Chris Ihidero is the award-winning Director of ‘Big Daddy’ and the Chief Operating Officer of the acclaimed Amaka Igwe Studios; producers of some of Nigeria’s greatest blockbusters. He is a proud modern-day ‘Voltron’ and defender of the Nigerian Film industry aka ‘Nollywood.’
He is also an awesome instructor, and as I was tutored at a screen-writing [yes screen, not script] class at the Port Harcourt Book Festival, I literally inhaled the passion he exuded as he talked about his beloved craft. In fact I have vowed [not quite] to make my first short film in the first quarter of 2014…thanks to Chris Ihidero!!!
His favourite quote -in my opinion- “Talent is 2 for 5 kobo*. Go and get trained!”
Want to know how a Literature Lecturer got in the Director’s chair? You know what to do!!!
Born March 13, 1976, Christopher Olugbenga Ihidero is a Lagos boy. My father hails from Edo State, Nigeria and my mother from Ogun State, Nigeria but I consider myself a Lagos boy because I grew up there, and have never been to my father’s village. My father’s parents had passed on before I was born, so there was no real reason to visit; and the last time I heard when we were younger, there were witches waiting to devour us in the village. -Laughter-
I am from a big family; I have 6 brothers and 1 sister, which makes us 8 children from my mother. I was the black sheep of the family-the pictures concur don’t you think? – My siblings are not this dark-skinned, so growing up, there was a theory that I might have been stolen since I turned out very different from my siblings.
I spent a huge chunk of my childhood in the boarding house so I actually have more memories of being in school than being at home. I went to boarding house at the age of 7 in Primary 3 and I left at 17 in Senior Secondary 3 so I spent 10 years of my formative years mostly away in school.
I was not the type of child that was cuddled or coddled by my parents, so for a long time I just didn’t understand what sort of closeness could exist between parents and their children. Now that I am much older though, I have cultivated an interesting relationship with my father, and right now, he is my closest friend.
My parents were strict; up to a point and then instead of flogging, they started to give you responsibilities which is like a different type of strictness because you start telling the child, “I trust you, you can do this,” and that puts a burden on the child to live up to expectations.
My greatest memory of childhood would be when my father asked for my opinion at the age of 7 concerning my thoughts on going to the boarding school; that experience played a great part in defining my life because I realised that my opinion and ‘buy-in’ must be sought if I am to be included in any undertaking; therefore, I refuse to be ordered around.
Primary and secondary education was at the Montessori school in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, Nigeria after which I attended the Lagos State University for my first degree in Literature and my Master’s degree from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria. I chose to study Literature because I have always loved books. Everyone thought I should be a lawyer because I was very argumentative and very annoying but I refused to study law. I actually decided to study Mass Communications but that didn’t work out. I however enjoyed every minute of studying literature; I think it’s one of the best things that happened to me. What literature does for you is that it brings us in contact with other worlds. It makes you feel like you have visited several other places and I love to travel. Literature shaped my thoughts about a lot of things, it is amazing.
I also did a short course on directing for TV and film at the Rain-Dance Academy in England.
I didn’t work until I had obtained a Master’s degree. As a tertiary student, I directed and produced stage plays and wrote poetry and essays. 14 days after my Master’s degree was concluded, I got a job as a Lecturer at the School of Part-time Studies in the Lagos State University in 2005. At the same time, I worked as an actor with the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] in the Yoruba version of their radio drama, ‘Story Story.’ In March 2007, I got an offer from Producer-Director Amaka Igwe to become a trainee Director at the Amaka Igwe Studios. How did this happen you might ask? I on behalf of the Committee for Relevant Art [CORA] went to BOB TV, an annual film market organised by Amaka Igwe to hold a colloquium on the relevance of the African Cinema; that was our point of contact.
When I informed her of my intentions to go to film school in England and study Directing, she gave me the opportunity to learn first-hand and on-the-job. I gladly accepted the offer, and she became my teacher, boss and friend. I eventually went to film school in England the next year, 2008.
To backtrack a little, I became a columnist for the Guardian Newspapers in 2006, and handled a weekly column of about 400 words. That gave me training in writing even though they only started paying me almost 2 years into the job. However, that experience gave me leverage to get a job as the Editor of MADE Magazine, a men’s lifestyle Magazine. At the same time, I was doing my film training with Amaka Igwe. In those days, and even now, money doesn’t mean a lot to me. I will do anything for free if I will derive joy from it. Then again, I have learnt to ask to be paid so that people don’t take advantage. I currently write for thenetng.com.
I started making films with Amaka Igwe; I am her student for life and I refuse to graduate. If you want to be a Cinematographer or an Editor, you should probably go to film school, but if you want to be a Director or Producer, I think hands-on experience will be more profitable because production realities in Nigeria are very different. A good Director needs to be a Sociologist and a Psychologist; he needs to understand how the world works and how to work with human beings; a Director needs to understand stories, all of which are more important than going to film school for a whole year. Investing in short courses that will help you understand stories better and apprenticeship on a set will serve a greater purpose.
Directors always need assistants; if you offer yourself, are willing to learn and humble, you will get someone to train you; but be careful who you choose.
Success tips for Nollywood?
Young people complain too often because if you have invested time and effort in your craft you will succeed. It may be hard, it may take a while but you will succeed. Too many young people have an opinion before they have knowledge. If you are not getting knowledge, what are you getting? A knowledgeable, hardworking, focused and humble person will make it either in Nollywood or anywhere else. People say they are not given a chance to succeed in Nollywood, and my query is, ‘Why should anyone give you a chance? I make a film with my money to make money, not to give you a chance; if you are going to help me make money, I will give you a chance, otherwise, go and sit down.’ –Laughter-
In defence of Nollywood…
Nigeria’s film industry is phenomenal! It is the greatest single product that has come out of Africa! People think that saying they don’t watch Nigerian films is some form of status symbol translated to mean, ‘I am too intelligent…’ Watching Nollywood films is not by force, nobody glues your eyes to your TV screens. I admit that Nollywood has problems; there are a lot of technical issues and too many people who have come to film-making without understanding the nitty-gritty of film-making. But then, there are a lot of nonsensical people in other industries as well; why are they still in existence?
Besides, the Producers don’t use your money to make their films; if you don’t like it, don’t watch it so their businesses will be ruined. But if you chose to watch it, stop whining.
Nollywood will overcome its imperfections when a critical mass of film-makers start making better films with a different approach and hopefully, find an audience that is interested in those films. When that critical mass rises, that issue will be solved. Better directors, screen writers, editors, cinematographers who do things professionally. It is not rocket science.
I don’t have mentors; I have a teacher and friend, Amaka Igwe. I tend not to like everything about a particular film-maker; I like different things about different people. I like Aaron Sucking, the writer of West Wing and Social Network. Ang li, director of Life of Pi would probably be my best director because he is very visual and there is a subtlety to his films that is almost sensual. I love Pedro Almodovar, probably the greatest Spanish film-maker.
I don’t know if I have students oh. If someone wanted to train directly with me though, such a person would have to be working for Amaka Igwe Studios because that is where I work. We have trainees who spend a year with us and have kept up the tradition of training people since 1997. Amaka Igwe has given several people opportunities just like she gave me; I am just the only one who has refused to graduate.
Time away from home…
I practically have to beg and bribe every time I have to leave home. My wife and I support each other’s careers but it’s still not easy when I have to travel for work.
Philosophy of life…
I believe in the goodness of people; I believe there are more good people than bad people and I believe in karma; we will all be duly paid for everything we do, good or evil. To sum it all would be, Love your neighbour as yourself. I am spiritual but irreligious.
I love Nigerians, I love my ‘Nigerianness’ but I feel a bit disappointed in Nigeria and its leaders right now. I hate the governance of this country and it makes me so sad because I used to be a die-hard fan of this nation.
Chris Ihidero a decade on…
I am tied to Amaka Igwe’s apron strings; I will only leave when she kicks me out or else I am glued to her forever!!! -Laughter-
Inspire a young African…
In everything, be true to yourself and accept yourself no matter what anyone says.
*Talent is 2 for 5 kobo: Talent is a surplus commodity.