Passionate about fighting for the rights of street children, Asake Productions founder and creative director Yemisi Wada addresses societal issues in everything she makes.
Here, Wada tells Content Nigeria how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the Nollywood industry and discusses her plans for her company.
Tell us about your company, Asake Productions.
Asake Productions was created to deliver premium content that will show the world that, given the chance, [Nigerians] have good stories to tell and we can bring them to life very well.
As avid readers and purveyors of drama with a passion to see good content come out of our industry, we tell our stories in good, true light and we have advocacy in our minds whenever we produce.
I produced a docudrama titled Oluranlowo Mi (My Benefactor), which portrays the moving true story of four street boys and how they came to be on the streets. This sparked a passion for advocacy through pictures and film. In 2014, I created an indigenous crime series, Lasgidi Cops – Special Crimes Unit, the first and only show of its type in Nigeria.
What new projects is your company working on?
We just finished shooting Witches, the first instalment in our Sisi Eko series, and we are now in post-production. We are also at the development stage of Public Lies & Private Truths, which has been created and written by Atoke Ena.
What can you tell us about these projects, and how soon will they be concluded?
The Sisi Eko series is one we intend to run for a while, showcasing the lives of women in Lagos State. Witches, the first part, is about three women in their 30s. They are all successful and fiercely independent – and we know that these types of women in society are quickly termed ‘witches’ or ‘loose women.’
They are played by Bikiya Graham-Douglas, Marcy Dolapo Oni and Adunniade. We hope the show will be out just in time for Christmas.
We are at the development stage of Lasgidi Cops’ new season as we speak and we hope it will be out by the second quarter of 2021. The same goes for Public Lies & Private Truths.
What societal ills do your productions address?
Everything we produce addresses something. Oluranlowo Mi was created to open society’s eyes to the danger of children living on the streets. It was a way to show how they could fall into the wrong hands and come back to harm us if we keep turning a blind eye.
Lasgidi Cops came to me while I was sitting in a police station in London to report a lost phone. Seeing so many people come to the police [for help], and having come from a country where people run away from the police, I decided to do a police series to show our police in good light, making the real role of the police known to the public, especially the younger generation.
Sisi Eko aims to highlight different aspects of the lives of women in Lagos, particularly Lagos Island. It does not really address an ill but enlightens people.
Public Lies & Private Truths reveals the other side of humans when a scandalous story breaks in the media. It unfolds from the perpetrator’s perspective, showing that we shouldn’t always judge people based on what the media writes about them.
What problems is the Nigerian industry facing and how can they be tackled?
Funding, funding, funding! We have many ideas and we need the help of the government and corporations. It is quite expensive to produce anything good and, like manufacturing anything, you need capital to do it. If the art of producing cannot be seen as a tangible thing then banks are skeptical about lending you money.
A creative mind is like an engineer, requiring time and money to build something good. If proper value is not given to the end product, the investment is lost; but for value to be given, it has to be good – so it’s a vicious circle.
Entertainment is now an important export, as we have seen with the music industry. The government is trying [to help] through Central Bank loans and the Bank of Industry loans, but it is not enough, as the conditions to access those loans [cannot be met by everyone]. Also, corporate organisations could help by providing spaces like cinemas and theatres for work to be showcased – the supply and demand forces make the numbers reasonable to those who wish to invest. We could also do with studios that are accessible to shoot movies, thus lowering production costs.
How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting your business and what can producers do to ensure they meet targets?
The pandemic has stopped a lot of productions, content markets and film festivals. There’s not much we can do about it when nature strikes. The Central Bank has increased the moratoriums to pay back loans and lowered the interest rates on these loans. I am sure buyers and licensees understand deadlines not being met. Like someone once said: ‘The world just has to be patient now while we fight for our survival, without which nothing is possible.’
What other challenges do you encounter as a producer?
Creating is like manufacturing – you need tools. We have a problem finding good actors. The few good actors we have are therefore recycled and, in my view, not tasked as much as they ought to be. We celebrate a lot of mediocrity and it is very painful.
We need solid directors who can demand the best and call out bad performances. But because of our culture, if you criticise someone’s work, it is taken personally. [The person you criticise thinks] either you are bad or you are jealous.
To this end, a label has been placed on our productions at content markets and we are offered peanuts for our work compared with that from elsewhere. But by the grace of God with the market opening up and more productions soon thanks to market forces of demand and supply, the wheat will be separated from the chaff. That’s why the absolute success of Living in Bondage: Breaking Free [a Nigerian feature film released last year as a sequel to hit 1992 movie Living in Bondage] has been very heartwarming.
I watched a documentary at the iRep Festival called The Color of Wine, by Akin Omotosho. One of the conclusions of the film was that South Africans did not perfect their wines until the embargo placed on South Africa was lifted and their wines could be bought all over the world. It was then they realised what was lacking and could be improved – and now their wines are some of the most revered in the world.
That is how I feel about Nollywood. It has evolved from a negative space that the elite looked down on and now everyone is jostling as the ‘New Nollywood’ emerges and our productions are being shown on the likes of Amazon Prime and Netflix. We even have a first Netflix Nigerian original film, by Genevieve Nnaji [2018’s Lionheart].
Now there is Netflix Nigeria, and other big platforms are partnering with us to coproduce originals. Hopefully they will demand premium content and we will be remunerated as such, and things will only get better. I am happy to be in the Industry.