In this exclusive interview with Amara Iwuala, Eric Aghimien, the producer/director of the multiple award-winning film, A Mile from Home, tells 360nobs.com how he metamorphosed from a ‘Little Wonder’ kid to the exceptional film-maker we all admire today.
360nobs: What is your full name?
Eric: My full name is Eric Enomamien Aghimien, but I grew up with Osarodion, which was given to me by mum; but my dad changed that when I started living with him … confusing situation of a broken home. Well, I was also nicknamed SPIKE by a New York Film Academy Screenwriting and Producing instructor, Mr. Ryan Gibson, in the DelYork Academy Creative Workshop.
360nobs: Could you tell us about your education: the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions attended plus qualifications obtained at the tertiary level (undergraduate and/or post-graduate)?
Eric: I attended Ohuoba Primary School, after which I went to the Immaculate Conception College both in Benin City, Edo State. Then I went to the Auchi Polytechnic in Auchi, Edo State where I obtained a National Diploma Certificate in Science Laboratory Technology. When I was a child, I was brilliant in the Arts, I used to draw comics and sell in my primary school. Then, I was eight years old.
At that time, I was a little wonder; people used to gather to watch my artistic creations. I remember I used to do the Art home work of my big cousins, friends and sisters who were already in secondary school for a fee. But given the environment, in which I grew up with little or no supervision and guidance from parents who were hardly around, I decided to become a medical doctor. But, at a point in my life, I met my late uncle, Mr. Imuentinyan Osaghae, who noticed my artistic abilities and told me I should be in art and not science.
After my National Diploma, I decided to suspend my education and go straight into entertainment. One of my aunties and my immediate elder sister didn’t like the idea of quitting school, but I felt it was a waste of my time to continue pursuing a certificate I knew I will not use. We had a serious argument for a long time.
My dad didn’t really bother about the decision I made; so long it’s not crime … So, whether she agreed or not, I went on with my decision and today, I can say she’s proud I did not listen to her, though my aunty still tells me any time I visit her, “go back to school”…lol.
360nobs: What were you doing before Film-making beckoned or have you always worked in film?
Eric: Before Film-making, I was into professional graphic design and event coverage – normal hustling …lol. When I moved to Lagos in 2006, I attended a computer school where I learnt how to use the graphic design and the video editing software. Before then, I worked as a waiter in some restaurants, but quit the job before I started the school. When I finished the course, I registered a company called Hills Pictures, under which I started professional graphic design and event coverage while preparing myself and researching more into Film-making.
360nobs: Why and how did you embrace Film-making?
Eric: Film-making was always there somewhere; everything I did as a waiter in restaurants, graphic designing and event coverage were to keep me afloat while I learnt Film-making, so as to pursue a career in entertainment. When I came to Lagos in 2006, I came as a singer, but there were some thoughts on Film-making somewhere in my mind, but I was not sure.
While I was busy chasing a career in music, I attend many auditions, including Star Quest. There was this particular talent hunt show where I was auditioned, the grand finale was held in Planet One, Ikeja, Lagos, and was sponsored by Sony Ericson. It was covered by the Sound City crew and when I saw their cameras and other equipment plus their crew working, something leapt within me: a feeling of awe. I felt something I have never felt before and right there, I decided and was 100% sure I will be a film-maker.
360nobs: Could you list all your productions with dates, giving vital details of your cast and crew, nominations and awards, which the films/TV productions have won? Tell us everything about A Mile from Home.
Eric: This is a big question with many branches but I’ll like to start from the bottom. So, when I decided to become a film-maker, I had so many stories in my head to tell, but I realized it was impossible to tell these stories with very low budget and to make matters worse, most were action stories.
Considering telling a believable story, I had to write a story that will not require special location or set, a story that will not require expensive costumes, a story that will be dominated by young people who are still in their adventurous years and putting all of these into careful consideration, I wrote “A Mile from Home”. Initially, A Mile from Home was tentatively titled and shot as “The Way Back Home” until the week I was to release the trailer and I realized it was a common title on the internet, so I decided to change it.
One of the strategies I employed to make the movie was to choose locations that were within walking distances. For casting, although I had two auditions, but I made sure I carefully selected my lead actors. For example, I had the pictures of how my characters will look, speak and act, besides the audition; I went to the Theatre Department of the University of Lagos to scout for the right characters by pretending to be a student while I watched the student rehearse.
After their rehearsal, I approached ‘Sambasa’ Chiedozie Nzeribe, who was very humble, adventurous and enthusiastic about being a part of the project. I auditioned him for the role, he got it and his performance in the movie was outstanding. Tope Tedela, on the other hand, came for the audition and got the lead role eventually. These two boys were amazing on set; their conduct, willingness to learn and tolerance were just mind blowing for me. One thing I believe is that talent can make you shine at first, but what keeps you shinning is character.
I am very encouraged with the success of A Mile from Home because it is my first feature film and it was well received with positive reviews. So far, it has won about 14 awards with over 20 nominations, namely:
- Best Movie – 2014 Nollywood Movies Awards (NMA)
- Best Rising Star Male – 2014 Nollywood Movies Awards (NMA)
- Best Actor in a Drama – 2014 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA)
- Achievement in Visual Effects – 2014 Africa Movies Academy Awards (AMAA)
- Best Actor – 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards (NEA)
- Best Director – 2014 Golden Icons Academy Awards (GIAMA), USA
- Best Drama – 2014 Golden Icons Academy Awards (GIAMA), USA
- Most Promising Actor – 2014 Golden Icons Academy Awards (GIAMA) USA
- Best Sound – 2014 Golden Icons Academy Awards (GIAMA) USA
- Best Actor – 2014 Best of Nollywood (BON) Awards.
- Best Edited Movie – 2014 Best of Nollywood (BON) Awards.
- Movie with the Best Special Effects – 2014 Best of Nollywood (BON) Awards.
- Best Editor – Africa Film Academy Awards (ZAFAA), UK
- Movie Producer of the year – 2013 Blueprint Awards.
After A Mile from Home, I directed another movie, titled “King Turner” which is still in post-production. On the project, I worked with Majid Michel, Alex Usifo, Amaechi Monagor, Shan George and many others.
After that, I had the opportunity to attend a Film-making workshop for the first time to sit in class and learn Film-making at Del-York Creative Academy. During the course, I was nicknamed “Spike” by Mr. Ryan Gibson, a New York Film Academy instructor who was one of our lecturers. After the programme, I made a short war film (my final project) titled “Leeway”, which has so far won 2 awards in the 2014 International Short Film Festival (In-Short) and a nomination for Best Online New Media at the 2015 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA).
360nobs: What is the highest point of your career so far?
Eric: Wow, this question is tough to answer because; I have had so many great moments in my career. I had great moments every time my movie won an award; but to cap it, I will say my greatest moment was when I was watching TV one day and discovered I was rated among Top Five Nigerian Movie Directors. I felt very privileged and proud. That was a great moment for me.
360nobs: What is the lowest moment (if any)?
Eric: The lowest moment of my career was when I was arrested and detained by The Nigerian Customs for importing airsoft guns, which I needed for production.
I was detained for 9 days and accused of importing real guns and they requested for N400,000.00 for my bail. I told them I imported those airsoft guns from USA and came through their airport with sophisticated machines that could have detected if they were real guns before they were flown to Nigeria.
At some point, I wanted to contact the company I bought them from, but on the other hand, I felt if I call them and tell them what our custom is claiming, it will be a shameful thing to the nation. So, I endured the pain and fought for myself. It was a very sad experience and I was emotionally broken. I got a lawyer, we were about to take the case to court before the Customs finally decided to follow due process by releasing me and the guns to the Nigerian Police Force who to my amazement handled the case professionally, did their investigations and later released the goods for the production.
360nobs: What film/TV production are you currently working on and what should the audience expect?
Eric: I have two great stories and I am finding it difficult to choose the one to put forward as my next project, so I think I will answer this on another day.
360nobs: What are your thoughts on Nollywood; in terms of the industry’s achievements and the challenges it faces?
Nollywood has made a name for itself internationally in terms of volume which I believe is a good start or a foundation for us to build on by raising the quality of the films we make. But the Nigerian government has a major role to play in this because most great nations became greater in the eyes of the world through their movies, for example USA. I would suggest to the Nigeria government to consider Nollywood in the annual budget and not just a one-off thing.
I was one of the four Nigerians, selected to participate in the 2015 Berlinale Talent Campus in Berlin, Germany. Each time I introduced myself as Nigerian, the next thing they ask about is corruption, violence and war and I was always on my toes to answer their questions with wisdom, doing image laundering for my nation. The government must understand that the best means to do this is through movies. Another thing is tourism; there is no better medium of promoting tourism than movies.
A few days ago I was watching a programme on TV in the UK, called “Win Your Wish List” I guess, there was this lady that one of the items she had on her wish list was to visit Madagascar simply because she watched an animation movie titled Madagascar. Apart from creating employment, Nollywood has so much potential that will benefit Nigeria in the long-run.
In view of this, our government should create a more conducive environment for Film-making in Nigeria, reduce tax to encourage more income for film-makers and build more theatres and cinemas. Let us develop a theatre culture in Nigeria and this is very important.
360nobs: Which older film-makers do you admire and why?
Eric: In Nigeria, I admire Steve Gukas; as a matter of fact he is my mentor and I also admire Kenneth Gyang, my very good friend and not forgetting Tunde Kelani and Kunle Afolayan, my ‘Egbons’ (Big Brothers). My role model is Mel Gibson, I love his work.
360nobs: What do you hope to achieve in the near and distant future?
Eric: I want to be the best film-maker in the world, simple.
360nobs: Are there any other experiences or insights you will like to share with us?
Eric: For young people who want to become directors or film-makers; they must be humble and learn to listen and be tolerant because they will work with so many pleasant and unpleasant people. They must release themselves and be open to training and constant constructive and destructive criticism because they will get those a lot in their lifetime.
And finally, if they don’t want to be criticized, they should go and farm, fish, bake or become full-time housewives or full-time house husbands or just do something else. Thank you.