• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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‘Japa’: Nigerian sci-fi comedy debuts on Prime Video

‘Japa’: Nigerian sci-fi comedy debuts on Prime Video

Isioma Osaje, a Nollywood talent manager, steps behind the camera for the first time with her directorial debut, ‘Japa’, a sci-fi comedy film set to premiere on Prime Video on Friday (today).

In an interview with BusinessDay, she discussed the challenges and rewards of crafting a comedy film with science fiction elements — the project being part of the output deal Inkblot Productions has with Amazon Prime, and her hopes for the future of Nollywood, the country’s film industry.

According to Osaje, ‘Japa’ is about a young school teacher who plans to leave the country; hence the film title, which is a Nigerian slang for migrating out of the country in search of greener pastures.

The filmmaker said she has been obsessed with time loop films and has always wanted to make such a film, adding that this prompted her to write one on her own before Inkblots reached out to her to work on a similar project.

“When Inkblots reached out and said they wanted me to produce a film that they were working on which they called ‘Japa’ and they shared the synopsis, I found it really exciting. So when the treatment was shared with me, I liked it and I also got a sense for producing this because time loop films are very close to my heart and something dear to me. I told them I would love to direct and also to co-produce with them,” Osaje said.

1Pod, a production company she and her partner Temidayo Makanjuola co-own, came on board and co-produced with Inkblots as she directed the film.

“There were materials in the movie that I could bring from my own project, so I thought rather than making two different things, this was a chance to infuse some of my ideas into what was already in the production of ‘Japa’. And so with Tamara, who was the primary writer, we got on board Naz and Zulu from Inkblots; we walked through the story and the script started to take shape and that’s how ‘Japa’ came to be,” she said.

Given that ‘Japa’ is a sci-fi comedy, the production team felt the need to release the film directly to the streaming platform, which was considered the best route that it would go because they wanted the audience to have hassle-free access to see the film, unlike traditional cinema releases.

“We felt like going direct to streaming would give it the views it needed without the audience having to do so much to see ‘Japa’ and with Inkblots having an output deal with Prime Videos, it just made sense that it would end up on the platform,” Osaje added.

‘Japa’ is part of the movie project Inkblots will release under the last output deal the company had with Amazon Prime, according to her.

On how Nigerian viewers who are used to seeing more comedy and drama releases would react to the sci-fi comedy, she said: “Nollywood loves drama and I think it’s because Nigerians are very emotive and Nigerians feel things deeply. This is why drama is a very popular genre, but I think comedy is also popular too, as well. And the idea of ‘Japa’ is you’ve got a guy who is trying to leave Nigeria, and due to forces beyond his control, he can’t leave; so he’s essentially stuck, repeating the same day over and over again. He and his friends are trying to break whatever it is that is costing him not to be able to go to the next day.”

Osaje hopes the movie gets to its target audience as the migration phenomenon in Nigeria, popularly referred to as ‘Japa’, is relatable to Nigerians.

She had ventured into talent management in Nollywood early in her career. She has previously worked as a talent manager to two of the film stars, Blossom Chukwujekwu and Adesua Etomi, under her self-owned talent management company, Agency 106.

“Getting actors to come on board the project was relatively easy, I think because I have a great relationship with actors. I pretty much try to stay abreast of every actor that is working in Hollywood so that if I see something I like, I keep them in mind for future projects,” Osaje said.

She said she had previously met other actors like Jidekene Achufusi and Seun Ajayi prior to the making of the film and admires the works of Layi Wasabi, the social media content creator-turn-actor she also features in the film.

As for the challenges of directing her first film, Osaje said ‘Japa’ didn’t feel like a debut film to her, given that she has worked as a producer and an assistant director.

“It just felt like I was just doing the thing that I always did. It’s just that the only difference was that I was directing this time and the responsibility was slightly different. The only difficulty was the intricacies of the film being in a time loop and having to repeat the day over and over again. You just have to track the continuity of it all in terms of costuming, production design, and acting performances,” she said.

Without giving exact figures, Osaje said the movie required a huge budget, given that it was a large-scale production. She said most of the budget went into locations as they filmed in 51 locations and had to use over 1,000 extras across all locations.

She said paying the star-studded cast, large crew members and other logistics took a chunk of the movie’s budget.

In terms of how revenues work in relation to the movie debuting on a streaming platform, she said: “When dealing with streaming projects, because you know that your ending source is your streamers, you have to ensure that you keep the budget at a number that allows for you to turn over.

“You try to keep your production budgets under that number so that you don’t run at a loss but with every film, we’re always trading against the budgets and the ambitions of ‘Japa’. We strained against the budget, but it took a phenomenal effort from the crew, the cast and all the collaborators on this project to make it work.”

2024 looks to be a good year for the director as she is expecting another film she worked on last year ‘Radio Voice’, the first production under Richard Mofe Damijo’s production company, to have a release date in the year after a suitable distribution company has been identified.

During the interview with BusinessDay, Osaje said she was currently working on a project, one she knows will be her biggest project yet, adding that when the movie is released, movie fans in Nigeria will find it interesting to watch.

Speaking on other upcoming projects for her company, she said: “We’re in development for the next projects we will do. There is a feature film and then there is also a series. It’s still early stages of development for both projects. But that will be announced shortly.”

Osaje said she fell in love with Nollywood during the days of renting CDs from video clubs and drew inspiration from Genevieve Nnaji during her early acting days.

“What I want for Nollywood is for new people to get a chance to make the sort of stories that appeal to them because any industry that doesn’t actively encourage new voices doesn’t really grow. I want a platform where new voices get to do their thing and for us to become a self-sustaining industry, not only one that is determined by market forces but also an industry that is able to thrive on its own,” she added