Femi Adebayo is a popular Nigerian film director and producer. His latest movie ‘Jagun Jagun’ has since trended and again impressed viewers world wide like his previous movie King of Thieves. In an exclusive interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, he speaks on the journey to producing Jagun Jagun and the challenges he faced.
Could you take us through the journey of Jagun Jagun? How did you conceived the idea and made this movie happen?
First off, I’m really grateful to God that the movie Jagun Jagun, a Yoruba epic movie has been able to attain this level of prominence and acceptance globally. The latest statistics we saw shows that Jagun Jagun is number 5 in Netflix global ranking for non-English film, that shows that a lot of people are seeing the movie and they love it. This could only have been done by God, I’m grateful to God, I’m grateful to all members of cast and crew who put in their efforts to make this movie a blockbuster. Jagun Jagun the film story idea has been conceived even before King of Thieves, that’s the funny thing. What I do is I always have a research and I keep them in view for a period. But when I decided what film to shoot, you know, because what was like a risk for us was that I wanted to do something that has never been done before.
But Jagun Jagun was a very big project and I knew that I had to put in resources and funds to shoot Jagun Jagun at that time. So test the waters, I decided to start with King of Thieves. So Jagun Jagun had been conceived even before King of Thieves. The story had been on ground but I needed to test the waters and which was why I produced King of Thieves. And the records that the film was able to break, I decided to then shoot Jagun Jagun. Of course, you know the story, so I wouldn’t say so much about the story. You already know what it is. You have watched it, you have seen it, you loved it, and I am sure you have interpreted it in your own way.
What informed the choice of the name ‘Jagun Jagun’?
Of course, like all my movies, we were looking for a perfect title. The way I do my stories are quite different. After we build the story, I have a team of writers, I will do very rigorous screenplay. And of course, while developing the story, i saw that the film followed a particular pattern. And I wanted something that would resonate with the audience and tell the story and be very catchy. So, of course, I thought of the title, the warrior, because Ogundiji was a warrior. Every other person in the film played the role of a warrior. So, I felt, the warrior, the European fashion will be very beautiful. Of course, Jagun Jagun is very catchy.
What were the challenges of producing the movie and how were you able to navigate the challenges ?
Of course for every project there’s always the aspect of funding. You have an idea and you plan on a particular budget. Before you know it, when people begin to brainstorm, the budget begins to increase. Right in your very face, the budget can double if you are not careful. So that of course, happened in Jagun Jagun. People say, oh you’ve done King of Thieves, you want to do a new film, it has to be bigger. Bigger means more money and of course, you know that in Nigeria, the country wasn’t really stable. Costs of things keep increasing. So that really affected our production budget. In fact, to be able to cover up for a lot of the financial burden, I had to sell some of my properties, just to ensure we produced the movie because I knew where I wanted to go and I wanted it to have a particular style. Of course that required funding. Another issue we had was, there was a lot of rain when we were filming. It affected the set.
We had built the set in a particular way, and after building it, the rain fell and everything collapsed. We had to start all over again and I had to cough out that money. We also had the issue of when we were trying to get a location. After we got the location, the family had given us the go ahead. They wanted to buy it and they had given us the go ahead. Later on, we just came and turned around and said no, they don’t want to sell it. They made us even sign an agreement that they were not going to buy the land.
It became an issue. We had to think of not not filming there and getting somewhere else. Eventually, we were able to sort that out and we moved on. Another issue was, it was shot for many days, we had to feed everybody. That was planned. I would not even call that a challenge. Another one was Lateef’s first scene. Oh my God. Lateef had been prepped. He had been visiting the gym for about two months to stay fit. We had prepared him on the project. The first scene was the part where he ran through the forest and the tree fell down. He immediately jumped up to say, oh, this tree has fallen. He fell to the ground. We wouldn’t have thought he was joking or maybe he was still in character. Only for him to start screaming and then realize that he had broken his leg. If you actually watch the film and notice, you will see that Lateef wasn’t so comfortable walking. In fact, he broke down. He felt that he wasn’t going to continue with the project.
And I said, you are the only one I thought about and you are the only one who is going to do this project. We managed throughout and we were able to overcome that challenge.
What lessons in particular did you try to pass across to the viewers?
You know, I’ve received this question several times. What I just wanted to do was to spark up a conversation. If you watch the pattern of my films, and it did not just start from King of Thieves, You know, if you had seen Jelili, Survival of Jelili, and Diamonds in the Sky, my other films, I always ensure that there’s a message and that’s how we were taught in filmmaking. So, thumbs up to my mentor, my father, Adebayo Salami, who ensured I was well-groomed. And of course, under his tutelage, I’ve learnt a lot, you know, so I would leave the lessons to you in particular to decide. I just want to spark up a conversation. I have had a lot of conversations, I’ve had a lot of feedback, and I think people got the message. That’s what’s important for me, people got the message.
What informed your choice of cast and crew for this movie ?
Of course when shooting a film you must look at those best you know can interpret the roles and give you the best in it. I’ve worked in the industry for about 30 years I have a good relationship with many actors and crew and of course, knowing the value of the production wanted, I didn’t want to gamble in any way. So, I got the best of the best. I can tell you our actors are top-notch A-list. Working with them was fantastic. Working with the crew the director to everybody D.O.P. was fantastic. We all owned the film. They all worked on the film as a personal project and that’s what brought out the beauty of the production. Everybody brought their A-game and wanted to deliver the best of value.
Jagun Jagun happens to be trending all through this weekend. Did you expect this huge traction and how do you feel about it ?
Yes, to God be the glory, Jagun Jagun is trending. I’m grateful to God. I want to use this opportunity to say thank you to all my fans, thank you to everyone who have subscribed on Netflix and have watched the film. I’ve gotten a lot of reviews. I have not slept. I have just been receiving calls. People who I have not spoken to in 10 years, 20 years have been reaching out to me and it’s been wonderful. The feedback has been huge. Of course I understood the scale of this production of Jagun Jagun. Of course, I knew Jagun Jagun was a better film but I didn’t realize or know that the acceptance of the film could be this huge. Prominent people, well-to-do people, public figures have called me and I have received commendations top executives on Netflix and people all over the world.
Nigerians in diaspora, public figures. Even reviews from international public figures really gladdens my heart and makes me happy. It’s overwhelming I must say. It’s overwhelming. Now I have a big headache. The big headache is how to beat Jagun Jagun in my next production. But with God’s help, I know it’s very possible.
What political lessons in particular did you try to pass across to the youths ?
This question has already been answered. You’ve seen the film what questions did you think I wanted to answer? I’ll put it back to you because the film is a satire. Everything that happened in that film is fiction. It is not real. it’s not tied to any activity you
know but whatever message you pick there that’s fine. I’m happy that you picked it as long as you picked it and you are able to use such vital information for yourself to better yourself, I’m happy. As filmmakers, it is important that we are able to touch lives.
Have you received any negative feedback from those you think this movie spoke against and how have you handled criticism ?
Well nobody I’ve not received any. Nobody has called me to say something negative. I’m fine, I’m living, I’m breathing and so there’s no issue. I’ve not received any action from anyone because I wasn’t talking to anyone in particular. I was talking to everybody. So no negative feedback.
Did you draw any lessons from Gang of Lagos in this movie in producing this movie ? Appears they have almost the same lessons.
No, I didn’t. The good thing about ideas, not just the film making ideas in particular is that when you think that you have a particular idea and it is just for you alone, or the idea belongs to you alone, and you have not even said or spoken of such ideas with anybody, before you know it, someone else could just bring up. You’ll be wondering how did this person knew what’s in my mind?
You know, nothing is exclusive to anyone. Ideas keep spinning. That’s how God has done it. You know, funny thing is I’ve had Jagun Jagun in for a very long time now. It does not in any way or was not any way to copy any particular film. It was done independently. if there are similarities maybe, but there was nothing about copying. It was, a unique film. It’s a distinguished film. It’s a separate film and that’s it.
After Jagun Jagun, what next for you?
Well, watch out. Femi Adebayo’s brand is coming up there are many things to see I’ve said it we are not resting we are coming back to back to give you very exciting strong content what I want to is to be able to continue to put Nigeria and Africa on the global map that’s been my dream for long and my intentions and I want to do this I want to keep doing it God willing God with strength and all the support I could get I can tell you that Nollywood is going places that’s been my vision so watch out of course my next movie is coming it’s going to be it’s going to be the bomb it’s going to be exciting it gives me a lot of worry to ensure that it’s better much much better but then jagun jagun but of course you can expect anything you see from the stables of Femi Adebayo just know that of course it’s a blockbuster
Do you have any regret or anything you feel you would have done better in the movie?
I have no regrets whatsoever; everything was done to the best of our ability with direct intent. We were quite intentional about the production and I think the quality of the production speaks for itself, that’s why you can see all the review and the training that’s coming out from the film. Well, what we just gave you was the tip of the iceberg. Now let’s anticipate more.