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Film making generating huge revenue for Nigeria – Okoh

Okoh Stephen Onucheojo popularly known as “Director Bishop” is a filmmaker, director, writer and facilitator with over 50 film projects to his credit, and with…

Okoh Stephen Onucheojo popularly known as “Director Bishop” is a filmmaker, director, writer and facilitator with over 50 film projects to his credit, and with a couple of local and international film awards and nominations. In this interview, he explains how the film industry still remains a viable sector and still generates good revenue, among other things. Excerpts

How did your filmmaking career begin?

I was exposed to filmmaking quite early, sometime around early 2000 by my uncle Jude Odoh, who happens to be a filmmaker. He would take me and other siblings to film sets to assist in set design, makeup and sometimes to play minor roles. I decided to make a career out of filmmaking after looking up to God for direction in 2015. I heard him clearly say to me, “Leave your profession and go after your passion”.  My profession at that time was insurance and then my passion was filmmaking and that was how I took the bold step.

Not wanting to go into the film world as a novice, I decided to further my education, so I went to the National Film Institute Jos where I graduated with a Bachelor in Film Art and then as God would have it, I was privileged to further my education to Masters level and I studied Film Cultural and Archival Studies. I was privileged to also be among the three students selected to go to Goethe University, Frankfurt Germany, as an exchange student. So, I’ll just say filmmaking, for me, is more of a calling.

You have about 50 film projects to your credit. Tell us briefly about some of the films?

My various film projects cut across short films, documentary films, feature films, TV series and even TV talk shows.

I wish I could be able to talk about all the film projects I have participated in because they are all special to me. Trust me, as a filmmaker, in every project you are involved in, you leave a part of yourself. But I will just mention a few; one of which happens to be “The Menace”. One of my first short films; it was a student project while I was doing my diploma program at High-Definition Film Academy in Abuja. It deeply exposed me to a lot of things because at the end of the day, it was selected for an award at Silverbird Cinema in Abuja and though I lost, the criticism and encouragement I got from the judges gave me hope that better days were ahead of me.

Another project was “GIAA” The Slave Princess. The film is currently showing at Africa magic. I directed this project and what makes this project dear to me is that it was given to me by somebody who more or less discovered me and gave me every platform to succeed in the industry. I’m talking about my boss forever, Andy Nwakalor. I worked with a lot of stars on the project. The likes of Ali Nuhu, Akume Akume, Debrah Jalmet and a host of others.

Also “Inner Child”. The documentary film short in Frankfurt Germany happens to be my first project in Europe. It was quite an interesting project because I had to bring in all aspects of creativity. It was a three-man crew project – myself and my colleagues who were there on a scholarship together. Collins Okorocha and Nnenna Ukoha. I had to multitask. I was a writer, DOP, director and editor. We had so much to do but it was all fun because at the end of the day, the reviews we got from the project and the nominations showed that our effort was not in vain.

Another project I really loved was “Awomi” – an indigenous Igala movie. I was the line producer and editor, and I was also part of the writing crew. This is my first Igala indigenous project and it is the closest I have gotten to my people because a lot of research was put into it from the day one decided to do something that is up to standard, and working with the likes of producer Tom Makolo Jnr. (Producer), DJ S’id (director), Eric Martins Atule (DOP), and a host of others, was a great experience.

You have also received several national and international awards. How did you clinch those awards?

The doors to awards for me opened right from my days in school at the National Film Institute Jos where I won Best Director, Best Editor, Best Documentary Film, and Best Actor. I went on to win Best Director at an Indian film festival, and my documentary film “Yantinka” also went on to win Best Documentary in the African documentary film awards. I’ve had other wins and several nominations home and abroad, which I cannot recall now. In direct response to your question on how I was able to clinch those awards, it is just a matter of doing my thing and improving on my previous projects.

Did you originally major in any film making course in school?

Yes, after studying Insurance at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, when I decided to go into film full time, I started the journey by acquiring a diploma in Film Art at the High-definition Film Academy Abuja and went on to the National Film Institute Jos, where I graduated with a Bachelor in Film Art and then proceeded for a masters in Film Culture and Archival studies. I still intend to take it up to Ph.D level.

The good thing about studying at the National Film Institute Jos is the opportunity to learn every aspect of filmmaking, but of course, at the end of the day, I had to major in Directing, Cinematography and scriptwriting, having acquired other skills which include editing, set design, even makeup and all that.

You also happen to be a lecturer, what do you teach?

I take courses in film editing, scripting, cinematography, directing and advanced post-production techniques.

Besides film making what other entertainment ventures are you into?

I sing as well, do Master of Ceremony (MC) and sometimes in my leisure time, I do a bit of painting either graphically or brush on canvas.

How will you rate the filmmaking/ entertainment industry in the nation?

Haven studied film, practiced and interacted with filmmakers and film scholars all over, I can boldly say that the filmmaking and entertainment industry in Nigeria is one of the working industries in this country. The employment level is massive, the revenue it generates for the country is huge, the international acceptance is overwhelming and it has come to serve as a way of escape for the citizenry. I would rate it top among all other industries in Nigeria.

In Plateau State where you also operate from often, there are great talents yet untapped and the entertainment industry there is not flourishing as it should. What do you think the problem is?

I actually like to applaud the state for being a breeding ground for entertainment heads in Nigeria. Unfortunately, we grow the talent here but they don’t succeed here until they go out. Jos is more like the breeding ground while Lagos is like the industry where they go to exhibit their art and then prosper there. I think one of the reasons is that they’ve not created an enabling environment to bring in investors and practitioners, one of the reasons being insecurity. People still don’t find Jos safe enough to come and do projects. Another is the fact that the government of the day does not understand its position in creating that enabling environment. For instance, some years ago, we did a film “Eva’s Blessing” somewhere in Cherry Hills and it was massive but today, all the beautiful rock formations are being mined, broken and sold off. Look at the Jos Museum – very beautiful sight to behold, but today, it’s in a dilapidated state because it is not being maintained. The government will do more about this in creating an enabling environment for practitioners because we have the talent, the weather, the topography and all it takes to make Jos the centre of film heritage in Nigeria.

What is your future projection with respect to your career and other entertainment engagements?

All I can say now is that the future is bright and with perseverance, hard work and consistent I will get there. Yes, there’s a huge divide between the mainstream filmmakers and those of us who are from this part of the world, we are deliberately and consciously creating films with good pictures, sound, great acting and amazing stories with the intention of carving a niche for ourselves here.

How do you think the entertainment industry can be developed in the country, as well as in Plateau State?

Three ways basically; first is to put the right people in position. Put people who have knowledge about this industry, people who are passionate about this industry, and people who have track records. Secondly, create policies that will create the enabling environment for filmmakers to succeed and finally, invest in the sector.

What is your advice to upcoming talents in the entertainment industry and those wishing to delve into it?

My advice to them would be the same advice Uncle Olu Jacobs gave me about 20 years ago or so, “For you to succeed in this industry, you must have a technical know-how about what this industrial entails; invest in yourself, study, research and understudy those who are already there and have made it.” One of the greatest rappers of our time, Mode9 whom I was privileged to sit under his tutelage, also advised me and I think the one thing he said that forever sticks with me wherever I go is to “Get the fame first and the cheques will come with the fame. You need to prove yourself and show the world what you can do. Your concern should not be about the glamour that comes with being a celebrity, it shouldn’t be about the cars, the ladies, the dressing etc. Prove your art first, and then every other thing will come with it and when it does come, don’t forget who you are, where you come from, or how you started.


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