Recently, Osun State-born actor, filmmaker and movie director, Damola Olatunji emerged as the chairman of Theater Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN),’s Guild of Directors. Being his first major interview as chairman, he shares with FEMI OGUNTAYO his plans to promote more professionalism in the movie industry and also lays a hand on some other mounting issues in the industry. Excerpts:
Let’s start with your emergence as the new chairman of Guild of Directors, Theater Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPAN), how did this come about and what does it mean for you and the Nigerian movie industry?
Yes, my emergence as the chairman of TAMPAN Guild of Directors is a victory for the industry. I tagged it victory for the industry because I have always been an advocate for the formalisation of our industry in the sense that, our industry is too porous and informal. That is why we call for proper regulation. Over the years we have seen that a lot of people just come over and tagged themselves directors and that is why we keep turning out low quality movies. So I have always been an advocate of good production, professionalism, formalisation of the industry and all that. So my coming on board is out of passion and readiness to work and serve so we can standardise and have professionals in the industry.
In the area of standardising and improvement in the directing aspect of the Nollywood movies, what are you going to do differently and what changes should we expect from you?
As we all know that a director is the general overseer of a movie, so if a director is up to the task, then definitely, we should expect a very good movie. What we intend doing is to embark on serious workshop and seminars for our directors, it is something we have started working on, and we hope to organise as many workshop and seminars as possible, so that we can orientate and re-orientate our directors, so that when they get professional, they will start rolling out professional jobs. It is a known fact that we talk about the Nigerian movie industry as one of the largest in the world and all that, but when we talk about the largest in the world, are we really rolling out quality products? We roll out low-budget and substandard products, so we just need to work on what we have. Fine, we have the fanbase, we have the market, but we need to get professional and that is what we are working on which will be facilitated by competent hands, like the last one we had which was with our mentor, Tunde Kilani of Mainframe Productions, so we are coming up with great ideas to improve the creativity of our movie directors.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected you and your business as an actor and movie producer so far? Or would you rather say it is a blessing in disguise?
Well, the Coronavirus pandemic has really affected everybody in the world. It is a global thing, it is beyond Nigeria and it is beyond the entertainment industry. Nobody actually expected it, nobody planned for it, it caught everyone unaware. It has really affected us in the industry because a lot of things have been suspended and all that. The truth of the matter is this, it depends on how we are looking at it, we lost a whole lot of people around the world, so it is not something to be happy about but at the same time, we can look at it from the angle of when we have Rose and thorns. It is either you see roses having thorns or thorns having roses. So, when you see it as Thorns having Roses, I think it is a better angle. It has really helped a lot of people, to re-strategize, to relax and has united families and homes. It has been a time of reflection for a lot of people because when all this is over, a lot of things will change. Our spending culture will change, the way we see things will change, the way we relate will change, even the way we do our businesses will change. Some businesses will never come back, while new ones will spring up, so it has been an avenue for a lot of people to learn new things. In the movie industry and the entertainment industry in general, a lot of people have actually learnt new things and it has been a time for people who are willing to recoup themselves to do that and one thing about creativity is that when you have time to relax, you can always think straight and well.
How have you been managing the effect of the pandemic on your career and what do you miss most right now about normal life before COVID-19?
Managing the effect of the pandemic is not a choice, it out of compulsion because you just have to manage it because it is what is on ground, it is something nobody can do anything about, except God. It is a time for us now to appreciate the free movement, time for us to appreciate the usual social gatherings; it is time for us to appreciate how we have been doing things before now. Sometimes, we take things for granted before now; we take our friends and families for granted, it is now an opportunity for us to appreciate the free movements where we can just go to movie locations, shoot movies, hug and laugh and all that. Not now, when you have to stay safe, keep social distance and cover your nose and mouth. What I miss most is being at work, you know, the location drama and all that.
A lot of rising actors complain that the present day Nollywood does not encourage unknown faces. Every marketer or producer wants a known face in his or her movie. Looking at the number of stars we have in the Nigerian movie industry today, would you say it has produced enough stars as it ought to?
Thank you for this very question, you see, I am of the opinion that movies make stars and not the other way round. It is the movies that will bring out star actors, not the star actors making the movie. If we have professionals handling these things, you will realize that you can never have enough stars and the truth is, there can never be a permanent champion, and you can only be a current champion. There is time for everybody, but one thing we need to realize is that, this is called ‘Showbiz’ – show and business. So when you when you do show, you need to consider the business aspect of it, so you cannot really blame marketers or producers who always want to use some certain faces, because they want to make money, they want to market their products. But at the same time, there is nothing bad in giving opportunities, we all got our opportunities from someone somewhere somehow, and we are still looking for better opportunities up there. I think it all boils down to the fact that we need more professionals in the industry. When we have more professionals in the industry, they will understand that actors don’t movies, movies make actors.
Briefly on your career now, it’s been a long time coming for you, would you recap how it all started for you, how did it all start for you and how did you become a known face in the industry?
Whatever I am in the industry today has been as a result of consistency, hardwork and believing in God Almighty. I have always believed that no matter what you want to do in life, you have to learn more and you have to calm down so you can learn from people. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it is just a collective effort of little here and there, which has just been the driving force. When you put God first in all you do, the sky is just a starting point. So it all started because I have passion for it, when you are passion driven, every other thing is minimal. You must have passion for the industry because you will face a lot of challenges which if you are not passionate about what you really want to do, you will find yourself being discouraged.
How does it feel like being married to a colleague? Has it in any way been challenging?
It has been so great and it is not just about getting married to someone who is in the same profession as you, it is just about getting married to your friend. So, it has been so cool and we thank God, He has been so faithful. So it has been based on understanding, dialogue and trust.
Any embarrassing moment you would like to share with us?
Embarrassing moment is part of our job; it is what we face every time. Okay let me say, just recently, after the easing of the lockdown, I was supposed to meet with someone around Ikeja, so I was there, I parked my vehicle and the other person parked too and we were talking. So, even with my nose mask on, a guy just saw me and came to meet us, and he just grabbed me and started shouting “Ah, we know you, even if you cover your face”, he forcefully gave me an handshake, not minding the social distancing rule and all that. Immediately I had to reach out for my hand sanitizer, he was a fan actually, but it was embarrassing. But like I said, it comes with the job and it’s fun all the way.
Lastly, what are your words to your fans at this trying moment?
There is always light at the end of the tunnel, this too shall pass. At the end of the day, everything will go back to normal and we will all enjoy. They should all continue to stay safe so that when all this is over we can all enjoy together. Thank you so much for believing in me and accepting me and thank you so much for always supporting me and my career, God bless you.