By Hilda Oghuma
He holds a diploma in art and technique in film making from the London international Film School, London. After many years in the film industry as a cinematographer, he now manages Mainframe Films and Television productions; an outfit formed to document Nigeria’s rich culture.
A true industry veteran, Tunde Kelani has worked on many feature film productions in the country, in his capacity as a cinematographer. A director, and also a photographer; TK, as he is popularly known, gives us an insight into his world of film making.
Tell us a little about your childhood
I grew up in Abeokuta with my grandparents. I started my primary Education in Abeokuta at Oke Ona United Primary School. I Went to Abeokuta Grammar school, spent quite some time in Abeokuta before I came back to Lagos.
Did your childhood influence your decision to make movies?
At that time, it wasn’t about movie production. I was interested in Photography and Literature, and by the time I passed through secondary school, I had used four cameras. After secondary school, I decided to become an apprentice photographer.
Your movies often feature new artistes. Is this because you feel the more experienced actors aren’t up to par?
No. I’m guided by the demand of the story at that time. It has to do with the best person that suits the character. The script decides who will be the best person to serve the interest and demand of that particular plot.
Was that why you featured Funke Akindele in your new movie Maami?
Funke Akindele is an established actress in her own right. But we have a relationship because she has appeared in minor roles in at least two of our productions. She was in ‘Abeni’ and ‘Narrow Path’. But this time around, the new film ‘Maami‘ confronts the dexterity and versatility of Funke Akindele’s talent as an actress. She was the best person for that particular role.
What are your criteria for selecting actors and actresses?
I cast very close to the character because it is easier on the artiste. For instance, if the script calls for a 70-year-old, you cannot cast a 35-year-old man. We get a person that can interprete that particular role well.
Many Nigerians love your movies. How did you build that level of trust with the audience?
Consistency from day one. Mainframe (We) work very hard. We put the best of production value in our work to sustain the loyalty of the audience. It’s about the audience, and over time for me, it has been a privilege to be acknowledged by the audience, not being a star myself, because I’m not in front of the camera. But they trust me as the producer and they trust the production company.
What prompted the fact that many of your movies focus on the Indigenous and cultural aspects of life?
It depends on the resource material. I am primarily inspired by Yoruba culture, because I was born and brought up in that culture, so that is the best way to express myself. I make the films primarily for my audience, the Yorubas’. I can’t be better in a foreign language, and I have no other culture. That is why I work more with Yoruba than any other language. It is an advanced culture, in every area; literature, science, art.
What was your experience shooting your first movie ‘Ti Oluwa Ni Le‘?
Actually it wasn’t [my first] because I had done co-production in a film years back ‘The Dilemma of Father Mac‘. It was adapted by Adebayo Falati; ‘Idamu fa mui mu kai lu‘ but you probably won’t know it. But in mainframe productions, the first production was ‘Ti Oluwa ni le’ which is 20 years old this year, and we are planning a celebration for it.
I worked with the industry for almost twenty years before producing ‘Ti Oluwa Ni Le‘, so it wasn’t a big deal, because I knew the elements of production so well. I also knew the artistes, they were my colleagues.
With the kind of work you do, how do you relax?
I relax by working. I’m still very active, I work a lot. I wish I could work every day. Part of my work is enjoyment. I actually enjoy the lifestyle when I work, because most of the time, you get a lot of variety, a lot of physical activity. It is a wonderful way of life.
You were seen at the Occupy Nigeria protest taking pictures. Do you intend on producing a documentary on it?
Not necessarily a documentary. A part of our mainframe productions is called conscience cinema. What happened in Occupy Nigeria is not different from what happened in ‘Saworoide’ and ‘Aagogo Awo’ the ‘Campus Queen’ and ‘Arugba’. It is like reality manifesting itself through fiction.
From photography, which was your first career, how did you make the move to movie making?
I was training in the former Western Nigerian Television as a film camera man, then after working in television for about 5 years, I had to travel to attend a course in London Film School for professional training. After that, I came back and joined the industry.
Your productions are unlike the average Nigerian movie, which take about two weeks to be produced. Your movies take months, or in some cases, years. Why is this?
Usually I’m broke in between the production time because I couldn’t get all the money I need at once. So if start, then I run out of money, I get some money, I go back. I wish I had ready-made funds, if I did I would be more productive. [That said] There is nothing bad in doing more than two movies in a year, but I really wish I had ready-made funds.