Editi Effiong is the visionary behind Anakle Films, a leading movie production company in Nigeria. He is renowned for cinematic gems like ‘Set Up’, ‘Up North’, and ‘Fishbone’. He has become a luminary in the industry and has received several accolades for his craft. In this interview with TheCable Lifestyle’s VICTORY ORIMEMI, Effiong talks about how he has managed to navigate tech, advertising, and film. He also sheds light on his collaboration with Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD) and the impactful role society must play in advocating for change.
TheCable Lifestyle: Can you tell us more about your journey from being a former code writer to a writer, storyteller, and filmmaker? What inspired this transition?
Editi Effiong: There was never a transition. I started early in my life and never stopped writing. Obviously, when I tell people that the skill that prepared me most as a director is that I was a programmer, people wonder why. It is simply because, as a code writer like I used to be, you have to carry big chunks of information in your head all at once and be able to retrieve them in bits at any given time. I would know where every line of code, dependency, variable, and concept is in a big chunk. I will know where every image is in a folder and be very organised. Being a director, you have to know where the story is and carry every bit of it in your head. You have to be able to understand how every small change in the script affects everything. People might think that advertising prepared me the most before becoming a director, but no, it’s not. It is programming. I did not transition; I just assigned more time to all these other things I loved. Because I love writing code, I am still in the tech business. I am still advising startups, mostly in an advisory position now. So, I describe myself as an entrepreneur working in technology, advertising, and film.
TheCable Lifestyle: You have produced notable movies like ‘Up North’, ‘Day of Destiny’, and ‘Set Up’. Can you share some insights into your experiences working on these projects?
Editi Effiong: I think ‘Up North’ was my first film, and it opened the door. With ‘Up North’, it did make a mark on the kind of projects I wanted to be involved in in the future. We put a lot of work into ensuring that ‘Up North’ was a film that we would be proud of for a very long time. You know, I think that was the standard that we were going to be held to. Although I want to think that with ‘The Black Book’, we really upped the ante.
TheCable Lifestyle: As the owner of Anakle, a digital marketing agency, and now a filmmaker, how do you balance these two roles, and do they influence each other in any way?
Editi Effiong: I mean, yes, production at the agency has actually improved by us doing film. We can do things faster. Like, of course, I am not the kind of leader who is like a general over everyone. Anakle is led by a group of leaders and has always been. I am no longer running the day-to-day operations of the agency. I have never been a good administrative leader, so I always had great administrators around me and great thinkers around me. We are almost at that point where these guys are running the company exclusively. I am just a guy whose head gets plugged into strategy, who does a couple of things here and there, and who is not the leader of the agency anymore.
TheCable Lifestyle: Your movie, ‘The Black Book’, explores Nigeria’s history of military dictatorship, drug trafficking, and politics. What drew you to this subject matter, and what message do you hope to convey through the film?
Editi Effiong: I think it is a thing I would like people to watch the film to see. I think that the past influences the future; it is obviously a work of fiction but heavily influenced by “Nigerianness”. The story is within Nigerian history, legends that we grew up hearing. For example, if you have grown up in Nigeria, you must have heard the story of Anini and stuff like that. So how do those stories influence today? I think the film itself explains why the decisions in the 80s and 90s affect today. It is history seen through the eyes of these characters and how the past influences how they behave, and how people are today. I see that ‘The Black Book’ is a fictional story that connects the forgotten paths to the ruthless present. We have been fed a lot of very simple storytelling techniques, and we have not created heroes. Nigeria is a society that does not often produce heroes, and so we have created a story where we think we do not have heroes. In the story, some people are worse than others, but what I think is the enduring lesson I would like to have come up in the story is that in a society where laws are often not regarded, where justice is hard to procure for ordinary people, we must all be committed to not be the people of silence because silence is the enemy of that growth. Silence is the enemy of where we are trying to get to.
TheCable Lifestyle: ‘The Black Book’ has been described as Nigeria’s biggest-budget film to date. Can you elaborate on the challenges and creative opportunities that come with such a large-scale production?
Editi Effiong: Being the biggest film almost has nothing to do with budget; it has a lot to do with all the production. But yes, a million dollars in a film, from a Nigerian point of view, is not small. I always think that for our stories to receive global acclaim, we have to tell better stories. We have told great stories, but there have to be higher standards for stories, for picture quality, for production design, for cinematography; we have to keep pushing the envelope. Creating a great story requires bedding, and allowing the story to cook, and that is patience—it is money that pays for that patience, it is money that pays for the great crew, it is money that pays for the time spent in post-production, and it is money that allows you time to create great music and license music. We have licensed music from Fela, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, Jesse Jagz, and Burna Boy, and it is money that allows you to do that. So, I am thinking that if that product succeeds, it does not succeed for itself, it is not just a success for the director or producer, it is a success for the industry. In the last couple of weeks, I have been filled with questions in interviews, and I have helped a DFI restructure its fund for Africa simply because I posted that list of EPs. They realised if all these tech guys were involved in producing a film, then maybe I should be involved too, and that is what I always wanted. I wanted everybody to come in.
TheCable Lifestyle: The film features a stellar cast, including RMD, Alex Usifo, Sam Dede, and others. How was the experience of working with these talented actors, and what did they bring to their respective roles?
Editi Effiong: Oh, I do think that as a first-time director, it was a privilege to have this many veterans come onto a project on the merit of the story. They were like, ”This is a great story, we want to do it”, and working with veterans actually really helped me. You know, there are things you thought you knew, and you walk onto set, and you talk with the actor, and the actor says, ”Hmm, how about I do it this way?” The actor does it that way, and you are like, ”Okay, great, this is what I really want, but you can add your twist to it.” And it is all those little tweaks, all those little additions that make a story go from good to great. So working with people who already know that stuff is really helpful. I have heard them call me a crazy person, a lot actually. And to have won the respect of these veterans, I know it is a real privilege. So every once in a while, you want a crazy, crazy view, you know, to come sit with veterans and legends and tell a story, and it does well. But it has been a privilege working with them. Everyone brought their ‘A’ game; everyone brought something different. RMD, for example, gosh! He was on that project for 13 months, and he worked every day. He was so committed to it. I do not know why he was so committed, though. Some days he carried me, and I cannot be grateful enough for the older actors, for the new actors, for everyone who inspired each other. We all inspired each other to do this film. I am so grateful.
TheCable Lifestyle: So you have spoken extensively about how these actors brought their A-game because they really believed in the project? Was there any actor who gave you a hard time on set?
Editi Effiong: Um, I think that there is no film in the world where you did not have an actor give stress, but did we make the film that we wanted to make? Is the film the picture that we wanted to create? Yes, I think so. And so if that is the case, then everything that happened on set brings us to this moment. And so I would rather focus on all the things that went really well and the brilliant film that we made. I would also like to take this moment to acknowledge one of our crew, like our production designer, Pat Nebo, who we unfortunately lost a few days ago. Everything you see in a film that is not a human being is production design. And what you are going to see in ‘The Black Book’ is production design excellence, and we owe that to Pat Nebo. I hope that everyone who sees the film sees the incredible work that he did. It is a privilege to have had Pat Nebo, an absolute privilege, and I really do wish he had seen the film.
TheCable Lifestyle: I am so sorry. May his soul rest in peace.
Editi Effiong: Yeah
TheCable Lifestyle: As a filmmaker, how do you approach storytelling and directing to create impactful narratives?
Editi Effiong: This is a question I do not know how to answer because every story is different, and every project is different. The way we approached ‘Up North’ is different from the way we approached ‘The Black Book.’ The way we approach our next project is different from how we approached ‘The Black Book’. I mean, this is my first feature film, really my first feature film, and so I do not yet know what kind of director I am. Doing this work still scares me a lot. So yeah, I do not yet know how to answer that question. Maybe ask me in five years’ time.
TheCable Lifestyle: How do you anticipate that the film will resonate with both Nigerian and international audiences?
Editi Effiong: I hope the audience likes it because we gave everything. We put sweat, we put a little blood, we put tears.
TheCable Lifestyle: Alright, in a previous interview, you mentioned that Nigerians are amazing storytellers who sometimes distance themselves from harsh realities. How do you strike a balance between storytelling and addressing important societal issues in your work?
Editi Effiong: We grew up on a tradition of storytelling. I read books owned by my father; my mother told folktales, the best folktales I remember. I still remember epic folk tales. And every one of these folk tales—they were told to correct ills, to make us better people. But, in reality, we live in a deeply corrupt society. So the question then is, what is the place of stories in a fundamentally corrupt society? We could become passive and do nothing. But then the truth is that silence always continues to be the enemy. If we keep silent, if we become passive, then we fail the future generations; we fail the future. We cannot do nothing because doing so ensures that the future will be broken. So we have to do the best that we can to improve the chances of having a better society in the future. And this is why we have to tell stories that ensure that our people in the future have a better home to live in. Which brings me back to the enduring thing I want people to take out of this: silence is indeed the enemy of progress. Silence is the biggest enemy.
TheCable Lifestyle: Lastly, can you tell us more about the recent acquisition of RMD Productions Limited by Anakle Films and how will this development impact your future projects?
Editi Effiong: I will not call it acquisition; it is a marriage of friends and people who are thinking almost the exact same way about how stories should be told and what kinds of stories to tell. RMD and I have spent the last three and a half years working on this thing and working together, and we have found an incredible level of support for each other. We found commitment to each other; we found trust and respect in each other. And I think it became a matter of why are we running two different operations. You know, so that is how that came about. He is coming on as the chairman of Anakle Films and that is a privilege! Like, it is a big privilege having him on board. I cannot wait to see what we will be creating in the future.
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