Chinaza Onuzo is the co-founder, Inkblot Productions; co-writer and executive producer of the new film – ‘Superstar’ currently playing in cinemas. In this interview with SEGUN KASALI, Chinaza talked about her experiences growing up, the rating of the film industry, and other issues. Excerpts:
Growing up we learned that you wanted to study medicine but ended up studying economics, what really happened?
I am the second of four growing children. I come from a family where both parents are doctors. So when I was five and they asked me what I would do when I grew up, I was so sure I would be a doctor. So I was in science class and all those things. But when I was in high school, I was asked to take a business course and I chose economics. So going to med school I said rather than go straight to med school let me go to America and while I was there I could decide what I wanted to. So the course I chose was economics and I dropped out of all those pre-med courses.
How has economics helped you in this regard?
Economics is the study of people and system and essentially scarcity. The way I think about economics is that everyone wants things but there aren’t enough things for everyone. So how do you design a society that allows the majority of people in society to have a decent life? So it broadens the scope of supply and demand economics and all of those things. And I also studied the English language. One thing about English is critical thinking – how to think, analyze and write. So putting those things together created my worldview to expose myself to a number of ways that societies are organized.
Inkblot recently celebrated 10 years of film production, how did you get there? How did you go from economics to film production?
Like almost all young people, I was mad about cinema. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve watched just about everything – Nigerian movies, American Hollywood movies, Bollywood movies, Hong Kong martial arts, Hong Kong action movies. But, of course, it was never considered a career, but one of my hobbies and my passion. After about four or five years, I was like on the sidelines, there are opportunities here, if there are other stories you want to tell. So, I got a group of friends together and said do you want to do this and they said yes. This is how Inkblot was born.
Have you been friends for a long time then?
Inkblot officially started in 2011. We worked together for a year to figure out what we wanted to do. So I met most of the people we started working with on Inkblot around 2007 and 2008. We’ve been friends for about two years thinking about what eventually became Inkblot.
How is your background in economics useful in film production? Is there an advantage? Have you applied the basics of economics to cinema?
Yes, there is a correlation between economics and filmmaking because cinema is show business. Thus, my training in economics and finance allows me to understand the construction of a structure. I researched film companies that I wanted to emulate such as Warners Brothers, Disney and other film companies you never heard of in Korea, India, etc. Creativity is important, but business is also important. So they both work hand in hand and that’s why we’re where we are today, even though we’re not there yet. We are a company that prides itself on being creative but also commercial.
Still in line with the economy, you are also an investment capital professional. How do you combine these two almost extreme roles? How do you make it work?
Thus, private equity is a particular aspect of finance to raise funds from institutions, individuals, pension funds. So you can see how it impacts movies because you’re raising money through investments and financing movies. For a few years it was very difficult to combine the two. But, as time passes, God intervenes.
How difficult was the cinema?
Filmmaking is a very difficult business and one of the things you constantly have to do is fundraise. We were very lucky to have investors supporting us. But, as you can imagine, fundraising is something you need to focus on. But no one ever had all the funds to do what they wanted to do. So that was something that was essential for us. Also, figuring out how to do it, working with the right talent, the right partners, and basically working with the right cast and the right crew. Every part of the film industry is tough, but you just need to have the right structure and system in order to be successful and that’s one of the things we’re lucky for.
In your 10 years in the industry, what do you consider to be an indelible experience?
Production is always difficult. From my first production, the generator set caught fire. Another production, there were riots. Another production, there was the question of the boys of the region with whom we had to deal. Honestly, the biggest challenge for us is getting the job done. The most difficult challenge for me is the motivation and the spirit to continue production despite setbacks. How do you build an industry that everyone would talk about? For me this is the biggest challenge and not we leave the area boy.
Personally, how do you define a film? What makes a good film production?
Personally, we want to tell our Nigerian stories that can speak to Nigerians and can also succeed globally. For us, cinema is a global industry and Nigeria has always had that global presence all over the world. So you see what is happening now where Nigerian music is at the top of the world charts. This is what we want for Nigerian films. We want Nigerian films to move from a stage where few people are watching in the diaspora to being part of global film and I think we can achieve that.
What’s the best movie you’ve ever produced?
If you mention the 17 movies we did, I think the movie people mention is “Wedding Party” and probably the most successful Nigerian movie. But, we also found that our little movies like “Arbitration” and others were also worth it financially. For me, I believe what determines your ability as a production company is your ability to keep making several more movies that would last you in business because at the end of the day, it’s a business. It’s your institution as a whole that counts.
How much did you win with “Wedding Party”?
(Laughs). Alright, we made 450 million naira with the movie. But what about movie runs, production costs and it’s important to note that every movie has its own return on investment. From an ROI perspective, “Wedding Party” isn’t our most successful film. Our most successful film is ‘Arbitrator’ because it was a low budget film that did very well. The thing is, no movie determines a filmmaker’s fortune unless that movie is so fantastic.
How do you rate the Nigerian film production industry?
We are very expressive. We say what we think and we are very passionate. We forgot that we built Nollywood from scratch. It was an industry that was built by Nigerians for Nigerians and people all over the world came later. We have the oral culture and that of storytelling.
What is your projection for this year as a company?
A lot this year. As announced, ‘Blood Covenant’ will be released in March. There will be more this year as well. Our plan is to be one of the best global content providers.