Africa: Women are attracted to me because I’m pleasant –Fred Amata
Women are attracted to me because I’m pleasant –Fred Amata
Currently the president of the influential Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), Fred Amata is also a notable actor from the well-known Amata dynasty in Nollywood. With over 3 decades under his belt as a director and actor, he said it is surprising people know him more as an actor than a director in this interview with ADEDAYO ODULAJA.
Having been part of Nollywood since the beginning, how does it feel to still be involved decades after?
For me, there was no choice. It is what I always wanted to do, it is what the circumstances of my training and a lot of things pushed me to do. And I am truly grateful to God that having been a pioneer, and with the industry now at a stage where it is about to start to reap after many years of investment, I can still be relevant to be a part of it.
When you say you didn’t have a choice but to be involved in Nollywood; is that about being born into the Amata dynasty?
Yes, I was born into a legacy of creativity. I was born into a house where, by the time you understood anything, you saw your father on the big screen and you knew what it is like with the “hero worshiping” of children, wanting to grow up and be like daddy. To make that worse, your elder brother became a super star and you also wanted to be like him as well. Because by the time Zack was doing Behind the Clouds and those other things, he became the number one face, the number one father in Nigeria, that is Zack Amata and you just want to grow up to be like him. And then you studied Theatre Arts in the university, which didn’t leave you with a choice.
In Nollywood circles, you are more known with directing but those outside know you more as an actor. How have you been able to combine both?
I am lucky to be one of the people who were already directing before Nollywood was born, talking about Nollywood which is just the expression of the film art. So by 1987, I had been directing, and acting and over the years, it has been a challenge because directing is having a lot more control on the outcome of the product. Somehow, you are a director and a movie is successful and everybody is excited and acknowledging your efforts, you would feel a little more accomplished because that actor is winning, it’s your film, the writer is being praised, it’s your film and you know all of that. But of course because of how I grew up, acting comes naturally, yet it is exciting, it gives you the kick so it has been a mixed feeling of challenges.
Both are obviously very intense but which would you say is more challenging for you?
In the history of the growth of Nigeria, it would be directing. The director starts the project before the projects starts. There must be a script; sometimes he is lucky enough to be involved in the process of going through the scripts but other times, as soon as the script is ready, he would say: “okay, what are you going to do with this?” So he gets involved from the preproduction through the production. And in production, there are so many things as the lights, the DOP to relate with, the cameramen to relate with, the actors; you must make a stand about, what you want them to do.
There is a costume department, the art department; you must synchronize everything so it is a little more challenging to be a director and in my experience, when you take on a film to direct, you close up every other thing because there are so many aspects that you must perfect; so it has to be directing. And also in the history of Nollywood, actors are not given enough time to actually prepare for the roles; in acting, it is called being prepared for the role.
They are not given enough time to prepare, to understand the character, to internalise the character which is the level of the art that we have been achieving, not through hard work but through more talented folks but you can achieve it through hard work. It can be easier, for instance, I heard Demi Moore was going to act in a movie, GI Joe and she was going to be a soldier for GI who are of the Infrantry set up of the military and she had to understand it. So, she had to go and stay inside chilling water for hours so as to understand what the soldiers feel so by the time she is performing the role, she had created a wealth of experience to draw from, and it is more like drawing from your experience and creating something new.
It would be easy for fans to name your best movie when it comes to acting but among the movies you have directed, which stands out?
You know it’s like asking a father which is the best among his children. Even if one is the best, how can he say that among all my children, this one is better than the rest? So it is in that sense but having said that, of all the movies I have directed, you should look out for Anini, Letters to the Stranger, The Adults. You can easily guess my directorial approach looking at those movies.
How does being an iconic actor impact on your everyday life in terms of relating with people?
It comes with a lot of perks, I won’t lie to you and of course some challenges but there is really nothing to worry about. But in terms of getting some jobs, there might be a hitch but that is probably the worst aspect.
While campaigning to become DGN president, what were your cardinal objectives?
I have been running for the office for a while. Since 2008 or so, this is the third time. I feel that there is a growth that the industry needs, that it would take a selfless and committed leader to achieve it. It is basically the desire to put structures in place and position the guild for much more growth and I feel I have the personality and contacts to do that. I presented three main points during my campaign and they are to put structures in place at DGN, fix the website and improve our channels of communication with industry stakeholders and third, come up with a welfare package for our members in a way that will impact the industry as a whole.
Do you think being a member of the filmmaking Amata family play any part in your emergence as DGN president?
I contested for the DGN presidency three times before I was eventually elected sometime last year and of course I was from Amata family when I lost. I think it is about the directors, many of whom are colleagues and friends seeing what I stand for, where the association is and what we can do to take it further. There is no doubt about being a proud member of the Amata family which has contributed a lot to the growth of Nollywood long before the industry even evolved to this point, however, this is about an agenda to do things better in DGN and we are working hard to make it happen.
You won the election at the third time of asking, what did you do differently this time?
I don’t think there is anything I did differently, really. I guess the time had just finally come for my colleagues to listen to me. And I am being honest with you; in fact if you ask me, I would tell you I worked even harder and reached out even more when I contested the second time than this time that I eventually won. So it is just providence and I am grateful for it.
How far have you gone towards fulfilling your major campaign promises?
In terms of fulfilling the promises, we have started working on them for a while as we are now putting structures in place by reaching out to stakeholders of the movie industry and taking leadership when it comes to matters affecting Nollwyood as a whole. We have been meeting government agencies and parastatals and apart from the issue of the NFC bill which recently led to a strain in our relationship with the Nigerian Film Corporation, we had gone to Jos already to have discussions with them.
Another is the website of the guild which has always been a problematic area but it is now in place. We are also working to enlarge the reach of DGN as well and we have six zones now, up from the four zones we had before now. On the welfare issue which is meant to put in place healthcare plans for members, and bring to an end this issue of veteran Nollywood people begging people to help them deal with one disease or the other. It is very embarrassing and we want that to end.
Why do you think people consider you too much of a happy-go-lucky- person to be a film director which is about being thorough?
That is who I am in truth. I am a happy- go-lucky guy and I am fine with it. It is because I am very pleasant and I believe I am all-together a cool person but it doesn’t take anything away from my work of directing. I cannot begin to defend it but you only need to check out some of my work to see that I am indeed a very thorough person.
How lucky do you feel after recovering your Lexus SUV just a week after being robbed at gun point?
Wow, that was such a good thing. It is something that God did to me just like that. It just came back like that and I have to thank God for it.
By the time your tenure ends, what legacy do you intend to leave at the DGN?
I’d love to be remembered as the man who put structures in place at DGN, above all other things we are able to put in place. With what we are talking about the industry today, that a Nollywood movie grossed N300 million in less than one month of screening, we need structures to take things to the next level. Over the years, DGN has played a major role in shoring up the indices of the industry that has brought us to where we are today. We want to continue to provide leadership in the industry and we cannot operate at that level without establishing frontiers of interaction.
With the way the video segment of the market is now, how can directors and producers make money apart from screening movies at the cinemas?
The video market is still there; it might not be as vibrant as it used to be before now but it is still there. The VCD market might not be there anymore but when it comes to the DVD market, it is still alive and there are directors and producers who shoot nothing other than straight-to-DVD movies and they know the market and are able to recoup their investments. But beyond the DVD, we are of course seeking an expansion of the number of cinemas in the country. We are just talking about Nollywood efforts grossing N200million and even another getting as much as N300 million in just about a month, that tells you about the power of Nollywood and the kind of attraction it has.
Don’t forget that this is still about focusing on the Nigerian market and with the few cinemas we have at present, think about how much more we can make if we expand it to other African countries.
There is also the online market where people can now also make money as long as you know how to access it, with the available of platforms that are yielding heavily towards Nollywood productions. It must be stated though that we are seriously looking at how we can work on the online medium so as to halt the flow of pornography that some people are coming up with in the name of Nollywood movies. Some of these works are purely pornographic works, there is no other word for it. Apart from DVD and online that I have talked about, there is also the window of taking the movies outside the country for festivals, it is a new platform that Nollywood is getting involved in and ma number of people have taken advantage of it already and we are surely going to see more going forward.
Beyond being handsome, why do you think women are always linked to you?
You are also asking this question? Beyond everything else, it is about being who I am and being a person who has value for people and who try to listen to them. I guess that is why many people say I make friends easily.
When it comes to going on with the tradition in the Amata family, which of your children is taking after you?
My son is a graduate of Economics, a First Class graduate but he is very passionate about football. But even if he doesn’t take after me or any of my brothers, my daughter is studying Film Directing in London as we speak. And it is clear she is someone who will go in that direction. And I hope to be around to guide her and help her on the practical side of things.