WHAT LIES WITHIN, an interview with Paul Utomi

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On the last edition of A Cheesy Saturday, Film Rats hosted Paul Utomi as the guest on the whatsapp platform. The session was moderated by Dika Ofoma (Film Rats Club). May 25th, 2019 3pm

Paul Utomi is an actor, voice over artiste, and Filmmaker. He studied Economics at the Lagos State University and took a course in acting and directing. His acting career began in 2011 and has featured in productions like: Eve, Hush, Lekki Wives, Flower girl,  Jones, B4 30, Friends, Tarima, Enter the Claxton, Behind the smile, Case file, In God’s Name e.t.c.
He has done several radio jingles for brands like Etisalat, Seven Up, Inter-Continental Bank just to mention a few and also a lot of Radio Dramas. More recently he produced the film Love Is Yellow directed by Kayode Kasum. Which was selected to screen at the RealTime International Film Festival.

The session kicked off with a question about his journey into filmmaking, an impressive jump from Economics.

“It happened by accident,” Paul said. “A friend suggested I apply for a writing/sports analyst gig at a sports media production company and I did…reluctantly. I got the job and started writing in their weekly sports magazine called ‘The Game’. Then my boss suggested I record/voiceover a documentary series for ‘The Principal’s Cup’, also suggesting that I should present an episode of AM Express Sport on the NTA network. I guess one thing led to another.”

Dika Ofoma: Pretty cool, so if any of these events never happened would you have still considered acting?

Paul Utomi: I don’t know, probably not. Because from presenting I started modeling, radio dramas and I said YES to all these opportunities when they were presented, but when acting was suggested I remember being very skeptical and not being as keen. It took a couple of months before someone swindled me into attending an audition. So basically just being open to new opportunities and stepping out of your comfort zone.”

Dika Ofoma: What would you say has been the most interesting thing you’ve learnt on this journey as an actor/filmmakers?
Paul Utomi: Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.

Dika Ofoma: Let’s put aside all the productions you have been in, what role would you say is your favorite and why?

Paul Utomi: Hmmmm…. I don’t know.

Dika Ofoma: I knew you’d say this, but there should be one.

Paul Utomi: Honestly I can’t single out one; I’ve tried to do the best I could with all these characters and I hope the audience enjoyed watching all of them.

Dika Ofoma: Interesting, does that mean that no character has been memorable enough?

Paul Utomi: I wouldn’t say that…. I kinda hope every time I accept to work on a project I do the very best I can. My dad would say “whatever is worth doing is worth doing well”

Dika Ofoma: Very important and true. This brings me to ask why are you an actor and a producer. A plus, what influences your work?

Paul Utomi: Magic!

Dika Ofoma: lol.. Like Harry Potter magic or vodoo?

Paul Utomi: I grew up watching a lot of great films and hearing actors utter a lot of great lines, catchphrases or witness a lot of remarkable moments in film and as a kid it was like witnessing someone catch lightening in a bottle. I remember how some of those cinematic moments made me feel and on some level I want to be able to create something as an actor or filmmaker that would leave an indelible impression on members of the audience. By the way The Harry Potter books and some of the films are brilliant.

Dika Ofoma: That’s super amazing to hear, they really are. Moving on, speaking of Harry Potter books and films, what is the one fictional character you dream of bringing to life?

Paul Utomi: Well… there are several interesting but one characters might be ‘Akin the drummer boy’, or Amadioha.

Dika Ofoma: “I remember how some of those cinematic moments made me feel and on some level I want to be able to create something as an actor or filmmaker that would leave an indelible impression on members of the audience” Any Nigerian Film reference here?

Paul Utomi: Hmmm… I’m afraid not (laughs)

Dika Ofoma: Okay, what or who were your inspirations?

Paul Utomi: Spielberg, Scorsese, KatherineBigelow, Tarantino, Hitchcock, SpikeLee, Alejandro Inaritu, Guy Ritchie, Antoine Fuqua.

Dika Ofoma: That’s a handful. I’m sure there’d be space for an Africa influence somewhere? None?

Paul Utomi: Usman Sembene, Jimi Odumosu, Amaka Igwe, Neil Blompkamp.

Dika Ofoma: Okay. You’ve mentioned quite a lot of this big names and that’s quite impressive. Can you please tell us more about your recent production as a producer and how these Filmmakers have influenced your story.

Paul Utomi: I wrote WHAT LIES WITHIN so that may provide a small glimpse as to how my mind works. I also co-produced LOVE IS YELLOW which is a simple love story. They are both different in style and execution. I would like to believe that if nothing else I’m influenced by their attention to detail and unrelenting desire ‘to spin a good yarn’. I’d also like to think that I plan and work as hard as I can to not shortchange the audience.

Dika Ofoma: What’s your view on stereotyping in Nollywood, where an actor play a certain kind of roles throughout his/her career?

Paul Utomi: Hmmm… The truth is at the end of the day this isn’t just about art. It’s business and most people want to see a turn on their investment. This leaves filmmakers with little or no choice when investors insist that certain casting decisions are made.

Dika Ofoma: Don’t you think this limits the actor to doing more?

Paul Utomi: It probably does. A lot of casting decisions aren’t based on actual talent or work ethic unfortunately.

Dika Ofoma: On looking out to bankable producers, what do you wish you knew as an actor back then?

Paul Utomi: How to blow my own trumpet. How to make the loudest noise.

Dika Ofoma: What advice do you have for an actor looking for a good management team in Nigeria?

Paul Utomi: Good management…hmmm there aren’t many effective talent management companies in the acting industry. But the ones that exist would rather manage actors that have strong social media presence.

Dika Ofoma: You mentioned that you co-produced “Love is Yellow”. Tell us a little bit about that and also when we can expect to see it.

PauUtomi: It’s a love story, Kayode Kasum really likes it. The actors liked the screenplay. It was fun to shoot. I hope you Rats don’t hate it when you get to see it, it’s probably on Africamagic Showcase or you see it at RTF.

Dika Ofoma: That’s really exciting and we are looking forward to seeing it.
At this, the session for open to the house for further questions, Rats get to engage Paul Utomi.

Rat#1: What would be your thoughts about critics and reviewership in the industry?

Paul Utomi: Most of the so called critics are hacks. They wouldn’t know a good movie if it hit them in the face.

Rat#1: What’s currently your favourite Nollywood film?

Paul Utomi: I don’t know.

Rat #2: What genre of film do you think we need more in the industry?

Paul Utomi: Hmmm…filmmakers should just do what speaks to them most at the very moment they looking to make a film.

Rat#1: Would you agree with the statement that “Film is a historical document?” Do you think your films have those elements so far to be referenced in the archives of time in Film history?

Paul Utomi: Hmmm…some films are historical documents and are probably ‘treasures’. I don’t know about my films. I guess just really want to entertain people…I guess the other stuff is not up to me.

Rat#1: Who do you think it’s up to then? The Critics?

Rat#3: Mr. Utomi, you wrote and starred in What Lies Within. How much room did you give for changes in the execution phase and does it feel different playing a self-written character?

Paul Utomi: The writer’s hat had to come off when it was time to produce it. The director had a clear vision for each character and in the end it is her ‘expression’.

Rat#3: But not many can let the hat down.

Paul Utomi: If you want to direct your own screenplay then have a blast but if someone else is directing you’re going to have to let them do their job.

Rat#4: What advice do you have for producers, the new ones in particular.

Paul Utomi: Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve with the project. Hire a great and trustworthy team and always be ready to listen to advice. Keep a handle on the cost of the project as it is notoriously difficult to turn a profit in our industry.

Rat#1: With your experience in the industry, which director have you worked with that you’d like to work with again and again?

Paul Utomi: All of them

Dika Ofoma: Thank you for the responses, Paul . Do you have questions you’d like to ask us?

Paul Utomi: Not at the moment. I’m certain you all have a lot of interesting insights I can glean from at a future date.

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