Behind the Scenes: The Wedding Party
The Wedding Party is a highly anticipated Nollywood romantic comedy/drama film produced by the ELFIKE Collective. The world premiere recently took place on September 8 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2016, where it was selected as one of the eight films from Lagos for the City to City showcase. The film also had the distinction of being the opening night film. Comprising of four leading Nigerian film production companies; EbonyLife Films, FilmOne, InkBlot, and Koga Studios, ELFIKE Collective’s success with The Wedding Party is a welcome development in the Nigerian film industry, indicating that synergy and seamless collaborations are possible. The film boasts of a stellar cast of screen icons, actors, comedians and even musicians across age groups and levels of experience in the industry. It includes musicians like Ikechukwu and Banky W (who has a lead role in the movie), as well as a rising crop of actors who already earned their stripes with multiple nominations and awards for performances across film, television and stage productions, like Adesua Etomi (Best Actress at the African Magic Viewer Choice Awards (AMVCA) 2016) Somekele Iyama (chosen at TIFF 2016 as a Rising Star), Sambasa Nzeribe (Best Supporting Actor at AMVCA 2016), Zainab Balogun, Beverly Naya, as well as veterans of the silver screen like Richard Mofe-Damijo, Iretiola Doyle and Sola Sobowale. Comedians like Alibaba, Ayo Makun, EmmaOhMy God, Lepacious Bose and Frank Donga all feature in this eclectic mix of talents, never before previously assembled for one production. The multi-talented Kemi Adetiba holds forte as director in her first feature film to underscore the increasing visibility of female film directors in Nollywood. The film technicians on the production are also synonymous with top quality, with names like Akpevbe Ododoru as cinematographer, Yolanda Okereke as costumier, Tosin Otudeko who co-wrote the script with Kemi Adetiba, and Dr. Bayo Adepetun and Michael ‘TRUTH’ Ogunlade who both composed the original film score. The executive producers across the four production houses are Mo Abudu of Ebony Life Films, Moses Babatope of FilmOne, Chris Jeyibo of Koga Studios and Naz Onuzo of InkBlot while the producers are Don Omope, Zulumoke Onuekwu of Inkblot and Ijeoma Agukoronye of EbonyLife Films.
Ahead of its release in December, we had a chat about the movie with Don Omope, head of film production and creative director at FilmOne. Omope’s portfolio includes films like Taxi Driver (Oko Ashewo), Lunch Time Heroes, Chasing Hanifa, as well as bespoke content for television and magazines.
Congratulations on making the TIFF selection! How did The Wedding Party get selected?
TIFF takes us back to my first movie Taxi Driver with FilmOne, which I worked on extensively. Our studio is run like that of Hollywood where one must have multiple projects going on and there is a lead person creatively managing all the stages from idea to the scripts and all through production to final exhibition in the cinemas. By default, I am the supervising producer on all our films, which basically means I am the creative director protecting the creative and commercial interests of FilmOne in all our film productions. We made the film Taxi Driver and it became very successful. It is a beautiful film shot at night that went well and kept people talking. It became the highest grossing film in Nigeria in 2015. In addition, we got the highest return on investment because it was produced for N9million and it made over N40million in cinemas alone. A South-African based Nigerian award-winning filmmaker, Akin Omotosho (director of Tell Me Sweet Something) saw it at the AMVCAs 2016 where it was nominated in several categories including Best Screenplay, loved it and asked for the trailer. He sent it to his friend Cameron Bailey, the artistic director responsible for the overall vision and execution of the festival’s selection at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). After seeing the trailer, Bailey sent us an email asking whether he could see the full movie, which he eventually did. By this time it had already been released in cinemas in Nigeria. He said he was interested in the movie, wanted to come to Nigeria and asked when our next movie was to be shot. I told him we were working on our next film, The Wedding Party and he came to Nigeria along with his friend Funa Maduka, working at Netflix. They visited our film set, and those of others and were quite impressed with some the films in production. When the decision was made to dedicate the City to City programme at the TIFF 2016 to Lagos, Nigeria, I suspect our film was the first he chose because when he visited our set, he asked if we could get the film ready before the festival. We did just that and sent to him. After watching it, he must have decided to make it the opening film! I don’t think it can get bigger than that because it must be based on merit, as there were hundreds of films to chose from! In terms of all the films produced, I don’t think in terms of scale and size, there was any other film that celebrated Nigeria like ours did, and I am not saying this because I am one of the producers.
What brought about the collective as each production company involved could have done this independently?
Great question! It all started in 2015 with Mo Abudu’s Fifty, which she made for $2million. Though she recouped her expenses, she did not understand how a N9million film could do so well as she had not made any film prior to Fifty. We have a very strong distribution arm that distributed 3 out of the top 5, 5 out of the top 7,7 out of the top 10,10 out of the top 12, and 12 out of the top 15 highest grossing films of 2015, which included her movie. This gives you an idea of our domination in film distribution. So she figured out we had the expertise to make ‘cheap’ films at high standards, as well as the distribution expertise to commercialize and monetize films. It then made sense to collaborate. At FilmOne we bring the technical and commercial expertise, Mo Abudu brings marketing to the table as nobody does marketing like her. Besides she knows how to get the big guns out and make money from whatever she does, and she also owns a TV channel. Koga Studios owns equipment, studios and all. Then you have the Inkblot financial guys that know how to do the financial deals and to make money work. They have also made successful films. Inkblot did Out of Luck, Koga Studios did The Visit, Mo Abudu did Fifty and we did Taxi Driver. These four films were the biggest and most popular of 2015. These four companies now came together to make The Wedding Party and in truth, no one company would have made this film with 400 extras, 75 crew members, 20 lead cast, 40 different contractors, about 20 luxury cars. It was a big and highly technical production and we needed to come together to show that it was possible. Surely there was friction, fights and so on but that is expected and all was sorted amicably since we are forward thinking adults. It is a project through which we wanted to show the world that we are thinking big; we wanted to do a blockbuster film. A big budget film is something crucial I had been pushing FilmOne to do as a company that is the largest cinema chain in West Africa, and a number one distribution company now making its name in film production. We did Chasing Hanifa, the Hausa film hugely popular in the north, Lunch Time Heroes the family movie that has made money in ancillary sales and Taxi Driver, so we have built up an expertise in making particular films, which were all independent movies. For a company of our scale, I thought we should not be competing with independent filmmakers and so the vision to my boss Kene Mkparu was to make a big budget film. He had the idea of us working with a Hollywood studio like 20th Century Fox and we started a conversation but The Wedding Party came before that pending project.
What inspired The Wedding Party story and whose idea was it?
Mo Abudu had the idea for the story, and a team comprising of Kemi Adetiba, Tosin Otudeko, Naz Onuzo and I developed it. Mo wanted something which I find key to the story. It is a simple story; two families wanting to marry into each other after boy meets girl. Usually these stories are about one family being rich and the other poor but Mo asked what if the two families are rich? Let us tell a different story about us Africans and show the reality of the middle class and the affluent. We are not necessarily only hungry people and permanent beggars and terrorists. So we get two people married; one has old money, the educated ones during the time of our Independence. They went to Harvard, their parents went too and they also educated their children there as it is kind of family university. This family is Ibo, they are prim and proper and can use any type of cutlery. Then you have a Yoruba family with new money. They are a middleclass family who saved up to send their children to school abroad and like their local food eaten with hands because they feel cutlery is overrated. Then suddenly, through a childhood friend, the head of the family gets an oil well. So this middle class family suddenly becomes stinking rich. Our daughter is getting married, Eko won ma gbo! Lagos will hear it! Dunni is getting married and Nigeria must know that a new family has entered the 1% rich. So it’s show off time and they shout and scream like we don’t drink champagne, don’t you have Star lager beer? (laughs!).
What was the duration of actual filming?
We filmed for 18 backbreaking days, which is a producer’s victory and makes us special! We spent a good amount of time in pre-production to ensure a smooth run of actual filming. At the budget we were working with, anything more than 18 days would not have made any economic sense. The budget was about N60 million in cash and N150 million in value. We begged for many favours so that the production wouldn’t exceed the budget.
Where was the film shot and did the production have to build sets?
We shot the film was shot in Lagos, spending six days at Eko Hotel and Suites. We didn’t build sets ourselves because we got partners who built their sets where necessary and brought their props. For example, Newton and David did the wedding set, for food we were sponsored, while Coscharis came through with some luxury cars for the wedding convoy and so on. What is great is that with the help we received, we were able to concentrate on other areas to make the movie a rich experience.
There is a wide array of actors cutting across generations and experiences, how was the casting done?
The casting was a big battle so Kemi, Mo Abudu and Naz and I led. Banky W was the best male on the audition, Adesua killed it, we wanted RMD and also AliBaba. Sola Sobowale also auditioned and we knew she was the one. We wanted Ireti Doyle so much but were not sure because she was recently bereaved. Eventually she came through like the ultimate professional and we were so happy.
Like anything we do, we wanted something we could market and so cast people into roles they could interpret perfectly. No one company could have made this movie because we pooled all our resources together with each production company bringing their different experiences to bear—Mo Abudu’s experience and intuition and all the rest of us who have excelled in our various fields of endeavour. In our fights without sentiment, we were weighing options and trying to bring out the best for the production—Lepacious Bose can do this, AliBaba will bring this and in fact, the relationship/chemistry between him and Sola Sobowale is a revelation! The film industry will not believe it when they see the two of them together. Emma OhmyGod came in and stole the show from all the comedians, and Frank Donga! What can I say? (laughs!). We also mixed people who had a lot to gain or lose, so the combinations kept everyone on their toes throughout the production. In addition, we never had egos because people respected the production and its size.
The film technicians on the project are some of the best hands in the industry. How were they selected and who came up with the idea of having Kemi Adetiba as the director as she had not directed a feature film prior?
Mo Abudu likes to promote women, which is a great thing because they don’t get as many opportunities. She suggested Kemi who is a go-getter, and I discovered from my first conversation with her that she was very talented and would ‘nail’ the movie. We, from the other production houses were skeptical about her directing a movie this size as her first feature but we all rallied round to ensure a seamless production. I worked as the technical producer looking after the entire technical crew to maximize quality, while the other producers looked after costume, welfare and the finances.
As a collective project, how was the division of labour for the different aspects of the film from concept, through realization to post production, exhibition and distribution?
There was no division of labour as such as we are all very creative people and discussed everything in detail. However, every team needs a lead to drive things and Mo Abudu was our project captain to push things through.
Were your expectations met at TIFF ?
We opened the festival in the City to City category just like some other movies opened the other categories. Basically, it does not get bigger than that. It was like a carnival, the whole Nigerian community out there went nuts to see the film. The cast was there too. We also envisage a lot of international distribution. Right now FilmOne, has received several enquiries from international organizations for distribution. The most popular are two of the films we are presently distributing; 93 Days and Taxi Driver. People have also indicated interest in The Wedding Party. Netflix is highly interested and we are already in talks with them. We are expecting good sales internationally.
For the Toronto premiere, which members of cast and crew represented the production and were they sponsored by the project?
Each production company sponsored members of their team they wished to attend. The collective sponsored some of the lead actors/key cast like the bride and groom, as well as their parents.
Why the December release after the trailer release in August as pirates may take advantage of the time lapse between the world premiere and Nigerian release. Also, is there any Lagos premiere?
The date was chosen during the Christmas period when people will be relaxed and on holidays. It was dated a year ahead; with cinema dates, you cannot just move things around because many agreements have taken place. We are ensuring everything to make sure the film is not pirated. There will a press screening before the Nigerian premiere, which will probably take place a week before the release date.
What is the age classification of the movie?
It’s a family film and we want to push for 16. We have a huge problem with the censorship board here because people are giving classifications without adept knowledge of film. There is no violence, sex or nudity in this film, so we are confident the censor board will come through.
Can you in one sentence tell us what to expect in the movie?
Expect a pure bliss, ball of fire, lots of laughter feel good movie, which will be enjoyed for about an hour and forty minutes. Everyone will leave the cinema jumping! It will be the quintessential cinema event. There is no better way to describe it, as you would have to see it with your family and friends.
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