INTERVIEW: Why we’re shooting remake of ’Living in Bondage’- Producer

Steve Gukas, a renowned Nollywood filmmaker and director who produced award-winning advocative films ’93 Days’ and ‘A Place in the Stars’ is championing another legacy project. This time, a story about Nollywood.

Gukas is producing a remake of the iconic Nollywood film ’Living in Bondage’ almost 30 years after the original movie was shot.
He is working alongside Nollywood star, Ramsey Nouah, and a creative entrepreneur, Charles Okpaleke. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he speaks more about the project

PT: Why is your team shooting a remake of ’Living in Bondage’ almost three decades after the sequel was shot?

Steve: It’s all about Nollywood going 360. It started with ‘Living in Bondage’. We are showing how far it is come with the sequel.

The industry has gone through a lot so this sequel is partly telling that story of Nnamdi Okeke and also how far Nollywood has come.

It’s a great thing that we can draw to the fact that you can tell a story and hope to bring conversations in the focus of those themes. But also to show that we are telling a story that Nollywood starts with and in telling it, how far we have come.

PT: Do you think the original theme and plot of the movie would be relevant in 2019?

Steve: I believe that in both scales, the morals and the themes that ‘Living in Bondage’ sought to treat at that era is still with us today and we are addressing it now to a younger generation as dipped in the Yahoo plots.

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What we have tried to do is to contemporise it, bringing a telling that will appeal to today’s audience who are cinema enthusiasts. Whilst in the first ‘Living in Bondage’ you talked about how rich they are, this version will also show how fabulously rich they are.

They are flying in private jets, sailing in yachts, partying in Monaco. You see them living the life, visually stunning in all the places that we have shot the film. We really brought those things that are attractive to the younger generation.

PT: What other changes are you introducing?

Steve: The movie basically is shot in locations across Nigeria and South Africa. The choice of these locations according to Ramsey Nouah is to give the film its authenticity.

PT: I hear you were recently introduced to the team. How and why where you brought into the picture?

Steve: A creative entrepreneur Charles Okpaleke, and actor Ramsey Nouah had acquired the rights of the film from its creator Kenneth Nnebue.

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Ramsey would sample his directing skills, while Okpaleke would serve as executive producer. All seemed to go as planned except the script.

Ramsey didn’t like the direction of the script, Okpaleke had no reservations. It was a tough call. Notes were made, handed over, deliberated on, and yet, there seemed not to be a meeting point for the two men.

Being his first directorial debut, Ramsey had no intention to leave any stone unturned. His determination to make the project a top-notch was evident in his argument that the script should reflect the current trend. When it seemed no solution was forthcoming, it was evident that an expert was needed. It was Opaleke that suggested that I be brought in.

All it took was a lengthy meeting with myself and Ramsey for me to step aside as the director and decide to be a producer instead. It was my first time working with Ramsey.

Ramsey:

“We had problem with the script which resulted in a fallout,” narrated Ramsey who was present while this interview was being conducted.

”Charles hasn’t seen any of my works, and because of the magnitude of the film, he felt he needed a stronger hand so he brought in Steve who has a reputation of doing big projects.”

Steve: I think we do need to allow for fresh talent to direct as well.Sometimes if you have the opportunity to guide, it is helpful. Ramsey as an actor brings the wealth of experience and stature to the role he is playing and I think very few actors possess that. As a director, his years of experience serve him in a good stead as it is showing how he is working with other actors and how he is telling the story.

It is showing how he is prepared for the role of directing. So I think his role as an actor served him quite well.

PT: Have you two enjoyed a seamless relationship thus far?

Steve: Oh sure. When Ramsey is in front of the camera, I gladly go behind the camera.

PT: What else are you introducing into the plot?

Steve: The 1992 ‘Living in Bondage’ film follows the story of an ambitious young man Andy Okeke (played by Kenneth Okonkwo) who sacrificed his wife to become wealthy. The consequences of his actions would later haunt him as the spirit of his dead wife seek justice. The film delved into burning issues such as ‘blood money’ of that era

In the upcoming sequel, the focus is shifted to Andy’s son, Nnamdi, who like his father is toeing the same line of greed and flamboyance. The producers aim to create a balance with the sequel that will evoke nostalgia for older generation while gripping the attention of the younger generation. The movie will see the return of some of its original cast including Kenneth Okonkwo, Kanayo O. Kanayo and Bob-Manuel Udokwu and new stars such as Enyinna Nwigwe and Kalu Ikeagwu.

PT: Making a sequel of such iconic film is not a small feat. Have you encountered any challenges?

Steve: We are not just making the sequel of any kind of film but the film that started Nollywood so it is a huge challenge. You do know that you have taken up something that will make people most critical of what you do.

Therefore, you know the bar is already set way high. To up that, you will need a lot of focus on different elements that actually elevate the telling of what you are doing to the sequel, rather than take away from it. It’s a legacy project loved by a lot people for a lot of reasons and so when you touch it, you better be prepared.

PT: What is your assessment of Nollywood so far?

Steve: I am very impressed with Nollywood. If you look at where we started from and where we are today, I think we have come a long way in terms of technology; it is a huge leap from where we started.

There were no cinemas but we have them springing up everywhere today.

Cinemas are an added revenue stream. So every stream that can add to any kobo in your investment is something to be celebrated, so you have the ambition of the kind of film that you can meet, increasing exponentially.

PT: But some of your colleagues argue that the impact of cinemas is yet to be felt in Nollywood?

Steve: Without the cinemas you wouldn’t have been able to do a film like ’93 Days’, ‘Wedding Party’, ‘Chief Daddy’, ‘King of Boys’. The fact that that tranche of revenue stream exists is allowing filmmakers to imagine bigger projects.

When we also started there was no Netflix. Because these are happening now, the levels of projects that one can imagine is also increasing. I think the kind of players we have in the industry today has also increased. We have lots of young people practising filmmaking, even those in Europe or U.S are coming back. That deepened the pool in terms of craft and talent base. That is really interesting.

PT: The timing of the big budget sequel to ‘Living in Bondage’ is just perfect particularly with the rising cases of cyber fraud which is at the pith of the plot. Is this a reason why the movie is being shot in 2019?

Steve: I believe that filmmakers cannot turn a blind eye to the ills in the society.

I think Fela said it best during his time when he said that for an African musician, music shouldn’t be just about enjoyment. You should use it to speak about things that are important to your society.

And I believe that it is a very strong statement. Because what that says is that when you have a voice, you have a platform, you have a responsibility. Yes, entertainment is important but I think you can mix entertainment with degree of commentary and tackling of issues that are relevant, especially in our clime where there is need for that.

PT: With regards to your last statement, how well has Nollywood fared?

Steve: In more advanced climes, they face less problems than we face and therefore can dedicate a lot of their talent to entertainment and creating likeness for the consumer of their products. But while we do have that need, issues like these should be addressed, it should be put in the front burner so that conversations can foster.

Some Nollywood movies that are tackling relevant storylines include ’Up North’, ‘Power of One’, ‘Fourth Republic’, and ‘Dry’.

These films are actually talking about different issues. Sometimes not as directly, but I think that the beauty of storytelling is to leave something capsuled in a statement that doesn’t appear quite didactic when you consume it and that it is only in retrospect that some of the things hit you.

PT: You clearly are not a stranger to such storylines including your iconic film ‘Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation’ which stars Danny Glover. So what’s next for Steve Gukas after ’Living in Bondage’ is done and dusted?

Steve: For a long while, I have nurtured a desire to make a film about Jos, the capital of Plateau state. The city is a shadow of what it used to be during his childhood days.

One of the things that has kept me back is the raw sensibility that comes with making a film on a religious torn area. But I seemed to have found a way around it. The only obstacle in my way now is if I am to make it a documentary or a dramatic feature. It’s a decision I am yet to make, at least till I wrap up this legacy project.

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