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Filmmakers are known to often wear multiple hats by working in many departments, from producing to directing. Emmanuel Izuoba is a Nollywood filmmaker who has had different roles since he started, and he does not plan to slow down any time soon. With his extensive experience as a Personal Assistant, Producer, and Assistant Director, Izuoba has contributed to the production of numerous successful Nollywood films. His unique combination of skills has allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the filmmaking process, from pre-production to post-production.
Izuoba has worked as an Assistant Director on films such as Gangs of Lagos, Brotherhood, Living in Bondage, and Sugar Rush. He has also worked as a Personal Assistant on films like The Trade. In addition, he has served as the Producer and 1st Assistant Director on indie projects Back Home and Rehearsal respectively, and has produced Web Series such as Mr Lawanson and Sinister.
In this interview, Izuoba discusses what he has learned so far as a Nollywood filmmaker, shedding light on his key accomplishments in the industry. This interview has been edited for length and brevity.
How did you find yourself in film?
After months of being unemployed, I met a guy in my church and told him about my dreams of becoming an actor. Ebuka was a location manager at the time, so I used to tag along as his assistant. One day, he called me, telling me that he had a one-month job for me as the Production Assistant on the Set of The Trade. The funny story is that I almost got fired after two days, but that experience taught me a lot about filmmaking, and I have improved myself ever since.
What education have you gotten regarding film?
I attended Lagos Film Academy in 2019 for Screenwriting classes taught by Chris Ihediro. I attended a directing class by Phillip Noyce at AFRIFF in 2019. I’m also a graduate of Ebonylife Creative Academy, where I was tutored by Kenneth Gyang on Directing in 2021. I had the opportunity of studying the Business Of Entertainment at Pan-Atlantic University in 2022. I also attended screenwriting classes by Jay Franklin. I always look for ways to attend screenwriting webinars and learn on YouTube. I’m a strong advocate of continuous learning.
What’s it like being an Assistant Director (AD)?
It’s like being the co-pilot of a plane. Your task is to help the main pilot take off the plane from the runway and land safely at the destination. You do this by understanding the story/script and the director’s vision for it. During pre-production, you create the best possible production shooting schedule. While doing this, you have to consider every element that might disrupt the schedule. During production, you have to ensure that the set is running smoothly while coordinating the entire cast and crew to achieve the Director’s vision for the project. You also have to ensure the safety of the cast and crew at all times.
What’s the end goal for you?
I’m working on some personal projects which I will be directing. However, the end goal is producing. I have produced some web series and a couple of short films, and I produced my first feature film, Home Therapy, last year. I actually like producing even though it’s very demanding. I love challenges because they always push me beyond what I think I handle, and I always come out victorious.
You’ve worked on the production of commercials for brands like Milo, DSTV, and Oral-B. What’s the difference between being the AD on the set of a film and on the set of a brand commercial?
Films have long shooting days because of the number of scenes, while brand commercial scenes are few which means there are shorter shoot days. Also, brand commercials have a significantly higher budget than the average Nollywood film, and this allows the directors of these brand commercials to be very creative and more detailed. He/she is afforded more time to achieve less. Also, you are dealing with not only the director’s vision but also that of the clients and agency. In addition, a lot of proper documentation is done in brand commercial shoots and there is always a storyboard and shot lists to guide the entire crew. But for films, only big-budget projects can afford to storyboard the entire project. However, the more common habit is to storyboard the important scenes.
You’ve worked on a couple of Jade Osiberu’s projects (Gangs of Lagos, Brotherhood, Sugar Rush). What’s it like working with her?
It’s a new adventure on every of Jade Osiberu’s projects. Her projects are always exciting and challenging because she is always trying to do something new. I love the fact that she is very ambitious and creative with her stories and she always wants to give her audience something authentic without compromising the quality of the storytelling.
Which filmmakers inspire you?
In Nigeria, of course, Jade Osiberu. She is a powerhouse with a strong work ethic. She is a marketing genius, and she understands both the creativity and the business of filmmaking. This is why she can effectively switch from directing to producing, and the reception from the audience remains the same. I love Akin Omotoso too. I love his visual style, and that he chooses to tell very relatable stories.
Ava DuVernay also inspires me because of her journey in filmmaking. Christopher Nolan is a huge inspiration as well. He has such a beautiful mind and I love that he tells his stories in a non-linear way.
You’ve also worked as a producer. How did you get into producing?
When I started, I just wanted to be a Director & Screenwriter but sadly, there wasn’t anyone to guide me through what to do. Fueled by passion, I ended up producing my first short film in 2020 right after the pandemic.
How has your knowledge of screenwriting influenced your role as a producer?
It has helped me understand storytelling in-depth, and understanding how the very first few minutes of the film are important to hold the attention of the audience. This means the story has to have a strong inciting incident. I’m also able to decipher a good script from a bad script, and I can tell if a script would be better off doing festival runs than attempting to be on the big screen.
How has your experience as an AD influenced being a Producer, and vice versa?
Producing is almost like working as an AD because you still need time management, excellent communication and leadership skills. However, a producer uses these on a bigger scale because you are overseeing the entire production with your team from pre-production to post-production.
Working as a producer has influenced me as an AD by making me empathise with what the producers might be going through, since I understand some of their different challenges.
What’s the difference between the AD and the PA on set?
The AD Department is tasked with bringing the Director’s vision to life while the Production Assistant is employed to support the entire crew on a production. Depending on how quickly a PA adapts, he will be assigned other important tasks on a set. Working as a PA on a film set is a great way budding filmmakers can break into the industry, and climb the ladder of the production hierarchy.
If you had the opportunity to change anything about Nollywood productions generally, what would it be?
More time should be invested in writing our stories. Secondly, there should be regulated working hours, which include off-days. Thirdly, people should be paid for working overtime, and the entire crew should be treated better. Also, the cast and crew should do their job professionally while remembering to be human.
What are the recurring problems on every set ( indie and studio films), and how do you manage these problems?
The pre-production phase is not respected enough in many projects. The importance of adequate Pre-Production can not be overemphasised, because if you plan well in pre-production you will most likely have a great shoot. I’m not saying challenges won’t arise, but when they do, the production team would already have made contingency plans.
The second thing is overworking the cast and crew to the point where they are just trying to finish the project and go home, without performing to the best of their abilities. To me, this is counter-productive, because it becomes evident in the film. The best way to curb this is by planning and sticking to a reasonable daily wrap time. Also, there should be off days for a project that spans a long period.