Grace Edwin-Okon wears many creative caps as screenwriter, published author, film producer and actress. After placing third at the 1999 Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN), she got a role in Zeb Ejiro’s Candlelight and has remained in the movie industry.
She recently started The Derwin First Shot Initiative (DFSI) through which she encourages up-and-coming film-makers, who lack funds to execute their first feature film projects. In fact, the first film by the initiative, Mrs. and Mrs. Johnson has been shot.
The amiable young lady, who also starred in Doctors’ Quarters, an MNET TV Series, takes us through her journey in the world of make believe and her goals for the future.
1. 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)?
I started my education at Lara Day Nursery and Primary School, Ikeja, Lagos and attended three secondary schools, namely: the Federal Government Girls College, Bauchi; Adebayo Mokuolu College, Ogba, Lagos and Federal Government College, Odogbolu, Ogun State. For my tertiary education, I attended the Delta State University, Abraka, Delta State, where I obtained a BA (Hons.) in the English Language. I recently attended a business school called Water Mark Academy here in Lagos.
2. How did you start out as an actress and what is the title of the film you first participated in? Could you list other films you featured in when you set out as an actress? Do you still act?
Back in 1999 after I placed third in the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant (MBGN); I followed two of my friends, Tina Iruviere and Ayo Makun, to Zeb Ejiro’s office, where Tina had been invited to try out a role and Zeb needed someone to read with Tina. I was given a script and I read with her; that was the first time I saw a movie script. I guess my reading impressed Zeb Ejiro, so he proceeded to give me my first role in a movie titled Tears in Heaven. Some of the other movies and soaps I have featured in are as follows: Candlelight (series), Extreme Measures (film), My Dream, Prodigal Brother, Doctors’ Quarters (series), Heavy Beauty (film), A Fool’s Tale (film). And yes, I still act.
3. When and why did you embrace film production? We know you produced Heavy Beauty, Tunnel, Kpians: Feast of Souls, Oblivious, Sting and The Deadwood. Which other films have you produced? Could you tell us in one or two sentences, the stories and genres of each film?
I started producing content for children in 2004 and produced my first feature film in 2012. I embraced film-making because I felt there was something unique that I could add to the Nigerian film industry. In addition to the films listed above, I have also produced Kids and Praise 1 and 2, Fruit of the Spirit, My Creek Town Adventure, Sister’s Keeper, A Fool’s Tale, The Maid, Demystifying Autism, Mrs. & Mrs. Johnson and Funsie.
Kids and Praise 1 and 2: Kids’ content sing along; Fruit of the Spirit: Kids’ content sing along and drama; Heavy Beauty: An urban adventure of an eighteen year-old pregnant girl who is stuck between having her baby and chasing her dreams; Tunnel: A Pastor lost in a tunnel of his woes; Kpians – Feast of Souls: A horror flick based on the lives of supposed friends; Oblivious: A husband’s infidelity makes him oblivious of his wife’s medical plight; Sting: A rape story spun out of a physiologically deranged boy’s hunger for virgins; The Deadwood: A documentary based on the plight of pensioners; My Creek Town Adventure: A love story, played out on the tourist sites of Cross River state; Sister’s Keeper: A tale of two sisters intertwined in love and hate; The Maid: An autism awareness infomercial/short film; Demystifying Autism: An animated autism awareness documentary; A Fool’s Tale: A dreamer girl’s love folly; Mrs. & Mrs. Johnson: an urban drama with slight comic hues, which journeys through the rude awakening that shakes the world of two women both named Mrs. Johnson, under a very unusual circumstance and Funsie: A 3D animated children’s series.
4. Are you the Executive Producer of any of the films? If yes, how did you raise money for the film(s)?
Yes, I am the Executive Producer of many of the films; I raise money mostly through private investors.
5. What challenges do you face as a producer and which of the films was the most challenging to make?
Two major challenges – first is finance, sometimes it’s difficult to raise enough money to shoot big budget films; second, location – it can be difficult to shoot in certain places, especially the outdoor location. The most challenging so far is Heavy Beauty.
6. Apart from The Deadwood and Oblivious, which other films of yours have won awards?
Kpians: Feast of Souls
7. Which of your films have been distributed and can you disclose the means of distribution: online, cinema, DVD, etc.?
The Deadwood, Sister’s Keeper and Oblivious – Online; Tunnel – DVD/Satellite Television.
8. What are the high points of your career and what are the low points (if any)?
I’ve had many high points in my career, but let me share two that are special. A short film version of Heavy Beauty was shown to about a thousand teenage girls at a “Hands up for Her” event at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and after watching the film, the girls gave it a standing ovation. It brought tears of joy to my eyes to know that they really liked it. Second was The Deadwood winning the Best Documentary Award at the AMVCA. A low point so far will be discovering that a particular location sound man did a very bad job on one of my movie sets and it almost ruined my production.
9. What new project/projects are you working on and what should the audience expect?
I am presently working on a film project called The Derwin First Shot Initiative (DFSI). Derwin First Shot Initiative is an organization set up to give young men and women their first shot at shooting their first feature films by providing the much needed funding, professional guidance and support required to shoot the films. DFSI has produced its first feature film, titled Mrs. & Mrs. Johnson; it’s a film that audiences should look out for.
10. What are your thoughts on Nollywood; in terms of the industry’s achievements and the challenges it faces?
Nollywood has done very well for itself; it has grown into a globally recognized industry without any external help, which is an amazing achievement. Our major challenges presently are funding, distribution and piracy. I pray that soon, all three challenges will be overcome.
11. Which older film-makers (local and foreign) do you admire and why?
Tyler Perry, The late Amaka Igwe.
12. What do you hope to achieve in the near and distant future?
International co-productions and global awards.
13. What do you have to say to struggling film-makers out there, especially the young ones, who are trying to break into Nollywood?
Never give up on your dreams.
14. Are there any other experiences or insights you will like to share with us?
I am also a scriptwriter and have the following to my credit: Heavy Beauty, Chiga Chiga, The Deadwood, A Fool’s Tale, My Creek Town Adventure, The Maid and Funsie. In addition to film-making, I have also become an author; I have published Heavy Beauty as a book.