Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back in Babylon again

Yup... I've been back in the U S of A since Wednesday and I suppose I need to apologize for my slow (or no) response to those who have called and emailed me over the past couple of days (at this point, I'm tired of apologizing for not keeping this blog anything even approaching up to date).

I dunno... I just haven't much felt like talking to anybody since I got back. I feel a bit fatigued and culture-shocked and I definitely don't feel like answering the inevitable question, "What's up with the movie?" (Incidentally, the answer to that particular query is actually "Quite a lot," but I reveal all of that in due time.)

It's just kinda weird being back after - What is it? Almost five months? - and it's taking me a little while to get used to it. As it is, I've barely stepped out of the house since Thursday.

Actually, I did venture out last night... I went out with some friends to see the 7:15 screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan... I fell asleep like, 30 minutes into it.

That's not really an indictment of the movie, by the way... It's just that my body is yet to re-attune itself to the UTC-5 time zone. As it is, I've been dozing off every evening at around 6:30 pm (which is 12:30 am Nigeria time) and then waking up at about 11:30 (which still feels like 5:30 am to me), staying up all night, then taking a quick nap from about 5 to 7:30 am and repeating the cycle.

(Maybe it would have been more appropriate for me to have watched the movie I really wanted to see last night.)

Anyway, I'm working on getting my shit together. And since I have plenty of time on my hands these days, I really have no excuse for not blogging more and updating you all on what's happening, as well as what's happened over the past month (and the four months prior, too, come to think of it).

Thanks for the support, folks; though you may not hear from me, you are always on my mind... never far away (I freely admit that this mushy signoff is a shameless excuse to seque into this awesome Lagbaja! track I want y'all to check out:


Thursday, October 05, 2006

September 14, 2006 - Let's Do The Deadbeat Dodge!!

Awwwwwww yeah, party people! I'm about to teach y'all a brand new dance!

Well... It's really not that new, since it's been danced for years and years by producers all over the world, but it's new to me. Some might call it "The Creditor Creep" or "The Money Hustle" or "The Shaft" or "The Cheque's in the Mail." I call it "The Deadbeat Dodge"!

You can do this dance just about anywhere and any ol' time - when you're sitting on the john or eating lunch or watching TV or trying to sleep at five in the morning. The only music you need is the sound of a ringing cellphone.

Now, my current ringtone is "Let's Make This Precious" by Kevin Rowland & Dexy's Midnight Runners, but it don't matter what the ringing sounds like. All that matters is that when you answer the phone, you hear the voice of an actor or a production assistant or a sound engineer or camera assistant or an equipment rental outfit:

"Good morning, director. Sorry to bother you at this time, but about that money you still owe us..."

"...I thought I would have been paid by now..."

"...You know you guys left us really broke..."

"...Checked my account this morning and the funds still haven't been deposited..."

"...We really need to get that money right now..."

Okay, we're about to get funky now.. Ready... set...


"Okay, I'm kinda on vacation right now, spending time with my family and stuff, so there's nothing going on at the moment. But I'll be getting some more funding when I get to Lagos next week, alright? Just call me back then, alright?"


"Hey, I'm in a meeting with some investors right now. I'll call you back later tonight, okay? This is your number, right? (So's I can be sure to avoid it when you call back)"


"Look... I'm just the director. If you wanna talk about creative concerns, I'm your man. If it's administrative, call Denis. If it's money, talk to Koko."


"Wait... Koko told you to call me?"


"Hang on a minute... Let me give you Denis's number in Congo..."

C'mon now! DODGE!

"crzzzt crzzzt shit, you're breaking up... crzzzzt I can't hear a word you're crzzzzzt This connection is crzzzzt terrible... Lemme crzzzt you back later..."

Alright, party people... Here comes the best part! You know the breakdown - the part of the record where all the words and the melody and all that fall away, leaving just that basic beat? Okay, we're gonna stop answering the phone and just let the music play and play and play...

I gotta admit, it took me a while to get a hang of the rhythm, but now I'm really becoming an ace when it comes to doin' the Dodge. Yes sir, I'm like a one-man Sam & Dave.

Hard to believe it was barely two weeks ago that I asked Koko:

"So... How long do we plan to stay in town once we wrap production?"

Koko: "I'd say somewhere under twenty-four hours."

"Um... And then how are we planning to settle all our accounts before we leave?"

Koko doesn't say anything. He just smiles mischievously. I feel a pain in my heart.

"No... Please don't tell me that. Basically, our exit plan is..."

"We exit."

I'm silent for a minute. "I'm really not comfortable with that."

I find Denis by the bar and we share a bottle of Fanta for breakfast. He's not cool with the exit plan, either. We're just starting out in this business and so far we like the fact that we've been pretty fair in our dealings with people. We don't want to get the reputation of being deadbeat producers.

Then again, that's kinda the way the game is played, isn't it? Right after my exchange with Koko, Frank and Linda came into the room and proceeded with a completely unrelated conversation about some of the work they've done in the modelling world - print ads and billboards and stuff.

Me and Koko sat down and listened as these two beautiful people spoke quite matter-of-factly about being stiffed for up to eighteen months at a time by The Coca-Cola Company and Motorola and the big phone companies.

Now if even massive multinational corporations have trouble issuing payment on time, why the hell should I - a startup producer - be stressing out over it? Hell, I think these people actually expect to have to pull teeth to get paid.

We'll get 'em the money sometime, and hopefully soon. But until then, I'm dancing as fast as I can.

Circumstance has made a liar of me

So I promised to post some stuff yesterday and that didn't happen. What can I say? I promised to pay a bunch of actors last week and that hasn't happened either. Shit happens... or doesn't happen; after all, I spent most of yesterday waiting around for a meeting that ended up not happening. The pilot thing is happening, but not quite at the speed that I would like it to... I'm getting antsy, feeling like I need to get out of here, get back to the States and raise the money to come back and finish TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN as soon as possible.

Funny thing about it, though, is that at the moment I am kinda stranded in Nigeria. When I called the airline to postpone my return last time, I had to give them a "theoretical" date that I might be coming back... I selected September 30th. They said cool, there'll be no problem changing the date again if I have to.

Of course, I couldn't select a date because I wasn't sure exactly when I would be done with the pilot... Come September 30th (last Saturday) I go to the Lufthansa office and they tell me it does't matter what date I choose because I can't change the date on this ticket anymore anyway because I've been in Nigeria for more than three months. So unless I planned on getting on the plane that afternoon, my ticket was worth about as much as toilet paper (and considering the rough edges and low absorbency of an airline ticket, a lot less useful, too).

Anyway, I'll talk more about all that later... In the meantime, I'll post some shit from the vaults.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sorry I left you...

I haven't written anything in a while, folks - well, i haven't posted anything, anyway. I haven't been online in almost two weeks, so I got a lot of shit just piling up. I'll post it tomorrow.

On one hand, I've been really busy and on the other I've been so bored that I've thought of amputating my own limbs just to liven things up.

Oh yeah, and speaking of amputating limbs... I've been having a lot of trouble with my bum shoulder so I'm working with one arm these days. I'll tell y'all about that tomorrow.

Hmmm... I just realized that I didn't even get around to posting Part 2 of the last post.


I'll post everything tomorrow, folks. I promise.

How are y'all doing, though?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

From the vault: August 2, 2006 - “I’m a artist… and I’m sensitive about my s#!t” © Erykah Badu (Part One)


The three producers of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN sit on the balcony with Yinka Davies – the erstwhile “Erykah Badu of Nigeria” – drinking sodas and looking over the late-evening Lagos bustle.

Yinka looks at the producers and smiles. Denis smiles. Koko smiles. Nana sports an especially wide and goofy grin as he tries not to stare at the soul diva’s ample breasts.

(He fails.)

YINKA: So… Everybody is smiling. But why are we here?

Six expectant eyes turn to Nana, who takes a sip of his drink and clears his throat.

NANA: Well, I… um, I’ve been thinking about you since 5 o’clock this morning. I was lying on the floor this morning, all by myself in the dark, just watching TV… And you appeared onscreen and it… it was like you were speaking to me, telling me that I… I just had to find you. It was like a vision, you know? At 5 o’clock in the morning, I just knew that I had to see you tonight.


Koko’s eyes are closed; he rubs his temples in exasperation. Denis and Yinka still smile, but somewhat uncomfortably.

YINKA: Okaaayyyy…

DENIS (to Nana): Could you say that again… but make it sound a little less stalkerish this time?


Remember that time in “Entourage” when cocky, eccentric genius director Billy Walsh freaked out before the first screening of Queen’s Boulevard?

Then he hijacks the film, locks himself up with it in a hotel room, obsessively edits it over and over and issues the Zen-like proclamation that he doesn’t care if it’s ever released or if anybody ever sees it as long as he knows in his soul that he has created something perfect.

That’s kinda where I’m at right now. Kinda. I ain’t hacked off my hair, though.

I can’t sleep at night. I can’t eat in the daytime. I go to the bathroom like 50 times a day. I’m moody, sullen and withdrawn (at this point, one or two of my exes hiss “What else is new?”). I take long walks before anybody else wakes up. I compulsively listen to 1960s girl-group records like “Jimmy Mack,” “Out in the Streets,” “Leader of the Pack” and “I’d Much Rather Be With the Girls.” I watch and re-watch the 13 hours of footage we’ve shot so far like it were the effing Zapruder film. At this point, I’m pretty sure Denis and Koko wouldn’t mind making TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN a posthumous release for me.

We’ve shot some good stuff; I know this intuitively, and pretty much all of the innocent bystanders I have abducted and forced to view the footage confirm that it looks great. But when I look at the screen all I see is the compromises, the faux pas, the fuckups. Every frame taunts me with its imperfection.

It’s ridiculous to try to judge the final quality of a film from about half of the raw footage but I can’t help it… I can’t reconcile myself to the fact that what I see on the screen is not an exact realization of what I saw in my head when I wrote it.

But I know that’s kinda silly, too… Unless you’re Hitchcock or maybe the Coen Brothers, chances are that what you end up shooting will never be exactly what you planned. Film is a collaborative art… There’s way too many other people contributing their input for your vision to remain that pure.

Still, there’s at least two major scenes that I think are complete garbage. Mind you, these are scenes that we were all incredibly proud of three weeks ago… Every time we watched them, we hi-fived each other, basking in the certainty that we were creating something very special… Something great. Today, I announce that I want to shitcan them.

Koko doesn’t say anything for a long time; he just stares at me for a long, long time with that gimlet-like gaze of his. And I can see the SCUD missiles being primed in those eyes. Then, finally:

“So… Will it make you happy to reshoot those scenes from scratch?”

“Why do you ask? Are you gonna let me reshoot them?”

“Shit, if you want to,” he says. “It’s your movie.”

I recoil from those three words like an acid-coated bitchslap.

My movie?”

On the real, I haven’t necessarily thought of it as my movie for a long time. I kinda gave up on that notion since the sign incident on the first day of shooting.* Since then, if anything, I think of it more of as our movie.

And now this dude wants to dump this mess in my lap?

But it's true, though... It's my name that everybody associates with this thing... and if it sucks, then I suck.

Damn... I wanna hack off all my hair right now.

So I'm lying on the floor at 5 o'clock this morning, watching music videos. Nigerian music vids have gotten pretty good of late... Back in the day, most videos had a budget of like 17 bucks and the production values of the average bar mitzvah video. But since the introduction of MTV Base Africa and the resultant opportunity for local acts to gain unprecendented international attention, cats have stepped their game up considerably on some Hype Williams shit.

Maybe I can get into the music video game if I flop as a movie director... Become the Nigerian Michel Gondry or something...

These are the thoughts I am thinking when Yinka Davies' video comes on at 5 o'clock. The song has some long-ass Yoruba title that I can't spell or pronounce, but it features her wearing a white gown, floating through the urban jungle of Lagos like Mama Yemanja with her healing waters.

Suddenly, I feel like everything's gonna be alright.

(to be continued)
*Ah yes… "The sign incident," he says, as if you should know what the hell that even means. I’ll post up the “First Sign of Trouble” entry later. I wanted to incorporate it into this post, but this shit is long enough already

Why Does This Blog Kinda Suck?

Gold stars for all of you who answered “Because you ain’t write in it, fool!”

That’s actually been a pretty big disappointment to me… When I started this blog, I truly wanted to it to be an honest, no-holds-barred, real-time chronicle of what it’s like to make a movie under these particular conditions, but shit… There’s hardly anything up on here that tells you the actual story of the making of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.

Thing is (as I’ve said before) it’s not that I didn’t write it all down… I just didn’t post most of what I wrote because I often didn’t have the time (or, in some cases, the money) to go to a cybercafe.

Also, I think I deliberately censored myself quite a bit because… Well, I suppose I never completely got a handle on exactly what I wanted this blog to be. Was it a personal journal, a promotional tool, or something in between?

As a result, I opted not to post some of my more navel-gazing thoughts like, say, my unhappiness with my inexplicable rapid weight gain and acne breakouts during this production (which, by the way, served as an endless source of punchlines for my two compadres).

Then there were the entries about my so-called love life… I thought they were just gratuitous and kinda silly (Let’s not even talk about that one T.M.I. post about hemorrhoids).

Hell, I even held back from posting on a lot of purely professional subjects, like the numerous dickheads and assholes we had to deal with on the daily. Y’see, unlike Denis who has stated repeatedly that he cannot wait to publicly skewer all the jerks who have pissed him off, I’m still a bit reluctant to badmouth people… Partially because I’m trying to build a career here and I’m not trynna be burning bridges just yet, but also because… *shrug* I dunno, probably (as Koko is wont to berate me) I’m just too nice to take pleasure in slagging people off that way.

Likewise, I wasn’t sure if I should air out some of the internal squabbles we’ve had even within our own crew. But y’know, despite our similar interests, we’re all different personalities and hence, there is bound to be conflict. Actually, I’m pretty surprised at how relatively few conflicts there were and how quickly they always blew over. At the end of the day, it’s all love between us and this experience has definitely bonded us in a way you rarely see outside of war veterans and boarding school peers.

In addition, I was always wary of being too candid because while I mostly didn’t tell the cast and crew about the blog’s existence, I always worried that they might just Google “Comb & Razor” or “TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN,” find this page and discover that, oh, we had no money to pay them, for instance.

I know I was definitely a bit ashamed to expose our collective ass by discussing some of the boneheaded mistakes we made, too. I mean, we had some bad stuff happen that threw us way off course… Unforeseen Acts of God and the like. But then there was a whole bunch of shit that went wrong because of our own inexperience and poor judgment. We really made some bad calls… And I mean decisions that would make you look at us with genuine concern and ask “Ummm… So how long exactly have you suffered from this brain damage?”

(It’s particularly embarrassing because some of these problems my friend Mildred cautioned me about in advance and we still walked straight into them like dummies. Sometimes you just gotta experience it firsthand, I guess. Kinda like when someone warns you that they just laid a really stinky fart… Rather than just taking their word for it and immediately vacating the area, you first go take a sniff of it yourself to personally confirm the degree of rancidness, don’t you?)

More than anything, the conflict between my dueling desires to be an honest diarist and an effective salesman made me very hesitant to post about my own personal struggles with the actual quality of the footage we were shooting. I guess I thought it might be a bit discouraging to some of y’all who have been so supportive of us from jump… And hey, if this blog is supposed to be a form of advertisement to make you want to see the movie, isn’t it a bit counterproductive for me to admit that I’m a bit dissatisfied with it myself (even though it’s nowhere close to done)?

Mainly I feared that it might be read as preemptive pleading, y’know? Pro-facto apologizing just in case the movie ended up sucking.

(It is totally not gonna suck, by the way)

But, y’know, that oftentimes sharp dichotomy between artistic intent and final product is a regular part of the creative process so it’s only fair that you get some glimpse of it.

As I start working on editing almost 30 hours of footage into some form of coherent narrative, I’ll be keeping you all up to date on my progress (hopefully sharing some footage with you too) and also putting up “flashback” journal entries – WITH COMB & RAZOR: THE LOST EPISODES.

Hopefully you will find them to be readable and entertaining. Maybe they will comfort and inspire some other fledgling artists who struggle with the hurdles inherent to manifesting their dreams in the material plane.

At the very least, you can read them and laugh at what a moody, self-flagellating, passive-aggressive bitch boy I can be sometimes.

So yeah… I’ll start with that tomorrow. I’m here all week, folks.

As always, thanks for being here, too.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

All Things Must Come to an End


Three teenagers, KOKO (19), NANA (18) and UDEME (18) stroll down the street past Paradise City Hotel, a few blocks from Nana's house.

KOKO: Whatever happened to that screenplay you wrote back in school? “Trouble In Paradise”… It was pretty funny.

NANA: It’s still there. I’ve written a couple more since then, though.

UDEME: Do you think you're ever going to actually make these movies you write?

NANA: I don't know... I never really thought about it too seriously. I just write them for fun.

KOKO: We could make a movie.

UDEME: If you want to make a movie, you should probably go do it in Abuja. That city is looking really pretty these days.

KOKO: Who cares how pretty it looks? Why can’t we make a movie right here in Calabar? About our lives in this town and stuff?

NANA: Yeah, we can shoot “Trouble in Paradise” right here in Cal… Shoot it in this hotel right here and call it “Trouble in Paradise City”!



In front of a student compound a few feet up the road from Paradise City, an old blue Peugeot van is parked. Nicknamed “The Magic Bus,” it is the official production vehicle of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Inside the bus, NANA (33) and KOKO (34) recline in the front seats as they wait for their ingénue, Emma, to get dressed.

NANA: So… Back then did you ever think we would really do this?

KOKO: Yup.

NANA: Did you ever think it would be this fucked up?


NANA: I love this, though… I feel like I was meant to do this. The idea of going back to the States and working another 9 to 5... It's just kinda repulsive to me, you know? I mean, if we were to fail with this - If the movie flops or we never even get to finish it at all - could you go back to that? Wearing a tie, sitting in a cubicle and shit?

KOKO: Do I have a choice? I got mouths to feed.

NANA: Yeah.


NANA: But... Would you try again?

KOKO: Are you asking me would I drop everything and jump aboard if you called me to come out and play again?

NANA: Yeah… I guess so.

Long silence.

KOKO: The terms would have to be different.


NANA: Yeah.


So… After a grueling two months, we finally ended production on TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN this past Tuesday.

The more observant reader will notice that I said that we “ended” production, not that we “finished” it – At this time, the film remains incomplete. There’s still about six or eight scenes we never got around to shooting, and there are at least two scenes that I insist we must re-shoot (much to the annoyance of my co-producers). Still, I decided that for now, we must stop.

This production has been like the Neverending Story, especially when viewed in light of the Nigerian film industry where a lot of movies are shot in like, ten days or so. In fact, we’ve become something of a joke in the community. People see us shooting and they’re like “Oh, you’re still here? I thought you guys had gone back to South Africa.”*

“Nope… We’re still here. Still working.”

“So are you shooting another movie?”

“Nope… Same one.”

“What? You’re still working on that same one? This has got to be part two or part three, right? Ha ha ha.”

Ha mudderfuggin’ ha.

Not that I’m bothered by the ridicule at all. I actually take pride in investing the time and energy into producing a piece of work that I can be moderately proud of rather than knocking out some quick, hacky bullshit just because that’s what everybody else is doing. But the fact remains: this shit is taking too long.

For a number of reasons, the remaining scenes were not materializing at the speed or in the form that they should have and we were spending day after day not really getting much done and all the while paying racking up bills by the day for equipment, crew, talent and lodging. Something had to give. I for one felt that a malaise was dragging down the cast and crew and it was showing up onscreen in the form of increasingly half-ass scenes.

I actually suffered a nervous breakdown of sorts after a particularly trying all-night shoot and fled barefoot and screaming into dawn’s early light. Here’s some pics of me being escorted back to the set after Koko found me wandering through the remote Ikot Ishie area of Calabar.

Check out the awkward looks on the faces of the cast and crew as El Director (pictured in doorway) returns to the set. Nobody says a word and nobody looks him in the eye (probably because they're worried that insanity might be transmissible by direct eye contact).

Needless to say, the speculation already started circulating about the nature of the drug abuse that triggered my psychotic episode. (Of course, I love that… Let my legend grow!)

But the truth is, I was just tired, man. Not just physically tired… That shit don’t matter to me. I was tired of having to compromise my vision because despite all the time we’ve spent, we’ve never really had the time or money to make this movie the way we wanted to.

So yeah, I’m like “Let’s stop. Let’s take some time to step back, re-evaluate how to whip this thing into shape and then come back in a few weeks or months or whatever and finish it off.”**

So that’s what we’re doing. Or what I’m doing, anyway. I kinda fear that from this point on, TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN might be more or less a solo affair for me.

Denis has been in Nigeria for almost four months now and it’s about time for him to go home. In fact, he should be on the way to catch flight back to Congo even as I type this.

Koko has been away from his family for a long time too, and he’s had to return to Lagos to resume his role of husband and father. I think he might be too occupied dealing with issues like paying the kids’ school fees to jump back into the wonderful world of movie production right now.

Me, at the moment I am back in the family digs at Aba. Another reason I had to call things to a halt was because I sensed my dad was growing really impatient with my continued assurances of “I’ll be back home after we wrap production next week. Next week, I promise!”

Originally, I was supposed to be in Nigeria for just under three months. The assumption was that this would be more than enough time for me to finish this picture, spend time with my family, party in three or four cities and still get back to the States with time to spare.

My plane ticket says that I was supposed to return to the States on August 29th. Two weeks ago, I called the airline to postpone my return indefinitely. That’s not just because I need to stay and finish TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN… The fact is that returning to America is an idea that has very little appeal to me right now. I’ve more or less committed myself to trying to make some kind of living in the Nigerian film world.

My dad does not approve of this decision (“Why not just go back to America and get a job?”) and neither do Koko and Denis (“So after all this, what you really want is to stay here and become the next Fred Amata? It’s a waste, you hear me? A fucking WASTE!”), but I just feel it’s something I need to do.

So I’ll be here in Aba (and Port Harcourt) for about a week or so, and then I jet off for Lagos to get started on my next job: writing and directing a pilot for the massive trans-African M-NET cable network.

I kinda worry whether or not taking this gig might be a mistake: Part of my head tells me that it’s probably better to be completely done with one thing before starting another… But opportunities like this don’t present themselves every day, and part of the reason for making TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN in the first place was to create further opportunities. Hopefully, doing stuff like this will get me in a stronger position to get the support I need to finish the movie.

To be honest, I’m a little bit scared: I really have no idea how I’m gonna complete TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN by myself in the midst of all this, but goddamn it, I’m gonna do it somehow. We’ve all worked too hard to not finish this shit now.

I’ll keep you all posted, I promise.


* For some reason, there has been this persistent and widespread belief in the local movie community that Koko, Denis and I are from South Africa. Where this idea came from, I do not know.

** Besides, Frank really had to go since production was resuming on "One Love," the soap opera/sitcom he stars in and we didn’t get to finish all his scenes (not to my satisfaction anyway)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Damn... It's been that long?

I can't believe almost a whole month has passed since I last posted anything here... My apologies; it's been mega-hectic and this is the first time I've even gotten a chance to check my email since August 15th.

In any case, today is pretty much our last day of production... It feels weird, I tell ya. Kinda sad and at the same time relieved. The good thing is that from tomorrow I'll have a lot more time to post on this page regularly as I promised I would. And boy, do I have some juicy stories for y'all!

So... See you tomorrow, like; I got some heavy drinking to do right now.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Escape from Lagos Part 2

(Or maybe this should be Part 4, considering the fact that I my last "Escape from Lagos" entry ended up posting three times and I never bothered to delete the extra ones)

We've been in Lag for more than two weeks now, and I have to admit that this trip has been something of a bust. Kinduva "one step forward, two steps backward" type thang.

Anyway, I just wanted to holler real quick because it's been a while since I posted anything... I'll be back in full force tomorrow, mi gente, this I promise. I'll also be back in Calabar tomorrow... We were supposed to have returned this evening, but we missed our flight. That's the thing about whenever we come to this monstrous metropolis... It's like the city swallows us and won't let us escape.

Oh yeah, I owe a whole bunch of you emails... Don't think I've forgotten. Thanks a lot for all your aid, support, and most of all for your belief.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Shut up, Rosey! Shut up!


Denis, Koko and Nana sit in silence, pondering what they need to go through to complete TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.

DENIS: Would you guys call me a bitch if I were to cry right now?


NANA: Actually, I’ve been kinda waiting for one of you guys to cry first so that I can feel like less of a bitch when I do.

KOKO: Keep waiting.



Grace lies on the couch watching Channel O, her feet in Nana’s lap as he gives her a rather half-ass foot massage.

GRACE: Maybe you should cry. You’ll probably feel better if you let it out instead of holding things in the way you do. (extends arms in an embrace) Come on… Let it all out.

NANA: Hell no. I’ll never cry. And you know who else never cried?

GRACE: John Wayne, shey?

NANA: The most the Duke ever did was turn away a little and say “Hol’ on a minnit, pardner… I think I got somethin’ in my eye” and then wipe away the eye-water and get back to the business of killin’ Injuns or Japs or gooks.

GRACE: You know this obsession with what John Wayne would and wouldn’t do is a crazy way to live your life, right?

NANA: So is making movies.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I was about to continue the story about my trip home

But on the real, I'm way too overwhelmed by all the support you guys have thrown our way right now... I'll post that shit up tomorrow. I wanna thank each and every one of you guys, though... I gotta think of some way to do that. I guess making the best film we can is probably the best way to do that, huh?

Anyway, for now, here's some photos of our female lead, Emma... (and some others if Blogger stops acting up)

Grubbin' in the dark (whaddup, Cody ChesnuTT)

It’s 12:20 a.m. and I’m sitting in the dark, gnawing on corn, coconut chunks and spicy barbecue beef as everybody sleeps around me.

Remember how I told you we had to send our two leads back home to Lagos and hope that they would come back to Calabar when we were ready to shoot again? Well, you didn’t actually think we were gonna sit around wishing on (movie) stars, did you? Hell no! We followed them to Lagos and we’re gonna shoot them here.

I actually quite like the idea; the story is set in Lagos after all, and that unique Lagosian sense of chaos and energy has been hard to replicate in a small town like Calabar. It’s good for Koko to be back with his family, too (and I must admit that I was missing Uchenna and the kids myself) and even Denis – who kinda hates Lagos – is enjoying being back.

We’re gonna start shooting here in a few days and in the meantime we’re lining up all the stuff we need, like lights and equipment (Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have to deal with those Cinekraft dicks again, though).

Right now we’re a bit frustrated, though… It’s hot as fark and NEPA is on their regular bullshit. I don’t know how many of you are hip to the whole NEPA thing, but it’s been a running joke here in Nigeria for… I dunno, 30+ years. NEPA officially stands for the Nigeria Electric Power Authority but colloquially it means “Never Expect Power Always.” You see, the national electric company only provides electricity some of the time, so electric power generators like this

are essential household appliances more common than microwave ovens. Ours is acting up. It’s been acting up since we came back to Lagos on Sunday, but we dropped it off yesterday morning and paid for it to be fixed. Allegedly it was. So we’re all chilling, watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on DVD when all of a sudden, the electricity conks out again.

Koko goes out to fiddle with it while me and Denis wait in the living room for him to come back so we can get our grub on. We had eaten lunch at about 5 p.m. – less than 2 hours before – but for some reason we were hungry again (Denis says he’s gonna blog about metabolism and how odd sleeping and working hours affect it) and I felt we should eat again at 7 p.m. rather than having to eat at 1 a.m.

So we went out and got a mess of suya and corn on the cob and coconut and plantain and were ready to chow down before we were plunged into darkness.

Koko was away tinkering with the generator for a long, long time… Me and Denis sprawled on the floor and he gradually fell asleep while I belt out off-key renditions of Motown tunes. I was at the end of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” when I realized that Koko was lying on the couch, simmering and then eventually sleeping, too.

Like, I realize this generator thing is frustrating as hell, but how does that translate into us not eating? I don’t need the lights to see where my mouth is!

I must have drifted off during my Stevie Wonder medley, but I was awoken just before midnight by vicious hunger pains. I called my friend Grace to be the first one to wish her a happy birthday and went to the kitchen to get my grub on, dolo.

So here I am now… As all the world is counting sheep, I count the moments of the last few days.

cue flashback music as I return to my weekend trip back home

Monday, July 31, 2006

Wednesday 26 July 2006

One of the things about going back home as an adult is the way that you find yourself time-warped back into a state of childhood (which can work out to be simultaneously comforting and humiliating).

I’m back at the family house at Aba tonight and I have to admit that I’m just a teensy bit relieved to be able to step away from the production pressure pit for a day or two. Actually, the issue of me coming here in the first place was quite controversial; if I left town, production would grind to a halt for the duration of my absence, and we really can’t afford that, considering the fact that we are already, what? Ummm… Like two weeks behind schedule?

We already pretty much lost our crew yesterday… After all, they were originally contracted for 15 days of work and paid a pittance for that period to begin with. Yet for some reason, they’ve stuck around this long… I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why. Could it be that they believe that much in the project? Or maybe they just like us personally (We have shared some pretty fun times and artistically affirming moments with them? More than likely their professional ethos just won’t allow them to leave a job unfinished. But alas, there comes a breaking point even there and it’s time for them to move on, back to their lives and other (almost certainly better-paying) gigs.

We’re losing our cast too, in a fashion. Our lead, Frank, has been such a trooper, putting up with all manner of hardship and bullshit just because he believes so damn much in TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Hell, he even missed an exam at his university because he agreed to stay in Calabar longer when we had to extend the shooting period..

But now we can feel his depression and homesickness weighing him down like a cannonball around his neck, so we have to send him home to Lagos for the sake of his sanity (plus, we need a little break from his hotel bills, truth be told).

Our second lead, Chinedu, is getting pretty antsy, too. He’s a minor celebrity around Africa, having featured in
a wildly popular reality show and so he’s always jetting off to one corner of the continent or the other, doing promotions and stuff. He flew in from South Africa to shoot with us and even agreed to come back again from an event in Abuja when we didn’t get to finish all his scenes the first time. Just because he believed so damn much in TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.

As it is, he is being sorely underutilized… We’ve been unable to shoot most of his scenes due to various problems that I will get into a bit later. In the end, we decided it was best to just release him too... and hope that his faith in the production is strong enough to make him come to Calabar yet a third time.

In addition, we were breaking down physically: Denis looked like he was near-death with some kind of bronchial infection and I was down with malaria. So, yeah, we probably were not gonna get much shooting done in the next few days so we figured it was okay for me to go to Aba for a little bit of R&R.

…Aaah, who am I kidding? The only reason this trip was approved was because of the certain knowledge that if I go home, I’m gonna come back with money in my pocket. And, um, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, money is some shit we need. Like how a crackhead needs that pipe.

Asking your parents for money can be some majorly emasculating shit, though. Denis doesn’t agree, but me and Koko tell him it’s just because he’s in his early 20s. When you’re that age, you kinda view getting broken off by your folks as a God-given right… The natural order of the universe, in fact.

By the time you’re in your early 30s, though? It’s like a admission of complete failure in life. Your mates are buying luxury automobiles to thank Mom and Dad for putting in all that hard work of raising them right all those years and you’re standing there with your hat out, begging for coins to finish a movie. So-ooo… Where exactly did you go wrong, buddy?

What’s even more humiliating about having to crawl back to the ‘rents is the loss of control. When you’re a kid, you can’t wait to grow up, get a job, make your own money, get your own crib and live by your own rules. The moment you cede financial dependence back to Mommy and Daddy... Well, you might as well just go sit in the backseat, junior. Because you’re not holding the steering wheel of this car called Your Life anymore.

I had been wanting to come home for a few days for a long time now, largely because I’ve felt so guilty about the way I dashed off to Calabar as soon as my feet hit the Nigerian tarmac. My dad “strongly suggested” I come back at some point after I made my last blog entry. Now, I don’t think he reads my blog, so maybe someone who does told him that I sounded seriously depressed. Plus, the driver must have informed him that I was working myself ragged (mainly because he was pissed that I was making him work from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. too). So yes… This “strong suggestion” that I come back and rest for a few days.

“But dad!” I protest. “You don’t rest in the middle of a race! If I take a few days off now, all I’ve struggled for up until this point will be for naught!” (Yes, I really do talk like that)

“Okay,” Dad says. “Why don’t you just come back on Wednesday night, attend the prize-giving ceremony at our school on Thursday morning and then go back on Thursday night?”

“Okay… I can do that. Deal.”

Even then I knew I was in for a bait-and-switch.

You’ve heard that old joke about the Jewish father whose son asks him for sixty dollars and he quickly prattles, “SIXTY dollars? What do you need FIFTY dollars for? Wouldn’t FORTY do? Okay, I’ll give you THIRTY. Here’s TWENTY, give me back TEN.”

Soon as I get home, my father took one look at me with my bloodshot eyes and mangy beard and bags under my eyes so big and dark that Oprah Winfrey is like “Damn, you got some serious bags under your eyes, son!” and he says “So you’re staying till Sunday, right?”

“Ummm… No. We agreed that I’m going back tomorrow, remember?”

“Yes… But the prize-giving will go on until at least 5 or 6 and by then it will be a bit too late to leave to Calabar because the road is bad.”

(This is actually true. In fact, in some places the road is not just bad, it’s straight-up nonexistent. You have to detour through some village path along which gangs of local youth erect bamboo tollgates every ten feet or so and charge you 20 naira to pass through. You can expect to pay more than 200 naira by the time you get to the end of the road.)

“Okay then,” I say. “I’ll stay Thursday night. But I’m outta here first thing Friday morning before you go to Port Harcourt.”

“Oh. Okay.”

He leaves. Comes back a little later.

“So… How much money do you need again?”

Ha! I ain’t gonna tell him that! “Whatever you can give.”

“Hmmm. Okay. But you know I need to go to the bank in Port Harcourt since I’ll be tied up with the prize-giving all Thursday, so you’ll have to come to Port to get the money.”

Curses! “Okay. I’ll come to Port Friday morning, get the money and leave Friday afternoon.”

“Saturday morning.”

“Friday night.”

“We’ll see,” he laughs. “By the way, do you think this is blackmail?”


But all in all, it’s not bad at all being back in Aba. A lot of people think that I really hate it here (and that I have issues with my Igbo-ness in general) but I really don’t. Sure, I sometimes speak contemptuously of the place, but it’s the site of some of my fondest memories. Back in the day, I used to spend every single weekend here, and those were good times indeed. My dissatisfaction with the city only goes back a few years – back to the last time I came back, in 2001 – and it’s mostly aesthetic. The crumbling, dust-coloured architecture and rugged, dusty roads that turn to muddy canals every time it rains… That shit depresses me.

And then there’s the filth… Aba is one of the dirtiest cities in the nation. Now bear in mind that I’m the kind of person who regularly picks up the litter of perfect strangers, who winces in pain when I see someone throw a candy wrapper on the ground instead of a trashcan. Imagine how traumatic it is for me to be in a city where it is not uncommon for 2/3 of a major thoroughfare to be clogged with huge ridges of solid rubbish? And then there’s people lining up with wheelbarrows of more garbage to dump in the street?

Compare that to Calabar, with its clean, paved streets and manicured sidewalks and functional streetlights and yellow “Keep Calabar Clean” wastebaskets every few metres. Is it any surprise I’d feel a bit more comfortable there?

But Aba is not looking too shabby right now, really… The streets are relatively clean (Did the president visit this week or something?) and it’s a cool night… This might not be such a bad trip, after all.

(Except that my dad “strongly suggested” that I shave and since I didn’t have my clippers with me, I had to use a razor… My face is lousy with bumps now)

Fear Not for Man

Yo… It seems my last blog entry got some of y’all a bit worried for me! I appreciate the outpouring of concern, but I’m alright, folks… I’m not depressed (no more than usual, anyway) and I’m not about to off myself or anything. Shoot… If anything, this experience has opened my eyes to levels of inner strength and stick-to-itivity that I never even realized I possessed. Plus, I think I’ve felt generally happier and more at peace this past month and change in Naija than I’ve been in ages and I’m seriously considering at the possibility of relocating here on at least a semi-permanent basis.

Yes, times are kinda hard on the boulevard, but the fact is that this thing has been an uphill battle from Day Zero. We’ve never let it phase us then and we’re not about to start doing so now. I wish I could tell you how many times me, Denis and Koko have been sitting in our room, sharing a single bottle of Fanta, so broke that we couldn’t even afford a phone call or a roll of toilet paper and wondering how the hell we are gonna manage another day of shooting… and someone says “We are gonna laugh so hard at this one day” and someone else says “One day? Dude, we’re laughing right now, aren’t we?”

How many times have we firmly decided “This is the end of the road. We have to stop now. It’s the only sane thing. We must shut down this production immediately”* and the next day, some new miracle emerges that allows us to continue for another few days?

We are gonna finish this movie. And it’s going to be good.

And even if we don’t, I’m gonna make sure I spin something out of this whole experience… I’ll turn it into an African filmmaker version of The Broke Diaries or a book about youth and young manhood or I’ll put out a collection of photographs or something (I’m already thinking of doing a photo essay featuring every man, woman and child I see wearing 50 Cent T-shirts in various Nigerian cities).

My heart melted when I read all the support that you guys offered, though… Believe me, charity usually embarrasses me, but the time for pride is well past.

(In fact, I’m even thinking of emailing that United Children's Fund dude who appeals to white/western guilt to help poor Africans like us. I mean, if a thousand people chip in 70 cents a day for the next week, we’re all good, right?)

Yes, donations are quite welcome, and they mean a lot to us. I don’t want to mention the amount that we need to finish right now, but even though it seems like a lot in African terms, it’s really a bullshit amount in American/European money. So every little bit helps.

If you got a Paypal account, you can send money to If you don’t fuck with Paypal like that, you can email or to make alternate arrangements. Just put “TOO MUCH MONEY!” in the subject line (that phrase is a running joke amongst our crew).

Words can’t express my gratitude… I’ll make it up to you all somehow… Maybe I’ll come to your city and clean your apartment for you or something.

Anyway, I promised that I would return to blogging in full force and I was able to write some stuff over the past couple of days since we’re currently on hiatus, kinda (We’ll be back in business tomorrow, though). I originally made a jumbo-sized bumper post covering the past couple of days, but I’ll break it down into more readable chunks over the next couple of days. I apologize for the intensely navel-gazing, depressive tenor of some of the material… This is what happens to my mind when I have too much free time on my hands.

*Koko would want me to state explicitly that at no point has he ever advocated, cosigned, endorsed or supported the possibility of stopping. Ever.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reports of my demise have been only slightly exaggerated

What a long, strange two and a half weeks it has been since I last posted. We've been shooting all this time, which is a... well, it's a mixed experience. A lot of the stuff we've filmed is really rewarding and I'm quite proud of it. Some of it is utter shite that makes me want to throwing boiling oil into my eyes (but y'all know how I overreact sometimes, especially when it comes to critiquing my own work... Other folks who have seen it think it's just fine. If possible, I'll post up some rough footage and let you be the judge).

The actual process might be the most interesting thing, though... Man, we have had so many adventures through this whole thing - brushes with casual violence, decadence, poverty, gunplay, seduction, pecuniary exploitation, litigation, police scuffles, union bullying, stalking... I'm gonna update you all on it soon. As always, I've been keeping notes and composing entries but I've been way too busy to post them up (Oh yeah, we have literally more than a thousand pictures, which you will see soon).

Usually I don't get a chance to get online at all because we're so busy, but the only reason I'm here right now instead of shooting on set is because I'm basically hiding from the cast and crew right now because I don't know how to tell them that we might have to shut down the production in a few days... Hell, maybe even today.

A number of circumstances - ranging from acts of God to the inherent fucked-upness of Man - have led to us being like a week over schedule, which means over budget, which means broke. Real broke, man... I can barely even piece together a coherent paragraph right now because even my thoughts is broke.

But that's an exciting saga I'll be sharing with you on this page from now on... Provided I can scare up the random change to get online every once in a while.

In any case, thanks for all the positive thoughts and messages... We're gonna keep soldiering on, though right now I can't quite see any way we can realistically do so.

But I am gonna finish this damn movie, yo... Even if it means my guts fizzle and curl up inside me.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sorry I haven't posted an update in a while, fam

We're really getting into gut-check time (as my old drill sergeant used to say) and I haven't even had a chance to check my email in almost a week.

I just managed to escape from our overcrowded production office/bedroom for a few minutes and I bet Denis is wondering where the hell I am right now.

What really sucks is that I've been so caught up in this "production" stuff - finding locations, hiring and negotiating with cast and crew, trying to find equipment after the dipshit rental house decides to stiff us 5 days before we start shooting (oh, I'm preparing some special diss tracks for Cinekraft... believe that) - that I haven't really concentrated on the writer/director side of my brain in what feels like a long, long time. I don't think "creative" thoughts much anymore... All I think about is numbers and columns and schedules and all that.

Maybe I should concentrate on being a cartoonist where I can just control everything with a flick of my pen.

Anyway, I'll try to post some summaries of what's being going on the past week and a half or so... Once things settle down a little bit.

We start shooting in two days. Pray for us.

I gotta get back to the office.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Escape from Lagos

Seriously, that should be the next movie we work on because we've been here for a week and we keep trying to get out of this city, but it won't let us go.

As you might have heard, Lagos is an outrageously crowded and congested city, so it can take all day trying to get from point A to point B. I kinda feel like most of the days that we've spent here have been wasted, production-wise because it takes so long to get anything done. And really, we came here to take care of just 3 things 1) check up on the place we're renting the lights and stuff from 2) sign contracts with 2 of our leads 3) ummmm.... something else I can't remember, but I'm sure we've already done it

Oh yeah, we also had to help Koko move house. That was exhausting, but now we're in the new crib that has these incredible candy-coloured walls, I wish we would shoot there because they look so cool!

We were supposed to have left on... Wednesday, but everytime we're about to get to the airport, some new crisis pops up and drags us back into the bowels of Lagos. Today, the tragedy we managed to avert was the defection of our star who was being courted for other jobs and needed to be reassured that we weren't gonna leave him hanging. We missed our flight again tonight, so we decided to just come chill out in the mall and get online real quick.

I don't have too much to say at the moment (actually, I have much too much to say but I don't even know where to start right now!) so I'll just post up a random photo essay.


Um... On second thought, I'll post the pics later 'cause this network is acting all slow-like right now and your boy is coming dangerously close to flat broke.

Escape from Lagos

Seriously, that should be the next movie we work on because we've been here for a week and we keep trying to get out of this city, but it won't let us go.

As you might have heard, Lagos is an outrageously crowded and congested city, so it can take all day trying to get from point A to point B. I kinda feel like most of the days that we've spent here have been wasted, production-wise because it takes so long to get anything done. And really, we came here to take care of just 3 things 1) check up on the place we're renting the lights and stuff from 2) sign contracts with 2 of our leads 3) ummmm.... something else I can't remember, but I'm sure we've already done it

Oh yeah, we also had to help Koko move house. That was exhausting, but now we're in the new crib that has these incredible candy-coloured walls, I wish we would shoot there because they look so cool!

We were supposed to have left on... Wednesday, but everytime we're about to get to the airport, some new crisis pops up and drags us back into the bowels of Lagos. Today, the tragedy we managed to avert was the defection of our star who was being courted for other jobs and needed to be reassured that we weren't gonna leave him hanging. We missed our flight again tonight, so we decided to just come chill out in the mall and get online real quick.

I don't have too much to say at the moment (actually, I have much too much to say but I don't even know where to start right now!) so I'll just post up a random photo essay.


Um... On second thought, I'll post the pics later 'cause this network is acting all slow-like right now and your boy is coming dangerously close to flat broke.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Casting impressions

First off: As a writer, you sometimes find yourself cringing when you hear your work being read aloud. These are words forged within the private recesses of your mind, and having them dragged out and given life in the material world can be both exhilarating and somewhat embarrassing. All of a sudden, all the imperfections of the work are thrown into stark relief…It’s kinda like finding yourself naked in a roomful of strangers.

So sitting through 3 hours of videotaped auditions of actors reading the same passage of my script over and over and over again…. God, I wanted to dig a hole and climb in. It was particularly painful when they butchered the words, but even more so when they all stumbled over the same areas, illustrating to me that those portions just didn’t work in general.

But I’m glad to say that most of the actors were really, really good. When did everybody in Calabar become a thespian anyway? Back in the day, acting (along with music and other branches of the entertainment field in general) was the province of dropouts, thugs, and other people too stupid or antisocial to get a real job in the mainstream of Nigerian society.

Now the story we keep hearing over and over again is “I just graduated with a degree in Engineering/I’m studying Law/I’m in school for Marine Biology/I’m in Med school but what I really want to do is act, and I can’t see myself doing anything else.” And they really mean it, too… Some of the young ladies have been particularly insistent: “I’ll do anything to be in a movie,” they say. “Anything.” And then they give you that look so you know that they really mean “anything.”

Don’t worry, though… Your boy is way too professional, paranoid and ridden with massive levels of residual Judeo-Christian guilt to ever take advantage of such overtures* and that’s a good thing because (allegedly) the casting couch is such a prevalent feature of the industry that folks have been pretty impressed that we’re not even interested in none of that mess.

All in all, I think a lot of people have been impressed with our general sense of professionalism, precision and… Well, the fact that we’re not dicks because a lot of other producers are (well, we’re not dicks yet, anyway). It’s odd when actors shake us with both hands and bow to us and call us “sir,” though. Stuff like that really embarrasses us all. We’re like “Nah, cut that ‘sir’ shit… This is Denis, this is Koko, this is Nana” (yeah, I’ve reverted back to the name of my youth, mostly to avoid confusion with Koko’s wife Uchenna).

But we’ve got some really, really great players…. And some of the best ones we got almost completely by chance! I’ll talk more about that a little later.

Ummm… I’ll talk about the clashes we had with the union later, too

* Okay, I’ll admit it… On two separate occasions later in the week I ended up calling actresses who had auditioned for us. Calling them socially, I mean.

It was completely innocent, of course: Platonic company for some dinner and/or drinks after a long, hot day of producing in the field, and in both cases it was actresses whom I’d already committed to hiring so it’s not as if them getting the job was going to be influenced by them going out with me either way. Furthermore, neither one of them was even able to accept my invitation due to prior commitments so nothing ended up happening anyway.

Still, it made me feel like a massive sleaze and I don’t think I’ll be doing it again in the near future.

Sunday June 11, 2006

Where ya receipt?

Expect to hear this a million times if you dare to travel by road in Nigeria (particularly in Abia State) with a car full of baggage. The police checkpoint has long been a regular feature of life in Nigeria, but it’s starting to get ri-goddam-diculous © Casey Kasem

There’s machinegun-toting cops at checkpoints literally every few metres down the road and you get stopped at every single one of them if you’re vehicle looks “suspicious” (ie you got a lot of stuff in it, like I do right now) so they can ask you who you are, where you’re coming from, where you’re going and where you got all the stuff in your car.

“Where ya receipt?”

Basically, this is a euphemism for “If we decided to steal all this shit from you, would you be able to prove that you ever had it in the first place?”

I actually got my first taste of this when the Customs guys at the airport were giving me their routine rousting. They asked me to provide a receipt for technically the least valuable of my packages: the big U-Haul box I had gotten to carry some long gels and homemade reflectors and a few other random stuff I had pulled out of the other suitcases to bring their weight down. Of course they targeted that piece over the other suitcases containing thousands of dollars of equipment because they love anything in a cardboard box: DVD players, sound systems, VCRs, stuff like that.

How predictable.

Anyway, I told them that if I wanted to seize a box full of underwear and mouthwash, they could be my guest (and I’m gonna let you believe that I actually had the balls to speak to them that way rather than bowing and scraping and calling them “sir” as I pleaded that there was nothing of value in there).

So I take all my receipts with me when I hit the road. Unfortunately, I don’t have the receipt for the Nikon D70 digital camera hanging on my arm, so I fish in my pocket and pull out a receipt from Shaw’s Supermarket for some bananas, soy milk and shoelaces I bought two days before I left. The fact that the cops just glance at the receipt and let me pass is testament to how much they really don’t give a shit.

Armed robbery is quite a problem in this part of the country these days, so I almost wouldn’t mind all this harassment if I thought that it helped deter crime to any degree. But it really doesn’t… Because I know that even if this car had a trunk strapped to the roof with the crown jewels of Monaco and a dead hooker’s legs sticking out the side, all they’d ask me is “Where ya receipt?” and I’d say “Here…. Here is my receipt”

and they’d let me through and God speed me.

Welcome to Canaan City

Or “Calabar,” as the Portuguese called it. Or "my adopted hometown," as I call it. Whenever I come here it’s like I never left. Every street holds a memory for me… I think this might be my favourite place in the world but it’s vaguely sad for me too, though: to paraphrase The Specials, this town is kinda like a ghost town for me. Because while the city itself remains familiar, the people are not. Everybody I know seems to be gone, replaced by a whole new group of folks who barely even remember my “class.” Still, it’s great being here: it’s clean, cool, progressive… The land of milk and honey.

As we approach Koko’s house (my dad has insisted that I be accompanied by the driver), I spot Denis walking up the street to the store. He seems a bit dazed and out of it and is slow to recognize me. Ah, it’s early yet and he probably hasn’t had his coffee. Koko’s not around, either. I’m sweating like a whore in church and guzzling bottled water like a camel.

Once Koko arrives, we get right down to business watching the audition tapes. They’re actually pretty good.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

FRANKFURT The Germans are really nice people. I mean, really, really, really nice. And not in a phony way, either.

So why does the sound of their language frighten me?

In the past few hours I’ve sat through two in-flight movies: Failure to Launch and The Pink Panther. I want to stick pencils into my own eyes, true story.

Welcome to Nigeria

It’s overcast when the plane touches down in Port Harcourt… Well, actually it just looks overcast from the sky. By the time I hit the ground I realize it is righteously raining buckets. Port Harcourt is one of those airports where the passengers dismount on the tarmac and walk through the open air into the airport, so the heavy rain constitutes something of a problem as the airport officials scramble to assemble a chain of umbrellas to get us off the plane while we are backed up at the plane doors for like 15-20 minutes, impatiently waiting to get off.

Welcome to Nigeria.

In pretty short order, the passengers get into one of the favourite Nigerian pastimes: trading quips about how effed up Nigeria is (by the way, did you notice that I just spelled “favorite” with a “u”?).

One of the passengers even turned to the plane’s pilot (a white guy) and said “A beg o… Make una come colonize us again.”

Now, of course the pilot was German rather than British so it’s not like he or his people could necessarily come and colonize us “again,” but the point was pretty clear: There is a tacit (and sometimes even very vocal) perception that when the Europeans held the reins in Africa they exploited us and siphoned our resources, but at least under their stewardship, Africa worked as a modern society.

This idea has always irritated me a little bit, even when expressed in jest.

Still, it’s good to be home. One of the first things that really impressed me upon hitting Nigerian soil was the surfeit of shapely, sexy women. There’s something about the… carriage of Nigerian women that is so proud and regal… even orange sellers on the side of the street look like princesses. But I think the curves that I was even more happy to see were those of all the Peugeot 504s in the streets.

But before I saw any of that I would have to get through Customs.

As I walked into the airport, I was immediately shunted into the “expatriates” line. The guy behind the desk took one look at the Igbo name on my American passport and scolded me for making things harder for myself by not using my Nigerian passport and allowing myself to be treated as a foreigner in my own country. I tried to offer a perfunctory explanation about the passport issue but he had already started rapping to me a mile a minute in Igbo.

This kinda raised a red flag in my mind because I knew his switch to vernacular communication was his way of indicating to me that he was “my brother,” being of the same ethnic origin, and hence he was going to “take care” of me. But since I was “his brother” he would also expect me to “take care” of him. If you know what I mean.

And yes, he did “take care” of me if your concept of being “taken care of” involves some dude standing behind you barking useless instructions in Igbo while you scrambled back and forth through a mad crowd trying to retrieve your six luggage items.

I don’t know how many of y’all have ever deplaned in a small, “Third world” airport… The experience is pretty much the same whether it’s in Port Harcourt, Nassau or Kingston: The oppressive humidity, the massive press of bodies, the overzealous security paradoxically coupled with an almost complete absence of order, the seeming multitudes of people outside the airport building chattering and yelling, trying to get the attention of their people in the airport, or trying to sell stuff, or steal stuff, or just general hustle jetlagged flyers. Add to all that the pouring rain, and I was pretty damn shell-shocked.

I managed to get all my luggage and two porters to wheel the stuff behind me as I fought my way through the almshouse. “My brother” comes to me and reminds me that he’s going to “take care” of me, and I have to admit that this time he actually delivered. He went to the mean-looking “I-wear-sunglasses-inside-the-building-at-night” cadre of Customs officers and told them to go easy on me because I’m his brother. They let me through with only token harassment after “my brother” told them that I was going to “take care” of them all.

By this time I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to spot my dad in the crowd (though I was a bit taken aback by how much older and smaller he looked). I started to tell him about “my brother” but it turns out that I didn’t have to, since “my brother” had followed me outside anyway and was already regaling my father with accounts of how well he had taken care of me.

Dad pointed me to get to the car with the driver while he discussed with “my brother” how he would be taken care of in gratitude for taking care of me. For some reason, the driver had parked the car directly under one of the water gutters on the roof of the building, so it was a bit like standing under Niagara Falls I as I struggled to jam all my stuff into the vehicle.

The porters were getting soaked too, and they wanted to be paid so they could get out of the rain. It’s often hard for me to gauge how much to pay people for minor services like this because labour is really cheap in this country… I mean, almost inhumanly cheap by American standards. Like, before I left the States, my mom told me to tip the porters at the airport N50 each. Of course, my mom is also notoriously cheap and it just seemed weird to me to pay grown-ass men who bust their asses what amounts to less than 50 cents apiece.

Anyway, I didn’t have any Nigerian currency to pay them with and my dad was still talking with “my brother.” I fished into my pocket to see what I had for American money: a ten and two George Washingtons. I gave each of them one dollar. They looked at me like I had just announced that I had slept with their mom and she was a lousy lay to boot. “ONE DOLLAR?” one of them cried out in shock. The other one almost gave the money back to me and started walking off in disgust.

“Na all I dey hold o” I explained.

“Why don’t you give us that ten dollars to share?”

“Ummm… Because five dollars each is a pretty big tip even in America. Okay, let’s wait for my dad to come back and he’ll pay you.”

So we wait. And wait. And wait.

And get wetter. And wetter. And wetter.

Finally, I just relented and gave the guys the ten… Whatever, I just wanted to get out into the car out of the rain. I know I probably had a few more singles in my wallet, but frankly I didn’t feel too comfortable pulling out my wallet in the middle of that mayhem.

When my dad finally came back, he asked me where the porters went. I told him I paid them and they left.

“How much did you pay them?” he asked.

I told him.

“ARE YOU CRAZY? I just gave those Customs officers 2000 naira to share!” (That’s less than 20 dollars, yo)

“Oh well. Whatever. I just want to get out here. Can we leave, please?”

Welcome to Nigeria.

Hurry up and Wait

It took like 3 hours to get to the house because of the traffic. Usually this trip would be 25 minutes tops, but the rain has caused the already messed-up road to become completely un-navigable in anything short of a rowboat. Good thing I didn’t try to go straight to Calabar, but what this means is that we won’t be able to go to Aba tonight. Which means that we have to go tomorrow morning. Which means that I’ll get to Calabar even later than I thought I would. I call the guys to tell them and they’re pretty cool about it. They say they’re reviewing the tapes from the day’s casting call and they’re looking pretty good. Great… I can’t wait to see them.

I fall asleep in the midst of mud and heavy petrol fumes and I have a weird dream about Europeans re-colonizing Africa and fixing this damn road.

When we finally get to the crib, I have some dinner and watch (half of) a Nigerian movie called Free Giver starring Zack Orji and Genevive Nnaji and directed by Tchidi Chikere. Only reason I’m mentioning this is because this film had probably the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in a Nigerian movie. I’m not saying it was Gordon Willis or anything but there was a degree of “modeling” in this use of light and shade that is rare in Nollywood and it was clear that a good deal of attention was paid to the placement of colour on the screen, the careful application of depth of field and creative camera angles. Props to director of photography John Osemeka… I was quite impressed and inspired.

The reason I only watched half the movie? You guessed it: NEPA (the Nigerian Electric Power Authority, or as they are more popularly known “Never Expect Power Always”) did what NEPA do.

Welcome to Nigeria.

I repacked in the dark and tried (in vain) to get some sleep in preparation for the 6 am trip to Aba the next morning.

Y'see.... This whole thing is kinda like hills and valleys

On some days we are SO high that we could reach up and give a pound to God because we KNOW we are gonna be mega-successful with this project because everything is SO in sync and all these serendipitous miracles present themselves and show us that the Universe itself has decreed that TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN is totally gonna be The Schitt

...and then there are days when it seems like the gods themselves have conspired against us and have marshaled their vast powers to ensure that we fail on every level.

Guess what kinda day today has been? (Not to mention yesterday and the day before?)

Right now, I'm sitting in a mall sipping pineapple juice and listening to a string version of "Light My Fire"... One of the security guards who searched our bags as we came in cordially greeted Denis as "nigger" and that made me chuckle for a second, but that might have been the only jollity in my day so far... Man, John Wayne forgive me, but I almost wanted to sit down and cry this afternoon on account of all the hiccups and humiliations we've sufferred lately.

But on the real, reading you guys' encouraging comments on this blog made me feel a LOT better in a matter of seconds... I really appreciate all the support.

I probably won't have enough time to make that super-post I promised right now, but I'll drop a few entries chronicling my first couple of days (there's much more to come... believe me: I haven't even got to the GOOD part yet!)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

*rears ugly head*

What's up, family!

Sorry I haven't checked in the past few days, but I have been hella busy! I really had to hit the ground running... No sooner than I had landed, we were on the road working from sunup to... well, almost sunup dealing with endless auditions, location scouting, costumes, all kinds of stuff. Right now me and Denis are just stealing an hour in a nearby cybercafe to see how much the world is passing us by!

I have, however, been composing blog entries every single day... JUst haven't had the chance to post them. I'll probably just make a super-entry in a day or two delivering a blow-by-blow of the past 5 days (with photos included).

One thing I'll tell you for now, though: This filmmaking stuff is an emotional rollercoaster... But I LOVE it.

Friday, June 09, 2006

En route to Frankfurt...

I'm typing this from the air... I've never been online on a plane before; to be honest, I never completely knew that you could even do this (the wonders of the white man's magic will never cease!)

I'm much more at ease now that I'm actually on my way. This morning I thought that my head was going to explode... The check-in process was pretty hellish, but I was able to re-distribute the weight of my baggage so that I ended up checking in 4 pieces with a total weight of around 280 lbs (I had to pay $420 in excess baggage charges) and carrying on 2. I got held up at security for a bit of a long time because I guess some of the stuff in my equipment bag (lenses, microphone mixer, boom mic, etc.) looked kinda suspicious. I guess it didn't help that I had bundled them up in bubble wrap and duct tape for safety's sake!

Anyway, I get to Port Harcourt, Nigeria at 3:55 pm tomorrow (or is that today? shit... I already got my time zones mixed up). Denis wants me to come to Calabar directly from the airport: since I'm already missing the morning casting call, he thinks it's best that I watch the tapes of the auditions tonight (tomorrow night?) so we can do callbacks tomorrow (or is that the day after.... ah, whatever!)

I can't do it, though. Apart from the fact that Port Harcourt is like 4 hours away from Calabar and it's not a road you wanna be driving at night (especially carrying the amount of booty I am), I have to go see my family first. I mean, it's already bad enough that I'm barely resting my head at home before I'm zipping off to be Mr. Movie Man... if I went straight to Calabar without going home first, I don't think my grandmother would forgive me.

See, now that I'm head ing back to Africa I need to remember how important respect and decorum are in our culture. I got a pretty hardcore reminder of that when I went to the Nigerian consulate the other day (ha! like how I tied it back into that story?) and the guy at the front desk was giving me grief because I didn't pay him what he felt was adequate (ie grovelling and calling him "sir"). Dude, you're a fucking receptionist. But alas, he was a receptionist who had the power to make me wait and wait and wait at his discretion before he let me in to see the lady who was going to hook my visa up.

When I finally got in to see said lady, I pissed her off almost immediately when she asked me for my passport and visa application form and I handed them to her with my left hand.


"err.... I don't really use it much, because I dislocated it in the army and it has the tendency to...."

"So if your arm is dislocated, why do you have that big backpack hanging from it?"

"Well, uh... It's not affected by downward pressure. But if I extend it..."

"I am an Igbo woman! It's extremely disrespectful to give me something with the left hand!"

*she tosses the passport back at me; grovelling ensues*

Eventually, she got over it and decided to help me even though I'm an uncouth scallywag. Then I made the mistake of answering "Yeah" to one of her questions rather than "Yes, madam" or "Yes, Auntie."

Hooooo-boy, if looks could kill, the one she shot me would have me looking like al-Zarqawi.

"You didn't grow up at home, did you?" she asked.

"Yes, auntie... I did. But I've been away for a while." (this is me hoping she'll overlook my bad manners on account of my sojourn amongst American savages)

"You grew up in London?" she asks.

"No, auntie. I've visited England but I've never lived there."

"So why do you have a British accent?"

"I do?"


(Actually, I've been getting that a lot lately... Most recently from the Danish dude sitting next to me on the plane right now. Dunno what that's about... Maybe it's because I talk real "proper"-like)

"No, auntie... I didn't grow up in England."

"Yes, you did! You must have! Why do you talk like that?"

(By this point she's getting agitated, believing that in addition to having horrible manners I'm also a liar. I decided to defuse the situation and do what I gotta do to make her stamp my passport.)

"Well... Yes, I did spend a little time in London. A few years."

She smiles broadly. "Eh-henh! I thought so! You think I don't know what I'm talking about."

*passport gets stamped*

Anyway, it's good to have all of that trouble out of the way... The extra two days I got from missing my flight on Wednesday gave me the chance to take care of some business I didn't get around to before - opening a "business" account, getting to the comic store and picking up my pulls from the past two weeks... Plus, Thursday's payday so I got a nice cash injection that allowed me to cop a few extra things we need, including makeup (my girl Sha gave me some great tips... I just noticed that she commented on my last post, so if you're reading this, Sha, thanks a mil!)

Oh yeah... Speaking of which. To my fellas who mess with attractive, well-groomed women and who want to continue messing with attractive, well-groomed women: don't be complaining about how much she spends on makeup and getting her hair did. Because brother, that shit ain't cheap! I mean, I always knew that, but I musta spent $100 and walked out with only a handful of items! (And I have mighty small hands too!)

I just realized that I forgot my favorite cowboy hat behind! Damn.... I guess the spirit of John Wayne isn't gonna be following me to Africa. It's all for the best, I suppose: he hated negroes.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Blogging live from Nigeria!!!


(Actually, I might as well be blogging from 1990, saying "not!" like that. Shit wasn't even funny in the first Bill and Ted.)

As you may already be aware if you read the Bongo blog, I missed my flight. And taking a cue from good ol' Mr. Pilatus and Mr. Morvan, I blame it on the rain.

Most of Massachusetts was on a heavy flood warning yesterday, and when I went out in the morning to run a few errands I almost drowned just walking up the street. Of course this horrid weather had a significant effect on the traffic situation... I actually got to the airport really early, but my luggage didn't (I had like SEVEN huge bags - even with the airline charging a $160 excess luggage tax per each extra bag over two, it still works out cheaper than it would have cost me to send the same amount through a shipping company). With my stuff stuck in traffic, I had to abort my check-in and try to reschedule.

They tried to put me on another flight, but that one was going to Lagos rather than Port Harcourt. No good. Then they came up with another one going to Abuja. Even more no good. The next best thing was a flight to Port Harcourt on Friday. Which means I would arrive on Saturday afternoon.

Did I mention that we have a big casting call in Calabar on Saturday morning?

Actually, by this time I wasn't even sweating it at all... I felt strangely calm, in fact. The only thing that worried me a bit was the fact that I knew Bongo and Koko (and especially Koko) would probably curse my anus to be infested with the flies of a thousand camels. (They were pretty cool about it, though.)

When I got home, I just crashed into a sleep that was deeper and sounder than I had had in a week (and for a whole THREE HOURS too!). The past couple of days had been particularly hectic.

Monday was a bad day... Trying to pack all the shit I need to carry was really getting me down and I found myself wanting to rend my garments, tear my skin and flesh open and let my soul fly free across the countryside. "Why the fuck am I DOING this?" I asked myself over and over again.

Later, I chatted with Bongo. (It's always a pick-me-up when me and the Congoman talk about film and he goes on about Claude Lelouch's approach to framing shots and how he prefers the term montage to "editing" and why he likes to sit in the first three rows at the movies and I talk about my love of deep focus and my dislike of Le plan américain how the introduction of sound forever ruined the potential development of a unique cinematic language and we manage to find common ground in our mutual love of contemporary Korean and Thai films. It's at times like that that I remember why the fuck we're doing this - because we love this shit; we live this shit.)

We were talking about getting Bongo's applying early for Bongo's US visa so we can work on post-production together when it suddenly hit me: I hadn't applied for a visa myself. I hadn't applied for a Nigerian visa.

Y'see... I'm Nigerian, yeah. I grew up there and everything. But I was born in the States and I have a US passport. I've never had a Nigerian passport (I tried to get one twice over the past five years - once through my dad and once through Koko. I sent my passport pics and everything. But it seems like both times the process broke down at some point.) So while I'm busy getting all excited about "going home," the fact is that technically I am a foreigner at "home" and thus, I need a visa.*

It takes 3-5 days for the Nigerian Consulate to approve a visa application.

This was on Monday night.

I was getting on the plane Wednesday afternoon.

In short, i was screwed. Visions of me not being able to get into the country danced through my head... All this work we've put into this thing... All for nothing, because once again I got so caught up in trying to make this thing happen that I forgot about a few basic administrative tasks.

To be fair, I think I subconsciously minimized the importance of the visa in my head because last time I went "home" in 2001 I called the consulate for a visa and they asked me "Are you a Nigerian?"

"Umm... Yes," I replied. "I mean, I am a US citizen but I'm a Nigerian. I don't have a Nigerian pass..."


"I'm an American citizen."

"Okay, you need to get a visa. Send us $100 and your passport to be stamped. What's your name?"

"Uchenna Chi..."

"Oh, so you ARE a Nigerian? Why didn't you just say so? Are you sure you want to bother getting a visa?"

They kinda acted like it was no big deal... As long as you look and sound Nigerian, it was all gravy. Plus, if I got harassed by customs once I got into Nigeria, it's pretty easy to "make nice" with them, if you know what I mean. But what if I got quizzed about my visa by the sticklers in Frankfurt (Germans!)?

I was screwed.

But, Allah wakbar, my mom knows someone who knows someone who's married to someone at the consulate, and they said they could approve my visa on the spot so long as I got my ass to the consulate.

Like I said: this was Monday night.

My flight was Wednesday afternoon.

The passport & visa section of the consulate is only open from 9 am - 1 pm.

6:05 a.m. Tuesday morning, I was on the first Amtrak to the Big Apple.

I don't like too-long blog entries so I'll stop here, get some dinner and finish the story later.

*I'm gonna ruin the suspense here by noting straight up that this little yarn does end with me getting all my papers squared away, including my passport. So if you're a hater and you're planning to snitch me out to the authorities, nyah nyah nyah, you're too late, beeyotch!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ugh, I am so damn slow sometimes

As I've told you guys before, I spend a lot of time working on what I call "creative solutions to tactical problems." One of the most persistent of these problems up to this point has been gunfire.

TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN does have some gunplay (to be honest, a little bit more of it than I had originally intended) and I've been cranking my brains for weeks trying to figure out how to shoot it. You see, there are three items that are almost essential to shooting a gunplay scene that is compelling and convincing by early 21st century standards:

1. blank bullets
2. the special guns used to fire blanks (you could use real guns if you wanted, but they often jam when loaded with blanks)
3. squibs (the small explosive devices that are attached to actors' bodies and blow up to simulate bullet hits)

We don't have access to any of these things. They're hard to get ahold of in Nigeria... If you've seen Nollywood flicks, you'll notice that the guns obviously never really fire during action scenes. Someone points a gun and the only thing indication you get that it's been fired is the small, tinny crack sound effect that sounds like a cap gun and then cut to the shot person falling down with ketchup on the front of his shirt. And even in the States it's not exactly as if you can just walk into Wal-Mart and buy boxes full of squibs and blanks (You can. of course, buy a high-powered crossbow there). And even if I could buy them, how the hell do I transport them? It's not like I can carry a load of low-impact explosives onto the plane... Not in today's America. Also, you can get seriously hurt messing around with these things, so you never want to employ them without a certified professional on set monitoring the proceedings.

We ain't got access to no certified professional. So what do we do?

The first part of the solution was to create non-explosive squibs that are powered by compressed air rather than by volatile chemical substances.

The second part of the solution was to design a series of shots that - when combined with persuasive sound effects - effectively create the illusion of guns being fired without ever directly showing it (I haven't been able to shoot any test footage to gauge exactly how effective these shots will be on screen, but they sure do work on the storyboards).

The remaining problem was the fact that there's only so many times you can cut away from the gunshot without it starting to look cheesy. Sooner or later you are going to have to at least show a muzzle flash and direct shots (if not the actual bullet paths, as has become common post-Matrix).

I've toyed with so many ideas... From rigging gun blasts using consumer fireworks to simulating muzzle flash with a camera flash(!) but it just hit me this afternoon: Why not just animate them in post-production with After Effects?

DUH! It's so friggin' obvious I'm embarrassed I never thought about it... Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that most Hollywood and even HK films do it that way these days anyway.

Yeah, I feel really stupid now. What can I say? I'm not a self-taught filmmaker... I'm a self-teaching filmmaker, and everyday is a school day.

(Again, I wonder whether it's right for me to be making posts like this because it draws attention to the limitations of our production. I would prefer for you all to watch the film for yourselves without having to think about how these effects and illusions were achieved, but these are the processes that go into making a film like this.)

Otherwise, today was fairly productive. I had an interesting chat with my assistant Robbie (yeah, I do kinda have an assistant) about costumes and she gave me some notes on how to tighten up a certain aspect of the script. I liked her ideas, but I'm a bit scared to implement them because Denis is likely to manually eviscerate me if I even try to rewrite the script again. In any case, Robbie's idea doesn't require actual rewriting... Just re-ordering of a few scenes.

I bought a bunch of supplies today, including two big suitcases, so I can finally start packing. I realized that I have almost no clothes, especially clothes suited to a tropical climate. I very well might travel without any clothes because all the other shit I need to carry is taking up all the space. I'm supposed to ship some of it separately and I'm trying to get that done on Monday, but frankly, shipping ain't cheap and my money is running low. I'm thinking I might be better off just loading it into my checked baggage and paying the excess baggage charges. The issue now is how to pack this stuff without it all breaking into pieces... Especially the bulbs I need to carry.

(Remind me later to talk about how never to use 500W photo floods in light fixtures that were not designed to support them... I learned the hard way that they catch fire)

Mostly, I found myself making decisions about which areas to which I should channel the little available funds I have left: Do I invest in more lights? Should I use the money to ship the stuff I've already got? Do I get a new hard drive for my laptop so I can upload footage faster? Maybe I should upgrade my eyeglasses prescription (which I haven't done in, like, two years) so that I can be sure that I'm actually seeing the picture on the screen properly?

Ultimately, I'm kinda satisfied with most of the decisions I made today, but I'm still a bit frustrated because I feel like my opinions and concerns are not being taken seriously and my attempts to find solutions to these challenges by, you know, talking about them are being dismissed as whining.

But hey, that's life.