Film Maker Oraka Sulcata talks about his movie, Symphony, the many challenges of filmmaking and the beautiful experience he has enjoyed being a director.
Nollywood is fast developing and has become a self-sustaining industry. Hence, there has been a lot of conversations about what the new generation of filmmakers would bring to the fore, and it has been about being more daring and unleashing creativity through every aspect of a movie production. The term ‘new generation’ in this context has nothing to do with age, it is more about how the old guys are evolving and how much the new guys are willing to leverage on their wealth of experience while adapting to tech and other modern tools of storytelling and filmmaking. We caught up with one of the new days filmmaker, Oraka Sulcata – a fusion of his first name and brand name. A man who isn’t just bold enough to question the status quo and change the stereotype but is also passionate about giving myriads of young minds a platform to excel in their chosen field, artistically. In this interview, he talks about his movie, Symphony, the many challenges of filmmaking and the beautiful experience he has enjoyed being a director.
How would you describe yourself? Why, and how does it relate to your past, present and plans?
I would like to describe myself as the kingmaker. I have always wanted to be the guy behind the scenes that is making a lot of things happen, that is pushing a lot of people to the limelight positively and being the guy behind the successes of a lot of young people. I have always done that since being a kid. In relation to my past, that is the very foundation of my company, Sulcata Entertainment. Basically, it is an empowerment company that I have used to push and promote a lot of young people that are doing very great today. And my plans moving forward is still in that direction.
Sulcata Entertainment has been referred to by some as a music label, and by others as an organisation that serves as a gateway for youth to maximize and fulfil their potential. What is Sulcata about; the vision and mission?
The vision is to create a platform that a lot of youths can take advantage of and spiral them to where they are going to while also guiding them from not making a lot of mistakes. Yes, rightly said, it is a gateway for youths to maximize their potential. We come from the entertainment angle but there is always a positive, perhaps concealed message in everything we do. Our projects and events are geared to empower a set of people and we have a lot of testimonials from over the years. We are 12 this year and they are a lot of popular names I can say took advantage of our platform. The music label aspect is just on the side, we have the talent management arm, as well as the sport arm. We now have the filmmaking arm, all of which are geared towards helping the youths attain the peak of their talents.
9/9 is a movement. The set date for the release of Symphony the Movie. What is different about this one, and why is it important to you?
I love the significance of the date because it is something that we will remember for years to come. It is not going to happen overnight, but the movement has begun already. Symphony is one that is focused on the youth. What we have done is to take the story of the youth and embed it into an entertainment and enjoyable movie. So, you are watching it for entertainment, yet you are getting a lot of life lessons. Which is why this is very important. This is something that every young person; entertainer, creative and entrepreneur should see and celebrate because it exposes a lot of mistakes they might make on their journey to success and enlightens them to avoid making those mistakes. It also expresses the fact that you are not alone if you have made those mistakes; forgive yourself and move on. This movie is one that people will talk about for a long time.
Talking about Symphony themed around music and other messages like parenting, what stereotype are you looking to change with this story?
The first stereotype is that of parenting. For instance, we often think that there is a particular parenting style that works in Africa, which enhances schooling and training children in fear, and in honesty this hasn’t worked in all ramifications. There are a lot of entrepreneurs this year, and think about it, our parents never really supported entrepreneurship. And so, a lot of us had to rebel our way out of that stereotype. We could have done better if we were encouraged, supported or if our parents tried to understand what we were doing and guide us accordingly rather than make us feel like we are lost and then push us away. Thereby making some of us get lost in the process. A few of us are lucky to have stayed disciplined and keep our focus on our goal, but there are others who once they get into a feeble fight with their parent over their choice of career end being pushed away by their parents. These people end up falling into the wrong hands and losing their ways. On the long run, the parents feel like they are right and emphasize on the fact that they would have been better if they’d listened to them, but no, they could have had a great life doing what they want under the guidance of their parents. Another stereotype we are trying to change is the fact that people want quick success because of a wrong impression of glamour as portrayed on the media. People on social media most times don’t have as much as they show off, they are burdened with responsibilities and in other cases have liabilities too. It is ‘show’ business, and it doesn’t equate to owning all that they show off. Manage your expectations going into the entertainment industry, success isn’t attained in a day; understand the journey and stay in the process, else you get into the wrong hands and make bad choices. The reality is that there are a lot of popular and broke artists.
Going forward, what impact do you think this would have on the Nigerian entertainment industry, especially about the treatment and struggles of young talented artists looking to make their mark?
I am hoping it would make a lot of positive impact on them. Young people run the business, and unfortunately several of them do not care about the business, they care more about their passion. We are trying to orientate the young artists and their investors. Telling the young ones that they need to learn the ropes of the business you are going into and how it aligns with your passion so that you don’t make the wrong choices. And to the investors and labels, they must learn how to show maximum support with talent management, mentorship, guidance and giving right counsels. Tell them what it is and express your commitment to helping them make the best of it instead of making vain promises that get them fixated on the wrong things. This is what causes the conflict between artists and labels. This is an impatient generation; investors need to bring clarity to the table. If an artist does not have a lawyer, don’t just present him with a bogus contract, hire him a lawyer to help him understand.
We’ve read on your social media page how it took you 3 years of planning and execution to arrive at the final product. How much work and financial investment has gone into this?
Trust me, a lot of work has gone into this. Yes, it took me three years if not four. I have been working on this project since I graduated from film school in 2019. The script was ready in January 2020 just before the pandemic hit and caused a delay before revisiting it in 2021. A lot of work has gone into this because it is my first, I have never done this before. I had to do a proper research, talk to professionals and experts in the industry and basically carry out a survey to arrive at what I have today, and trust me a lot of money has gone into this. Symphony is the ‘this project took everything from me’ project and I do not regret it. We have received positive feedbacks over the movie and that is very encouraging. A whole lot has gone into it. This is a Pan-Africa project, I got to work with legends whom I have only watched on TV. A lot of relationship also contributed to its success as money could not have paid for everything, we needed to make it a reality.
The movie stars a lot of top actors with a blend of new faces, how were you able to make that work, in terms of schedule and set cohesion?
It was very intentional to have a lot of OGs with a blend of new faces. As a matter of fact, I wanted this film to introduce a new face. Remember how I said Sulcata is a platform for young people to maximize their potential. There are a lot of young actors that nobody gives a chance because everyone wants to use a popular one to secure the investment, but I believe there are ways these things can be balanced, and that is exactly what I have done by having a diversified cast. For our lead actor, we had an audition and chose Caleb Iyoha because I wanted someone who had an active music career to play our lead role since, he is going to be a musician in the film. I knew the movie will put the spotlight on such actor and it is only right that his music career also benefits from that spotlight. It wasn’t an easy fix working with these legends. I mean, we had to fly in Jackie Appiah from Ghana, Tanasha Donna from Kenya, we had to work around the busy schedule of D’Banj and a lot of people, including the cameo appearances we had. It was a lot of work. The advantage for me was that I am from a management background, Sulcata Entertainment. I was able to piece it all together especially with the help of my amazing team.
Is this your debut as a director? Regardless, what does directing feel like? How much creativity and technicality are involved in the process?
Yes, this is my debut as a director, my first time ever directing a movie. It felt very good, like something I was used to. Going to film school made me realize that directing is just like being an event manager. Basically, you are managing all these resources and putting them together to achieve the best of results. You already have the vision in your head and now you are just putting it together. This is what I have been doing for donkey years at Sulcata Entertainment as the CEO. Hence, bringing it into the filmmaking world was surreal. I questioned my ability to do it a couple of times but at the end of the day I did it and that is why I am so excited when people see it and praise the result, especially when they do so in the light of what a professional with years of experience has done. It was great. The technicalities too were challenging but I also have a background in those areas. I used to be a sound engineer and a music producer, and that was why I was able to take on the project. I had a great crew, but I also had knowledge on every aspect of the production. Therefore, when you try to tell me something is impossible, I will show you how it is possible, and we move forward. I was very involved in all the process.
It’s been said that Symphony is a blockbuster. How much success are you hoping to record in terms of box office records and toppling Nollywood gross records?
I am hoping it will do good. My focus is to impress and have a very great production. And in terms of numbers, we have had scenarios where great movies don’t make good numbers and vice versa, and so I am more focused on people’s feedback instead of the numbers. This is just the beginning and I want to create a standard for the brand so that people know what to expect when they hear that Sulcata is involved. I am looking forward to the feedbacks, criticisms, and reviews. Of course, I am hoping to make some numbers and hope that people give it a chance.
What word do you have for youths looking to venture into any form of filmmaking? Does Sulcata have a platform to help them reach their objectives in a developmental process?
Sulcata doesn’t officially have a filmmaking aspect yet, but we have a media aspect, Sulcata Tv, where a lot of young people come to learn about production. Those that care to learn, I teach them everything I know about directing. My advice for youths looking to venture into this is, don’t just fill yourself with the positives, understand that there is the negative aspect also. It doesn’t always work as planned and you need to put in a lot of work into this. Sometimes it is going to require things that you don’t have. It is not a bed of roses; learn as much as you can before venturing into a major project.
Are there any outstanding projects? What can we expect from you in the coming year?
There is always something in the works for Sulcata Entertainment. I may not be able to outline them because timeline always changes. However, I plead with you to follow our social media pages and follow our journey to making greatness.