Popular Nigerian actor, Saidi Balogun has spent over 40 years in the Nigerian film industry. In this interview, he shared some of his experiences and industry challenges and advised his colleagues not to collect money from politicians for campaigns.
Daily Trust Saturday: You have remained relevant in the Nigerian film industry for over 30 years. How were you able to achieve this feat?
Saidi Balogun: I have worked in the Nigerian film industry for over 40 years. You have to move with the times and as the changes come you also have to do a lot of research, find out who you are and verify your age as well. More so, always be ready to learn and don’t let the term “legend” confuse you; it’s just a word. You have to learn every day and evolve over time.
The grace of God sustained me. All this, put together, but without the grace of God, you can do nothing.
DT: What do you think of the new generation of actors in the Nigerian film industry?
Balogun: You may get lucky because some people are born with the natural ability to act; however, you have to practice. I think all newcomers should learn everything that has to do with acting because even if you’re lucky, you can’t be lucky forever.
My point of view is that the next ones should learn, read and move with the times. If you can do it now, don’t think it would be easy forever. You should learn more and practice. They should go to qualified people to give them more guardianship.
DT: What is your opinion on the emergence of streaming services in Nigeria?
Balogun: Over the years, new developments are emerging. When we started, we were just putting on a play and a few TV stations. Then we gradually moved to the highest level of celluloid; after that we moved on to VHS tape players and the like.
As the world moves, technology improves. That’s why I said you have to evolve with the times. In the past, if you made one interesting movie, the whole world came to see it, but now, with the population and other factors, there are so many distractions. However, it’s a good development, just that you have to know where you stand and do your part well because if you’re not careful, you’ll be a jack of all trades and a master of nothing. I love development, but you just have to learn and grow with it.
DT: Some people will say that stage acting is dead in Nigeria. Do you agree with such a school of thought?
Balogun: I don’t agree that he died in Nigeria. He was placed on a “discreet” but he is coming back. I’m being bold to say this – if you’re an actor, offline or online, if you’ve never done a play and been through the rigors, then you’re not a thorough comedian . I’m sorry to say this, but in entertainment, you’re just a fluke, and a fluke is someone who accidentally becomes a champion.
The play is gradually returning. Our population is growing and too many movies are coming out of Nigeria, but very soon we will separate the boys from the men. If you check actors in the US and UK, most of the A-list actors are still doing plays, like Tyler Perry, Al Pacino, Eddie Murphy and Demi Moore. They all still have to go on stage. They have their calendar; some will say that they have planned three months of plays.
Most British stars come from plays, as well as American stars. If you are a Nigerian star now and have no stage experience, I would say you are still in kindergarten. We call stage play the engine room, the powerhouse that gives you the will to do anything.
The experience, of my first two-actor film in Africa, was drawn from my experience of theater plays. We do a one man or two man show for hours and you have to entertain people otherwise they will stone you.
We call the stage game, “no amends” because once you make a mistake, that’s it. So you have to do it right, unlike the movies. It shows that you are qualified to be an actor and that you have the ability. Once you’re a theater actor, making movies is like a walk in the park.
DT: Some people think that actresses in Nigeria are richer than their male counterparts. Is it true?
Balogun: It depends on how people see it. More so, we all have different ways. I think there’s too much to handle for a lot of men. They have too many things to do than go on social networks. They see themselves as fathers. The women are still there; that’s how our women behave, and they can be loud.
Honestly, sometimes a lot of rich people hand out money to our female counterparts because they have what we don’t. If a rich man helps me now, he does it because of God’s will and my talent. Some people give gifts to our female counterparts hoping for something in return. However, not everyone does. So it depends on how people see it.
Some people, especially men, were building houses but they didn’t say a word. I believe if they announced it, some people would still crucify them – what are they trying to show. We are doing well in the industry. It’s just my opinion.
DT: You have spent over 40 years in the Nigerian film industry. Are you still facing challenges?
Balogun: There are still many challenges. We urge Nigerians to go out and watch movies in cinemas. The statistics they have now, forget the numbers; I won’t say more. Out of 500 films, very few succeed. Even the very good ones may not be so lucky.
Another challenge is that we have too many films coming out of Nigeria. And most of these movies are bought by online streaming platforms; hence, once a movie is uploaded in any online streaming platform, that is the end of it because once the movie is released, anyone can download it to their device. The days when you thought you could show your film around the world are over.
If I spent 100 million naira on a movie, once it is put on an online streaming service, anyone can download it and that’s the end of the movie.
Also, the movie aggregators aren’t doing the right thing. They are now turning into film producers. These aggregators are supposed to distribute our films, but they turned to the filmmakers. If I’m a film producer and a film aggregator goes to a filmmaker, there would be a conflict of interest and he would put his project ahead of mine. Some people are often afraid to give them their movies because an aggregator can watch my movie and steal my concept. And it is very dangerous. Everyone wants to do everything at once.
There are challenges everywhere. I pray to God that cinemas don’t die soon; but how long will we keep coming last? If I take my movie to the cinema now, only about 35% is my money. The rest is up to them, so how can I make money?
We face serious challenges. It’s not like theater owners are bad people; they have bills to pay, which shows that everyone faces challenges. We all need to come together before things fall apart.
DT: You have always said that the government is not doing enough for the Nigerian entertainment industry. In a few months, new government officials would be elected. What are some of the things the government should be doing for the entertainment industry?
Balogun: Thanks to the Lagos State Government who provided interest free loans to filmmakers. It’s not easy, but I pray that artists will campaign for any candidate they want without raising money. Let’s go first with our proposals on how to improve the entertainment industry, telling politicians that if they get to power, that’s what we want. We don’t want their money. We can campaign for them for free, but they must adhere to our proposals.
But if we go there to collect a big sum of money, they paid us for the business of the day. So if they come to power and don’t remember us, nobody can complain. It will be like a transaction. Campaign for whoever you want, but go to them with a proposition that will benefit the industry. Tell them what we want.
When I became Chairman of the Golden Movie Ambassadors of Nigeria, before I came to power, my colleagues asked for my manifesto, which I presented to them. I have been asked questions for months and answered to their satisfaction. They didn’t ask me for money. All they said was I had to go deliver to them.
Before campaigning for a politician, artists should look at what the person had done before seeking power. I know Nigeria is tough, but that’s my personal opinion.
DT: What are you currently working on?
Balogun: I have films in preparation. For example, Finding Ireti is coming to theaters. I have other movies like Master P, The Scourge and Swap coming to theaters soon.