FOR over two decades, filmmaker and screenwriter Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun’s name still rings a bell in Nollywood. He has successfully produced some of Nollywood blockbusters such as Isakaba, Invasion 1897, Sacred, Private Sin, Last Prophet, and Scarlet woman. In this interview with SAMPSON UNAMKA, the award-winning director narrated how he moved to Lagos in 1994 without an address in pursuit of his dreams, sex-for-role allegation, 25 years of relevance in Nollywood among other issues.
HOW was 2020 with the lockdown and all?
The whole of 2020 I was in Abuja with my family and this definitely will interest you; in 2020 I was 13 years in marriage and it was the first time I was spending one uninterrupted month with my wife and children let alone two or more months with my family of being together every day and it gave me a whole lot of joy.
To the glory of God, nobody died. Sometimes in life you think this thing can never be done but. it happened and life goes on. My wife always joked about my staying at home during that period. From March ending to September, it was quite thrilling. We had time to rest and plan but it was difficult to plan with the pandemic because nobody knew exactly where the world was heading or when it was going to end. To the glory of God, it came and we thought it had ended and then the second wave started. We started fine because 2020 marked 25 years of practice, a lot was planned for the year.
I was going to do ceremonies in about five cities – in Lagos, Abuja, Benin, London and Canada to mark 25 years of sustained relevance in an industry which is what my friends call me. They said that I have been relevant from day one of 25 years, that there is hardly any year that passes within that 25 years that there is no two or more movies to my credit as a filmmaker with tons of awards, recognition from all over the world. So, I wanted to do something elaborate like when I clocked 20 years in the business, I marked it. I wanted an elaborate ceremony here in Lagos, Benin and the United Kingdom, and I thought 25 years was going to be bigger but the Coronavirus came and put a halt to all of those plans. As part of that 25 years, we have planned to mark my movie project; ‘Gbege’ starring top stars and several up and coming actors like Sam Dede, Jide Kosoko, Harry Banyanwu, Ebele Okaro, Zubby Michael, Nosa Rex, Broda Shaggi, Ini Edo, et al, all in one production that was shot in Benin city, Edo state.
How were you able to handle production with the happenings at that time in Edo state?
Something happened which I must share; during when we were planning the pre-production, the security situation in Edo state was very porous – cult killings, armed robbery and because there had been a jailbreak and what have you and of course in my capacity as Lancelot Imaseun who has always tried to project my hometown, I wrote to the Governor, Deputy Governor, secretary to the government, all relevant authorities including the customs and the Nigerian police to please guarantee a level of security for the calibre of actors coming to town to shoot my movie. I was invited for a meeting by the state commissioner of Police and sadly I was told that I should write to Abuja.
I wrote to Abuja and Abuja called me three days after I rounded off the project. That is the Nigeria that we are. I asked myself what is my benefit being a Nigerian? What can I boast about, what did I gain being a Nigerian? I was really scared but again through the project, I found out that the artists were more powerful than the Nigerian government knows. My fears before was these hoodlums and armed robbers might attack my artists but I was surprised that without any form of protection or support either by the state or by the Nigerian police, the artists walked freely on the streets and were embraced. All the streets we went, people were fighting to take pictures with the actors and actresses. So, the people I was scared of became the protectors and sadly the Nigerian government still do not take into serious cognizance the importance of the Nigerian celebrities. We are in post-production for Gbege and hopefully, the movie will hit the screen this year.
In comparison with your previous projects, how big is Gbege going to be and where did you get the idea of the story?
In terms of budget, the movie I can boast of was Invasion 1897 and in terms of the size of the production, Gbege stood out. In terms of the conglomeration of stars that came and the uniqueness of the project, Gbege is the biggest. Somebody had told me about the film’s idea and like I do, I expanded, worked on it and we have the script and everybody that saw it wanted to be part of it. This is why you have that number of top actors in the film. Several more couldn’t make it like Charles Inojie, Mercy Aigbe among others, who were all original cast for the project.
You were spotted shooting a skit recently, do you think skits are the future with the advent of social media?
Well, since I moved in here, I just call my boys and use it to prepare and rehearse with them. For me, it has always been the big picture but I am encouraging them to be busy. The truth is, I subscribe to skits but you see, there must always be a big picture. Funke Akindele just hit 500 million-plus from one film that’s a big picture. If you can build on skits and then once in a year you can now do a big picture.
Did you set out to be a film director?
Yes, I started as an artist, this was my plan. I am 41 years old as an artist, and I am 50 now. I started when I was nine years old. I have never done any other thing in my life other than the arts. I was on the radio as a presenter, I have been on television, street theatre, I read theatre arts so everything about me is art. Art is my life. Now I discovered that I am motivational and I do a lot of teaching.
What is the difference between the production here and in Hollywood having made a film there once?
You cannot compare light and darkness, it is an aberration. But again, let me not try to sound immodest, if I were from another clime, you may not have access to me judging from my credit. I have been a guest at the White House, but here in Nigeria tomorrow is never guaranteed.
In 2007, the Canadian government sponsored a documentary on me and it was shown at the Sundance film festival. I was the focus. The Sundance film festival is the most prestigious festival in the world. When the Nigerian government was giving national awards to deserving filmmakers in Nigeria, they gave it to some undeserving people. There is absolutely nothing that is not wrong in Nigeria. 2008 when I came from that trip the government of Canada called me and offered me a compound to stay in Canada I refused. The secretary of Quebec province asked how I found my stay because they sponsored my trip, how much I earn in Nigeria? Do I earn up to $50,000? How many people are dependent on me and I just had a child then, if I knew Nigeria was going to be like this till now and I refused to even have a child there, after being around the world I remain a patriot. I am one person Nigeria disappointed because there was no reason I would have been here. I had it on a platter to be anywhere, I’m being very honest with you, we are not sneaking in, we would come in and a Limousine will be waiting for me at the airport to pick me up. Nigeria really disappointed me because I really believed in the country.
I said I will not give birth abroad because everybody was rushing to go and give birth abroad but I did not. From Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland just to name a few, there is no where I have not been to in the cause of Nollywood but today what do we really have to show? Nigeria is a failed entity, completely, there is nothing that brings sweetness. My friend called me, while we were talking, we just lost a friend, Chico Ejiro. When he died, I cried, I almost died. I said it could have been me, it could be anybody. The state government now wrote condolence letter to his family. Don’t write me condolence letter, write me a commendation. No government official should write me condolence, write commendation now that I am alive. I am the man Nigeria disappointed the most.
By this time now we are supposed to be able to motivate younger ones but no value system. I went to Germany on an official assignment and a magazine interviewed me and I gave them my filmography they said my filmography as at that time was 76 movies to my credit but now over 300. The guy said when they published the interview they got the highest buzz which now motivated them to organize an event for me. When I did Gbege, I went on television and I told the government I have fought my own insecurity because I now know my greatest fear was insecurity before I did the production but I now know that I have a weapon to conquer insecurity. When the celebrities came, those with evil plans, came to take pictures and forgot their mission.
Tell us about your film school?
The film school is affiliated and in partnership with Igbinedion University. It is the first private registered university in Nigeria, we signed the Memorandum of understanding (MOU) in January 2017 and we started operations in June 2017.
What would you say is the one thing in your personality that has really driven your success to date?
Determination. I tell my students I detest desperation. I embrace determination because a lot of people are very desperate. They confuse both, there is a slight line of difference between desperation and determination. When there is an inner hunger to achieve a goal and you are not ready to allow any encumbrances, whatever that is thrown your way, you are able to surmount it, then you are determined and most times, things gotten from desperation never really last.
What is your take on sex for roles?
Well, even me here talking to you, I have been accused but this is my slogan, ‘I don’t care what you are going to do for me on my bed, I am more particular about what you’ll do for me on my screen’ that answers it. Why would I jettison a sound artist for somebody that comes into the house to give me sex? If we engaged in such, it would not be sustained. what gives the sustenance is the originality. Those that are offering sex have nothing to offer. It now also amounts to what I just said, desperation.
Any advice to people coming into the movie industry maybe as an actor or a member of the production crew?
My advice is that there are other jobs. You must not be an actor, I keep telling a lot of people must you act? You think me too I don’t want fame? Here I am today. I stood as a director for most of the biggest productions and my face doesn’t show on them. I will spend N40 million to make a film my face won’t show on it, yet, I give other people the opportunity but today my work has attracted attention. So everybody must not act that is what I am saying.