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How I identify movies that’ll be successful – Filmaker, Steve Sodiya

A filmmaker, and the Chief Executive Officer of Nu Koncept Studio, Steve Sodiya, talks to FAITH AJAYI about his career of over 30 years, and other issues

What prompted you to pursue a career in filmmaking?

I started my career with an advertising agency. Back then, filmmaking in Nigeria was just starting to get interesting. The late actor and filmmaker, Alade Aromire, became successful with home videos, and that caught the attention of many of us who were already into advertising and television production.

I started with post-production, making sure the quality of the film remained at its best, and the story could be reshaped in a better way, just before the final output. My years of experience working with top producers and directors back then formed my decision-making abilities. Significantly, my journey with Tunde Kelani and his remarkable impact on African films molded my thinking and approach to filmmaking. Approaching filmmaking from a technical and editorial point of view gives me more clarity and an in-depth view of storytelling whenever I’m producing or directing films.

You worked on the blockbuster movie, ‘King of Boys’. What was your most significant takeaway from working on that project?

Working with Kemi Adetiba on King of Boys was such an experience. She is a producer and a director that does not leave any stone unturned. When we were filming the second part of the movie— the Return of the King— it was such a trying time. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we had to carry out testing, in order not to have an outbreak on set. Most producers decided not to film during that period. While we were doing the best we could, the #EndSARS protests happened. That was the height for us. It was such a nightmare. But, with the tenacity of the producers, actors and other crew members, we were able to pull it off.

Some people believe that working with female movie producers is usually more difficult than working with their male counterparts. Having worked with notable women in industry, such as Kemi Adetiba, Toyin Abraham and Jade Osiberu, what’s your stance on that assertion?

Working with producers in the creative industry takes a lot of understanding, whether they are male or female. One has to know the objective of the producer and communicate it vividly. The producer’s job is to make sure they produce a quality film in the most effective and prudent way possible. However, a director usually wants every resource available to interpret the script they want to bring to life. That alone can create a bit of friction between the creatives and the business angle of the project. From experience, I have found that it is always smoother and easier to work with a producer who has also been a director. In that case, the balance of business and creativity will be more in play during the production.

In some of the movies you have worked on, such as ‘Ayinla’, ‘Ijakumo; The Born Again Stripper’, and most recently ‘Maliaka’, music and culture feature prominently in bringing projecting their themes. What do you think is the significance of using music in storytelling?

My journey in the film world has unveiled a lot of beautiful paths to me, and one of them was with the living legend, Tunde Kelani. We are both Egba men (from Abeokuta), and we share a lot of other things in common. And, that is why I call him ‘Baba mi’ (my father).

One of the key elements we usually talk about is music and connection to our roots. I feel that it is not possible to make an African film without embedding indigenous music in it. If we don’t weave our music into our works, we are only celebrating other people’s cultures. Making a film without an identity makes it fade out with time. But, when one puts the signature of time on one’s film, one has put something on the shelf for generations unborn to learn from. It is not just about the drama, comedy and action scenes; music is also important when it comes to proper storytelling. When people watch films such as Ayinla, they will enjoy an array of classic music with deep and profound messages. Ijakumo followed the same path, with memorable music and lyrics that will spur people to think deeper than the pictures they are watching. Inioluwa Gem poured her soul into the soundtrack of Màláíkà, and I don’t there is any way anyone would watch the film and not feel the impact of the music taking them to another realm.

Many of the movies you have been involved in have been successful. Are you able to know films that will be successful even before shooting them?

Paying attention to storylines is my biggest secret. Sometimes, one can have the biggest budget, and the storyline will not do justice to the ‘heavy’ budget. Before I get involved in any project, I go back and forth with the producer, scriptwriter and all hands involved in the storytelling aspect of the project. It is never about how complex the story is, it is always about how it is been told and what the real message is.

Toyin Abraham recently cried out that ‘Mailaika’ was pirated, thus robbing her of some revenue. Considering that it has been a continuous problem, how do you think piracy can effectively be tackled?

Piracy is a ‘battle’ that filmmakers all over the world are grappling with. We have had this nightmare in the past but it seriously reduced over the years. Unfortunately, it has struck again, and it is heartbreaking. Almost all the box office hits of December 2023 were pirated. That is not pleasant news for any production, especially when they are at the peak of sales. It is demoralising and heartbreaking to see one’s labour and sweat being rubbished right in front of one.

However, a lot is going on right now to apprehend the perpetrators. The police are doing their best, and we are hoping for the best results to come out of their findings.

Having been in Nollywood for decades, in what ways have you been able to keep up and evolve in the ever-growing and changing industry?

For every profession, reinventing and relearning is key to one’s survival. The film industry is fast changing and evolving, so experience is key. But, being able to keep up with new possibilities and technological growth is also very important. Constant training and attending workshops help me stay up-to-date in the industry. Many of the tools we used in the past are no longer relevant in the present day; hence the need to acquire more knowledge and equipment to deliver the best quality in new productions.

What roles do relationships and networking play in the success of a film producer, especially when working on top-tier projects, such as ‘Maliaka’?

The network one has is very important for one to be a very good producer. Good relationships and networks will help one get almost anything one wants in the movie industry.

Toyin Abraham is one of the best producers I have worked with, especially when it comes to getting things done. She has the link to open some doors, which are almost impossible to access for other filmmakers. When we were filming Màláíkà, we were stuck between simulating a train and using a real train for a particular scene. All she asked was, “Which one would be better”? and we (crew) jointly agreed that the real train would give us the aesthetic we needed for the scene. Her ability to make things happen was a big plus to the production value of the project

What do you regard as your career highlights?

The biggest highlight of my filmmaking career was the recognition by the Presidency for a beautiful film titled, Being Mrs Elliot, produced by one of Africa’s finest filmmakers— Omoni Oboli. The then-President Goodluck Jonathan hosted us (cast and crew) at the presidential villa and applauded our efforts on the project. That moment was a very proud one for me.

How do you strike a balance between artistic vision and commercial considerations in filmmaking?

Nigeria is a peculiar place when it comes to filmmaking. The urge to go all the way in expressing one’s creativity is always subject to the environment and availability of resources. Whenever people compare our productions with those of Hollywood, I just smile. I cannot argue with the consumer, but the reality of the business is something we grapple with each time we need to produce a film. Our marketing structure is not as vast as that of Hollywood. The number of screens (cinemas) in the whole of Nigeria is nothing but a small fraction of what is available in the countries we are being compared with. Thankfully, things are getting better, and that is why we have been seeing a significant improvement in the quality of our productions. We desire to go all out to give our audience the best, but the reality is that we must strike a balance on how to recoup the resources expended on the project.

What advice do you have for aspiring producers and directors looking to build successful and enduring careers in the industry?

For all aspiring producers and directors just coming into the industry, my first advice to them is that they should come with passion. They should not let any obstacle deter them from getting to great heights. Lastly, they should always remember that nothing good comes easy.

How have you been able to balance your work and personal life in a way that none suffers?

Balancing work and personal life in our industry is almost impossible. One has to constantly remind oneself to relax and give some attention to one’s personal life. It is my opinion that one cannot strike a balance when one is involved in the entertainment industry. The industry never sleeps, and one has to keep up with it.

It is also important to surround oneself with people who understand who one is and what one does. Otherwise, one might end up with a lot of friction.

How do you like to dress?

I am a man who thrives on simplicity, hence my appearance usually consists of African beads, an occasional Yoruba cap, and my ever comfortable T-shirt and jeans. Those are the things you will find me wearing most times.

How do you unwind?

To clear my head, I love going to the seaside to cool off and sit with like minds, listening to good music and having an easy evening.

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