Best ways to take Nollywood to greater heights- Oboatarhe Ebiye Ikuku, Filmmaker
By Rita Okoye
Oboatarhe Ebiye Ikuku is a multi talented Nigerian, and a USA based Filmmaker and actress.
The New York Film Academy graduate, went into film making six years ago, and hasn’t looked back since then.
In this interview with Allure, Oboatarhe talks about her passion, challenges, and how Nollywood can be improved upon in order to compete well with movie giants like Hollywood.
How did your journey into entertainment begin?
My journey into the entertainment industry kicked off about six years ago. I was schooling in England at the time. While I was happily pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, I couldn’t quiet that voice inside me that kept telling me that I was born to be a performer of some sort. So, I listened to the voice and started to audition for small roles in web series and films. I eventually booked my first ever gig as an actress for a web series in London. While shooting, I realized that I was more interested in directing. Being behind the scenes seemed more interesting to me.
Two years later, I flew to Los Angeles during summer break and took a 4-week filmmaking course at the New York Film Academy. In just four weeks, I was convinced that I had found my calling. I flew back to England, completed my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, and moved to Los Angeles in September 2015 to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Filmmaking. I’ve been making films ever since.
What was your first day behind a camera like?
My first day behind a camera was sometime in July 2014, I was attending a 4-week-filmmaking programme at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. Each student had to write, direct and shoot a film no longer than a minute. As much as I was excited, it was also nerve-racking because we were working with an Arriflex 16mm camera. That was the first time I had ever worked with a film camera, so it was a lot to handle. But the shoot turned out great.
What are some of the films you have produced?
In the past three years, I have written, directed and produced over 10 films. But I’ll list my top five. Homecoming (2016), Success (2017), Golden Locks (2015), Rosa Blanca (2016) and of course, my most recent project Rukky (2018). All of these films or their trailers are available on my official website.
What inspires you?
Truly, I am inspired by any and everything. Poems, novels, street signs, stories, paintings, random people on the street, etc. One of my favourite quotes is by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and it says: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic”. I apply this quote to my everyday life, and it has helped immensely with my creativity.
What were those early challenges you encountered?
If I encountered any challenges at the beginning, it would have to be self-doubt. While at film school, I found myself constantly comparing my work to those of my colleagues. I also had to learn how to take in constructive criticism without feeling personally attacked. Of course, I have evolved since then, both my art work and personally.
How did you overcome all these?
I eventually conquered my self-doubt because I realized that there is no other filmmaker in the world that is exactly like me, and that alone is powerful. I also learnt to stop being hard on myself; because, as my work began to evolve, I realized that I am actually really good at what I do.
What do you always look out for when auditioning for a particular role?
There are numerous traits I look for in actors when I hold castings for my projects. Besides a good performance, I expect an actor to be professional. For instance, I would never hire an actor who shows up late for an audition no matter how good he or she is. Confidence, vulnerability and openness are also traits I look out for; because, allowing your self to be vulnerable in front of strangers is a very difficult thing to do. Lastly, I tend to hire actors who show that they can be dynamic in their acting.
What makes a good actor?
There are many qualities that make one a good actor, I’ll list a few; A good actor is not afraid to be vulnerable, i.e. being emotionally naked in front of strangers. Good actors are confident. Once an actor isn’t confident, it often reflects in his or her performance. A good actor listens, because he understand that acting is 50% speaking and 50% listening. Good actors understand that filmmaking is all about collaboration, they are extremely hardworking and passionate beings who do it for the love of the craft and not fame or money. And most importantly, good actors are humble not divas.
You have been in America for long, can you compare Nigerian entertainment industry and Hollywood?
Reports in recent years have shown that Nollywood is ahead of Hollywood when it comes to the quantity of films being produced yearly. In addition, reports have also shown that on average, Nollywood produces roughly 1,500 films a year. That’s a lot of films being produced yearly. However, the budget for an average Nollywood picture ranges between $7,500 — $13,000 as opposed to Hollywood films which can sometimes have a budget of over $8million when backed up by a studio like Paramount Pictures.
In what areas can collaborations be encouraged?
One way it can be encouraged is by sharing resources; for instance, filmmaking gears. One of the hurdles most independent filmmakers face, is lack of access to gear, usually because they can’t afford to rent from big rental companies. Individuals and smaller companies who have access to gears, can collaborate with indie filmmakers by renting equipment to them at a lower cost, which will help keep the overhead cost of production low.
What’s the way forward to take Nollywood to a greater height?
Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems that has plagued Nollywood for years is the issue of piracy. Surveys have shown that 9 out of 10 copies of Nigerian films are pirated. This can be discouraging to both filmmakers and potential investors. As much as filmmaking is all about creativity and art, there is a business side to it. If investors continue to fear that they will not make their money back due to piracy, then most Nollywood pictures will continue to be low budget, and of low quality, which is not a true depiction of the talent we have here. If we can solve the monetization issues, that will directly influence the quality of the content being produced because intellectual property owners will have access to their gains, therefore, funds to create more amazing work that will put Nollywood on the global map.
What are your aspirations?
My aspiration in life is to break the glass ceiling and do the impossible. Being a black woman in today’s world is tough, but I feel that God has put me here to inspire the generation behind me, that anything is possible through him. I plan on using my art (films, documentaries, music videos, music, poetry etc) to inspire the world. And of course, I plan to be of service to others, especially those who are less privileged.
Do you miss Nigerian food?
I do miss authentic Nigerian food because Nigerian food abroad is not the same. However, I do cook my favourite Nigerian dishes often, like Jollof rice and Egusi soup, or sometime, I visit Nigerian restaurants