EXT. ATEKONG DRIVE, CALABAR – JULY 1991
Three teenagers, KOKO (19), NANA (18) and UDEME (18) stroll down the street past Paradise City Hotel, a few blocks from Nana's house.
KOKO: Whatever happened to that screenplay you wrote back in school? “Trouble In Paradise”… It was pretty funny.
NANA: It’s still there. I’ve written a couple more since then, though.
UDEME: Do you think you're ever going to actually make these movies you write?
NANA: I don't know... I never really thought about it too seriously. I just write them for fun.
KOKO: We could make a movie.
UDEME: If you want to make a movie, you should probably go do it in Abuja. That city is looking really pretty these days.
KOKO: Who cares how pretty it looks? Why can’t we make a movie right here in Calabar? About our lives in this town and stuff?
NANA: Yeah, we can shoot “Trouble in Paradise” right here in Cal… Shoot it in this hotel right here and call it “Trouble in Paradise City”!
EXT. ATEKONG DRIVE, CALABAR – JULY 2006
In front of a student compound a few feet up the road from Paradise City, an old blue Peugeot van is parked. Nicknamed “The Magic Bus,” it is the official production vehicle of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Inside the bus, NANA (33) and KOKO (34) recline in the front seats as they wait for their ingénue, Emma, to get dressed.
NANA: So… Back then did you ever think we would really do this?
NANA: Did you ever think it would be this fucked up?
NANA: I love this, though… I feel like I was meant to do this. The idea of going back to the States and working another 9 to 5... It's just kinda repulsive to me, you know? I mean, if we were to fail with this - If the movie flops or we never even get to finish it at all - could you go back to that? Wearing a tie, sitting in a cubicle and shit?
KOKO: Do I have a choice? I got mouths to feed.
NANA: But... Would you try again?
KOKO: Are you asking me would I drop everything and jump aboard if you called me to come out and play again?
NANA: Yeah… I guess so.
KOKO: The terms would have to be different.
So… After a grueling two months, we finally ended production on TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN this past Tuesday.
The more observant reader will notice that I said that we “ended” production, not that we “finished” it – At this time, the film remains incomplete. There’s still about six or eight scenes we never got around to shooting, and there are at least two scenes that I insist we must re-shoot (much to the annoyance of my co-producers). Still, I decided that for now, we must stop.
This production has been like the Neverending Story, especially when viewed in light of the Nigerian film industry where a lot of movies are shot in like, ten days or so. In fact, we’ve become something of a joke in the community. People see us shooting and they’re like “Oh, you’re still here? I thought you guys had gone back to South Africa.”*
“Nope… We’re still here. Still working.”
“So are you shooting another movie?”
“Nope… Same one.”
“What? You’re still working on that same one? This has got to be part two or part three, right? Ha ha ha.”
Ha mudderfuggin’ ha.
Not that I’m bothered by the ridicule at all. I actually take pride in investing the time and energy into producing a piece of work that I can be moderately proud of rather than knocking out some quick, hacky bullshit just because that’s what everybody else is doing. But the fact remains: this shit is taking too long.
For a number of reasons, the remaining scenes were not materializing at the speed or in the form that they should have and we were spending day after day not really getting much done and all the while paying racking up bills by the day for equipment, crew, talent and lodging. Something had to give. I for one felt that a malaise was dragging down the cast and crew and it was showing up onscreen in the form of increasingly half-ass scenes.
I actually suffered a nervous breakdown of sorts after a particularly trying all-night shoot and fled barefoot and screaming into dawn’s early light. Here’s some pics of me being escorted back to the set after Koko found me wandering through the remote Ikot Ishie area of Calabar.
Check out the awkward looks on the faces of the cast and crew as El Director (pictured in doorway) returns to the set. Nobody says a word and nobody looks him in the eye (probably because they're worried that insanity might be transmissible by direct eye contact).
Needless to say, the speculation already started circulating about the nature of the drug abuse that triggered my psychotic episode. (Of course, I love that… Let my legend grow!)
But the truth is, I was just tired, man. Not just physically tired… That shit don’t matter to me. I was tired of having to compromise my vision because despite all the time we’ve spent, we’ve never really had the time or money to make this movie the way we wanted to.
So yeah, I’m like “Let’s stop. Let’s take some time to step back, re-evaluate how to whip this thing into shape and then come back in a few weeks or months or whatever and finish it off.”**
So that’s what we’re doing. Or what I’m doing, anyway. I kinda fear that from this point on, TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN might be more or less a solo affair for me.
Denis has been in Nigeria for almost four months now and it’s about time for him to go home. In fact, he should be on the way to catch flight back to Congo even as I type this.
Koko has been away from his family for a long time too, and he’s had to return to Lagos to resume his role of husband and father. I think he might be too occupied dealing with issues like paying the kids’ school fees to jump back into the wonderful world of movie production right now.
Me, at the moment I am back in the family digs at Aba. Another reason I had to call things to a halt was because I sensed my dad was growing really impatient with my continued assurances of “I’ll be back home after we wrap production next week. Next week, I promise!”
Originally, I was supposed to be in Nigeria for just under three months. The assumption was that this would be more than enough time for me to finish this picture, spend time with my family, party in three or four cities and still get back to the States with time to spare.
My plane ticket says that I was supposed to return to the States on August 29th. Two weeks ago, I called the airline to postpone my return indefinitely. That’s not just because I need to stay and finish TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN… The fact is that returning to America is an idea that has very little appeal to me right now. I’ve more or less committed myself to trying to make some kind of living in the Nigerian film world.
My dad does not approve of this decision (“Why not just go back to America and get a job?”) and neither do Koko and Denis (“So after all this, what you really want is to stay here and become the next Fred Amata? It’s a waste, you hear me? A fucking WASTE!”), but I just feel it’s something I need to do.
So I’ll be here in Aba (and Port Harcourt) for about a week or so, and then I jet off for Lagos to get started on my next job: writing and directing a pilot for the massive trans-African M-NET cable network.
I kinda worry whether or not taking this gig might be a mistake: Part of my head tells me that it’s probably better to be completely done with one thing before starting another… But opportunities like this don’t present themselves every day, and part of the reason for making TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN in the first place was to create further opportunities. Hopefully, doing stuff like this will get me in a stronger position to get the support I need to finish the movie.
To be honest, I’m a little bit scared: I really have no idea how I’m gonna complete TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN by myself in the midst of all this, but goddamn it, I’m gonna do it somehow. We’ve all worked too hard to not finish this shit now.
I’ll keep you all posted, I promise.
* For some reason, there has been this persistent and widespread belief in the local movie community that Koko, Denis and I are from South Africa. Where this idea came from, I do not know.
** Besides, Frank really had to go since production was resuming on "One Love," the soap opera/sitcom he stars in and we didn’t get to finish all his scenes (not to my satisfaction anyway)