Emem Isong is a screenwriter, award winning movie producer and distributor in Nollywood. She’s married and a mother of 3. In this interview with The Spark, she talks about the passion behind her work, challenges of the industry and how she’s able to pass a message across with every movie she makes.
TS: When did you discover your flair for film making?
Emem: I would say since I was a child, I loved watching TV, reading books and creating things. It was only natural that I’d do something close to the arts. Which is why I went to the University and studied Theatre arts.
TS: What’s your best work so far? What inspired it?
Emem: I’m passionate about a lot of them. But I would say my best work so far is “I’ll Take My Chances”. It’s a movie that had to do with dance and this is because I studied dance – I’m a dance major – I love choreography and so I made a movie that incorporated dance into it.
TS: Would you say Nigeria is a conducive environment for film makers and actors to thrive?
Emem: It’s pretty difficult as a filmmaker to practice in this environment just like every other business. But Africa is ripe for filmmaking right now. The stories are there. We haven’t even tapped what we have yet. As for acting, it’s still a growing industry and there’s still a lot to be discovered. So Nigeria is a good place at the moment for filmmaking and acting.
TS: You are the co-founder of Royal Arts academy. How were the first few months or years following the formation of Royal Arts academy?
Emem: It was very tough. I went through “hell” setting up Royal Arts academy, getting people to believe in me and invest. It wasn’t easy so basically I was doing most of the investment myself. I believe in youth empowerment, sharing knowledge and capacity building, which is why I was keen on starting the academy. Yes I was a writer, a producer and the question I was asking myself was, “Okay, what next?” I wanted to have an environment where we’d move from script all the way to screen so everything is housed under one company. I decided to incorporate training as well.
TS: Owning such a well set up institution, one could say you are a mentor. What role do you think mentorship plays in shaping the youths of today?
Emem: Mentorship plays a whole lot. The direction you take in life depends on your mentor. Mentorship plays a great role in youth empowerment today as well. It’s always good to mentor people and it’s also good for young people to seek out mentors.
TS: Who was or were your mentor(s) and how did they influence you?
Emem: My mentor is my mother. She taught me everything about being independent, disciplined, following my passion and my dream. And when I finished University, I looked up to one of my lecturers who was very passionate about art as well. I would say he was a mentor of some sort to me.
TS: What challenges do you face in your profession and also in running the academy?
Emem: Piracy, distribution challenges and lack of funding are most of the challenges the average filmmaker in Nigeria faces. In the academy, it was very difficult expanding because financial institutions hardly give out money without collateral which some of us don’t have. So trying to build something with the little funding available was a huge problem. But we’re overcoming one by one.
TS: You have done a couple of movies plotted around rape. What other aspects of empowerment are you passionate about?
Emem: I’ve only done two movies on rape. Other aspects include child abuse, prostitution and some other social ills. In as much as my movies are made for entertainment, occasionally, I try to infuse some of the societal ills. The latest one I did was Zara which was set in an IDP camp and some people don’t know what people face in these camps. It wasn’t done just to bring out what they face, but how do we get government and policy makers to do something to alleviate some of the issues that people face, especially as there’s so much happening around the world today and IDP camps are being setup everywhere.
TS: What will you give off as The Spark – an incentive to encourage the Rookie of the month in his/her own pursuit of success?
Emem: I would give out a slot in my academy to one person who is interested in either acting, directing or screen writing.