Interviews, People

A Place in the Stars hits cinemas…

The Nigerian cinema audience has been served top-notch movie productions. That trend will continue as blockbuster flick, A Place in the Stars, is set to hit cinemas this month.

A Place in the Stars treats the issue of fake drugs racketeering with a master touch and is sure to engage the emotion as well as the intellect of its viewers.

ENCOMIUM Weekly had been with the flick’s lead actor, Gideon Okeke and the producer/director, Steve Gukas this is what they had to say about the blockbuster film…
‘It is not a popcorn film’ – Steve Gukas, producer and director

 

You must have some feelings gushing through you now seeing all the hard work pay off. Can you capture those feelings in words?

Steve Gukas

Steve Gukas

The words, really, haven’t been invented, yet (laughs). But for now, it would suffice to say that it is quite fulfilling, especially with the level of acceptance it has received even without people seeing the film. I must say, it is quite humbling.

Shooting a big-budget movie of this nature must have had its challenges, starting from the pre-production, to the shooting and even the post-production. So, what were the challenges you faced on this project?

I think there was only one challenge – and that’s funding. It has always been the challenge of having enough money to do what you want to do. Other than that, I was lucky to work with an amazing team – both the cast and crew on the project. So, it was always the challenge of funds and time.

How did you overcome these challenges?

There are two things involved here – if you don’t have money, you need to have time. So, what we couldn’t do in terms of money, we did in terms of time. What that means is that, we did what our money could do at a point.

That must be why you shot the movie for seven years…

The whole project – from conception to screen – took about that time, but the shooting only took about two years. The funding was part of it, but it was something (the length of the production) that was part of the plan because we couldn’t get the money to do it at once. Every part of the production – from the picture, to the editing, the voice, even to the mixing – each stage was broken down so we could accommodate the fund available.

Let’s talk about the filming. What was it like on set?

For me, being on set is like making love. Because you wake up excited, you go on set and just see the words lift up off the page into the mouths of actors, and transform into action, into facial expressions – it’s what you live for as a director.

There was something to look forward to everyday on set, the challenges notwithstanding. It’s pure magic when everyone is there and the cameras begin to roll. That process of creation is exciting.

How were you able to put such an elite cast together?

If we backtrack, at the point when we cast Gideon (Okeke) for the film, the attraction then wasn’t his ‘elite’ status, rather he was new and was a breath of fresh air.

For us, the attraction was to introduce fresh faces, and by the time it we hit the cinemas, they had all blossomed and grown – which is a testimony to our judgment of their talent back then. From a promotional point of view, it’s working for us because they now have a strong followership.

What were the things you looked out for when you were casting?

Let’s break it down. I’ve told you why we went for Gideon. But then you have other established and semi-established actors. You have Segun Arinze – who played the antagonist in the film. In my opinion, he’s
one of the best actors around, albeit under-celebrated. I knew then that having him on the film was a good prospect, because I knew he could bring that character (Diokpa Okonkwo) to life – and he did.

Then we have Femi Branch, who actually made a cameo (featured in just one scene), but the strength of his performance was felt. Then you have Yemi Blaq – who played Kim’s (played by Gideon) confidant and
best friend (Dayo Thomas) – he gave a very good performance. Amaka Mbor (played Vickie – Kim’s fiancé) had just one television series at the time. Matilda Obaseki (played Tara – Vickie’s friend) at the point
was also freshly coming into the industry. So, it was a mixture of fresh upcoming talents, with established and semi-established actors.

The oldest in the cast in terms of experience is Dejumo Lewis (played Pa Dakim – Kim’s father), going all the way back to Village Headmaster.  Lantana Ahmed (Ngo Dakim – Kim’s mother) goes all the way back to Cockrow at dawn, again, a very talented actress.

For us, it was the talents that underpinned the choices, it wasn’t really anything other than the talent.

There have been quite a number of very good movies released this year. What makes A Place in the Stars stand out?

You are quite right, there have been a number of good quality movies this year. I think what stands A Place in the Stars apart is that you’ll find that it is a very character-driven and very story-driven movie. Then you have actors delivering performances that are very memorable.

So, it is the strength of the performance of the actors and the strength of the narrative as well. Also, the subject matter. It is not a popcorn movie, it’s a movie that engages your intellect as well as your heart.
It asks the age-long questions of ‘why am I here?’ ‘What will I be remembered for when I’m gone?’ It engages you at a very different level that those other movies would and then there’s the technical strength of the film – in terms of the attention to detail.

I dare say it is one of the very few films in the country that has gone through all the stages of post-production in the way a Hollywood film would. You can put it anywhere in the world and it would stand its own. And then there are also certain things that are firsts in the film.

It is the first  film with full stunt and car crash, the first to involve an artist to create some of the motifs, the first film to be scored by a 90-piece orchestra to create some of the musical pallets of the film – quite a lot of firsts.

Finally, whatever the mind can conceive, can be achieved. How far do you see this movie going?

In creating this film, we were creating something that would have a strong reckon worldwide.

 

‘This project was a learning curve for me’ – Gideon Okeke

Tinsel star, Gideon Okeke played Kim Dakim, the lead role in the flick and he spoke with ENCOMIUM Weekly about the whole experience…

 

You played the lead role, tell us about it.

Gideon Okeke

Gideon Okeke

I played Kim, your average Nigerian and a young lawyer, who had information about a drug racketeering deal that could either save lives or fetch him millions. He is beleaguered by the choice to either grab cash or save lives and have a good name, against the backdrop of his father, – who is really by the book.

A father who has raised his son in a certain way – teaching him that money isn’t everything.

What was the challenging part for you on this project?

The challenge in the entire project was to complete it. We had to come back four times to complete it. I engaged this project in 2007 – when I read the script, but I wasn’t cast until 2009. We finished filming in 2011. So, for me, the challenge was ‘let’s finish this, let it come out’. That was just the challenge.

How about in terms of interpreting the script?

The very amazing thing is that if you’ve seen the movie, you’d notice it was a young Gideon, but what you may not know is that that’s a Gideon without training. As at when I was cast for the movie, I didn’t have any formal film training – it was raw talent all the way. But I learnt as all the big actors lent me their support, making me feel very comfortable – seeing that I was just coming from television then. In between, I went to a drama school, had my training, came back and we continued. It was a learning curve for me all through those years.

What was it like on set?

Like I said, it was a learning curve.  We had to film at night, waiting long hours for get the set up right – because Steve, the producer is a very detailed director. He can take five hours to set up, then we work for maybe an hour. He takes his time.

Being on set for this movie just showed me how it should be done – it’s my first film, don’t forget. It just felt like he literally took me by the hand, and said: ‘hey, let’s go to the big screen’ and all I had to do was give him my hand. I learnt a lot from Steve, even though I had gained some experience from television.

And I must say I had never been as committed or passionate with a project like I was with A Place in the Stars.

Seeing the movie, I sensed a strong chemistry between you and the other members of the cast. How were you able to establish that?

I had started working with Matilda (Obaseki) at the time. Segun Arinze, Dejumo Lewis, Femi Branch, Yemi Blaq, Amaka Mbor are all established actors in their own right, who I had always watched, I had one day longed to be in the same frame with them. They are all great personalities, so we just caught on almost immediately. Segun Arinze made me feel very comfortable, as did all the other guys, so it was easy working with them.

Why should I pay to see A Place in the Stars?

The reason I stayed as long as I did on television was owing that when I started acting professionally, the mainstream industry didn’t provide me what I saw. Television came, that’s Tinsel, and I stayed there for eight years.

While doing that I got engaged to do A Place in the Stars and personally, it was kind of tailor-made for me because I wanted to do a film with a strong subject matter that would impact lives and people can relate to. Not just making ‘bubble gum stuff’.

– MICHAEL NWOKIKE

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