Biodun Stephen is known for some Nollywood blockbuster movies from The Visit which was one of the first Nollywood movies bought by Netflix and earned AMVCA nomination to Picture Perfect which was a hit in cinemas in 2017 and host of others. She is a screenwriter, film producer and director. Her movies were adjudged via audience ratings as the best movies on iROKO TV in 2017 and 2018. Biodun’s latest movie, Joba, will hit cinemas in April. This Nollywood heroine talks to Chinedu Ibeabuchi about her career, what film making means to her and a lot more
- I Like Working with Young Talents Because Someone Needs to Give Them the Chance
- One of the Crises I Suffered from was Ability to Do So Many Things
How did it all begin for you?
It was initially acting. I really wanted to be an actor. I was busy going for auditions. It was never about not passing an audition. It was always ‘did they ever call you back’? Also, I think when I was much younger, there were just few men who were as tall as I am. So pairing me was difficult. And when they pair me, they pair me with old men. So, they are automatically doubling my age in real life. And you know how Nollywood works? The moment you are known for a character, that’s the character you will always be playing. For instance, I always assume Carol King was old and when I met her 10 years after, she said ‘oh, I am not as old as you think.’ You know because she always plays someone’s mother for a long time, I had a perception that since she is a mom, she must be in her 50s. But alas, she is still young. My original dream as a teenager was that I wanted to act. I studied Philosophy in OAU and after school, I worked as an OAP and news presenter on radio. Later, I worked as copywriter in an advertising agency, then went back to radio and later traveled to learn film making at the London Film Academy. When I got back to Nigeria, I met Chris of Koga Entertainment. We collaborated to produce an amazing story called The Visit. That earned me AMVCA nomination as the best movie in West Africa. In 2016, we shot Picture Perfect which was out in Cinemas in 2017. My films were rated as the best, by audience choice, on iRoko TV in 2017 and 2018. My latest work is Joba, a faith based movie.
You seem to be investing whole lot on talented actors who are up coming. Why?
It’s because I have come from a place of hunger. By hunger, I mean being hungry for the space I am now. Someone gave me an opportunity in the person of late Chris of Koga Entertainment. Also, because I write my script myself, I need to find the perfect person. If it means that I have to drill talents till we get it right. I like working with young talents because someone needs to give them the chance. Someone took a gamble on me, so why won’t I do that to others.
A lot of young people get confused about career. They don’t know what to look out for. What’s the best way to choose a career or knowing what to do?
On my own part, I was confused for so long. One of the crises I suffered from was an ability to do so many things. I can write, act, direct, present and so on. In finding my space, I talked to myself and also prayed. I realised I had gone for several auditions and not clicking; also, I was on radio for a long time. However, radio helped me to find my purpose as a film maker because I did a talk show on radio which was about sharing life issues. So, that helped me to realise that even as a film maker, whatever I am writing has to speak the truth and help someone find peace. The defining moment for me was the AMVCA nomination which made me realise that my space was not in the front of the camera but at the back. And the moment I accepted that, every other thing fell into place. Now to answer your question on how to find your purpose, there is really no fast or short route. Sometimes, your purpose is steering at you but you don’t want to accept it.
Your first movie, The Visit, was a hit. Do you prefer producing for Pay-TV or Cinemas?
The Visit was everywhere. It was on Netflix, Africa magic, Rok TV, Ebony Life, etc. The question is why do we want to go to Cinema? The few times I have gone to Cinema were by accident. When I wrote The Visit, I was fresh out of Film School. Cinema was not on my mind. My goal was to produce a fantastic movie. And when I graduated from film school, I didn’t have huge budget, so I said let me shoot a small budget film that is very fantastic. But it turned out to receive great accolades. The Visit was one of the first Nollywood movies bought by Netflix. In summary, you tap into the opportunities that you get. The Visit opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities.
Tell us about Joba?
The story of Joba is amazing. I was driving and listened to this song featuring Tope Alabi, ‘Jesu Joba’. I listened to it repeatedly and repeatedly about 50 times in the traffic. And I just knew that this song has to be a story. Right there, I got the idea. I ran home and wrote the story as it plays in my head that same day. I slept at 1a.m. When I woke up in the morning and re-read the story, I knew this wouldn’t have been me who did this. Then I shared a post on social media that I have just written an amazing story, that I am very honoured that God chose me to write this story. After I posted it, I got a direct message from a woman in South Africa saying, ‘God says I should work with you on this project’. I have never met the women before. Two days later, we signed the contract to collaborate on financing the project. Joba is highly emotionally gripping.
There is a trend in Nollywood now started by Amaka Igwe. Female filmmakers are bold enough now to come out and do amazing things. Would you say it’s literarily the time for female film makers to take over the industry from men?
I don’t think it’s a takeover but it a positioning. We are kind of sitting in our space and making a mark. I am happy for Nollywood. I am happy that a lot of things have changed. Now, you can have a talent in Nollywood and the talent is recognised without having to sleep with anybody or kiss anybody’s ass. That evolution has also brought women to the fore. People like Amaka Igwe and Emem Isong paved the way. Today, you have the likes of Mary Njoku of Rok Studio giving a lot of women the platform to be producers. She tells you, ‘bring your film, I will finance it and put it on our platform.’ It’s no longer the era of saying I have a good story but don’t know what to do.
The paradigm has shifted. The top films of last year were made by women. Women have been given a space to flourish career-wise, in this field. I think the men are out there supporting us.
Would you say problem in Nollywood is access to finance or recovering the finance?
It’s both. I think one of my biggest fears is accepting money to shoot a movie though I do get several offers. In as much as content is king, the demand for it is getting higher but the remuneration is getting lower. Producers, who have made huge box office returns, check out what they have put in and their returns. If you say you make N100 million in cinemas, split that in three ways first before you start considering returns on investment from the one-third that comes to you.
The talk around town now is that Netflix owning a particular Nollywood series, might tamper with the originality of the story, taking into consideration that our culture is different from that of western world.
I doubt if they will tamper with the originality because it’s the authenticity of the story that will make it different. You can’t sell sands to the Arabs, they already have enough sand. I think what they will focus on will be on technicalities, qualities, production value and picture but the core of the story, I doubt if they will tamper with it because that’s what will make it different.