Lawrence Onuzulike is a renowned producer cum director who knows his onions. One of his movies, Little Ryan won an award at BON (Best of Nollywood Awards). ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with him about his movie and sundry issues…
Congratulations! We learnt that your new movie won an award?
Tell us about the movie?
The title is Little Ryan. It is a movie I am using to campaign against the bullying and discrimination of children with special needs, both in school and in the society in general.
Without giving much away, share with us a little bit of what it’s all about?
The storyline is very simple. Little Ryan was born with a defect that affects the way he walks. For that reason, he was bullied and discriminated against by both classmates and some teachers. Even though he was the best student in the school, he was made to feel inferior. On his birthday, the school refused to come with other pupils as is customary to the school. His heart broken mother tried everything to get the school to come and for other parents to bring their kids but to no avail. When she couldn’t take the pain and humiliation being meted out to her son, any longer, the devastated mother grabbed her laptop and wrote that her heart was broken because her son Ryan was sitting alone with his birthday cake because nobody wants to celebrate with him because he was born with a defect that affects the way he walks. In tears, she posted the heart touching message on Facebook. It was from that moment that everything changed and the movie took a thrilling turn.
So, what happened after Ryan’s mother posted the message on Facebook?
Too many surprising events occurred quickly. Events that will not only surprise the viewers but make them sit on the edge of their seats.
What inspired the movie?
The idea was inspired by a true life story. I just took the story and developed it. So, you can safely say it is partly a true life story.
Who are the cast?
The star of the movie is Etochi Ejike-Asiegbu who played the role of Little Ryan. He went on to win the Best Child Actor Award at the Best Of Nollywood award. I know he is going to win more awards for his incredible portrayal of Little Ryan. Ryan’s mother was played by Oge Okoye, the father Yemi Blaq. Other high profile names linked to the movie are Ejike Asiegbu, TT Temple, Elder O, Maureen Okpoko, and Jerry Amilo.
It’s typical that in Nollywood, when too many stars are assembled in one location, there is bound to be clash of ego. How did you handle the cast during the filming of Little Ryan?
There is nothing much to handle. Most of them are professionals and are used to life on movie locations. Of course, there were little issues here and there but, the cast and crew were mostly my people and they wanted the best for me. In fact, people like Oge Okoye, Yemi Blaq, Ejike Asiegbu went extra miles to see that everything went well. I will always appreciate them for that.
What was it like filming the movie?
I will say that Little Ryan was probably the most stressful movie I have ever shot. First, most of the major cast I wanted to use were already engaged in other projects and I didn’t want to compromise, so I pulled most of them from their projects and had to fly so many people to and from all over the country. The fact that they were all already engaged also means that every minute counts, that means your one week must be one week, so there was serious race to fit in everyone. Everyone sacrificed one way or the other and at the end, it came out good and everybody was happy.
What plans do you have for the movie? Are you premiering it or just releasing it on DVD?
We will be premiering it on Afo Revo.
What is Afo Revo?
It’s one of the biggest things to hit Nollywood at the moment. I am sure most of the major producers and directors know about Afo Revo. It’s one of the hottest places to release a movie at the moment.
Who would you love to work with in one of your future films?
There is this script still playing out in my head. I may shoot it or may not. But it involves putting Tonto Dikeh and Fredrick Leonard in one massive house and Nigerians will be thrilled as all kinds of craziness unfold. Like I said, I may shoot it or not, but it’s not the project I am currently working on.
What are you working on?
Hopefully, another movie that will dominate.
What inspired you to become a film producer?
Right from primary school, I have always been a stage person even though I was extremely shy. But I will say that I learnt everything I know about Nollywood and movie making from Zeb Ejiro. I have been with him, though in the background, for about 20 years now. But it was Jerry Amilo that finally cured my chronic shyness and dragged me in front of the camera 10 years ago in the movie, Escape from South.
Now that you’ve got quite a track record, how much easier is it to secure funds for your films?
There are a lot of investors who have genuine love and interest in Nollywood but still one must be careful as there are so many people milling around the industry claiming to be what they are not. Yes, I get calls from within and outside the country from potential investors and financiers, but I am being very careful with whom I work with these days, especially after one fake investor brought SARS to my set and then started apologizing after.
You’ve accomplished a lot. Which of your films are you most proud of?
I am proud of most of my jobs whether as an actor or as a producer, but naturally, Little Ryan stands out because of the touching storyline and the great message it passes.
What advice would you give to anybody wanting to make a living as a film producer?
They must have the passion for it and not rush in just for the money. They must know and accept that if they possess immense talent and star quality, they will be despised by talentless producers who never rise above average.