Daniel Etim Effiong is a remarkable actor/screenwriter/director. In this interview, he discusses his exploits in the film and TV world.
- You attended the Government College, Ikorodu and then the Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna; so you are a science and technology person. How did you end up in film/TV? Could you tell us about your education: the primary and other tertiary institutions you attended plus qualifications obtained at the tertiary level (undergraduate and/or post-graduate plus professional trainings)?
My primary and secondary education were spread across Nigeria: from Benin to Lagos Island, Okigwe and, finally, Ikorodu. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from FUT Minna. I also attended the National Film Institute, Jos and, now, I am rounding off a degree in Motion Picture Medium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- Did any experience in your childhood, adolescence or adulthood prepare you for the film industry?
My childhood was spent mostly with my grandparents in Benin and then Lagos. Those years were quite eventful as my father was imprisoned by the military government of Gen. IBB, lost my mother, moved in with grandparents and relatives and so naturally my experiences fuelled my aptitude for stories. My grandfather recognized my storytelling and performance talent quite early; he bought me my first sketchpads because my school notebooks suffered. I was the go-to-guy for “local cinema entertainment” in primary and secondary schools, where most of the films I narrated were totally made up. I also volunteered for literary and drama groups in schools and churches.
- What were you doing before the movie industry beckoned or have you always worked in film? If yes, in what capacities – could you list the different jobs you do both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes?
After school, I served in ExxonMobil and worked in DeltaAfrik and Cakasa as a design engineer. While I worked as an engineer, I had a number of film-making and acting gigs on the side. I acted in Goddammit it’s Monday – Nigeria’s first web series – by Chioma Onyenwe and Gidi Up Season One by Jade Osiberu whilst working as an engineer. Also, I was an Assistant Director in ZR-7, a feature film by Udoka Oyeka & Femi Ogunsanwo. I wrote and sold my first short film script during my service year as well for N150, 000. So, I guess I was always both engineer and film-maker/actor until I quit my engineering job in January, 2013 to focus on Film-making.
- Why did you embrace the film industry?
I had a really rough time trying to balance the two lives, I figured it was possible to have the best of worlds for as long as I could until an uncle advised me to make a choice and stick to the consequence of my decision. He probably thought he was scaring me into quitting this “hobby” of mine and getting me back on the straight and narrow path, but I prayed about it and got the go ahead. No one except my girlfriend at the time knew what I was going to do. I dropped my resignation letter before I told any family member, just in case I developed cold feet. The day I quit my engineering job, I got an e-mail for a job interview at NdaniTV. So, I started my journey into film officially as a content producer for NdaniTV.
- Could you tell us about your involvement in Gidi Up; Goddammit, It’s Monday and Crimson plus the Turbo King Rockfall advertisement? Could you list all the productions, in which you have worked (with dates – years of production), giving vital details of the cast and crew plus the nominations and awards, which the films/TV productions have won?
Jadesola Osiberu saw my performance in Goddammit, it’s Monday and invited me for auditions for Gidi Up and this was long before I worked with NdaniTV. It was an amazing experience because like ZR-7, the cast and crew were young and very ambitious actors/film-makers with incredible talents. I wrote and directed Crimson, the same month I quit engineering; so in a way, it was my sign off piece and a statement I wanted to make. I got enormous help from a number of people, but specifically from Lala Akindoju who supported me through the entire process of making Crimson. Turbo King Rockfall was shot in Cape Town, but I auditioned for the role in Johannesburg and the director was impressed, so I got the job.
- Could you tell us about the Komla Dumor Prize for Storytelling at the Afrinolly Awards?
Crimson – Your Cup of Tea was runner-up for Best Film at the Afrinolly Short Film Competition 2013 with $10,000 as prize money. The organizers announced that they were going to honour the late Kumla Dumor, who was one of the judges for the competition by giving a prize for the best story in the competition named after him. I was announced as the best storyteller in 2013 and awarded the Kumla Dunor prize for storytelling.
- What is the highest point of your career so far OR may we know your remarkable experiences so far?
This year I was one of three young filmmakers selected across Africa by Mofilm UK and Unilever to attend the Cannes Lion Festival in France for my work on Thato’s Dream. I also received glowing reviews for my performance as Folarin in Gidi Up and also for my work on the noir short – Crimson.
- What is your lowest moment so far (if any) OR could you list some odd experiences you have had in the entertainment industry?
I think I have been really blessed in the industry. After I made the switch, it has been one blessing after another. Sometimes, I have disappointments like missing out on some major acting or film-making gig, but it comes with the territory. Also putting yourself out there means you’ve signed up for being bashed by critics, so I have had a bitter but very vital lesson in developing a thick skin in the arts.
- What film/TV production are you currently working on and what should your fans/the audience expect?
Well, there’s a major acting gig coming up in 2016 … At the moment, I’m working on a number of corporate videos and preparing for my first feature film.
- What are your thoughts on Nollywood; in terms of the industry’s achievements and the challenges it faces?
I believe Nollywood is the best thing to happen to Nigeria and like many blessings in our country like crude oil, ethnic and religious diversity when not properly managed, it becomes a problem. At the moment, global cinema sees Nollywood as a genre of low budget, low production value and low cinematic quality films. Nollywood film-makers are quickly changing this perception with not only bigger budget productions, but also by upping the ante on production value and daring to create a unique cinematic style. The industry is evolving and there is an increasing number of very interesting players. Nollywood has the potential to replace religion or football as the great opium of the Nigerian people or to surpass crude oil as our great export into every corner of the world.
- Which older filmmakers and artistes (local and international) do you admire and why?
I resonate with Alejandro González Iñárritu for his personality, style and his cinematic dialect. His films continue to ring a bell in my heart after I watch them: from Ameros Peros to Babel and 21 grams to Birdman.
I also really like Akin Omotoso, his sensibility and respect for the craft. He is also an actor/director and an extremely intelligent person. I once asked him what his secret was and he simply told me in a nutshell that it was “research”.
Mildred Okwo inspires me every day with her commitment to the industry and passion for developing young talents. She constantly challenges me to give my acting talent more attention and drags me out of my shy corner in the room to meet people and network.
Jude Idada is an extremely talented writer, producer and director and has always inspired me to follow my dreams in the art since I was a child, risking the wrath of my family members.
- What do you hope to achieve in the near and distant future?
I just want to do work that inspires. The world is such a depressing place when you think about it, I hope to put a smile on someone’s face, a tear in someone’s eyes or make someone’s heart race with inspiration.
Some of Daniel Etim Effiong’s works:
- Writer/Director (2015)
Title: Thato’s Dream
Company: Unilever (Project Sunlight Brand)
Genre: TV Commercial
Awards: 1st Prize Mofilm – Unilever Cannes Competition
- Actor (2015)
Company: Turbo King
Genre: TV Commercial
- Writer/Director (2015)
Genre: Music Video
- Writer/Director (2013)
Company: Blue Graffiti Films (Short film)
Genre: Film Noir/ Political Satire
Awards: 2nd Best Film at the Afrinolly Short Film Competition.
Kumla Dumor Award for storytelling.
- Writer/Director (2013)
Title: Officer Titus
Company: NdaniTV; (Web Series)
Award: Lead actor makes top 5 best Nollywood acts in 2013 for his role in Officer Titus.
- Writer/Director (2013)
Title: We Were There
Company: NdaniTV; (Feature Documentary)
- Actor (2013)
Title: Gidi Up
Company: NdaniTV (Web Series)
- Actor/Assistant Director (2011)
Company: AppleGazer & Karmacause Productions; (Feature film)
Awards: Nominated for Best Child Actor at the African Movie Academy Awards
- Assistant Director (2011)
Title: Ghetto Red Hot
Company: Apple Broken Manacles Productions; (Feature Documentary)