Imoh Umoren: The Rise of a Filmmaker

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Recognised as the leader of the new school of directors and producers in Nigeria, well experienced Imoh Umoren has directed outstanding projects such as MTN Xtra Connect Game Show, MTV Base Advance Warning, Malta Guinness Street Dance, Don’t Forget the Lyrics, The Maze, The Station, as well as his own productions, including Have a Nice Day, Lemon Green and Happyness Limited. Among other notable ones is experimental film Hard Times, the first of its kind in Nigeria. It won him an Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award (AMVCA) in the Best New Media-Online Video category (2015). In this interview with Omenka, he discusses his past and upcoming projects, and his challenges as a producer in Nigeria.

 How did you get into production?

I started mostly by writing and then acting a bit. However, I looked so scary on TV that the experience completely spooked me, and so I vowed never to do that again. I was soon hired as a junior producer in a role that was called the cruise director, created by an American company. I eventually evolved to a producer and then a director.

You directed Nigeria’s first ever experimental film Hard Times in 2004. What are the challenges you faced during production? 

I made Hard Times at a point when I was depressed; I had done a lot of ‘commercial’ work but did not find fulfillment even though everyone thought I was one of the hottest directors. Then I wrote Hard Times after looking inwards to find out what kind of film I truly wanted to make. It won me my first AMVCA.

Photo credit: Metronaija

 What inspired your first film Lemon Green?

I made Lemon Green in 2009. It was based on a character – my uncle whom I had studied closely. It was a story about a writer with OCD who was dying of cancer when he discovered he had a son. And so for the first time, he had to deal with having someone else in his world.

You have worked on other projects like MTN Xtra-Connect Game Show, MTV Base Advance Warning, Project Fame and Multilinks’ Break the Bank. How have you been able to manage all these alongside film and TV production?

I have worked on so many TV shows that I can’t even count them; that’s why I’ve been unable to make many films. Last year alone, I shot three drama series, with 40 episodes, of one hour of drama; that’s 120 hours of prime time drama. However, I still managed to make The Happyness Limited in between projects. I discipline myself, I never go out when I’m not filming so that I can rest and pace myself for my next project.

Your recent project, The Happyness Limited took two and a half years to make, was this due to challenges in production?

The Happyness Limited took this long because I didn’t have adequate resources. It took a while to find someone who could do perfectly, the latex mask for Tope Tedela. When I was finally convinced it was possible, I went ahead but securing funding was difficult because it is not the traditional Nollywood film. It was so difficult that on the eve of the shoot, the executive producer pulled out; we had to literally beg, borrow and steal to make the film. In addition, amongst other things, it took us 4 hours every day to get the mask perfect and, then we had to feed the actor through a straw.

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What difficulties have you faced in producing shows, commercials, movies and TV shows, considering many brands prefer to outsource their work internationally?

Frankly, I’ve stopped making commercials, they are too much trouble. Outsourcing used to be the case, but I think more brands are filming in Nigeria because the expertise and equipment are now available. However, getting ideas across is usually difficult…most people are afraid to try out new ideas, and that for me is a major problem.

How do you approach rehearsals, production, post-production, storyboards, scripts, actors, and so on?

First, I get the scripts ready and then we cast. Second, we read through a table where we all come to speed with the character. I don’t usually rehearse dialogues but spend more time rehearsing characterisation because once an actor knows a character, he would understand what motivates that character to deliver dialogues in a certain way.

What or who has helped you the most in realising your vision as a director? 

My entire crew. I’ve probably worked with eighty percent of Nigerian film crew and whenever they come on set, they bring their A game. I can’t pinpoint one person but several people who have helped me along the way including clients, actors and brands.

How has your experience in game shows and commercials influenced your production of films and TV shows?

Coming from TV where the schedule is paramount, has helped me to shoot my films within the specific time assigned to them. Though I keep hearing how people cannot complete their films because they ran out of resources, it has never happened to me. This is not because I’m privileged but due to the experience that comes from planning TV shows. It helps me to allocate the right amount of time and resources to my production.

What is next for you, any film in the works?

I am about to release the trailer for one of the series I shot last year with Ramsey Nouah as the lead and Segun Arinze as the villain. This one is going to be big. I am currently writing my next film Children of Mud and from March 1, I will begin filming another series.

Oyindamola Olaniyan holds a in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.

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