Idada: Exploring film and stage platforms for storytelling

Jude Idada

Jude Idada is a Canadian-Nigerian with great love for the arts. The University of Ibadan Theatre Arts graduate, who majored in film, also went to Raindance Film School in Toronto, Canada, and Relativity Film School in Los Angeles, California, to sharpen his skills. He has produced films like The Tenant, Blaze Up the Ghetto, Chameleon and a yet-to-be released film. He has written books like A Box of Chocolates, Exotica Celestica, Oduduwa – King of the Edos, By My Own Hands, Didi Kanu and the Singing Dwarfs of the North and Bigger Than Comedy. He has won AMAA’s Best Screenplay award, ANA prize for Drama. He was a runner-up of NLNG-sponsored The Nigeria Prize for Literature. A finalist in the New Directions Filmmakers of the Future project by Mnet and Goethe Institut Afrika Projekt, he was selected as a playwright for the British Council’s Lagos Theatre Festival, a screenwriter for the Toronto International Film Festival’s ‘ADAPT THIS!’ and Afrinolly/Ford Foundation ‘Cinema4Change’ projects, in addition to being selected as a director for the Relativity Media/AFRIFF Education project. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, he speaks about his work and his new project.

What childhood experience led you into the film industry?
When I was six years old, a film was shot in my compound in Ikoyi. 18 Milverton Road, a large compound with a lot of trees. NTA built a whole set in the compound. A village. I remember watching in awe as the cameras, lights, actors and the crew worked their magic. It was at that moment I was captured by the cine spirit. It has followed me across careers until I finally succumbed to its lure.

What was your first moviemaking experience and how did it affect your life?
My first movie experience in which I was part of the crew was during my 200-level at the University of Ibadan, Theatre Department. It was when I was shooting a film as a requirement for my filmmaking course. It was a memorable experience. The celebrated lecturer, Dr. Bankole Bello, had put us through two classes of tutorials on the art of filmmaking. I was picked as the writer and director of one of the four films he wanted us to make. Many things came naturally to me in the process, that is, man-managing and team building, artistic vision and a sense of the story but the technique of actual filmmaking came by following the notes I had taken, following my gut feelings and learning on the job. At the end of the exercise, in the words of Bello: “There is only one filmmaker in this class and he is Jude Idada!”

The lessons I learnt is to always follow your passion, be diligent, trust your instincts, lean on your team, believe your vision, learn from the masters and be humble to admit you don’t know it all. It has helped me to this day in pursuing other life’s goals.

How long have you been producing?
I have been producing for about 24 years. In my early teens, I produced a full-length church play for a congregation of over 1,000 people. It was called Snares of Lucifer, which I also wrote and directed.

How does an idea for a movie usually come to you?
Ideas come to me from the big and small things. I am a keen observer and listener. And I always create back-stories for most things I come across in addition to interrogating the people at the centre of things. I am a people-connector and this helps me harness ideas at random. It is always like a ripple in a pond. I take the idea and do the – what came before? What comes after? And then the idea grows into a story and then a story into a film.

What makes a good film?
A good film is the one, which affords you the suspension of your disbelief. It has to make you forget you are watching a film by capturing your imagination, emotion and thoughts to such an extent as to believe fully in the story, care deeply about the characters, assimilate the obvious and salient messages and be affected emotionally by the reversals, climax and denouement. It is more than the technical parts of it, but the heart of it. A good film must have heart. And that heart comes from a good story in which the characters are rounded, their quest and desires are relatable and the story in which they exist in is multi-layered, well executed and emotionally connectable. A good story is at the core of a good film, and the characters that perform well are the vehicles for conveying the story of a good film and a great director is the messenger who delivers that story in a sequential pattern that leaves the audience a hostage of the story and performance of a good film.

Who are your role models and in what ways have they touched your life positively?
My father is my primary role model. His words and actions have shaped nearly everything I do. He was a well-rounded and vastly read man. A man who had control of his emotions, his passions, his desires and his vision in such a way that he could relate it to all pursuits or challenges that confronted him and the people around him. I continually strive to be like him. He taught me that life is governed by certain elemental rules that are applicable to every position, function, career or pursuit and if you master those rules then you have a fair chance of a successful life. A life lived in the service of others; I am a continual student of those rules.

How does a typical day begin for you when you are in full swing production?
My day while producing is a whirlwind. I barely sleep or eat. I study, consult, plan, execute, revise, execute, reflect, execute and then, at the end of the day, I wind down with the team because human bonding is so very important for successful productions.

Aside being a producer, you are a writer. How do you balance the two?
I compartmentalise. I know when to write and when to produce. It is hard to do both at the same times, but then sometimes you find yourself having to wear both hats. But since I multitask well, it comes naturally.

Between movie and stage play, which do you prefer and why?
I prefer both movies and stage plays because all stories find their audience and platform. They have their own language. So, I oscillate well between the two, knowing that a story well told, as a play will have to morph into another story if it is to be well told as a film.

You are working on your new play 3some. What is it about?
My new play 3some is about a mother, who struggles to save the crumbling marriage of her daughter. In the course of doing so, she stumbles on a deadly secret that threatens her relationship with her daughter, her son-in-law and her inner self. It is a drama about marriage, desire and morality in the internet age. I wrote and produced the play while Yemi Akintokun directed it. It stars Daniel Effiong, Uzor Usimkpa and Kemi Bickerseth and will be staged at the Amphitheatre, Freedom Park on February 28 through 4th March by 7pm. It’s part of Lagos Theatre Festival. I’m also working on a new film, which will be unveiled later.

What makes it different?
The play is different because it dares to be provocative without being insulting. It gives voice to a taboo without being sacrilegious. It searches deep to reveal that part of us, which we all want to keep hidden; that part in which we hide our hidden desires. It tells us that it is only in confronting our inner man, and setting him free is the only way we can grow.

What was the best advice you received that has helped you till date?
The best advice I ever received is “Know yourself and believe in you; never give up; know when to change strategies, and how to discern advice. If you do these you will be able to achieve whatever you dream about.”

How do you handle criticism?
Criticism is like fertiliser. You need it to grow well and grow fast. You have to look at it not as a tearing-down, but a building up. I welcome criticism.

Your advice to those aspiring to go into filmmaking
My advice to aspiring filmmakers and artistes in general is ‘learn the techniques of your craft. When you do then you can shape it in your own unique way. Always be professional because respect is earned and where there is respect, there is belief and where there is belief, there is investment and where there is investment, magic is made and where there is magic a successful career is assured!’

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