Chris Odeh is a producer, project manager, and marketer. He is the Founder and senior producer for Sozo Films, as well as Talent Manager for Ramsey Films. He co-owns Ibuzor Studios and Project Arewa -indigenous content production companies – which he runs with some partners, and has produced content for both local and international platforms like Homevida, MNET, Africa Magic, ESSPIN and a host of others. Some of the movies he has produced or co-produced are Make a Move, Learning Curves, Oloibiri Retold, ‘Chasing Hanifa’. He also has television shows and documentaries like The Dr. Ketch Show, ACGSF, and, Chapters in his portfolio. His script titled Enitan won the award for the Best Child-Friendly Short Film in the 2011 Homevida awards, and he has worked with notable actors in the industry, both local and international. He has a chat with Omonefe Eruotor about his career:
O: As a trained engineer, how did you forge a career path in the movie industry?
As an engineer, you are trained to be a creative person, ingenuity is the foundation of engineering, the ability to pick something out of nothing. I studied engineering to become a research development engineer in the solar world, but I couldn’t find the parameters I needed to establish that in this country; so the hunger for it pushed me into entertainment because I wanted to create art by telling stories. I started from comedy and events and later moved to TV and film.
O: Which was your first production experience, did it contribute to your career choice?
My first production experience did not really contribute to my career path, I think I had chosen my career path prior to that. I was already deep into comedy and events, but I felt I wanted more so I migrated from Kano to Lagos hoping to acquire better skills. I applied for a job with a company called Inspire Africa, the producers of Moments with Mo at the time, and after two interviews, I got the job. Although I had other plans for business in Lagos, I made up my mind to go into production before I ventured into it. When I started working for Inspire Africa, I realized my strength wasn’t for regular talk shows, celebrities or glamour, but that I wanted to be the person who helped people that couldn’t tell their stories; I wanted something more interesting. I remember I did a documentary on The Goma hills and another on how the Moments with Mo show was made. I wanted to tell different kinds of stories apart from the regular show, so that was what birthed my desire for film. I would describe TV as sachet milk and film as premium milk. Film is a more articulated, constructed and in-depth form of communication, while TV is more like mass production. They’re both in the same frame, but one is deeper, so I decided to pick film, although I still call myself a TV and film producer.
O: It is still not clear to some people what role producers play in movie making, so in non-technical terms, kindly tell us the role of a producer.
If a production project is a factory, the producer is the GM of the factory. He is the one that ensures the money is judiciously used, the product is well spread, well marketed. He ensures the machines are efficient, that the crew, the factory workers are in good spirits, well employed, happy to work and delivering more than is expected of them. So, the producer runs the entire machinery but he is different from a director who knows how to work with the machine and mix the product. The director is a more specialised individual who knows how to put the paint in the water to mix, whereas the producer is the person who knows how to get the right raw materials and the machines, in order to assemble the team and the machinery. So using the factory setting, the producer is more like a general manager and the director, a factory manager
O: What do you love about production and what are the challenges you face?
The challenges I face in production are what make me love it. Production to me is crisis management. The work of a producer is to make sure that the crises that will always arise are managed. He checks the content, actors and technical crew. His strength shows in the midst of all these things. I remember a film that inspired me into production fully–Pirates of the Caribbean. I saw one of the behind the scenes clips; they had built a major set, but flood washed all they had built for a week or two, and they were complaining, but the producer encouraged everyone and they fixed it. The movie came out and people enjoyed it. This shows how a positive spirit can make a lot of difference in the life of a film maker and in the life of a producer.
O: Your movie, Enitan, has a very unique story line, as Dyslexia is a condition that is just coming to the fore in Nigeria. What inspired you to write that story?
Dyslexia has always been in Nigeria; people call it Olodo, Ogbanje, and other different names. I know a lot of people who have taken their kids for deliverance because they feel they are dull. Enitan is a story I always wanted to tell. I got tired of stories with stepmothers who maltreated their step kids and so I asked myself if there were no good stepmothers out there. You know we stereotype things and that stereotype influences our mindset. Enitan is a story of a young girl who has academic problems and her step mum comes in to help her succeed. I took it upon myself to look for a problem that does not allow a child understand in school, so I Googled and found the word ‘dyslexia’. I had 2 friends and a boss who suffered from dyslexia, that gave me a clear picture of it.
O: Which has been your most enjoyable production experience so far? Why?
My most enjoyable production was when we shot a feature length film in 2days. A TV station approached us to shoot a film for them, and in two to three weeks, we made the film and delivered which turned out good. It’s not about the budget or length of time you have to produce a film, it’s about your ability to be creative and stable. We only had a lot of pre-production and it turned out good. The second one was working with Richard Mofe Damijo, a man I have admired from childhood.
O: Some people in your field have specific themes, concepts or people they love to work with. Is there anything you look out for before accepting production offers?
Yes, I like to take challenges, I also like jobs that make my heart skip. That was how I felt for my first, second, fifth, and the last job I just did. I love jobs that threaten my status as a long-time producer. Secondly, I like first timers, be it writers, directors etc. I feel the industry is full of defined and re-defined talents and creativity, but I believe that there’s something original especially when it has to do with something coming out for the first time. I LOOK OUT FOR A CHALLENGE AND PEOPLE WHO BRING A BREATH OF FRESH AIR INTO WHAT WE DO.
O: Nollywood has improved tremendously over the years, in terms of movie quality. Do you think it is a result of better funding or better trained movie makers?
I think it’s both. Nollywood has more funding, experience and trained hands. We are 30 years old now so we have emerged with better film makers, and people trust us better. I remember when it was difficult to get 5million naira to fund a film, but people now get over 100 million Naira, especially with the availability of cinemas, the internet, Video On Demand (VOD).
O: How do movie makers access huge funds for production? With the current boost in the use of cinemas, is it still possible to complete movie production and be in debt?
Movie makers can access huge production fund from different platforms. The industry used to be built on personal funding, friends and family, but now we can access loans with collateral; there’s a place for brand association. The advent being in the past government when there were numerous investments in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs ) in Nigeria, including film making. So we had the creative department under the Bank Of Industry (BOI) and several other entrepreneurial development banks. I think besides personal loans, there are development funds that are now available through the project YOUWIN, project ACTNOLLYWOOD, BOI and several of them. Personally, I think it’s possible to make a film, hit the cinema and still be in debt. Sometimes we spend a lot on a film forgetting that people will only buy what they know. I made a film with a lot of money, and when I was asked what my plans were for the film, I replied the person that when a film is good, people will buy it and he laughed. Years later, I was in a meeting, and someone introduced me as producer of so and so movie, one of the best films that people did not get to see. This shows that when we don’t market our content, people will not get to see it and we may not recover the funds used.
O: How would you advise an aspiring movie maker who has raw talent, but no experience or connection with experienced fill makers.
I believe this industry can thrive more with internship and apprenticeship; these two words are very important. Internship for those in the creative angle like the directors, producers and writers. The internship could last for 6 months, 1 year or even 2 years and they may get stipends. That way, they learn and acquire more skill in the industry. While those in the technical aspects can get to do apprenticeship. For a while now, I always have one or two interns who are either employed somewhere or even employed with me. I would advise those inspired to be filmmakers to look for strong reliable companies they can learn from, whether they will be paid or not.
O: What else do you do when you are not on set?
I enjoy being with my family. I also love the idea of having multiple sources of income, I’ve always wanted to be a farmer because I love the idea of eating what I grow. I like to watch TV, football; I have been a strong Chelsea fan for 18 years. I also train people in my profession and spiritually. When I was younger, I ran a programme on Christalk.com, but stopped. I might still go back to that in the future though.