Kunle Coker, a quintessential and consummate actor, is a man of all ages who could aptly be described as a bridge-builder between the ancient and modern of the entertainment and film industry. In a chat with TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA, the University of Ibadan-trained award-winning actor takes a kaleidoscopic insight into his journey in Nollywood and what the future holds for the industry.
You recently bagged a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nigeria Achievers Awards and was named a recipient of the TOCSS Foundation entrepreneurial support project for creative talents, how did these recognitions made you feel?
It feels good to be recognized out of so many professionals for ones positive impacts in the industry as an actor, filmmaker, director, producer and creator, contributing my small quota to the growth of the Nigerian film industry since the Betacam era.
Similarly, the TOCSS Foundation under its Entrepreneurial Support Project, celebrates talents and their outstanding nation building efforts, in order to help them achieve continuous improvements in their various fields. This year, TOCSS Awards is highlighting the creative industry and am honoured to be a recipient of the recognition.
You have been through Nollywood’s thick and thin, several eras and transformations, how will you describe the journey so far?
First and foremost, we have to look at pre-Nollywood. Filmmaking started before Nollywood, back in the days of the Ogundes and Babasalas. There are so many people I don’t want to start mentioning their names but it has started before them. It was the era of the cinemas in the real sense. Then in 1992 or thereabout, the video VHS started by some people who are engineers in their own creative minds and brought about what we know today as Nollywood. Like with all eras, things change from time to time. We are presently in an era of big-budget epic movies, by the time we exhaust this one to the limit, another one will come to displace it.
I believe they are changes for good, at least we are not where we used to be. We have moved from one level of progress to another level of progress. Now, we are standardizing our ways, techniques, acting, equipment, and everything is changing for the better.
Talking about the present, one of the changes we have seen is the introduction of global streaming platforms now taking active interest in productions in Nigeria and helping us promote our stories, how do you view this?
The introduction of the streaming platforms is an extension of what we are waiting for – the next level, and this, on a more serious note, has helped with the remuneration that comes with filmmaking. Now, you are forced to do standardized movies, otherwise you won’t get on those platforms.
It’s more like a guidance that if want to be part of us, it’s either you are up to the game or you remain where you are; we won’t tell you what to do, but this is how we do what we do. So, in some ways it has helped to make the movie business a lot better than what it used to be and they brought in some good money too. As you know, funding has always been the issue, even in America. The kind of thing that you want to do with a particular amount of money might not be met because you don’t have this much budget to achieve it.
This is because equipment do not come easy. There are some equipment you can rent in a day for a million naira, meaning if you want to spend a week on set and to get the best, you already know what it would cost you; but one thing about filmmaking is that once you’ve made it, that’s the end of the story.
So, the streaming platform is a welcome development, it has opened our eyes to better ways of producing our movies. In terms of remuneration, it has helped to shift or move our craft up a bit, we are not there yet, but we are getting there, it can be better. However, I wish that we have indigenous platforms too.
What is the future you see for Nollywood?
I think Nollywood, for the shortest possible time it has existed, has made a statement across the world. At some point in our development, some people came from Hollywood to understudy what they refer to as guerilla filmmaking technique, a situation where you use whatever possible things you have, not necessarily the big cranes or equipment. They saw that we’ve been able to craft our own things and at the end of the day, we were able to tell a story. That’s the most important thing, to be able to tell a story that people can relate to.
I like the fact now that people are doing more indigenous films, they tell our own story the way we need to tell our story. Some of the films you see now that have been successful like the Black Panther, is an icon story, told in the mixture of ancient and modern.
Talking about you now, you’ve spent decades in the industry and seen the highs and lows, what has been your staying power?
It’s God’s grace and the passion I have for what I do because if you are not passionate, especially when there is no money in this business, you will be frustrated. A lot of my colleagues are no more acting because entertainment is a show business; many of us have done more of the show, relegating the business side to the background, so we are not really making that kind of money that we need to. However, if you are passionate and consistent with what you do, eventually you will get there, that is if you are not too much in a hurry.
I understand that in the world today, many of the youngsters are on the fast lane but I don’t blame them. They are short of role models. The situation now is different, we were taught to persevere and be passionate about just telling the stories the way it is.
Every career has its high and low moments, but you see the way I live my life is simple, whatever that happened to me yesterday is gone, I don’t dwell on it anymore. I just want to learn one or two things so that I can improve on myself. I don’t take that to mind, I just want to move ahead and do better. If you carry too much weight, it will slow you down, you can’t move forward.
Many veterans in your profession after long years in the industry can’t fend for themselves or are down with ailment, what does it say about the industry and how do you think the business part of it can be harnessed properly for the benefit of the practitioners?
Actually, it’s very unfortunately. For a lot of people in this whole filmmaking business, they were not really cut out for it, they were looking for the fame, so when they now got the fame, it’s not commensurate with what they are earning, it then became a problem. Having said that, we need a lot of collaboration because a tree doesn’t make a forest. We need a lot of people to come together and let us synergize our art.
Basically, we are talking about the producers, directors and every aspect of filmmaking coming together, because at the end of the day if you get it right, it’s going to be a win-win for everyone. We talked about the streaming platforms earlier, this has made remuneration better.
Also, we need serious government backing. In America where we look up to, they have structures in place to take care of their veterans and to safeguard your intellectual property. We need to be able to replicate that here.
In specifics, what do you think government can do?
We should have an entertainment minister, not arts and culture dedicated to the industry alone. Do you know why I’m saying this, because I believe that we are a very stron instrument to propagate whatever you want the world to see in us as a people. Some of the progress you see in America today were made through movies – that if their creative mind can actually put those things into picture, then it can actually exist. Whatever you can think of can exist. I believe government can use movies as a tool to turn things around. You are looking for investors, what are the investors seeing, what are we portraying?
Talking about some of the productions, series or movies you’ve been part of, which one will you pick as the best for you?
I don’t know. Everything I’ve done is good, that’s why I take my time to be part of it. I just don’t jump into it because it’s available, even if I am broke. Everything I’ve done so far is because I want to do it and I think there is a reason for doing it , there is a message behind it because whatever story we tell, it has to be something everybody can learn from. So, I can’t really distinguish any of my work because they have all been beautiful.
Behind the cameras, who is Kunle Coker?
Honestly, a jolly good fellow. Like I told you earlier, I don’t like carrying problems of yesterday into today, I like to learn from them, put it aside, then move on and then improve on how it can be better tomorrow. I’m just a private person, be who I am, live my life the simplest way, and touch lives the best way I know how, I don’t want to be sounding like I’m the defender of the universe.
Also, I don’t like people being cheated on. If you are good to me and I’m good to you, then the world will be a better place. We are not going to be here forever, the little time we have, let’s be good to one another.
Life to me is simple, I’m just a very simple person, I do my things easy. In short, I like to be able to go to the market and not see me as a big movie star. I like to sit where I’m sitting and everybody is doing what they are doing and we are just enjoying our lives doing what we know how to do best. I’m a simple person by nature and private too.