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Uyoyou Adia on 'Charge and Bail' & Mentorship in Nollywood.
Uyoyou Adia didn’t dream of life behind the camera as a child. She wanted to be a footballer.
Uyoyou Adia didn’t dream of life behind the camera as a child. She wanted to be a footballer. A choice her mum understandably disagreed with. A life in entertainment was the next best thing as a traditional job wasn’t for her. “One thing I have always known is I never want to work a 9 to 5,” she tells me via Zoom, a few days to the release of her theatrical debut, Charge and Bail. But she didn’t think of Nollywood immediately, even while active in her church drama unit and forcing everyone in her house to watch home videos. That happened in 2013 when she starred in a short film by her friend, Toba Tegbe.
The short film gave a taste of that filmmaking rush, and she liked it. She wouldn’t stop talking about stories she wanted to tell, so a friend, Steven Megamind, pushed her towards screenwriting.
She wrote her first script on Microsoft Word. “I googled the format and replicated it on Microsoft Word,” Adia says. The first draft was unsurprisingly imperfect, and her friend had to work on it. “We spoke about the dialogue, and I saw how his were different from mine; I was impressed and knew I had to think about this more.”
Her newfound fascination with film led to Broken, a short film she co-wrote and starred in, which premiered at the African Smartphone Film Festival and scooped the Best Nigerian Film award. The way Adia tells her story, she still wasn’t sure she wanted to go into the industry; the defining moment came in 2017. “Homevida called out for a screenwriting workshop,” she tells me. “I told myself if I get into this workshop, then this is the industry I’m supposed to be in. I applied for it, and I got it.”
She’s in her Lagos apartment; not much is seen, thanks to the limitation of Zoom interviews. But I can feel her excitement. She cracks jokes and laughs at mine. There are plenty of reasons to be happy; a film she wrote just premiered on Netflix and her theatrical debut, Charge and Bail, is about to open in cinemas nationwide.
The film follows Boma, a young and bright UK-trained lawyer, who returns home to work at her father’s firm, one of the most reputable in the country. But she must go through the National Youth Service (NYSC) first. The story picks steam when she’s posted to a charge and bail law firm, coincidentally run by her father’s old friend who is no longer on good terms with him.
We talked about her journey, mentorship in Nollywood, and working with veterans and superstars on Charge and Bail.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You have a movie out in cinemas next month. A film you wrote is on Netflix and you just finished shooting a web series. What’s your life like right now?
My life right now is amazing. These are the days we prayed for when we started, and they are finally coming to life. Life is looking good.
I think Nneka, The Pretty Serpent is your first high-profile film. How did it happen?
I didn’t know I was going to write it, to be honest. One of my mentors, Mr Chris Odeh, the producer, called me one day and told me I would be a part of the story development process. I jumped on it, and we started working on the story idea—myself, Mr Chris, Mpho Kunene, the line producer, and Tosin Igho. Then, for reasons I didn’t understand, I found out I would write the script.
That’s putting a lot of trust in you.
I know, right? The pressure! Oh my God. And trust me, I had to do a lot to prove I deserved to be the writer.
You just mentioned mentors. How important are they?
Mentors are important. You know the way we say, “na because him papa get money that’s why him dey that level.” You will not deny a person's talent, but you know the money attached is a privilege helping them go faster. That’s what mentorship has done for me. If I didn’t know these people, I don’t think I would be where I am today. I will probably get here eventually, but I’m here faster.
How many do you have in the industry?
I have two: Judith Audu and Chris Odeh. I won’t use my life as an example for other people who want mentors. It might work well for you; it might not work well for you. I just count myself blessed and lucky to meet these people. I don’t even think they acknowledge that they are my mentors. But they are the people that have been like mentors to me. Everything I have done, every story I have written, has passed through one of them—to guide me on what to do and what not to do.
How did you meet Judith? You work with her company, right?
Yes, I work at JAP [Judith Audu Productions]. I met her in 2019. She directed a feature film in Abuja, and I was in Abuja at the time working with Mr Chris. I’d always admired her work, and I wanted to meet her. I told a friend of mine, Priye Diri, who knew Judith at the time, that I wanted to meet her. She was like, “Okay, we’ll go see her one evening.” But the evening we were supposed to see her, we didn’t go anymore. I was working on a script with Mr Chris and had a deadline to meet the following day. Then Priye calls me the next day to tell me she is visiting Judith that morning—that will I come? I’m like, “I have work; I have a deadline to meet.” But as I was going to Mr Chris’s office, I just thought, let me see this person. I mean, I’ve wanted to meet her for a very long time. I went to meet her. That was when I saw her for the first time.
How did you go from meeting her to conversations about work?
I remember she asked me if I had to choose between being a writer, an actor, or a director, what would I choose? I think I picked directing and writing, then acting. She was like, whenever I’m in Lagos, I should let her know. When I got back to Lagos, I contacted her. And the way Judith is, she doesn’t talk to you like you’re a stranger or like she just met you. She’s that open. I also did not want her to be my mentor per se. I just wanted her to give me a job. Anything you want to give, I will do it.
Then I wrote a short film and sent it to her. I wanted her to direct it. After she finished reading, she gave me pointers on what to change. Then she asked, “when are you directing this?” I’m like, I’m not directing. She replied, “You will. If you want to direct, you will direct; there is no right time to be a director.”
I’m not sure, but from my research, you didn’t go to film school…
Yeah, I haven’t gone. I will go, but I haven’t gone.
So you’ve not been to film school, and you’ve come this far. And your mentors were ready to take the gamble on you without film school?
Yeah. That’s something that they have in common, but you must prove that you can do something. They don’t give you stuff on a platter. If you see anybody working with Mr Chris or Judith, they know the person can do the job. Before I wrote Nneka, The Pretty Serpent, I was the script editor and second AD for Rattlesnake. I was also working on a script with Mr Chris and Ramsey Nouah. I had also written a script for Mr Chris. There’s history that I can do this; it is just going on a bigger scale or a higher level now.
Talking about bigger scale and higher level. Charge and Bail. Inkblot. How did that happen?
It’s funny because I was not in a good place when I got that mail. I had just lost my mom. I was with friends—Akay [Mason], Abosi, and Yusuf—when I got the message from Naz [Onuzo]. He asked if I had received an email from him. I said no. So, he asked me to check my spam. When I got home, I checked and saw the email. I was like, “is this a mistake?” But it was not a mistake. Next thing you know, they sent the script. I’m like, this is really happening. I had done a project earlier that helped me get out of depression but getting the email for charge and Bail … it felt like my mom was doing something for me because that is all she had wanted for me. Charge and Bail is almost like my miracle project.
This is the first time you’re directing for the big screen, and I think Inkblot Production is probably the biggest company you’ve worked with. Was it a different experience? What was the process like—did Inkblot allow you to direct and lead?
You’re always going to have different experiences with different production houses. Earlier experiences will help you navigate better when you get into another production house. I’m grateful for Judith Audu Production; Mama J helped me calm down because I entered the industry as a hot-headed person. She taught me to listen, allow people to talk, and understand where people are coming from. I will forever be grateful to her for that because if I had entered Charge and Bail with my hotheadedness, I don’t think we’ll be talking right now.
The way Inkblot operates, they give room to the director to do their stuff. Zulu [Oyibo] came to visit us on set once. I think Damola [Ademola] came a couple of times. Naz also came a couple of times, but when they are there, they are not in your space. You probably don’t even know that they are around.
And the team you worked with, MayBaker and Captain Degzy, people who are your peers. Were you allowed to choose them?
Yes. I chose May to be my first AD. Production reached out to me and asked who I would like to be my first AD, and I decided MayBaker. We had some options for DP, but we finalised on Degzy, which I think was a massive win because everything was easy when we went into production. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with my DP and AD going forward. If you’re not giving me that energy, please, I don’t want.
You worked with Zainab Balogun and legends like Bimbo Manuel on Charge and Bail. How did that feel?
Amazing. I’m grateful o. You won’t understand. The actors came on this project like we die here. It was our project—that was the vibe that I got. From Zainab to Stan Nze to Folu to Uncle Bimbo, and this is the first time I’m working with virtually all of them. (I had worked with Stan [on Rattlesnake] before, but not as a director.)
Everybody came on board like I had known them for years. Everybody wanted the story to work. When there was anything that was a bit confusing, they asked questions. We analysed the scenes together before we started shooting. It was a beautiful experience because I’m usually scared of how open actors, especially veteran actors, are to young directors. There were times when Uncle Femi Adebayo would call me and ask, “director, please, is this what you want me to do?” It was weird to me because this is Uncle Femi Adebayo! Like, what’s going on? These people could decide to do whatever they wanted, but they understood that we needed each other to make this happen. I’m forever grateful, honestly.
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