Whether as an actor, writer, director or producer, Tunji Bamishigbin has vindicated himself as a competent Nigerian who is led by passion. From his exploits on television berthing productions like Fortunes and Palace to wave making home videos like Most Wanted and Contractors, Bamishigin is one who knows his onions and under whose tutelage a lot of today’s starts learnt. He spoke to eelive.ng about the industry and what drives him.
Palace is back on air after about 20 years, why did you bring it back?
The response to Palace was very huge. Even years after we rested it, when people talk about what one has done, it is the programme they refer to. So, we thought why not bring it back especially as we were sure that we could do it better than we did before.
Then, AIT had spent so much money acquiring equipment that the money available for us to produce was not so much. But passion ruled our hearts, so we were able to do it. We put in all the strength without making money, I mean it was terrible, I left my bank job to do Palace, so we had to muster courage.
Sometime back myself and my partner, Ralph Nwadike met with Chief Dokpesi with whom we had remained in touch. We mentioned the need to get Palace back on air and it didn’t take him time to agree that we should talk to the management of the channel.
Everyone knew that Palace was one of the programmes that gave AIT exposure in those days. It was the programme that challenged NTA on the 8-9 Sunday night belt. So, we met with the management, some of the new members thought Palace was old and gone, but there were older hands there who spoke in favour of the programme. At the end of the day, we agreed to do again that’s how we started it.
So, how has the new Palace been received?
Oh, it’s been well received, and we are not surprised at all. With the quality of the story, personality, locations and equipment we are working with, we were sure it would be well received.
Shooting in Abuja is costlier because most of the initial actors reside in Lagos so we must fly them down, sometimes they can’t finish in one day, they have to come back and that eats into our budget. But Abuja gives us the kind of flexibility that we need with locations.
You have some of your old cast?
We still have Jide Kosoko and Kate Adepegba playing Jide Kosoko’s wife, Funsho Adeolu is still there. We brought Sola Sobowale, Desmond Elliot and a couple of other new faces because I always like the idea of getting new people lifted by the old hands. So, we have a couple of them in Abuja there, some young ladies and guys who are quite promising. We also brought in Akin Lewis.
Was there anyone of those old people you would have wanted to bring back that you couldn’t?
Yes, for instance Funmilola Aifiyebi couldn’t come, I spoke with her and all of that, but I know the challenge she had. So, we went for another lady, Adeola, who has also really proved herself.
Genevieve Nnaji was also in Palace; did you try to bring her back?
Geneviève was there but it was not a big role. She was supposed to be a friend to Foluke Daramola, who was a daughter to Jide Kosoko and she only had occasional appearances.
How do you feel seeing Genevieve thriving now knowing when she started out professionally?
I feel very happy! How else can a man feel when you see people who have passed through you when they were very ordinary becoming so accomplished. I recall very well, she was a very determined, quiet young girl, she didn’t talk much but she was very confident and sure of herself.
I used to tell all of them around me that no matter what you are doing, you need to have education, no matter how you want to do it, you need to have education. I told them to look at me, I was trained as an artiste, I was in the bank, I am a lawyer and all of that. So, I also gave that advice to Genevive. At some point, I even worked with her to see that she got into the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos. It didn’t happen at that time, but she later told me she had to take the opportunity of the many jobs that came from Enugu at that time.
I also learnt from her it is not the path you follow that matters, but the grace along the path that will take you there. So, she eventually found her way and I am happy for her. We meet at occasions and she is smiling, I feel greatly happy. The greatest joy I could feel is not what I have but the growth of people who have passed through you at one point or the other.
You did a couple of films in those days, are you still making films?
Of course, it is in the offing. You know the challenge our industry has – the issue of funding and all of that. With my background as a banker, I knew I could come borrow money because the reality of banking is that money must be lent out, you don’t lend money out, you don’t make money because the little money you get from people’s accounts is not really much. So, you must look for investment that is real, so that you can have your return. But with my knowledge of our industry, if I were to juxtapose my position as a credit officer and as a producer, I will make my presentation wanting funds but as a credit officer, I will not give that facility because I know the industry cannot really make that return.
Sometime last year, I produced a film on my own. I spent about three million to do it, it’s a small film which I sold to DSTV, I would have loved to do it big, but you must ask yourself about the prospects for a return on investment.
The other time the government has even invested by way of grants what came out of the grant? People just collected money and looked after themselves without looking at the industry, and that time I opposed it.
I mean, we started the industry without anything, without government involvement. I would have loved for government to use that money to create the enabling environment that will help us make money, build cinemas around because if a place like Lagos has cinemas in all its twenty local government areas, you will have your film shown and you will be bringing back the cinema culture.
It is not about whether your film is good or not. The moment people or families have a date, they will go to cinema like you find in other parts of the world. You go to the cinema, when you get there, you begin to search the hall, for available films, pay for what you want to watch and enjoy yourself.
So, I prefer that government invests that money, not giving people money because people have challenges and will always be tempted to put those monies into something else. What has been the outcome of the billions of naira that was given?
In economics, the essence of production is sales. So, basically there must be a market place, a real market place that can consume, that can really bring returns for investors. Obviously, the home video thing is fading out gradually because people have other means like online streaming. But there are still cinemas in London, in America and other places where they even have cheaper data. Data is a problem here in addition to the fact that phones cannot give the real feel of the cinema. So, let us have cinemas, if I have my film showing in about twenty cinemas for two weeks I think I should be making some money.
There have been huge films that have been shot now but the real question is are they making the money? Stories can be told, how many people have produced films, recouped and produced another one. There are people like the lady Mo Abudu, she has a TV channel to exhibit her works and oftentimes, corporations buy into her projects. But how do you use the success of one person that is less than 0000.1% to judge that the industry is growing.
The cinemas we have now, Film One and all of them they now behave like the marketers of home videos. They decide the kind of story to tell and even the actors to be in the film. They will tell you “oh, it’s comedy” and all of that, how do we grow like that? Nothing is going to happen!