INTERVIEW: My career as Nollywood production designer — Pat Nebo

foremost Nigerian production designer, Pat Nebo Photo Jayne Augoye
foremost Nigerian production designer, Pat Nebo Photo Jayne Augoye

Outside of the film industry, production designers are not as famous as actors or directors. But filmmakers know that a film can never go from idea to the big screen without a competent production designer.

Pat Nebo is one of the few Nigerian production designers and set director responsible for ensuring that every detail is considered when crafting a believable set.

A veteran, he is best known for working on the set of ‘October 1’ ’76’, ‘Being Mrs Elliot’ and most recently in Kunle Afolayan’s movie, ‘Citation’. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he speaks about his career and recent projects.

PT: Are you impressed by the quality of Nollywood movies that tell our history so far?

Pat: A cursory look at the number of people doing films today, you can tell that there are some people who make efforts and others who put in extra efforts. There are other people who don’t care about making any efforts. If all we’re ‘talking about on our television is “make a phone call and win one million,” “take a step and win one million,” without any effort, what message are you passing to the nation? What you’re trying to tell people is that everything about life is luck. What do you expect from a generation that grew up on such a message? This is why we need to be more intentional in our movies and tell more historical movies.

PT: So, who are the filmmakers making an extra effort as you mentioned earlier?

Pat: Kunle Afolayan is a destiny child. He has been part of the people who changed the narratives of filmmaking in Nigeria and he has added a lot of dimensions to it, business and whatnot. Kunle has done well in that. He is somebody who projects our image. We were recently in Cape Verde and you needed to have seen how we were received; their minister received us. We went to Senegal, we were also received well. These were all based on what people have seen. Remember that we are just one part of Nigeria. There are lots of other people and better things will still come. I am obliged, I owe it to Nigerians to walk this industry up with somebody who is willing like Kunle.

PT: Let’s talk about your field, production designing. There aren’t many professionals.

Pat: Professionals in my field can be likened to a teacher. We have a lot of qualified Nigerians who can be teachers but we have few teachers. Does that tell you anything? If you have to do the type of thing I do, production design, you have to do a lot of research, you have to be patient and you have to work hard. You have to pick up a script, start designing, ask questions, you have to pick up books and start reading. When Kunle says ‘Pat is an encyclopedia’, I tell you I’m not an encyclopedia, I only read.

Our field is not so glamorous. They call us “below the bench”. We are underground but most people don’t want that; they all want the glitz and glam.

PT: Is it a lucrative field?

Pat: It depends on what you mean by lucrative. I am comfortable. I call it a vocation and my answer to you is yes, the vocation is lucrative. We’ve seen productions where they cast people for the matron in the hospital and the matron is about 19 years yet the production designer collected huge sums. That’s the difference. If you want to go that route, it becomes a gamble. You go there, collect their money, do it anyhow and in three days you’re gone. We are going to be shooting a new movie for six weeks. Ours is a vocation. It’s a passion and it takes a lot. People have to read. Information is everything. You cannot say you want to set a movie with a 1980 story and a Prado jeep is seen in the movie or a woman wearing tights. You’ve got to know these. That’s what makes the difference; research and history.

PT: Your role in Izu Ojukwu’s 2016 historical movie ‘76’ was commendable. Why haven’t you taken on more roles in front of the camera?

Pat: My role in ’76’ was not planned. As you might know, it was inspired by events that led up to and followed the botched 1976 coup d’etat. It featured real-life, archived, actual footage that contributed to the movie’s overall authenticity. The execution of the movie was also done with approval and support from the Nigerian Army. It was a delicate and complicated movie. We were dealing with the killing of Murtala Muhammed. Because I lived through that particular period, I was knowledgeable about some of the history of the war and we needed to re-create.

PT: What did these entail?

Pat: We had signed an agreement with the Nigerian Army that before anybody could participate in that film, they must undergo military training; drills and parades for an entire month. No one was exempted and this includes Ramsey Nouah and Chidi Mokeme and the rest of the cast. Some people couldn’t stand the rigour. Someone else was supposed to play my role, which was the colonel that masterminded the coup. So I had to step up to the challenge and the feedback was amazing. I am however more comfortable doing what I do best which is the production design and art direction.

PT: Do you think the educational system has failed the students?

Pat: We know that the educational system has failed the students. We are aware that the government can’t even repair it. As it is, it is individual Nigerian students that has to walk their way back. That is one of the things we’re going to use this film for. To instill courage with determination and to make our campuses still look very attractive. Some of these children stay at home, they don’t know what is out there, and they just buy the certificate. We want them to see the school environment and wish to belong. That is one of the things we want to use this film, ‘Citation’ for. We are shooting some scenes at the Obafemi Awolowo University.

PT: What historical elements will you be bringing in ‘Citation’?

Pat: Well, first and foremost, in the cause of moving around, we went to Cape Verde, Senegal and what did we see? They celebrated at this point, their institutions, their culture, and the tourist potential of the areas. Here in Nigeria, we’re going to use the opportunity of this film to show people that Nigeria is one of the strongest point, education-wise in Africa. We’re getting back to the University of Ife, you know how beautiful the architecture is. You know how massive it is. That is part of what we’re bringing in.

Apart from other things, this subject we’re bringing in is very contemporary. Everybody talks about it but we do not want to talk about it from the American or British point of view. We want to use this opportunity, to cleverly educate our people. If you listen to what I said before, I said that why I like working with Kunle is because he is using film as a form of education. We provide a little bit of entertainment but we make sure that the message sinks in very well.

The most important thing we will be looking at in this film is changing the narrative. Most people believe that in school, you have to work your way through. Working your way through could means using sex, using money and all.


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