Dreadlocks-wearing film maker, Jeta Amata, parades a rich and noble pedigree. His grandfather (Ifoghale) was into acting. Likewise his father (Zack) and even two of his uncles (Fred and Ruke). Young but focused, he has directed some of the best films from this side of the world. From The Amazing Grace to Alexa Affair, Mary Slessor to Inale and Black Gold, Jeta’s imprint can be seen all over them. At the Ikoyi, Lagos residence of the American Ambassador to Nigeria a while back, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, got the Isoko, Delta State dude to share the story of his involvement with Nollywood. He also spoke on other issues which we know you will enjoy. Come with them…
What makes a good story?
A good story is a good story. Every other thing can come later. The technicalities don’t matter. That’s why Nollywood is amazing. They say we have bad quality, but we have good stories.
What makes a good director?
Someone who gives in to details. If you are watching TV and you see a fly on your big screen TV – and you can’t watch the TV, you want to go take the fly out, you will make a good director, because you give in to details. The tiny things that people don’t see, if you see them, you will make a good director.
How do you tell a good story?
One – it has to be real and it has to be relatable. People have to identify with it. Even if it’s an alien story, there has to be some human part of it that people can identify with. With Nollywood, when you watch a film, you will see and say oh, that person is like my brother, that person is like my sister, that person is like my cousin. Ah, no so my mama dey behave. That is what makes it good.
What do you like most about being a film maker
The fact that I can go in and find out why people are tick, why do people act the way they do. So, when I’m directing, when I’m doing role interpretation, it’s why would people frown when they frown, why would people smile when they smile. It’s exciting to always go into the minds of people and bring something out of there.
What don’t you like about being a film maker?
It’s always tricky to answer this question, but that is the truth. It’s the publicity, because I’m a very private person. But a lot of people don’t know that. You hardly see me outside. I’m always hidden somewhere. It’s things like this that bring me out. That’s the only part of being a film maker that I don’t like. I wish the things I do could stay more private and where I stay could be more private.
What is the greatest thing that film making has done for you?
The greatest thing that film making has done for me is first of all, it provided a job for me. It did provide a job for me. You know how it was 20 years ago. It did provide a job for me; it did provide me with a means to give other people jobs. That’s it! Economically, it’s been good to me. It’s taken me across the shores of Nigeria and of course, every Nollywood person, our first visa was because of Nollywood. Either it was a visa to South Africa or London or New York or Los Angeles, it was Nollywood that did it for us. Nollywood carved who we are today. It made us not just famous, but gave us money in our pockets. We’ve had children being in Nollywood. We are proud of the fact that we’ve made something out of this. I am!
What has film making not done for you?
What has film making not done for me? Em…I would say what I want it to do for me in future is to make me reach more worlds than the worlds I’m reaching right now. So far, it has not done that for me. But you know I always wanted to be a lawyer and not a film maker. I love to delve into certain cases and find the truths in them and see how I can support them. But Nollywood has not turned me into a lawyer.
In your line of business, what is the best way to attain and sustain success?
The first one I would say is you need to have a bit of talent and you need to believe in yourself and the talent. Then, for some people, they see opportunities and they let the opportunities go by. So, when the opportunity passes by, you need to grab it. You can have all the talent in the world and all the know-how, but if the opportunity passes by you and you don’t grab it, it will never be yours. What I have done is most of the time that the opportunity has passed by, I’ve grabbed it. It’s not because I’m the most talented person in Nigeria. I’m not even the most talented film maker in Nigeria. I will tell you, there are loads of talents, loads of friends I have who are making amazing films. But I got a particular chance and I grabbed it and I saw another one and I grabbed it and one chance led me to another and another and another and that’s how it has catapulted for me.
What distinguishes Jeta Amata as a film maker?
Okay, see, when I was 20, I made my first film. You asked me then what kind of mind do you have that at this age you feel that you can direct all these men and I told you I would do it and I did it. I’m not saying it distinguishes me; I’m not saying they don’t have the heart, but I had the heart right from when I was young and two, let me be honest, I’ve had the support of my family. I have the pedigree – my grandfather was a film maker, my father lectured me in the university; he was a very popular actor. Fred, Ruke, my uncles. So, there was a lot I gained from them too…I tapped into them to get the success that I have. But I had the heart. Let’s put it that way.
Besides your grandfather, your father and your uncles, who else influenced your going into film making the most?
Apart from my grandfather and all the lecturers I had in the university and all my father’s friends and Fred’s friends, all the popular actors and actresses I knew in Nigeria then, and the producers and directors, I’ve seen them all, I’ve seen them all. Aside from my direct family members, I can’t pin-point and say oh, it’s this particular person. But there were a lot of them; there were a lot of them.
Which of your works gives you the greatest joy and why?
The job that gives me the greatest joy? Well, I’m sure you will know this. It’s Alien Attack. That was the film that I made that didn’t sell one copy (General laugher). In fact, all the copies Alien Attack sold were all returned, because they said it was such a terrible film, because I was trying to talk about the speed of light – 186,000 miles per second; I was trying to talk about the distance between the earth and the closest star and the people just weren’t ready for it. They weren’t, but you see, the efforts; I made my space ship with two bucket covers. That was at a time we were still struggling to do special effects. So, I put two bucket covers together, I painted it green, I put holes in it and wetin dem dey call dat thing? Ehen! Trafficator; inside it, put batteries. So, I shot it on a green screen and it was flashing like this and I made it go across the Lagos sky (Laughing). Now, this was in ’96. So, in ’96, I attempted to make a science-fiction film with a space ship out there. It gives me joy to know that I attempted it. I lost all the money then, men! But I was not ashamed. All dem Julius Agwu were laughing at me on stage – mummy, mummy, dem say I should go and watch Jeta Amata’s Alien Attack, the whole crowd will laugh kekekeke…I go, go wait for Julius outside, jerk am, Julius, Julius. He go say Jeta, na play I dey play now. So, you can imagine. It was really tough, but when I think about it now, it prepared me for everything that I have delved into. So, I no dey fear.
Away from work, what does Jeta do for relaxation?
Oh, hangout with my daughter. That’s it! That’s the only thing that gives me joy right now. Go to the park with her, go somewhere with her; we are together 24/7. We came into the country together and you can see her here with her doggie. We are here together. So, this is my relaxation. I do play some internet scrabble and chess. I play basketball when I get the chance, I watch soccer a lot, I’m a Man U fan. But this (his daughter) is my relaxation.
What drives you as a person?
Let me not try and answer this intelligently. Let me just answer it as truthfully as I can. There’s an inert drive that you have that you really can’t explain. There’s a hunger. Like when you are hungry, when you wanna achieve something, it’s really not because you want to stand tall or because you want to shine. You just wanna do it! I think that’s the truth. I just wanna do it, I just wanna achieve it and it’s not necessarily because of something. No! I can’t identify it.
NB: First published June 2014