Greg Odutayo is a leading producer/director based in Nigeria. He is the owner and Managing Director of Royal Roots Nigeria, a television content creation and production company with subsidiaries in Ghana and South Africa. His works include Bella’s Place, My Mum & I and Edge of Paradise, both nominated at the 47th and 50th Monte Carlo Television Festival in Monaco, France. He also produced/directed Deal or No Deal Nigeria, commissioned by MNET in 2007. Odutayo is currently engaged in the production of Knorr Taste Quest, the first cooking competition format produced in Nigeria.
Recently, Greg Odutayo was honoured with the Nollywood Director of the Year 2015 award by the Hollywood Weekly Magazine. Produced by Royal Roots Production and HF Media, with the support of the federal government’s Project ACT Nollywood grant, his movie Beyond Blood is produced in four languages; English, Pidgin English, French, and Yoruba. Written by Debo Oluwatumininu, produced by Deborah Odutayo, and directed by Greg Odutayo, the movie parades a unique cast and crew made up emerging actors from including; Kehinde Bankole (Best Female Actor at the African Viewers’ Choice Awards); Joseph Benjamin, Deyemi Okanlawon and Wole Ojo, as well as established names like Francis Onwuchie, Bimbo Manuel, Carol King Shan George Uzo Osimkpa and Ijeoma Grace Agu.
In addition to being a producer, you wear many caps; National President of the National Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP); own and run R2TV, as well as run Royal Roots, a film production company. How have you been able to manage all these roles, and how do they complement each other?
Firstly I dropped NANTAP over two years ago. I ran two terms of three years each and contributed my quota to the growth of the association. All of what I have done has in a way complemented each other and as such it is not so difficult to achieve. NANTAP the production company and the TV channel, are all TV and production-based.
I am also a team player. The success of each of these endeavours is as a result of an effective team that I have built up over time, which helps to take away the pressure from me. In NANTAP, I also had a team of excos that I could rely upon to a large extent. I also had a fantastic deputy, Toyin Bifarin Ogundeji and an effective secretary, Steph Ogundele, so working was not so difficult. I did not try to do all the work by myself.
At Royal Roots, my wife and partner Debbie is a tremendous level of support. As executive director, we complement each other very well. While I focus on finance and the administrative, she takes charge of the creative side of things. She is a fantastic producer so the work is made very easy. At R2TV we have a team of young people running the channel. It is an entertainment channel targeted at those between 16 and 35. It is a youth channel. Usually the youth in Nigeria do not have a voice of their own. In Nigeria we pretend to give them a voice but what we do is speak for them. This is where R2TV is different. It is their channel and a voice for them to express themselves, we just guide. They are doing quite well although we strive to improve with them everyday.
What have been your greatest achievements as National President of NANTAP, and what is the association’s impact on film and theatre in the country and by extension, Africa?
I took over NANTAP when things were very bad for the association. We had mounting debts and low self esteem as an association. We were not to be reckoned with. My team took NANTAP back to the zenith and we revived many of the chapters pan Nigeria. We put NANTAP back in reckoning. We revived FESTINA and started the fellowship. We also put NANTAP back in the comity of associations in the cultural sector. We never failed to celebrate ITD and other notable programmes. We restored value to the theatre artiste in Nigeria. We also started the recognition of professionals with the institution of NANTAP fellowships.
Be that said, I don’t know if I should be talking about NANTAP two years after I left office. It will be 3 years in November. Let’s leave NANTAP alone. There is a new team in charge and we need to give them room to function.
Nigerian films were recently screened at the Goteborg Film Festival including your production, Beyond Blood. What does this say about the quality of films in Nigeria, and what can be done to improve current standards?
Yes, Beyond Blood and about seven other films made it to the Goteburg Film Festival in Sweden. It was a great experience as we saw a fantastic appreciation of Nigerian films but from only Swedes. Like some of the others, we played to full halls; we were sold out in the three nights we were featured. The post mortem Q & A sessions were also eye opening. The audience thoroughly enjoyed Beyond Blood, far beyond my expectations, were keen to hear me out and asked a lot of questions. The questions showed their hunger for Nigerian stories and content.
The good thing also was the curators did a very good job. The films that made it to Goteburg were some of Nigeria’s best and a good advertisement for Nollywood. Standards have greatly improved in Nollywood so there is not much to comment on. The stories are getting better and technical quality is also on the high. We however, still need to work on how we treat sound, as well as the directing and acting skills.
How did you get the opportunity to produce and direct Deal or No Deal Nigeria and what was the experience like?
Deal or No Deal Nigeria was an exciting experience for me. It was Nigeria’s first evergame show, even before Big Brother Nigeria. Endemol came into Nigeria and we had just finished to great success, the first season of Edge of Paradise for MNET, and naturally they asked if we could handle the show. We agreed to do it for MNET and Endemol. I had to go to South Africa to be trained on the format and its intricacies.
It is interesting that we were trained in South Africa for almost seven days because the trainers were told Nigeria was not safe to come to. It was a great session and when I returned to Nigeria, we identified the team to work on the project. We set up wisely and with an entirely Nigerian team, pulled off a magnificent programme. It was a first, so we had no references; we had to set our own benchmarks.
What has been your most challenging work so far and why?
Every work is challenging, each poses its own level of challenge. From when we started with Global cuisine, to House Apart and Tides of Fate. Edge of Paradise was on yet another level as we were shown new ways of doing the same old thing. We were able to raise the bar of drama production with it. We had another level of challenge with Deal or No Deal and our foray thereafter into developing drama content without sponsorship.
The TV channel development is also a different level of challenge. Creating and producing Nigeria’s first cooking reality show was also a different kind. Or do you want us to talk about producing our first English full feature movie, Beyond Blood?
It was a whole new experience. Every endeavour has its own challenges and that part of what keeps us going as individuals. We are constantly driving ourselves and making each experience worthwhile.
Funding remains a major issue in the film industry. How do you manage to cover production costs and how were you able to secure funding from the French Film Fund to produce a series of 26 episodes for Tides of Fate?
Securing funding for Tides of Fate was probably one of the easiest that we had to engage in. The criteria for accessing the French Film Fund was then quite straight forward, although very tedious. However, ‘working’ with NANTAP prepared me for handling reporting for such. When you deal with a fund like that, reporting is detailed. The requirements are straightforward but you must pay attention to details and be ready to align yourself to the process. If they approve N10,000 for stationery and N20,000 for a car, but you get the car at N18,000 and your stationery is N12,000, you cannot just move it to the stationery because you have surplus. You must report and seek approval to do that, it is as simple as that. Documentation was a lot and that was what discouraged many people at the time.
Sincerely, getting the resources to produce your own content as an independent is much more tedious and requires plenty of creativity.
M-Net commissioned two of your TV series, were there any set backs at any time?
MNET commissioned only one – Edge of Paradise, although for two seasons. There were no set backs because we were prepared and had a detailed line of action to guide the process. Working with MNET, however, taught us a lot. They gave us a lot of training in