Ekene Som Mekwunye attended Fountain School, Surulere, and Government College, both in Lagos. He also attended the University of Lagos (UNILAG), where he studied … He is currently enrolled for an Executive MBA at the Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos.
Mekwunye first studied Film-making at the eponymous Amaka Igwe Studios under Amaka Igwe, the renowned film-maker of blessed memory. He then went on to the New York Film Academy at the Universal Studios, Los Angeles, USA to obtain more knowledge in Film-making.
At the recent 2015 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, the AMVCAs, Oblivious, Mekwunye’s short film was crowned the Best Short Film of the year. He discusses his mission in the film industry with us.
- What were you doing before film-making beckoned or have you always worked in film?
I started my career in Advertising, but decided to go into production because the firm I worked with at the time needed help in production. We had also delved into content creation and also needed to shoot pilot episodes, but always got stuck there. So, I decided to learn production, but didn’t know where to go until I met the late Mrs. Igwe and learnt what I could from her.
2. Is Oblivious your first short film? If not, could you tell us about your other works?
Oblivious is my first short film after film school. I shot a short film in Los Angeles as a requirement for finishing from the film school I attended. But after I returned to Nigeria, I decided to write and shoot Oblivious.
3. How did you raise money for Oblivious, how much did it take to make the film and what is the film about? Why did you go for co-directing rather than doing it alone? What did you learn from co-directing the movie?
Oblivious was a ‘No Budget’ Movie (If there’s any term like that). I barely had any money at the time. I read the story online and decided to write the screenplay for it. It’s a popular online story about a man that asked his wife for a divorce and she gave him conditions. I collaborated with my friends, Stanlee Ohikhuare and Grace Edwin-Okon to make the movie. Stanlee had promised to help me with equipment since he had all the equipment needed. He was preparing for a production with Grace at the time, so he asked her to help out in co-producing; so I could have more room for directing, though Stanlee did a lot of the directing and editing. I barely had money to pay for many things, so I improvised. I took some of my wife’s old clothes as well as her wedding gown and my clothes as costumes for the actors. I made sure they were properly dry-cleaned. My younger sister, who is a hair stylist and make-up artist, did hair and make-up, so she didn’t ask me for money. I used the houses of my parents-in-law and a friend as location. I asked my father-in-law for his Hilux truck which I used for logistics. I had to borrow money from my wife (which I am yet to pay back) to pay for the meals, cast and crew. It was an interesting experience working with my friends plus the cast and crew as nobody really worked for the money, but to see that we had a good film.
4. Are there other awards and recognitions that Oblivious has clinched? If there are, could you tell us about them?
Oblivious was nominated at AFRIFF 2014 and also screened at the Eko International Film Festival. The AMVCA is the first award it is winning. These are the only awards it was entered for.
5. What are the high points of your career and what are the low points (if any)?
As an entrepreneur, being able to survive the first few years will always be a high point. But in terms of picking events, I would pick two: when I finished the first season of the TV show My Big Nigeria Wedding; which I created, produced and directed. People had doubted if we would deliver, but we did. Winning the AMVCA would certainly be one as well because of the recognition and some measure of popularity, which it brought. The low point would be going through a whole year, during start up and barely making any income as a family man with a wife and a one year-old baby. That was like walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
6. What new project/projects are you working on and what should the audience expect?
I am presently producing 2 short films for Trino Studios. We had been planning this before the AMVCAs. I am also hoping to shoot my first feature film early next year. We are in the second season of My Big Nigerian Wedding and it is bigger this time as we will be having two winners and two weddings in Lagos and Abuja. I also have the rights to the Biggest DJ Competition in the world known as DMC World DJ Championship. We are planning to organize one in Nigeria and have the winner represent Nigeria at the world championship for the first time as well as generate good TV content from it.
7. What are your thoughts on Nollywood; in terms of the industry’s achievements and the challenges it faces?
Like many things in life, it has gone through different phases. The global recognition it has received speaks volumes. A lot of countries can only wish to get to where we are in terms of having a film industry, though there are still a lot of challenges in the area of marketing and production. I also think that the art of storytelling is another problem, but every system has got its own problems. The good thing is that our film industry is not a stagnant or retrogressive one. We are making progress and that’s all that matters. I believe that as we grow, the other problems will be solved. After all, there were much more problems in the past that have been solved or are being solved. The standard has been upped, which shows progress.
8. Which older film-makers (local and foreign) do you admire and why?
Kunle Afolayan and James Cameron. They have been able to set industry standards and made films that have been appreciated by their viewers.
9. What do you hope to achieve in the near and distant future?
I will love to tell a lot of our untold stories here in Nigeria and indeed Africa. I know without a doubt that I will. It might take me time because it costs a lot of money and time to make a good film, but I am resolute and will do it in a way that the world will appreciate and love. I also will love to teach young people the art of Film-making and TV Production. I have a penchant for teaching and also do it effortlessly with immense impact. I hope to start with my Alma Mata, UNILAG.
10. What do you have to say to up-and-coming film-makers out there, especially the young ones, who are trying to break into Nollywood?
I don’t know anyone that attained greatness or success by giving up or without a fight. Passion is the number one ingredient because that’s one thing that keeps you when nothing seems to be going right. You also have to back up your passion with knowledge. It’s even tougher now because the bars have been raised and you can’t give what you don’t have. A lot of young people are more concerned about what they can get rather that what they can become by investing in their personality. Success comes from what you have fed your spirit man or your mind, so you have to always aspire to greater heights by continuous study. With time, the rest will fall into place. It’s just a natural order.