Friday, 1 July 2016

Meet Chidiebere Ugbe(Tchidi Jacobs) our creative entrepreneur

My name is Chidiebere Ugbe popularly known as Tchidi Jacobs :

I'm a creative entrepreneur. I run a production outfit, Keyhole Media. I founded Keyhole media, in 2014, because I was looking for a way to marry my passion to my income. I wanted to get paid for doing what I love most. Telling stories. As a story teller, my media for expression are music, film, and creative writing. I am also a social activist, and my art naturally mirrors my activism. My debut Rap Single, #Change, drops soon.

How did you come into production?
I think it started in 2010. I was in a music band. We were to shoot our first music video, after recording our debut 8 track album which was produced by Wizboy in Enugu. Funds were low, so we struck a deal with the video director. He'd only come and shoot, then edit.

All the other aspects of the production were to be handled by the band. From writing the script, to creating the story board, costume and set design, make up, scouting for locations et al. We were to source for everything in-house. The responsibility of managing the production naturally fell on me, and I did it, with so much enthusiasm.

There was a deadline. We had to prepare the sets, there were the costumes to be made, people to contact... Soon, we were engrossed in a flurry of activity that saw us all exhausted on the day of the shoot.

We had stayed late into the night to complete the finishing touches to one of the sets - it was a room, filled with newspapers, the walls, the floor, everywhere! Then there was a black and white TV set, an antique radio set, and a guitar! Fantastic, I remember it now with nostalgia, but I digress. The next morning we returned, to finish off the graffiti, on an abandoned government owned radio station which we had converted for our use. We literally destroyed all the walls with graffiti. This structure served as the main location for the video shoot which lasted for two days. I had never had more fun in my life.

During post, we noticed that the director, who also doubled as the editor, was not using a lot of the shots we had choreographed, the way we wanted. Again, I found my production instincts guiding us through the editing, so that he thankfully commended my contribution at the end.

Fast forward to 2013, I am working as a radio presenter; I am producing my own show, and a friend who also works in the media calls me, asking if I can make a documentary film. There is this NGO that wants one made for them. I had never made one, but I said yes.

After I dropped the call, I sat back and imagined making a documentary, just like I had done on several occasions. I went and researched about the organisation, and by the time I met with them, the job was pretty much done. I hired a crew, rented a Sony HDV camera, (it was the best I knew then) and went to film. I doubled as the producer and director. I needed a female narrator, so I talked to Honeypot Olayemi of Radio Continental who kindly accepted to be part of the project.

We had an excellent production in the end, and I remember saying to my self - wow! I wish I could do that over and over again! The client was satisfied, and even called to say that the documentary had helped them recoup the funds they invested in the production. My second client came through them as well, and the rest as they say is history.

What projects have you been involved in?
I have been involved in several projects, and each project has its own peculiarities. I just recently completed a program specific documentary for Optimal Cancer Care Foundation, on their campus awareness program; with Unilag as the focus. It was sponsored by Access Bank. Unilag has about 35,000 female students, it was important to take the project to Unilag because early detection and treatment is key to saving the lives that would have been saddening statistics some 15 /20 years down the line.

I've also been involved in Documentaries for The Cerebral Pasly Centre, Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria, Help Gate Foundation, and several others. Presently we have completed story research and content development for Different Shades of Hope, a documentary film that tells the story of the Sickle Cell Foundation Nigeria; exploring the different shades of the foundation's impact on the lives of people living with sickle cell disorder. We are talking to sponsors to assist the foundation with the production funds because it is a Pan-African project, one that offers a lot of visibility. We are also talking to broadcast partners to ensure that the film reaches the desired audiences.

You may like to hear about my Indie debut, a short poetry film, #My Vote, featuring six other voice artists. It was just before the 2015 elections, we had limited funding, and just about three weeks to the elections. I'm proud of what we achieved. The goal was to use the film to educate voters on the need for peacefully exercising their franchise and expressing whatever discontent they had about the results within the ambits of the law.

During one of our media interviews, I think it was Nigeria Info, we had people calling in to say the film had inspired them to go out and get their PVCs. The film enjoyed airplay on several TV stations in Lagos, and was broadcast across the nation in partnership with NTA Abuja, Radio Nigeria and Voice of Nigeria.

Worthy of note also, is my little contribution to the promotion of African literature. I published an online literary review, The Emerge Review, for three years, starting from 2011.

Our focus was on close up author interviews, book reviews, and literary industry news reportage, because we recognised that the literary awakening sweeping through the African continent had to be new media driven.

I later ceased publishing and took the content to radio, as The Nigerian Book Show which later partnered with Farafina to give out free books on air. Sadly the show has stopped running too, but we are looking at it again, what we did wrong, what needs to be improved, and our big WHY? "Why this show?" is the question all content producers need to ask before they embark on any project. Why this project? I am convinced that we cannot have a great Africa without a reading Africa. That is why we must continue to keep aflame, the torch of African literature.

One way to grow the literary industry is to make literary content attractive to young African audiences, and in this light, we have rebranded the show as a TV show. The Book Show Africa. It's yet to start running, but I will surely get it running, it's a promise I am bound to keep.

What is your impression about Nollywood?
I am proud of Nollywood as a Nigerian. Nollywood has grown tremendously. From a small, self-funded industry, to the world's second largest. Many didn't know Nollywood would later become the global rave that it is, but the industry stands today as a testament to the enterprise, creativity and resilience of the Nigerian people. It is public information that the industry is worth 11 billion dollars, contributes 1.4 percent of our GDP and is the second largest employer of labor after agriculture, churning out over 872 films yearly, by very conservative estimates. Hollywood in all its glory averages 400-500 films yearly.

A lot still needs to be done though, as this explosive growth is more quantitative than qualitative. Poor distribution channels, Piracy, low funding, and the absence of local content promotion laws, remain challenges hampering the growth of Nollywood. Instead of wasting time debating whether the MOPPICON bill should be passed or not, the government needs to urgently focus on how it can address these challenges, so as to maximise the potentials of the industry.

A lot of Nollywood films get released all the time yet the quality has not improved as much as it should. Why?

True. The growth as I said earlier, has been more quantitative than qualitative. In the last 10 years however, we've seen the emergence of what has now been dubbed "New Nollywood". This, apparently, is a response to the calls to improve the quality of the home movies. So, we have the Old Nollywood of the home movie era, and the New Nollywood, that is now taking us into the cinema era, and reviving our long nascent cinema culture.

Presently, there are less than 20 movie theatres nationwide and they are mainly targeted at the upper middle class. This is too small a number to serve about 113 million Nigerians who are hungry for good entertainment, you'll agree... So there's a dichotomy, a gap that needs to be bridged. Many Nigerians do not know about New Nollywood.

Movies, like The Figurine, October 1, Mirror Boy, Half Of A Yellow Sun belong to this classification, and they typically cost between 8 to 10 million Dollars. The impact of such huge budget on the films is glaringly evident. People who can afford the movie tickets go to the cinemas and watch. Others hear about them in the news.

On the other hand, Old Nollywood movies, the home movies that is, cost between 40 to 50 thousand Dollars, so the funding aspect is really a problem. Revenue is mainly through VCD/DVD sales, which makes them even more susceptible to piracy. But then, when you consider that not everyone can raise 10 million Dollars for a film, we have to be grateful for Old Nollywood. They have thrived despite the challenges.

The problem of quality can be addressed through increased funding, administered to film practitioners through the film guilds as in other parts of the world. These guilds will also be responsible for ensuring that their members do not go below the quality mark. We also need cinemas, community cinemas, cute little film theatres, dotting our streets and neigbourhoods, like the sports betting and viewing centres now do. That's how to grow this Industry.

An Okada man should be able to park his Okada at one side, and take a stroll to the cinema down the street, without seeing it as a luxury. In this way, we'll be able to bring Nollywood, to the doorsteps of millions of Nigerians. This done, additional revenue for filmmakers, will be created which will translate to better quality productions.

How do you want to stand out?
I place a high premium on quality. I am continually learning and striving for excellence. I want to be known for excellence and if my art, my work, accomplishes some sort of social goal, I'd like to think that I contributed in helping someone out there do something they thought they wouldn't be able to do.

A lot of people still don’t allow their children to choose their courses by themselves, what do you think?
I think parents should watch their children closely, and guide them into making the right choices. Children need their parent's guidance, but this must be done from the standpoint of knowledge of the child's abilities and not for the purpose of securing financial security or some sort of high standing in society. My parents wanted me to be an engineer; initially, I did show some interest and even a spark of brilliance in the sciences, but I excelled in the arts, and that was the path I chose.

I also disagreed with them on the type of education I wanted, which ended up in my dropping out of school twice. I have barely 14 years of formal education. I learned everything by going out there and doing the things I wanted to do. I learned from books. From mentors, from failure, I learned from the internet and I haven't stopped learning. I read an average of 50 articles everyday on my phone, spanning across all my areas of interest. I have an ever growing library. I spend averagely two hours weekly, rehearsing and writing music. In the end, it is not about getting a certificate or a degree it is about developing yourself into a skilled person, so that you are able to bring value to your world.

 What advice do you have for young people?

Do not drop out of school. Lol. You may not be as lucky as I am. Discover what you want to do, first, then go and train for it. Look inwards. Accept yourself.  When it comes to talents, focus on your strengths, when it comes to character, focus on your weaknesses. Dream big. Read. Read. Read. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I read. Thank God I read! Practice, practice, practice. Be willing to do it for free. Believe in yourself. Stay true to your art. Your uniqueness is an asset. Trust in God, and never ever give up!

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