Actor, producer, Oreofe Williams: ‘I hate being tagged a Christian filmmaker’

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Since the days of yore, the evolvement and ascendancy of modernity cannot be quantified neither can it be over-emphasized. From culture, language, education to lifestyle and religion, we feel the exuberance, we feel the coziness, we see its impression and as it were, every successive generation (in all facets of life) usually exhibits a quantum of this influence. Film making started off on the threshold of stage plays that came into being as rituals to a Greek god before evolving to include action, organized settings, religious and social themes. Today, the liberty of modernity mixed with the reality of trending sociocultural affairs affords everyone including the older and younger generation a level playing field.

You’ll agree with me that not until recently, the early days of EVOM Films and Mount Zion Films in (Christian– as we love to call it) movie making witnessed crude (if you let me) methods and extreme churchy themes as portrayed in Agbaranla, Perilous Times, Egun Aimo and others without too much societal relevance. But thanks to the Almighty who has raised a number of new hands like the present generation of the Bamiloyes, Oreofe Williams and The Chosen Vessels Dance Drama Ministry whose first flick, Oruko Nla, changed the game and upped it with subsequent comic flicks embroiling churchy themes like we see in Take Heed, Oro Odi, Pride, Little Jimmy, etc.

That notwithstanding, for Oreofe Williams (an author, a film maker) and his theatre company, film production is completely an embodiment of responsibilities that extend far beyond churchy themes, can you beat that? In this no holds barred interview with Yami Bamgboye, he explores the intricacies of being limited and tagged a Christian film maker, the challenges of growing up after loosing his mum at a very tender age and his rise to stardom. Do enjoy the rest of it.

You are a film maker and an author, how many books have you written so far?

For now, about six of them.

Motivational?

Some motivational, some, plays like A Casket for God, A Festival of Rain and there’s one that talks about theatre itself titled Actor as Pretender. It’s used to train actors.

Were you trained as an actor or you just felt you were gifted?

Yeah, I was trained. It’s not enough to be gifted. I had my first degree from the department of English and Performing Arts, Ogun State University and we did a lot of plays by Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Femi Osofisan and the likes. We had that training, that classical training on stage.

Awo Jesu was your first movie, right?

No, that’s a misconception. Awo Jesu was never my first movie. Adeoti was my first movie, produced in 2006. Awo Jesu gan was the third.

But Awo Jesu was the one that exposed you to a lot of people.

Yeah, I think so.

Why is that?

Awo Jesu was like that because it’s in four parts. When a movie is in parts and is interesting, it spreads more, people want to know more especially, why it is so. Secondly, the themes discussed in the movie were not popularly discussed as of the time the movie was released. Thirdly, the uniqueness of the movie also gave it an edge. You know, trying to run a faith-based film with those people you may likely call ‘unbelievers’ must have done a lot of attraction because they didn’t expect that you know and would be like oh, so this is a Jesus film and we have people like these here. At first, when Awo Jesu was released, it wasn’t quite accepted. From the title, to the concept. I know of some people who felt we were anti-Christ agents. So, we had some kind of tough time when we started marketing that movie but with time, when people saw it, the whole thing changed. I did it in such a way that if you watched the first part, you’d want to see the second part. So what we did at the time was to give out about 10,000 copies of the first part we had intended to sell because people were not buying. By the time we went to where we had distributed them, people rushed at our bus and were asking for the second part and that was the blow.

The combination of Awo and Jesu is controversial indeed. Would you say the mixture was a mere marketing strategy to reach out to a larger audience as well?

Well, I must admit that that wasn’t the original title. The original title was Ijinle but I think as time went by, looking at the story, it was just better to name the film Awo Jesu because at some point in the movie, the corp members came out, trying to convince people that they were awo Jesu…. I think it just came from there.

A lot of people think that the third part of Awo Jesu has the resemblance of anticlimax, do you feel the same?

Well, if you want to grow, you must welcome constructive criticism. However, each part of Awo Jesu was done to be complementary: part 2 was done to complement part 1 and part 4 was done to complement part 3. If you want to understand what is in the third part, you have to watch the fourth part. So, it’s the fourth part that adds meaning to the third part. So, it’s possible for you to have thought doing part 3 was unnecessary if you had watched parts 1, 2 and 3 only.

 

Unlike most Christian film makers, why do you feature secular actors in your movies?

Number one, I don’t want to be termed a Christian film maker because I’ve said it most times that a film maker is a film maker. There’s no point attaching the prefix ‘Christian’ to film maker. In this century, a film maker is a film maker. You may now decide to discuss faith-based themes, you understand? It’s even more academic to say someone is a faith-based film maker. When somebody says that he is a Christian film maker, gospel film maker, in one way or the other, it’s limiting. There are people who will hear that and will never watch your movie because they feel what you are doing is religious. So, if you say you are a film maker and people watch your movie and the story is interesting, you being a Christian won’t matter to them except the message even though they may conclude along the line that you are one but not you labeling yourself from the onset.

Two, using secular actors in such films has been criticized by many, by the stakeholders especially because most times the audience don’t mind but my own use of secular actors has been divine. You know many times, they say they are unbelievers you don’t use unbelievers for gospel films and all that and I always ask a question, who are the ones who know God perfectly? Do you know God inside out? Do you know who God can use to do anything at anytime? If we open the Bible, I’ll show you where God used a donkey to save a prophet, where God told a prophet, Hosea precisely, to marry a prostitute. If that happens today, people will say that that pastor is marrying a prostitute, you understand? If you even study the ministry of Jesus himself, those He gathered where not people who were born again. He got them from their places of work; the likes of Peter, John, Andrew and the rest of them. They were not born again so to say and they followed him and at some point, He told them to go and preach and yet when they were preaching, they didn’t know the person they were preaching about because none of them knew who Jesus was until He left. Except Peter who said He was (still is) the son of God but practically, none of them knew Him until He died, resurrected and left. So, the trend God follows is different. If Jesus were to come to Nigeria today to make a film, He won’t call those who are Christians.

Having said that, we also discovered over time that a lot of people would never watch faith-based films. There are people who have never seen some as popular as gospel films are in Nigeria. They would also not watch because the faces they are seeing are not familiar. But one way or the other, we’ve been able to discover that people now watch because of the faces. There’s a movie we did recently now called Orisa Mimo, it’s won two awards from an organization in London under RCCG and an international group of psychologists; they gave us a certificate of merit, recommending it as a therapy for people suffering from bipolar disorder. Someone said to me that she would never have watched it if it wasn’t for the classical faces she saw because she didn’t know they were still into movie production. She watched and enjoyed it. She was even crying that the same mistake she made with her mum was what the character was making with the mother. So, in one way or the other, everyone has a role to play. I know they use gospel faces in some films that are gospel but no one can come and say you can never do this, it is forbidden and I’ll ask you why you think it is forbidden. That you do yours that way does not mean I can’t do mine the other way.

It appears that you’ve been doing a lot of short films lately. Are you exploring or you are just buying some time for another big one?

We’ve not been doing a lot of short films lately. Maybe it’s because you’ve watched a lot lately. I think you should come to our film village. We have a film village in Ibadan, it’s called the City of Talents and we encourage talents, we encourage musicians. We have an audio studio, we have an editing studio, we have some 7D cameras and film equipment. So, when you are in a film village, and you have your equipment, your editor, you can wake up in the morning and say this is what you want to do because you have all you need. Maybe that is why it looks as if I have done a number of short films. if I were to rent equipment, I probably might not have done all that but because everything is ours, I did. However, I also understand the fact that people tend to watch short movies more. Some people can’t sit to watch a two-hour movie but they can watch a three-minute video.

You have also been delving into social themes too, why is that?

Ok, eeerrrhh… the reason you asked the question is because you have the mentality that I’m a Christian film maker (‘Errrhhh…ok, maybe’, I laughed.) and then any movie I do must have to be about Jesus, being born again and all that. And I always want to say that that is not true. As a film maker, you may have faith-based themes, it does not stop you from discussing social themes. We are in a society, and the word ‘social’ has something to do with the society. Where you are, there are things that happen right there. So, you have a responsibility as a writer, as a film maker to touch your society through your films. You may choose not to talk about the church but politics Pastors on Strike for instance is a political film. How do I justify that? You’ll discover that even pastors that have churches organize seminars that have nothing to do with Christianity, take Sam Adeyemi for instance. I once said it that the Redeemed Christian Church of God is a church that has a university, Foursquare Gospel Church has a university, Winners’ Chapel has a university but you’ll agree with me that in those universities, there is nothing religious. When you enrol in any, you study Pharmacy the way it would be studied anywhere in the world. If it’s Theatre Arts, you’ll stage plays by people who are not too Christian or born again so to say: Femi Osofiasn, Wole Soyinka, Ahmed Yerima etc. the way it’s done anywhere in the world, that is the way to make impact. So, if a university that is faith-based can do all that and don’t run it like a Christian school or pray before lectures begin and they can be that influential in a social environment, what then is stopping a film maker who says I’m into gospel from making comments about what happens in the society: psychology, politics and the rest of them?

If Pastor Adeboye isn’t criticized for going to see Buhari, why should I be as a film maker for going into social works? But that has to happen because the influence of people like that is enormous. So, you can’t say that his mission is Redeem church alone. I think the problem is that we have an older generation in the Christendom that have, for a long time, limited film making to church, Jesus without any influence on other social aspects and it’s really limiting them too in the sense that most content providers on television don’t like to accept such films for airing. They feel it’s inferior and too sectionalized. Just like the secular actors we were talking about, if you tell me that my featuring secular actors is wrong, how do you know they are secular actors, how do you know their names? It means you also watch secular films as a Christian and you admire them. So, if you watch secular films of which some of them don’t even make too much sense and I choose those people to come and preach Christ, why then are you criticizing me? Just recently, I saw that King Sunny Ade was going to sing at Redeem church national headquarters where Pastor Adeboye himself worships and you know that he is not an evangelist why didn’t they invite Tope Alabi or Bola Are, se bi they are evangelists?

Ok, let’s pry a bit into your privacy. How was growing up?

Well, I lost my mum when I was very young and I was brought up by my grandparents. I thought my father had died many years ago but I never knew he just died last year. I was just told this year that he died last year when someone came to inform me about his burial and all that. I never saw him all my life even with my mum that died when I was very young. Funny enough, my father and I were living in the same locality but we never met. Then, I also discovered that he had other kids, grown ups. What I’m trying to say is that you know some people give excuses for under-performance. Some even blame their parents and I always tell them that it’s not true. If I tell you some of the things I went through, you’ll discover that I had a lot of excuses but I didn’t allow them to expire me. I discovered that what you make out of your life is what people will celebrate later. If you come back and tell them that your father was this, your mother was that, it’ll never make sense. I decided to overcome my excuses and today, I’m seated in front of an international journalist (by His grace, I interjected with laughter) because I didn’t give up. I didn’t enjoy what a lot of children enjoyed…there were some whose parents would take them abroad…London, the U.S and all that but I was just a local boy.

I have seen people who are not doing the right thing and when you ask, they say ‘My father and my mother broke up, my mummy died, my family this…’ Your parents only gave birth to you, you need to give birth to yourself again (like a Yoruba adage). So, if there’s anyone reading this and is feeling down, there’s no point feeling down. It’s just better to stand up so that people can celebrate you too.

How do you get sponsors for your productions?

Let me be very smart. There are no sponsors anywhere. Nobody is even interested in sponsoring anything because they have not sponsored themselves. If anybody wants to give you one naira, he’s thinking of how to get back a hundred naira from you. So, if he’s bringing money and he looks at you and feel that this one is more of a philanthropist, he won’t attend to you. I would just say that what we have been enjoying is grace, the grace of God. Except I become an ambassador of a brand even when you do, they only need your face to advertise their product. God may send people to you, somebody may watch your movie and get blessed and be happy and choose to give you something but there are no sponsors anywhere. Nobody is ready to throw money at anything maybe when you become big.

So far, would you say your productions have rewarded you commensurably?

Well, yes. And when I speak of rewards, I’m not talking about money alone. I’m talking about the impacts. People calling you, people mailing you and commending you is enough reward. The feeling is always great and fulfilling. It may not be about cash alone and sometimes, it’s also about money because you can’t be afraid of talking about money when you know money is needed. Money is not the root of all evil, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Recently, someone was talking about Orisa Mimo and was saying she wanted her family to watch the movie but they couldn’t get it around them. They live in Georgia, U.S. She was appealing to me to put it on YouTube. I never wanted to until after two years and it’s just about one year. So, I decided to put it on YouTube because of her. We also have a channel LIvefire tv and it has a YouTube slot.

What inspired Orisa Mimo?

Well, you find out that if you take everything spiritual, you’ll be wrong. Eerrrhh… in the film, there’s a woman who has a psychological problem but they think she’s a witch. You know those old women who have frequent mood swings, who are aggressive or cause trouble or behave like termagants. She suffers from something called bipolar disorder. She experiences frequent mood swings: get excited today, get sad tomorrow, apologize today, fight again another time. That is what the movie is about. It’s helps people understand those they relate with; their mothers, fathers and anyone who exhibits such tendencies. Some people may enter into that place this minute and by the time they come out the next minute, they are already squeezing their faces and when you ask what the problem is, they say nothing. You can only understand if you watch the movie. There’s a scene in the movie that’s like a classroom lecture where bipolar disorder is being discussed. The role was played by Dele Odule and Tubosun Odusin. The major theme is more of a psychological experiment, talking about what goes on in the mind. Not everything is spiritual, there are certain things that are things of the mind.

You play comic roles too, does that show the soft or funny part of you?

In a way, yes like I did in Pastors by Emergency. I am also a very funny person. You know I relate with the youth and as a youth leader, there’s no way you can relate with them and not be an exciting person, even though you can be disciplined. But if you want the youth to flow with you, you also need to be comical. So, I can say it’s the soft part of me. However, I feel an actor should be versatile, should be able to fit into any role.

Let’s pry into your privacy again. Are you married?

I don’t like to talk about my nuclear family, I have my reasons for doing that. You have celebrities who expose their families in the media which I feel isn’t necessary. You are the one in the spotlight not your wife or children. I don’t even do it on Facebook.

So, how do you manage fame or stardom?

Number one, I don’t know that I’m popular (‘I hear you’, I interjected.) Two, I always feel that I’m just starting but the little I’ve seen, without your fans, you can’t go anywhere and there’s no big deal in being famous. You have only chosen a path that has made you famous. If I have a friend now for instance who works at a good company and works hard to the top, the guy might not be famous but he has achieved. So, there’s no difference between me and that friend of mine. Why then will I allow that fame to chop my head when I know that there’s nothing in it. Everybody is doing something and everybody is growing big and great. I have been to some places, like you said, and people would come to me and take pictures with me. They are the reason you are called a celebrity, without them you are not one. They are my first asset. For instance, we announced our YouTube channel yesterday and before I knew it, I saw unprecedented views. I was surprised. If fame gets into people’s heads, it can’t get into mine. I discover that when such things get into your head, it’s because you don’t have a bigger goal. If you do, where you are now won’t make sense to you and that’s how I feel all the time.

 

 

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