Popular filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan is working on a big project right now. He is currently on location with Cast and Crew for his new movie called Mokalik. It is the coming-of-age, passage-of-rites drama surrounding an 11-year-old boy from a middle-class suburb who spends the day as a lowly apprentice at a mechanic workshop, in order to view life from the other side of the tracks.
From the moment a melancholic 11-year old boy, JAIYE, is dropped off at the mechanic workshop in the morning by his father, OGIDAN, it is obvious he doesn’t want to be there. Ogidan hands the grumpy Jaiye over to the local CHAIRMAN, then leaves. Jaiye stands out like a sore thumb in the workshop as he commences his apprenticeship under various Mechanics. Along the way, he meets other Apprentices, some of whom take a liking to him, others of whom take a dislike to him. As miserable as Jaiye is in his mechanical vocation, he finds himself taking to his apprenticeship like a duck to water. He also comes across the apple of his eye, a 21-year-old cute lady called SIMI, who he takes an instant shine to.
The cast includes big names like Femi Adebayo, Charles Okocha, Ayo Adesanya, Fathia Balogun, Papalolo, Alabi Yellow, Simi Ogunleye aka SIMI to mention a few. Oluwatoni Afolayan who is Kunle Afolayan’s nephew will debut in the movie.
And the production is looking good. Trust Kunle Afolayan. He is one of the most talented filmmakers in Nigeria. He is also one of the leaders of the new generation filmmakers. What has helped him is the fact that he started off as an actor and rose to actualise his dream of becoming a filmmaker. He is lucky to have had a filmmaker dad, Ade Love who influenced his choice of career greatly by insisting he travels around Nigeria and West Africa as a little boy, to learn the ins and outs of the movie industry. Initially, he hated his dad for this but when he grew up he came to realise the help his late dad had done for him, exposing him to all the nitty-gritty of the business, from an early age. Today, Kunle has mastered his craft.
And he has been shooting one successful movie after the other in the last 15 years. He recently premiered his last major movie The CEO in a big way. He first premiered the movie mid-air an Air France flight, another premiere took place in Paris and the 3rd at Eko Hotel. His movies are not only mind-blowing, they are big budget movies.
What has kept Kunle going in an industry where other filmmakers are complaining? What is his staying power?
Recently, City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, interviewed this ace filmmaker in Lagos Kunle told City People his success story.
He explained that passion has played a big role in the success of his career.
Let’s talk about your last movie premiere. How was the event?
We have had 3 major events. The first was a premiere on the plane from Lagos to Paris which was powered by Air France because of the kind of partnership I have with them.
This is the 1st ever in the world where a movie will be premiered on the plane. For me its a landmark, simply because there is some sort of perception that the rest of the world seems to have about Africa, not to talk of Nigeria. A lot of times it gladdens my heart, when some of these initiatives, originate from Lagos, Nigeria.
They have been making films in Bollywood and Hollywood for over 100 decades but this initiative started in Nigeria and for me, this is a good milestone.
The second one was a premiere that we had in Paris after the Lagos one and it was well embraced The Guardian (UK), Variety, Jeune Afrique, and a lot of international and local media wrote about it. The 3rd one was the premiere that we had at Eko Hotel which was graced by a lot of who is who in the Nigerian society.
For me, my joy really is that it is not just because we put an event together but because the after event was also well received and this rubbed off on the main motive towards putting this event together, which is the film. Having an event is one, making a successful film is another. Right after the premiere, the movie was released in the cinema and it has been doing well.
It seems Kunle Afolayan has had a lot of good showing in the last 3 to 4 years. How do you see all of these successes coming back to back?
I think it is because I have a mindset. I came into this industry professionally in 1998, that is like 18 years ago as an Actor. But Golden Effects which is my production company started in 2004 about 12 years. My first movie was made in 2006.
That makes it a decade. The first one was IRAPADA in 2006. In 2009, I made FIGURINE. In 2011 I made PHONE SWAP. In 2013, I made OCTOBER 1 and in 2015 we shot THE CEO and it came out in 2016.
So it takes me pretty much about 3 years to make one film. It is not a template, but I seem to have mastered what I came into the industry to do.
So every time I set out to do a project, all my films have different themes and different aesthetics and different genre. For me, it is not just about making films, which is the Art part of the film industry but also making it a business. So, I have tried to balance creativity and commercial.
Is it working?
For me, I will say yes, because for me to have been able to move from one film to another, one production to another then it seems to be working. I will not say I have made money because I took loans most times and I have to repay, but I will say I am surviving. I am making a living. I am sending my children to school, and I have been able to keep the business going and that is what matters continuity, in what I do.
Because of my involvement with a lot of brands, I am a brand ambassador to Air France, I am a brand ambassador to Peugeot, to Adron Properties. I am doing something new for Sahara Group. By tomorrow, I am going to shoot a short film, which they want to use in their celebration of 20 years of existence. After that, I want to do a series and I want to do another film. I just want to continue giving my fans and followers what they want.
What keeps you going?
I think its mindset and determination. I believe so much in Arts, especially in films. And I believe so much in the cultural influence. I am a typical Nigerian and most especially a typical Yoruba man. Most of the things I grew up seeing have really influenced my creativity.
This I intend to pass on to the younger generation, my children if possible. I believe in restoring and maintaining and keeping our heritage it is one of the things that will always work for us.
My father always told me that once you lose your identity, then you have lost everything. And I would like to keep that identity of being a Yoruba man, of being a Nigerian, and of being an African. And I would always want it to reflect in my film.
What influence did your dad being a filmmaker in his lifetime, had on you?
Indirectly, I will say, to a great deal, then I hated my dad because he forced me to do a lot of things that got me engaged with the film industry. He insisted that I travel with the films to Cotonou, Abidjan, to different parts of Nigeria. At that time, I just felt he was inconsiderate. I was just a young man, a lot of friends will be on the field playing ball, but this man will insist that I go with his crew. Right now those things I learnt have really helped me in putting in place a proper business structure and understanding the business better than a lot of people.
This has really added a lot to where I am today. So, I give him kudos for that. But the truth is, I will also want to use what I do to influence the younger generation and I am already doing that because I get a lot of feedbacks from them. Even the children of the rich, the children who have gone to study at Harvard come back and they want to do filmmaking. A lot of them want to emulate what someone like me is into. And that gives me great joy.
What does it take to be a filmmaker?
It takes a lot. Most importantly it takes discipline in the sense that I don’t compromise on my creativity. I will not cast you even if you are my mother and you don’t fit into a role. I will never do it.
A lot of people ask me how come you have never featured your brother? Is he not your blood brother? And I ask them, tell me where he fits in this film. But when I see opportunity, I give it to them and I allow them do it. Discipline is very key. And also understanding your craft, so that you don’t continue to dream blindly. Sometimes people dream and they dream blindly.
So if you are going to go into this industry, for example, you need to understand your strength and your area of core competence and put that to use. That is what I do.
What is your area of core competence?
I used to work in a bank. And whilst in the bank, I met a lot of people in the media and advertising profession. When I started, I set out to be a filmmaker, not even an actor. But I started as an actor because someone like Tunde Kelani said to me, ‘Kunle, it’s a good way to come into the industry because, you have the face and you seem to have the charisma, and all that. For filmmaking, you need to learn. After I started as an actor after some time I went to a film school and I studied film because every day I dream about creativity. Even when I am driving I visualise things in my head, I tell stories in my head. And that is why the art of storytelling, you cannot take it away from me because these things come naturally.