Ojie Eniola Asuelime is a Nigerian filmmaker, cinematographer and technical director. He is the CEO/Creative Director of Ojis Production Company. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, the Edo State-born producer talks about his latest movie, City Hustlers: Our Story, how he rose from being an assistant camera operator to Director of Photography (DOP), technical director and filmmaker. He also bares his mind on sundry issues in the entertainment industry
Your latest film, City Hustlers: Our Stories, what inspired it?
‘City Hustlers: Our Story’ as a movie is the story is a relatable story of every Nigerian who has been in a city, for instance, the city of Lagos. We all know how it is to live in a city. So, ‘City Hustlers’ is a comedydrama movie, which I wrote, to say, let’s tell our own story; what we all go through, and showcase to people how to handle things in a city like Lagos. Like when you say you are hustling, a lot of people term that word ‘hustling’ to so many things. Some hustle for the wrong reasons, with the wrong reasons; and some hustle for real. Just like I said, I have been in the industry for about 23 years. So, for somebody who has been hustling like that compared to someone who just started probably three years ago, you cannot have the same experience and result. But the moment the person who just started hustling for three years and wants to be like someone who has been hustling for 22 or 23 years, there is a problem. They both call it hustle but it is not the same hustle. So, ‘City Hustlers’ as a movie is a way of telling people how to hustle for real. You can see it from different parts of the story – the landlord, the tenants and others. It is an extremely relatable story that when you see it you will know. We are quite sure that every Nigerian who has stepped into any major city in Nigeria, like Lagos, would relate to one or two stories. All the cast in the movies are big time actors in the entertainment industry in Nigeria – from Mercy Aigbe to Ninolowo, to Akin Lewis, to Charles Inoje, Nkechi Blessing, Linda Osifo, Jide Awobono. So, like I said, ‘City Hustlers’ is a movie that teaches people how to hustle properly for real, which also talks about time, how to handle situations when they arise; how to handle things for real. We all have seen that the hustle has been misused; so people do a lot of funny things and we call it hustle.
How long did it take you to put this film together?
From writing to getting partners, because I didn’t just produce and direct, I am also a co-executive producer, to work with and shooting the film, I will say it took a few months. The story has been lingering in my head; I have always wanted to tell the story of a city of how people should do things rightly. So, putting all these actors together wasn’t easy.
What were the challenges?
The major challenge, as we all know, is finance. It is a major challenge for us filmmakers in Nigeria. Also, we had practical example of what people of what people go through in the city while we were filming. We needed to shoot a few scenes at Amen Estate, Ajah, Lagos, and we were leaving from Ikeja, and we practically spent eight and half hours on the road. That actually is a part of the story, how a banker who works on the Island but lives on the mainland, and how many times he gets lockout by his landlord, he had no choice but to sleep in the car. Those are part of the hustles we are talking about. So, practically, we witnessed it while we were filming as well.
When will ‘City Hustlers’ hit the cinemas?
It will hit the cinemas in Nigeria from Friday, the 18th of March, 2022. It is also going to hit cinemas in Dubai and London respectively, end of April and May. Also, in the next one month I am releasing another movie titled ‘In Circles’.
Going back memory lane, did you really set out to become a filmmaker from the onset?
I was born in Lagos Island, actually in Island Maternity. From there we moved to Palm Groove area, and from there we relocated to Abule Egba of Lagos also. All of those phases thought me a whole lot of things. When I started we used to go and do video coverage of naming ceremonies, and they used to give N100 and sometimes N150. From coverage of naming ceremony, it got to a point where, with consistency, I got the opportunity to interview two different presidents of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. I also did some productions as well, at the beginning, for the present government. From there I was involved in productions that are outside Nigeria. For instance, I was the technical director for Big Brother Naija (BBNaija). I was also the technical director for Malta Guinness Street Dance and Series Producer, Celebrity Come Build. From there, I was involved in several other shows, produced several awards ceremonies, like Sustainability, Enterprise, and Responsibility Awards (SERAS CSR Awards). I produced it back to back for three years. I have one a lot.
What is your take about the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood?
Nigerian movie industry is growing. We are catching up; we are getting better by the day. In terms of technicalities and other things, we are getting better. For instance, my next movie I will be releasing, which is ‘In Circles’, when we shooting it we were the first set of people to use that particular kind camera in Africa.
What kind of camera is it?
It is a Sony product; it just came out at that time. We got the opportunity to use it first, and we saw the results in the film. So, Nigerian movie industry is growing; it is growing by the day…
What are those things that you think are missing; things that our filmmakers need to do to raise the standard…
We need to get more technical; we need to write better stories, more relatable and believable stories; stories that can transform our society especially, because Nollywood is being rated as number three in the world. So everything we dish out counts. Our stories need to be relatable; our stories need to talk about the country positively. And then, technically we need to up our game. Importantly, finance is a major challenge, without good finance we can’t do a proper film. The actors get paid heavily, the equipment are very expensive. So, you can’t do a good film without finance.
Where does the government come in here?
The government, I am sure they are very much aware, but sometimes the people there don’t think is necessary.
How would you describe yourself?
I like to describe myself as someone with many parts. I have been in the entertainment industry, generally, for about 23 years now. In fact, by September, it will be 23 years that I have spent in this industry. I have worked from being an assistant camera operator to being a camera operator, then to being a Director of Photography (DOP), writer to being a producer to being a technical director for most reality TV shows we have around, such as Big Brother and others. And from there I also went into producing movies. So, it’s been a journey of 23 years.
How do you unwind?
It is difficult to actually take time out to unwind. For instance, this year I have been working from January 2nd, almost every day. I have hardly had the time to unwind. But need to fine time to rest or unwind. So, how do you unwind? Well, what I just do is to sit down and watch movies; maybe one movie in a week if I have the time. Also, I take my kids out with my wife.
Recently, social media was agog with reactions over the statement by the National Assembly accusing Nollywood of being partly responsible for menace of ritual killings in the country. What is your opinion about this?
O have been asked this same question on national television station, and response was that if they say that we are partly responsible for the high rate of ritual killings and all of that, we still do movies that promote accountability and so on. But even the politicians are not taking after that; they are not accountable to anybody, they do things when they like and how they like. But we make movies to correct this, so why are they not talking about that. So, well, I agree with them to an extent, but also from another angle, filmmakers do films about what has happened or is happening in the society. No movie will tell you that ritual killing is good. The story could be about someone involved in ritual killings but there is always a repercussion at the end of that movie. No movie in Nigeria ends with glorifying or promoting ritual killings. It will always end with a repercussion, to discourage people from getting involved in such criminal act.
Another issue that has become like a recurring decimal is the issue of sex-for-role in Nollywood. What is your candid opinion about this?
I will be lying if I say it doesn’t exist. It exists, but recently, it is almost getting to level zero, because of the awareness. People are getting aware, especially via the social media. With your phone, you can create content and you become popular.