Always Flipping The Script
Known for his outstanding work in the film industry, Kunle Afolayan is an award-winning filmmaker who has carved a distinct niche in the film world. The former banker who quit his job in pursuit of his passion has since become one of Nollywood’s most successful directors. The son of the famous Ade Love, Kunle has gone ahead to show that truly an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His impressive resume includes the multiple award-winning Figurine, Irapada, October 1st, Phone Swap, The CEO, Mokalik and his latest, Citation. In this interview, he shares insights on filmmaking in the past and present, being a father and his production Mokalik.
You initially started out as an actor, why did you decide to switch to Directing?
From the onset, my dream was to be a filmmaker. I was barely 22years old when I went to Tunde Kelani and said to him that I wanted to be a filmmaker. So he advised me to start out as an actor which I did and auditioned for Saworoide in 1999; a film he was producing at the time. I was also working at the bank so it was a constraint for me to always be in movies. In 2004, I resigned, went to film school and after a short course, decided to start officially.
I remember watching Figurine and being blown away by it. Most of the professional stunts were performed by you at the time. How would you rate Nollywood in terms of producing cinema-worthy films some decades ago versus the present?
That has a two-sided effect and I will tell you why. In terms of production value and being mindful of quality, I will say that up until now, it is still not comparable. We are compromising to a large extent in that area. I say that authoritatively because those that were into films decades ago did it first for the passion. Money wasn’t involved in
filmmaking; all they wanted to do was to showcase their talents. My father up until he passed away was in serious debt because of the multiple loans he took from banks to promote his films. [Things were] quite different [then], not like in these recent times where the job is diversified, the Producer back then practically ran a one man show doubling as the marketer, promoter, PR… Technology-wise, it has been a blessing. Technology then was not as friendly as it is now. In those days, after shooting in Nigeria, you took [the film] to London to process. It was such a rigorous and delicate process that required quite a lot.
As much as filmmakers are meant to create quality content, don’t you think that they are equally trying to avoid the setbacks their pioneers encountered during their time in terms of bad debts and losses?
But even the filmmakers’ decades ago were also mindful of making money but their priority was to give the viewers content that is worth their time. I like to say I’m a successful filmmaker but that is not to say I do not owe banks as well. For me it’s all about the legacy, we can make money and still make films that are worth the while. As a
filmmaker, I do not want a situation where someone goes into a cinema to watch my movie and then totally forgets about it the moment he or she steps out.
How has fatherhood changed your perception of life?
In a lot of ways; because of my children, I like to spend more time at home. I can also say they are the ones I’m practically working for. This is the ideal age to build and nurture them and I find out that in doing so, I have to be careful in the way I live my life as well. Children are excellent imitators; they do more of what they see you do than what you actually say. So yes in a way, it has made me a better person and a good father.
Would you consider yourself a traditional dad?
Absolutely! But I also try to strike a balance. Sometimes when I make hard decisions, I have a rethink and then switch over and try to keep things balanced. I’m also blessed in that my children are very cultured.
Do you see them towing the same line as you and your father?
Well, there is room for that parental influence on kids especially when parents are doing something the children are proud of. They see the processes and if they want to follow in my footsteps, then of course I will support them, but it is a 100 percent dependent on their choice not mine.
Your movies are usually laced with strong cultural themes, highlighting our African culture in the most natural way. What inspires your creative process?
It is my environment. I’m a highly rooted person and so I try to merge or project my immediate environment into my films. What informed Irapada, my first movie, were African superstitious beliefs centered on dreams. Same with Figurine. But, Mokalik, was birthed from my experience at a mechanic village one time I went to fix my vintage car. I was surprised that a lot of them learned the job manually and with pretty much old cars. But now they can fix the latest cars with new technology. I was impressed and along with other elements I felt this would entertain as much as educate the audience, I got my team together and decided to make a movie. I liked that the content was organic, which was my deciding factor.
Was it the same garage you used in the film?
Yes it was. I also used some of the mechanic boys in the movie as well.
Another thing I noticed is your penchant for new faces…
Yes I do that a lot because I found out that to make an excellent movie, asides the character’s ability to interpret their role; they should also look the part in the most natural way. Hence my mode of casting is quite different; my pre-production is always thorough.
People say that when you watch a Kunle Afolayan movie, you hardly realise you’re watching a movie because it seems natural. How are you able to achieve that?
I think it’s in the directing; some directors focus on the technicality and framing of the film while some focus on the actor’s performance. For me, I do both because that is the only way I’m able to deliver the picture I already have in mind. Paying attention to details is key all the time.
Nollywood has been very implicit in the way they view people with mental health challenges to be a product of karma or an external influence. With the gradual realisation that mental illness is a medical condition that requires medical attention and as an authority in filmmaking, do you see filmmakers rewriting that narrative by way of telling stories?
I think we just need to strike a balance, I have seen movies where mentally challenged individuals are taken to mental institutions as well as the ones in the cases you imply. I will take it back to what you said; nobody wants to play advocate for anything. We are in an era where the audience dictates what you present to them. People are constantly trying to do what their audience can relate to and the average Nigerian audience would not want anything that has to do with intellectual thinking. We are currently working on a project that borders on sexual harassment by lecturers in school and although it’s meant to be an advocacy film, my plan is subtle and not the all-in-your-face approach. So yes, one can think commercial without over louding the element of the film or downplaying its core
In my interview with some actors/actresses, I discovered that one of their major challenges was being placed as a type cast because they fit a particular stereo type. As a director, how do you avoid that?
It is something that is common all over the world and not peculiar to Nigerians alone. There are some Hollywood actors that I have seen stereotyped but it is usually subtle. Although I try to avoid falling into that trap as much as I can because it is very convenient. When filming Figurine, the original script was that Ramsey Noah was meant to play my role and vice versa but I changed it three days to the shoot. I didn’t want to give the audience the same Ramsey they were already used to and expected to see; the fine boy. I wanted a different character and hence the switch.
In the days of VHS, the major problem was piracy, however with the new invent of
digitising comes a new form of internet piracy. How do you combat that?
Unfortunately for now with our level of technology, there is very little that can be done to curb the menace. Some online sites stream these movies on their site where people can download for free in exchange for traffic and site visits. In cases like these, what to do is to employ the services of a cyber guru to help you take the contents down. Unfortunately, there are independent networks that one cannot gain access into and these are some of the constraints in curbing piracy. The only consolation is that we now have other online distribution channels like Netflix, Amazon, that one can sell their contents to unlike the days of VHS