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Sunday, 26 January 2020

Interview with Cheta Chukwu of Nigeria...Writer and Director

"To nurture talent is easy. Patience is the virtue you need to develop." Cheta Chukwu
My latest interview is with award-winning filmmaker Cheta Chukwu of Nigeria. We talked about the challenges and joys of filmmaking as well as was his inspiration behind his film Payday which is streaming on Netflix. He also shares with me his creative process and talks about the cast who he super proud of.

Introducing Cheta...

What do you love about your life right now?

I love that that I went from dreaming about wanting a career in film to finally making it happen. It’s something I’m thankful for every day and I definitely don’t take it for granted, as I know that not a lot of talented and hardworking people out there are lucky enough to fulfill their dreams. I love that I’m able to trust myself more these days and listen to my own voice. I’m also grateful for the type of people I’ve met in the past few years, both professionally and in personal relationships. It has helped to develop and form my growth.

How excited were you when you found out that your film Payday was acquired by Netflix?

I honestly don’t think it’s a feeling I would ever recover from. I still get geeked about it. Netflix is like one of the biggest platforms out there right now and to have my film on such a platform is such a blessing. We have had some really amazing support from people all over the world since Netflix acquired the film. Like I’m constantly getting tons of messages. Every time I get a message or run into a post about the film from someone, especially in a part of the world I’ve never being, on how much they loved my film, I’m always really speechless.

starting from the left — Baaj Adebule, Ebiye Victor, Bisola Aiyeola (lady by the window) and Meg Otanwa (lady with the book). 
Was there a particular film or book that inspired you to write screenplays?

The Harry Porter films inspired me to write screenplays. That was my journey into screenwriting and of course directing. Another film that left such a great impression on me was Steven Spielberg’s Color Purple. I remember after seeing it, I told myself I wanted to make people feel the same way I felt. 

What was your creative process on writing Payday and how long did it take for you to write it?

The creative process of making Payday was pretty exciting but challenging as well. As a writer, you’d come to know that comedy is probably the hardest genre to write and pull off. Luckily, I knew the story I wanted to tell and just had to figure out the way to best tell it. It took three months to get the first draft as I was serving in the National Youth Service Corps, a one-year scheme set up by the Nigerian Government to involve Nigerian graduates in the nation-building and the development of the country through voluntary works. And I had to juggle doing that with writing. But once I got the first draft out the way, the rewrites were pretty easy as I took my time, using the numerous feedbacks and notes from my producer and trusted industry contacts.

Tell me a little bit about your cast for the film Payday and how did you decide who to pick for the leading role?

This is a really great question as no one really ever asked me that. I love to talk about the team who helped me put the film together, and the cast was an integral part of it. Once I had the script completed, I sent it to my producer Orwi Manny Ameh. One actor immediately came to mind, and that was Baaj Adebule. After seeing the finished film, I can’t imagine casting anybody else in that role. We put talent over everything else, and I’m so glad that we did. The table read confirmed the decisions we had to make. I also love the pairing of Ebiye Victor and Baaj Adebule. We can all agree that they had great chemistry on screen. Another actor I loved casting was Meg Otanwa who played Kimberly, Paul’s love interest. From our first meeting in a café, she was really warm and had notes on how she wanted to approach the character. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to meet Bisola Aiyeola (who played Ngozi) like the other cast members until she came on set. She came on board pretty late but her first day of the shoot and her performance throughout the film blew me away. She was really chill and highly professional and had all her lines. I really respect that that in actors and people generally. The rest actors were also great too.

Baaj Adebule and Ebiye Victor

For you, what has been the challenges and joys of writing and directing a film?

One of the biggest challenges of this film were shooting on a tight budget and battling weather conditions and of course local street thugs in our shoot in Lagos city. It was raining season here at the time and most of our scenes were outdoors. But the cast and crew were pretty great and understanding. We all went out there and did what we had to do. One of my best experiences on this film was seeing it with the first-ever audience. It was at the 4th Real Time Film Festival in Lagos where Meg Otanwa was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I remember sitting there with some of the cast and watching the reactions of the audience in the hall while the film played. It was so overwhelming and I remember having tears in my eyes. I remember Baaj taking my hand in the middle of the film and squeezing it hard and saying "I’m so proud we got to do this.”
Throughout the theatrical run in Nigeria, we did a Meet and Greet with some of the cast at the theaters where the film was showing. We would sneak into the theaters in the middle of the film and just watch the audience respond to the film. It was so hilarious and heartwarming as well.
Another moment I am immensely proud of was our first-ever award from Moscow where we won The Jury Prize Award at the 20th True Detective Film Festival. We were the first African film selected since in its 20 years run.
Baaj Adebule and Ebiye Victor

Is there any advice you would like to offer to someone who wants to be a filmmaker?

I’d say just go out there and do it. Failure is only in the mind. Cos no matter how it turns out, you really didn’t fail cause you actually went out there and did it. Failure is when you never ever try. Also, do not be afraid of criticisms. No matter how they make you feel, they will form you.

I know you’re an avid reader, what’s on your reading list?

Honestly, I’m not reading at the moment as I barely have any time for myself, which is such as shame as I enjoy reading. But one book I plan to read is My Sister, the Serial Killer by a Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite. I have heard really great things about it. The last book I read The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma left such a tremendous effect on me. I walked around with a heavy heart for days. I don’t know if any other book could do that to me.

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is but how good it is, is what matters” quote by JK Rowling. Do you agree with her?

I totally agree. It’s the exact way I feel. It’ not how far but how well.

Where do you see yourself in a year?

To build a team and provide opportunities for all types of people to tell unique, impacting stories.

Who inspires you in the entertainment industry and why?

Tyler Perry inspires me. One thing I love about him is his business sense and how he’s about helping people achieve their dreams. It’s the same thing I really want to do. Ava DuVernay is also someone I really respect. I love everything she represents. Nigerian Media Mogul Mo Abudu is someone else I respect for her drive and her vision.

Is there anybody in particular that you would like to work with on a film?

Viola Davis is someone I would die to work with. She’s totally on my top list of people to work with. Two other actors I would be really honoured to work with are Genevieve Nnaji and Christian Bale.

Tell me three fun facts about you.
       1. I can’t dance - A truth I’m still trying to accept.

 2. I really don’t like to hang out or go to parties but every time I do and have so much fun, I wonder why I don’t do it often.
3. Some days, I make some really mean dish. Other days my food sucks so bad I refuse to touch it. And one more...
4. I hate when I brag to someone I can cook and then they come over and I make something and the taste sucks. It makes me look like a liar. 

Describe yourself in one word.


I share motivational and inspirational quotes share with my readers. Do you have one you can share?

1. To nurture talent is easy. Patience is the virtue you need to develop.

2. Spend more time talking to yourself than anyone else. Be comfortable being alone. That isn’t a bad thing. Self-awareness is key. Don’t be a stranger to yourself while being famous in the crowd.


starting from the left — Meg Otanwa, Ebiye Victor, Baaj Adebule, Bisola Aiyeola 

Thank you for reading and follow Cheta on social media:
Payday Movie

About Maria Rochelle

Maria is a writer of multiple genres, and author of the popular children's picture story book series Jasmine Dreams.
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