Shan George has been in the Nigerian movie scene for a long time. The renowned Nollywood actress, producer and singer, who is best known for her roles in ‘Outkast’ and ‘Finding Goodluck’, began her career in 1996 and has featured in no less than a hundred movies, producing about 25 of them. In this chat with Newton-Ray Ukwuoma, she speaks on the reasons behind her five years hiatus from the movie industry. Excerpts:
You recently held a VVIP screening of your new project, Grey Shadows. How long did it take you to complete the movie?
We have been working for four months now; you know, planning, editing and finally the private screening. It is due for the cinema soon. The movie itself is a one day flick, but it took us roughly two weeks to shoot.
Why did it take that long?
‘Grey Shadows’ was shot in Calabar. Besides some of the hassles we had with keeping to location times, we also had to confront the shenanigans of area boys on the movie set. At some point, they damaged some of the equipment; at other times, they disrupted the entire shoot. We had to settle them every now and again. Imagine if we had a film village, a place secure and equipped where we could do our movies without harassment. Life would have been much better. The stress of searching for location, moving equipment and confronting touts would be out of the question.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, recently revealed Federal Government’s intention to build a film studio in all the geo-political zones as well as 100 cinema houses. How would you react to that?
That would be fantastic. At the moment, we need two things: market and a film village. Until we get a film village, we will keep suffering at the hands of area boys.
Since you produced ‘Finding Goodluck’ and ‘One Good Man’, what have you been doing with your life?
I was in the middle of ‘Finding Goodluck’ when my mother fell ill. I had to abandon the movie industry to take care of my mother. I am an only child. I was too heartbroken to focus on any work. I have been practically taking care of my mum since then. After she was discharged, I went to Calabar to stay. So, for a period of six years, I didn’t do anything. Until recently when I shot the movie, ‘Ayade’, a true life story of the present governor of Cross River State. The movie just came online a few weeks ago.
But not many people heard about the movie.
We didn’t screen it. The movie was declined in the cinemas as well as on Cable TVs because it was shot in the governor’s native language, though with subtitle. Nevertheless, I believe that ‘Ayade’ is one of the best movies I have produced. It is on Youtube. Anyone can watch it.
You said the movie was sponsored by the present governor of Cross River State…
Yes. The governor sponsored it. The story is his true life story, which he told himself. And he gave me the task to make the movie. We did some research, even though there were some plus and minus incidents in the eventual movie. It was merely a matter of garnishing. But largely, the movie is a true life story of the governor.
Have you really been away for six years? ‘Finding GoodLuck’ was premiered in 2014 and ‘One Good Man’ in 2016.
‘Finding Goodluck’ was shot in 2011. It was in the cupboard till 2014 when Mrs Eliot (Desmond Eliot’s wife) who is a marketer helped to release it to the public. And I shot and premiered ‘One Good Man’ in 2016 when my mother’s health started improving.
That is technically five years?
So, let’s talk about your new movie, ‘Grey Shadows’, what is its thematic framework?
‘Grey Shadows’ is that critical point where humanity and religion clash. Let’s have a certain amount of money, N10,000 for instance, and you see someone who has been hit by a car. Let’s still say that you meant to use the money to pay your tithe. So, after you helped this person to the hospital, where you think your obligation ends and then the hospital demands some money which your tithe can help offset, what would you do? Do you use the money to pay for this person’s hospital bill or pay your tithe? This is the premise on which the film is built. It also talks about healthcare in Nigeria and its practitioners. But basically, Grey Shadows is a dagger point, a crossroads of religion and common sense.
Why did you decide to invest in the movie?
Because I had a message which I thought would impact the society positively. I am someone who believes that money is not everything. As long as the message would be able to correct some ills that pervade our health sector, I am all for it.
Since you started producing movies, have you thought of directing?
No, I haven’t, to be honest. In fact, I don’t even know if I will ever direct. Directing is one aspect of movie production I find most tedious. I hail women like Kemi Adetiba (the director of Wedding Party). She is like a hero to me. Omoni Oboli recently directed her own movie. I have always been scared of directing, it is too technical, too brain racking. I am a feminist, but this part scares me. I might try it someday. I have produced, written and acted. I have produced over 25 movies, but never directed.
Being in the movie industry for 20 years, what has kept you going?
I think it’s the passion. I don’t have money. I have never given anybody the impression that I have made a lot of money in Nollywood. It is the freedom the industry gives me to be myself, to write stories and make movies that touch lives, that impact positively on the society like this movie, ‘Grey Shadows’.
Having worked with the governor of Cross River State, would you accept any political appointment from him?
No. I am no longer that young. Perhaps if I was 30 or 40. I can’t learn to handle files at this age. My job is movie production, that is basically all I can do. You don’t ask a good surgeon to do the job of a policeman. He would have to start learning all over again. Those who take such appointments probably know how to accommodate the career shift. The governor saw me as a movie maker and he called me to do a movie for him. I delivered as promised. I am fine with it.
Why did you start acting?
When I gained admission into the University of Lagos, I didn’t have money to pay my school fees. While I was contemplating how to raise the money, I met a lady called Blessing Orime, who is now Pastor (Mrs.) Blessing Stevens. She used to act in NTA soap with Regina Askia. I met her in a salon and discovered that we were from the same place. She told me she was going for an audition for a movie to be produced by Emeka Osai and the late Jennifer Osai entitled, ‘Thorns of Rose’. I accompanied her to the place.
When we got there, Jennifer saw me and was like, ‘This is Joan. This is our lead character’. That was how I was given the script. I didn’t know what to do, but because I needed money for my school fees, I had to do it. The truth is I didn’t play the role well because I was nervous all through. Fred Amata was the director. Ejike Asiegbu played the role of my husband. All these were big names in the movie industry. I was star struck. I was also not certain my mother would like it.
So, would you call yourself an accidental actor?
Yes. That is the reality.
How much were you paid for your first movie?
N20, 000. Twenty years ago, that was a huge sum. I was so excited.
What did you do to improve yourself?
Luckily, I was to study Mass Communication at UNILAG. So, I seized the opportunity to major in broadcasting. When I started getting jobs in NTA, I got this advert, ‘Shaky Shaky Mummy’, which helped my brand massively. And the rest is history.
Before the advent of social media, how did you interact with your fans?
Then they just saw us majorly on TV. The truth is there was focus, everybody was running home to watch one TV programme on Thursday evening, everybody was watching the same movies, and everybody knew what we were doing. Now, you can release a film and no one would know. In fact, your film can show in the best cable network and not many people would have watched it. At that time, our fan base was much stronger because everybody was watching one story. If you are good, everybody knew and if you aren’t good they would testify. The era of the internet and digitalisation has created multiple platforms dividing viewership and all.
Would you say then that the social media has become succour for celebrities, where at least their fans would keep tabs on what they are doing?
To a large extent, yes. But we cannot compare the level of commitment and love for the craft that came with knowing that everyone sees and loves what you are doing.
What would you say is the greatest sacrifice you have made for your craft?
I am sure most of my colleagues have similar stories to tell. We did this job with great passion. I remember how I followed a bus for five days because I wanted to do a waka pass (extras) and I wasn’t even able to get on set. Because, we as waka pass had to be in one corner, waiting for the opportunity for extras to join the set. Then, there was no GSM, so as the bus moved from one location to another, we had to be tracing it, either by entering buses or trekking along, you know. But now, people go for audition even online. It is much easier now. It was the passion because it was easier to give up back then.