Monday, July 31, 2006

Wednesday 26 July 2006

One of the things about going back home as an adult is the way that you find yourself time-warped back into a state of childhood (which can work out to be simultaneously comforting and humiliating).

I’m back at the family house at Aba tonight and I have to admit that I’m just a teensy bit relieved to be able to step away from the production pressure pit for a day or two. Actually, the issue of me coming here in the first place was quite controversial; if I left town, production would grind to a halt for the duration of my absence, and we really can’t afford that, considering the fact that we are already, what? Ummm… Like two weeks behind schedule?

We already pretty much lost our crew yesterday… After all, they were originally contracted for 15 days of work and paid a pittance for that period to begin with. Yet for some reason, they’ve stuck around this long… I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why. Could it be that they believe that much in the project? Or maybe they just like us personally (We have shared some pretty fun times and artistically affirming moments with them? More than likely their professional ethos just won’t allow them to leave a job unfinished. But alas, there comes a breaking point even there and it’s time for them to move on, back to their lives and other (almost certainly better-paying) gigs.

We’re losing our cast too, in a fashion. Our lead, Frank, has been such a trooper, putting up with all manner of hardship and bullshit just because he believes so damn much in TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Hell, he even missed an exam at his university because he agreed to stay in Calabar longer when we had to extend the shooting period..

But now we can feel his depression and homesickness weighing him down like a cannonball around his neck, so we have to send him home to Lagos for the sake of his sanity (plus, we need a little break from his hotel bills, truth be told).

Our second lead, Chinedu, is getting pretty antsy, too. He’s a minor celebrity around Africa, having featured in
a wildly popular reality show and so he’s always jetting off to one corner of the continent or the other, doing promotions and stuff. He flew in from South Africa to shoot with us and even agreed to come back again from an event in Abuja when we didn’t get to finish all his scenes the first time. Just because he believed so damn much in TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.

As it is, he is being sorely underutilized… We’ve been unable to shoot most of his scenes due to various problems that I will get into a bit later. In the end, we decided it was best to just release him too... and hope that his faith in the production is strong enough to make him come to Calabar yet a third time.

In addition, we were breaking down physically: Denis looked like he was near-death with some kind of bronchial infection and I was down with malaria. So, yeah, we probably were not gonna get much shooting done in the next few days so we figured it was okay for me to go to Aba for a little bit of R&R.

…Aaah, who am I kidding? The only reason this trip was approved was because of the certain knowledge that if I go home, I’m gonna come back with money in my pocket. And, um, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, money is some shit we need. Like how a crackhead needs that pipe.

Asking your parents for money can be some majorly emasculating shit, though. Denis doesn’t agree, but me and Koko tell him it’s just because he’s in his early 20s. When you’re that age, you kinda view getting broken off by your folks as a God-given right… The natural order of the universe, in fact.

By the time you’re in your early 30s, though? It’s like a admission of complete failure in life. Your mates are buying luxury automobiles to thank Mom and Dad for putting in all that hard work of raising them right all those years and you’re standing there with your hat out, begging for coins to finish a movie. So-ooo… Where exactly did you go wrong, buddy?

What’s even more humiliating about having to crawl back to the ‘rents is the loss of control. When you’re a kid, you can’t wait to grow up, get a job, make your own money, get your own crib and live by your own rules. The moment you cede financial dependence back to Mommy and Daddy... Well, you might as well just go sit in the backseat, junior. Because you’re not holding the steering wheel of this car called Your Life anymore.

I had been wanting to come home for a few days for a long time now, largely because I’ve felt so guilty about the way I dashed off to Calabar as soon as my feet hit the Nigerian tarmac. My dad “strongly suggested” I come back at some point after I made my last blog entry. Now, I don’t think he reads my blog, so maybe someone who does told him that I sounded seriously depressed. Plus, the driver must have informed him that I was working myself ragged (mainly because he was pissed that I was making him work from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. too). So yes… This “strong suggestion” that I come back and rest for a few days.

“But dad!” I protest. “You don’t rest in the middle of a race! If I take a few days off now, all I’ve struggled for up until this point will be for naught!” (Yes, I really do talk like that)

“Okay,” Dad says. “Why don’t you just come back on Wednesday night, attend the prize-giving ceremony at our school on Thursday morning and then go back on Thursday night?”

“Okay… I can do that. Deal.”

Even then I knew I was in for a bait-and-switch.

You’ve heard that old joke about the Jewish father whose son asks him for sixty dollars and he quickly prattles, “SIXTY dollars? What do you need FIFTY dollars for? Wouldn’t FORTY do? Okay, I’ll give you THIRTY. Here’s TWENTY, give me back TEN.”

Soon as I get home, my father took one look at me with my bloodshot eyes and mangy beard and bags under my eyes so big and dark that Oprah Winfrey is like “Damn, you got some serious bags under your eyes, son!” and he says “So you’re staying till Sunday, right?”

“Ummm… No. We agreed that I’m going back tomorrow, remember?”

“Yes… But the prize-giving will go on until at least 5 or 6 and by then it will be a bit too late to leave to Calabar because the road is bad.”

(This is actually true. In fact, in some places the road is not just bad, it’s straight-up nonexistent. You have to detour through some village path along which gangs of local youth erect bamboo tollgates every ten feet or so and charge you 20 naira to pass through. You can expect to pay more than 200 naira by the time you get to the end of the road.)

“Okay then,” I say. “I’ll stay Thursday night. But I’m outta here first thing Friday morning before you go to Port Harcourt.”

“Oh. Okay.”

He leaves. Comes back a little later.

“So… How much money do you need again?”

Ha! I ain’t gonna tell him that! “Whatever you can give.”

“Hmmm. Okay. But you know I need to go to the bank in Port Harcourt since I’ll be tied up with the prize-giving all Thursday, so you’ll have to come to Port to get the money.”

Curses! “Okay. I’ll come to Port Friday morning, get the money and leave Friday afternoon.”

“Saturday morning.”

“Friday night.”

“We’ll see,” he laughs. “By the way, do you think this is blackmail?”


But all in all, it’s not bad at all being back in Aba. A lot of people think that I really hate it here (and that I have issues with my Igbo-ness in general) but I really don’t. Sure, I sometimes speak contemptuously of the place, but it’s the site of some of my fondest memories. Back in the day, I used to spend every single weekend here, and those were good times indeed. My dissatisfaction with the city only goes back a few years – back to the last time I came back, in 2001 – and it’s mostly aesthetic. The crumbling, dust-coloured architecture and rugged, dusty roads that turn to muddy canals every time it rains… That shit depresses me.

And then there’s the filth… Aba is one of the dirtiest cities in the nation. Now bear in mind that I’m the kind of person who regularly picks up the litter of perfect strangers, who winces in pain when I see someone throw a candy wrapper on the ground instead of a trashcan. Imagine how traumatic it is for me to be in a city where it is not uncommon for 2/3 of a major thoroughfare to be clogged with huge ridges of solid rubbish? And then there’s people lining up with wheelbarrows of more garbage to dump in the street?

Compare that to Calabar, with its clean, paved streets and manicured sidewalks and functional streetlights and yellow “Keep Calabar Clean” wastebaskets every few metres. Is it any surprise I’d feel a bit more comfortable there?

But Aba is not looking too shabby right now, really… The streets are relatively clean (Did the president visit this week or something?) and it’s a cool night… This might not be such a bad trip, after all.

(Except that my dad “strongly suggested” that I shave and since I didn’t have my clippers with me, I had to use a razor… My face is lousy with bumps now)

Fear Not for Man

Yo… It seems my last blog entry got some of y’all a bit worried for me! I appreciate the outpouring of concern, but I’m alright, folks… I’m not depressed (no more than usual, anyway) and I’m not about to off myself or anything. Shoot… If anything, this experience has opened my eyes to levels of inner strength and stick-to-itivity that I never even realized I possessed. Plus, I think I’ve felt generally happier and more at peace this past month and change in Naija than I’ve been in ages and I’m seriously considering at the possibility of relocating here on at least a semi-permanent basis.

Yes, times are kinda hard on the boulevard, but the fact is that this thing has been an uphill battle from Day Zero. We’ve never let it phase us then and we’re not about to start doing so now. I wish I could tell you how many times me, Denis and Koko have been sitting in our room, sharing a single bottle of Fanta, so broke that we couldn’t even afford a phone call or a roll of toilet paper and wondering how the hell we are gonna manage another day of shooting… and someone says “We are gonna laugh so hard at this one day” and someone else says “One day? Dude, we’re laughing right now, aren’t we?”

How many times have we firmly decided “This is the end of the road. We have to stop now. It’s the only sane thing. We must shut down this production immediately”* and the next day, some new miracle emerges that allows us to continue for another few days?

We are gonna finish this movie. And it’s going to be good.

And even if we don’t, I’m gonna make sure I spin something out of this whole experience… I’ll turn it into an African filmmaker version of The Broke Diaries or a book about youth and young manhood or I’ll put out a collection of photographs or something (I’m already thinking of doing a photo essay featuring every man, woman and child I see wearing 50 Cent T-shirts in various Nigerian cities).

My heart melted when I read all the support that you guys offered, though… Believe me, charity usually embarrasses me, but the time for pride is well past.

(In fact, I’m even thinking of emailing that United Children's Fund dude who appeals to white/western guilt to help poor Africans like us. I mean, if a thousand people chip in 70 cents a day for the next week, we’re all good, right?)

Yes, donations are quite welcome, and they mean a lot to us. I don’t want to mention the amount that we need to finish right now, but even though it seems like a lot in African terms, it’s really a bullshit amount in American/European money. So every little bit helps.

If you got a Paypal account, you can send money to If you don’t fuck with Paypal like that, you can email or to make alternate arrangements. Just put “TOO MUCH MONEY!” in the subject line (that phrase is a running joke amongst our crew).

Words can’t express my gratitude… I’ll make it up to you all somehow… Maybe I’ll come to your city and clean your apartment for you or something.

Anyway, I promised that I would return to blogging in full force and I was able to write some stuff over the past couple of days since we’re currently on hiatus, kinda (We’ll be back in business tomorrow, though). I originally made a jumbo-sized bumper post covering the past couple of days, but I’ll break it down into more readable chunks over the next couple of days. I apologize for the intensely navel-gazing, depressive tenor of some of the material… This is what happens to my mind when I have too much free time on my hands.

*Koko would want me to state explicitly that at no point has he ever advocated, cosigned, endorsed or supported the possibility of stopping. Ever.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reports of my demise have been only slightly exaggerated

What a long, strange two and a half weeks it has been since I last posted. We've been shooting all this time, which is a... well, it's a mixed experience. A lot of the stuff we've filmed is really rewarding and I'm quite proud of it. Some of it is utter shite that makes me want to throwing boiling oil into my eyes (but y'all know how I overreact sometimes, especially when it comes to critiquing my own work... Other folks who have seen it think it's just fine. If possible, I'll post up some rough footage and let you be the judge).

The actual process might be the most interesting thing, though... Man, we have had so many adventures through this whole thing - brushes with casual violence, decadence, poverty, gunplay, seduction, pecuniary exploitation, litigation, police scuffles, union bullying, stalking... I'm gonna update you all on it soon. As always, I've been keeping notes and composing entries but I've been way too busy to post them up (Oh yeah, we have literally more than a thousand pictures, which you will see soon).

Usually I don't get a chance to get online at all because we're so busy, but the only reason I'm here right now instead of shooting on set is because I'm basically hiding from the cast and crew right now because I don't know how to tell them that we might have to shut down the production in a few days... Hell, maybe even today.

A number of circumstances - ranging from acts of God to the inherent fucked-upness of Man - have led to us being like a week over schedule, which means over budget, which means broke. Real broke, man... I can barely even piece together a coherent paragraph right now because even my thoughts is broke.

But that's an exciting saga I'll be sharing with you on this page from now on... Provided I can scare up the random change to get online every once in a while.

In any case, thanks for all the positive thoughts and messages... We're gonna keep soldiering on, though right now I can't quite see any way we can realistically do so.

But I am gonna finish this damn movie, yo... Even if it means my guts fizzle and curl up inside me.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sorry I haven't posted an update in a while, fam

We're really getting into gut-check time (as my old drill sergeant used to say) and I haven't even had a chance to check my email in almost a week.

I just managed to escape from our overcrowded production office/bedroom for a few minutes and I bet Denis is wondering where the hell I am right now.

What really sucks is that I've been so caught up in this "production" stuff - finding locations, hiring and negotiating with cast and crew, trying to find equipment after the dipshit rental house decides to stiff us 5 days before we start shooting (oh, I'm preparing some special diss tracks for Cinekraft... believe that) - that I haven't really concentrated on the writer/director side of my brain in what feels like a long, long time. I don't think "creative" thoughts much anymore... All I think about is numbers and columns and schedules and all that.

Maybe I should concentrate on being a cartoonist where I can just control everything with a flick of my pen.

Anyway, I'll try to post some summaries of what's being going on the past week and a half or so... Once things settle down a little bit.

We start shooting in two days. Pray for us.

I gotta get back to the office.