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FunTimes Magazine


Aug 15, 2020 08:00AM ● By Belinda Nzeribe

After the lockdowns were eased in Nigeria, moviemakers rushed to restart productions stalled by the pandemic. Filmmaking in Africa's largest movie industry continues even in a pandemic, especially for so-called guerrilla moviemakers. For filmmakers and actors who must work or face financial ruin, it’s an absolute necessity. But acting involves working closely with people and sets are crowded spaces, props are typically passed between cast and crew. So how do you avoid spreading the Coronavirus? What kind of safety protocols can you adopt on a set?  Is filming during Covid-19 worth the risk?

These are some of the questions veteran actor-director, Ernest Obi, who is one of the directors working under the pandemic faces. On set, the director is mindful of Covid-19; cast and crew members are given hand sanitizers and masks, and instructed to keep their distance on set. Obi also employs other creative techniques to minimize the risk of infections for actors – he substitutes kissing for holding of hands.

But how do you socially distance while shooting a sizzling sex scene? Simple. Cut out the scene. Or better still, rewrite the script to make for present realities. Obi believes the kind of scripts written during this pandemic should allow for social distance while shooting. In this conversation, Ernest Obi tells us about making movies in the time of COVID-19. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.


We had a lockdown and now some sectors are open for business. What has been your experience in this pandemic?

The lockdown was not fun. I couldn’t even write, not with the gunshots every night. The crime rate spiked. We couldn’t sleep. I was outside everyday with other residents to help protect our homes from robbers. These guys were attacking neighborhoods in the hundreds. Then I had to manage financial demands from those who were not earning any income. People think you must have stockpiled money, but I’m not a politician, I'm an African moviemaker. There’s a huge difference. Second, not being able to work during the lockdown was hard. As an African filmmaker you can go bankrupt if you don’t work for a couple of months. 

You have just resumed shooting on locations. Are you testing cast and crew?

No, we are not.  A lot of people don’t believe Covid-19 is real and aren’t bothered about safety. But I am working with a studio that’s quite passionate about safety and protection. I was given hand sanitizers, although I had mine. I went to location with about ten face masks, one for each day of the week – my wife insisted. They got me a face shield, although I had two, and I sanitize it at the end of the day. After every take, I use the sanitizer in my pocket. I don’t want to die. It’s silly for me to say it’s a scam. Everyone on set knows as soon as I come in, even if you took your mask off for a breather, you put it back on. I tell the producer I won’t get on set, if people don’t have their masks on. We check temperatures and try to keep our distance from each other. No close proximity.

How do you manage that? There will certainly be contact.

I wrote a script that I'll be rolling soon and I have cut out all the intimacy. It’s a traditional story and I told them that hand holding suffices in African culture. When we have kid actors, I do not want them to stay close to the older actors. A lot of people need to be taught about kids being asymptomatic. They do not know. So I told them, and they said, ‘but it’s a little child’. But you know, the little child could have it and spread it to older people. I’m protecting myself. This is the way I want to work.

But what about dialogue? They have to talk to each other.

I tell them even if you are screaming, give yourselves space. All these grabbing and talking, you don’t really need that. Guys are practically spitting into each other’s faces because they want the dialogue right. No. That won’t work anymore. There are droplets coming out of your mouth. Cut out the kissing, the hugging. You can show affection by taking a hand, quick hugs and detach. We don’t know each other’s health status, so it would be best to limit intimacies if we must work in the pandemic. People should be tested if they need to be intimate on set.   

Cut out the kissing, the hugging…

Seems like you are taking chances. There are loopholes here for getting infected.

Absolutely. We are only talking about proximity. What about the hard surfaces, the table tops, the props? It could be anything – a cup. It could be anywhere. It’s scary. We pay to use people’s homes as location. Imagine going to a house where the owner has Covid and is asymptomatic, it might seem disrespectful to ask him to get tested before using his house. But that’s the right thing to do. We don’t know if the owner has it or his wife has it, or if he had a party the previous day. We go there, get infected and transfer it to each other. Owner should also insist we all get tested before entering his house.

It could look unrealistic when you cut out intimacy, especially when the script calls for it

If we want intimacy and all that maybe the first thing to do would be to quarantine everyone for fourteen days. But that’s a difficult thing to do. That’s why I believe it should start from the story itself. What kind of stories should we tell now to allow us work safely? The acting and scripting should reflect the times. I’m working now and most people think [Covid-19] is a joke. Nobody wears a mask. Maybe it’s because they don’t have enough sensitization, and there’s no penalty for not wearing a mask. Maybe it’s the lack of trust in leadership. Mindset is a problem. 

What kind of stories should we tell now to allow us work safely?


If you had a choice, would you work?

No. I don’t want to die. The situation is what it is right now, but a lot of us still need to work. I try to make the set as safe as possible.

Producers seem to be utilizing more online channels to exhibit their work. I see a lot of flicks on YouTube.

Traffic is online now. Online is where you get lots of followership. The channels might be there but do they favor producers during this Covid era. Not necessarily. If it’s not your private channel, you can’t really say you did too well financially. You can’t just shoot a good picture and open a YouTube channel to show it. There are few alternative platforms available. That’s why a lot of filmmakers suffered during the lockdown because everything failed. The African filmmaker is making magic from nothing.

Will Covid-19 change how we make movies or will it be business as usual?

For many, I think it will be business as usual. There’s this popular joke, “have you seen anybody who knows anybody who knows anybody that has died from Covid?” When I insist on safety measures on set many think it’s a joke. But I believe we need to consider safety when scripting and shooting on locations. It’s left for producers to adopt safety measures or everyone will just do whatever they want.