder that even in showbiz, it is also possible keep things real.
Nollywood is many things to many people. Over a million people, to be exact; the industry employs more people than any other sector in the economy other than agriculture. Babaseun Faseru is one of them.
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“I started acting when I was 15 years. I have a cousin, Dimeji Komolafe, who studied Theatre Arts at the University of Ilorin. In his final year, he had to do a project based on a movie in my hometown, Ijebu Ijesha, so he came home and gathered some of us. I auditioned and I got a role and that was my first appearance in a movie, in 1995,” he explained.
Faseru, who today is a recognized actor in the highly competitive industry, has far bigger ambitions than acting, however. His dream is to really make it as a producer, too. It’s a dream he has held on to for a very long time, ever since he realised things could be done better.
“I was fired up to correct things not well done in filmmaking,” he said.
That includes zooming in on his own society. His recent production, “Ebiti”, is about the failures of Nigeria’s policing system, borne out of the EndSARS protests, the peaceful protests that led to the brutal shootings by police of protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. Faseru’s film looks at “how well we can investigate complex cases”.
The last-born in a family of 14, now living his dream to the “fullest”, Faseru is determined to transform society by tackling key societal issues, including drug abuse, rape and corruption, confronting youth in Nigeria – and Africa – through the medium of film.
The level of determination he exudes may come from the fact that he has not had all the time he might have wanted, to get his important work done. For despite his passion for film and the arts, kindled by that early experience acting in his cousin’s movie, Faseru instead had to set out on a path to become an accountant. For ten long years he went through the motions,“sleep-walking” his way to becoming a “number cruncher” to satisfy his father’s wishes.
But the desire to return and embrace his dream and passion – and the Theatre Arts course he initially wanted to study at university before his father vetoed it – still lurked in a corner of his being. And in time, he gravitated back.
A big break came in 2014 when film director Tunde Olaoye offered him the opportunity to feature in several television series, among them “Shadows”, “Crack in the Wall”, “Number One” and “Tinsel”. He didn’t let the opportunity go to waste.
“I was really excited. I enjoyed every bit of it. After Tinsel, I moved on,” he said.
It was his role in “Jenifa’s Diary”, the popular Nigerian series created by Funke Akindele, that put him in the limelight, and opened more doors for him, after he was picked to play the role of “Toyo Baby’s Boyfriend” in the popular series.
“It was a huge role and I was surprised that such a role could be given to someone like me who is not yet very well known in the industry. I put in my best so I will not disappoint their trust in me. “Jenifa’s Diary” gave me a very good platform,” he recalled.
The opportunity to act in award-winning productions became his inspiration to work harder and make a niche for himself in Nollywood. It also provided him with the confidence to begin focusing on his other passion: film production as a means of addressing society’s ills.
“In 2018 I produced my first movie, PWD…. The story is about drug abuse…it teaches morals and weaknesses in the institution called the drug agency, how people make dirty money to cover it up with moral stuff.”
“Two others are “Dieko” and “Ebiti”. “Dieko” has to do with rape and societal problem,” he explained. While keen to help Nigerian film develop further, Faseru’s is thrilled at how far it has come.
“Today you cannot watch 10 movies on Netflix and not see four good Nigerian movies,” he said. “And we are not backing down. Fresh graduates are coming into the system, so it is a fertile ground,” he added.
As a producer, Faseru battles constantly to secure resources, rapping on the doors of investors and persuading them to tap the potential in Nollywood.
“PWD was not a good sale for me… I invested five million naira and got less than one million naira, which is a huge loss. That is why we are speaking to big investors to establish and create our own platform like Netflix through partnership to sell our products. We have the creativity and skills but the problem is how to make our money back,” he said.
An indomitable spirit serves both as armour and drive, in these meetings. However, he adds that to attract serious investors, integrity, openness and good human relations are key. His advice for aspiring actors and producers:
“Embrace these values… There is no magic. Learn to go through the processes until you are well established.”
“You have to audition and be consistent. At the audition, you learn, meet people and connect. Connectivity is the way to make it. Consistency is the backbone of success… if you are consistent there is a point where failure sees consistency and it will run away. Continue to be consistent and your sun will shine,” he said.
Looking beyond himself and his peers, Faseru is keen to nurture a new generation of “Nollywooders” by establishing an academy.
“I train teenagers in drama, dance and public speaking,” he said.
Reaching out and giving young students the break he never got, suddenly, those early years no longer seem as “lost”.