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His New Movie “Phone Swap” Beat Hollywood Blockbusters in Nigerian Cinemas: Find Out How Award Winning Filmmaker Kunle Afolayan Did It!



Kunle Afolayan is one film maker who has successfully put the seal of quality on his name for his contributions to Nollywood.

He started out his career in the entertainment industry as an actor and featured in several Yoruba and English movies in Nigeria. But Kunle has received more accolades for his role as a movie director and producer. His eye for detail and his exceptional ability to bring his subject to life on film has earned him much well-deserved respect.

His achievement comes as no surprise being the son of late Ade Love, a renowned theater and film director and producer. Because his father felt for him education was the most important, Kunle completed his studies in accounting and started out working in a bank while doing some casual acting, before deciding to move into full-time filmmaking and taking a course at the New York Film Academy. His younger brothers, Gabriel Afolayan and Aremu Afolayan are also trailing the similar paths. Gabriel is an actor and musician while Aremu is a movie director.

Kunle’s role as a co-director in ‘Irapada’ and director in ‘Figurine’ were stellar performances that further raised the bar in the Nigerian movie industry. But his most recent movie, ‘Phone Swap’, which he both directed and produced is already receiving good reviews and has earned a nomination in the Africa Movie Academy Awards, Best Nigerian Film category. The movie, is currently being shown at Cinemas in Nigeria and Ghana.

At his impressive office at Golden Effects Studio in Lagos, Kunle Afolayan was a warm host as he delved into different aspects of his career. His achievements are worthy of recognition and he speaks passionately about his plans for the Nigerian movie industry.

Nigerian movies are getting into cinemas now more than ever before. What do you think is responsible for this?
With this new chain of film makers who believe in production value and good quality movies which is actually what guarantees your film getting into that platform, we are pushing forward. I believe its high time film makers started considering other platforms aside the DVD because if DVD is the only option that we have, then I don’t think this industry is going to get anywhere. Really, once your film is released on VCD or DVD, it gets pirated like immediately so how would you recoup your money. But having a film that can leverage on cinema format exposes your film to other avenues where you can make money and recoup some of your investment. I think it’s good and it has come to stay.

What was your budget for the movie “Phone Swap”
Phone Swap cost more than N60million

How were you able to raise the funds?
We were able to get some brands to take part in the production. Some of them did product placement. Blackberry was one of our key sponsors, Glo also was part of it. There is also 7up, Honeywell and Maclean that did product placement. This helped subsidize the budget by 30 percent and the rest I had to raise from the company’s purse.

Aside from “Phone Swap”, how did you source for funds to produce your other movies like ‘Irapada’ and ‘Figurine’?
Plenty debt and plenty borrow here and there. Because it’s a long venture, it takes a while to recoup that money. But I think it’s getting better. The stress I went through while producing Figurine was more than what I went through with Phone Swap. It can only get better.

You combined acting, directing and producing in your movie “Figurine”, “Irapada” and had a guest appearance in “Phone Swap”. Was it a tough balance playing these roles?
Directing is the most difficult aspect of production because if the film fails, the blame goes to the Director. Multi-tasking is something I love to do but I don’t think it’s something I’d want to continue to do. I’d rather concentrate on directing and acting instead of producing. Producing simply means you are the one sourcing for money to make the film and I’ve always done that myself. It distracts me. How I wish there are freelance producers out there who will go and source for the money and everybody is happy. I’m hoping that in the future a lot of independent investors will come and invest so that the creative people would concentrate on what they know how to do best.

Whose idea was it to create a comedy drama like ‘Phone Swap’?
Phone swap was created from a brief we got from an advertising agency to create a movie that would cut across age 15-45. The Kemi Adesoye (writer) and I met and came up with the story idea.

What were the most interesting and challenging times during the production of ‘Phone Swap’?
The most interesting and challenging part of the shoot was building the interior of the air plane and the airport bit which we shot for 24 hours non stop.

The Cast of Phone Swap

The movie has recieved some recent accolades such as the AMAA nomination for Best Nigerian Film. How do you feel about this?
I am more excited by the acceptance by the people. Its a good thing when the majority applauds your work.

How long did it take you to finish production on your movies, ‘Irapada’, ‘Figurine’ and ‘Phone Swap’?
Phone Swap script took about 2 years to be ready. Production took about 6 weeks and post-production took about 3months. From production to when it was released, it took about seven months because we shot in August. Irapada and Figurine took longer.

Cinemas and Film Festivals are good ways of marketing your movies. However, which one of them is more profitable to you as a producer?
Festivals are not profitable except you were lucky to get distributors at the festival to buy your products because if not, you are going there to spend your money. Most times, it’s very unlikely that you will get your film bought by distributors. It’s difficult for an independent film from Africa to get mainstream distribution anywhere in the world. We are just hoping that one day we’ll be able to break that jinx because it’s really not the best. But with Cinemas, you are more certain that you will make profit.

What was the concept behind the ‘seven years of prosperity and seven years of bad luck’ portrayed in your movie, ‘Figurine’?
It’s just to show people that there are different sides to life. It depends on what side you want to see it from. It’s a film that is debatable. I always like to make films that will create room for debate. Really, superstition is what actually brought about the film Figurine.

The Film Maker
What formal training did you have in movie film directing?
I have a Diploma in Digital Film Making from New York Film Academy.

Are you of the opinion that one doesn’t need training to be a good movie director?
You definitely need training.

But there are some directors in Nollywood who have no formal training in movie directing and some actors have become directors as well without formal training….
Which is why it shows in their films. You’d definitely see it. A director who is not trained, you’d always see the lapses in their productions. It is unlike acting. I can pick someone on the street and say come and act and a good director will always bring out the best from the person even if the person does not have formal training. But when it comes to the technical aspect, with directing, hands on camera, lighting, sound – all those things you can’t fluke it, you must learn. There are so many ways to learn and there are techniques about directing that if you don’t have that education, there is no way you will know that you are crossing the line. All these will show in your work so it’s always better to have that education.

Kunle Afolayan with his children

Your father was a veteran in the entertainment industry. While growing up, were you under any pressure tofollow in his steps?
There was no pressure at all. The man didn’t even want us to follow after him. An average child really, would want to tread in his father’s shoes especially when it’s something that brings fame. In our case, it was the same. For every child whose father is popular, there is every likelihood that you would want to be like your father but in our case our father discouraged it, but we somehow found ourselves in it.

You started off your career in the banking industry. How did you find yourself there if you wanted to be like your father? It’s because the man didn’t want me to tread in his path. I found myself there and made best use of that opportunity but when he was no more, I decided to do what I wanted to do. I was in the bank while acting.

How many movies have you acted in so far?
I did some Nollywood and some Yoruba Films but they are not many, they are very few.

Could you recall some of the most challenging times you’ve had on a movie set?
When you want to achieve a particular shot and the environment or circumstances does not allow you. For instance if you want to shoot a day scene and all of a sudden it gets dark. There are so many challenges. In this country, you create everything yourself. We are always stuck with a 50 KVA generator from the first day of shoot till the end. Sometimes, those generators can so mess up, sometimes they can blow the light. It’s really frustrating because that is how it’s always been. Since I was born in this country, there has never been light.

‘Figurine’ and ‘Irapada’ had strong spiritual themes. Is this a theme you feel attached to and would this be reflected in more of your works?
Our next film is dark, it’s darker than every film I’ve ever done. It’s even darker than Figurine and I believe that will probably get us Oscar nominations if we are able to get a production collaboration with a well known production company out there.

Tell me more about it?
The working title is Dead Alive and it’s about people who died untimely death.

Wale Ojo, Kunle Afolayan & Nse Ikpe Etim

Your choice of lead actors in some of your movies like Ramsey Nouah, Wale Ojo, Nse Ikpe-Etim are A-list but not necessarily popular poster faces. What is your reason behind your choices?
Because for me, its more about building my brand – Golden Effects as a production company and Kunle Afolayan as a movie director. I want it to get to a time where people would care less about the actors in a film to patronize and they will care more about me as a Director or my production company. For example Tunde Kelani cannot be separated from Mainframe so when a movie is tagged ‘Mainframe Productions’ a lot of people will rush to buy. That is a brand which is what I’m trying to build as well.

Kunle Afolayan at the Ghana premiere of Phone Swap

Your brother, Aremu Afolayan, in a recent interview which circulated over the internet said that movie producers don’t really make money from their productions. Is this true?
A lot of us don’t have money, but I think we are going to start making money soon. With our movies in cinemas, there is more platform for us to showcase our films, so if your film is good, you will make money. If your film is not commercially viable, you may not make money.

Who makes more money from a movie, the actor or the producer?
It depends. In Nigeria, the actors don’t make so much. If you are featuring in all sorts of movies, you’d be making a living but your lifespan can be determined. One good film can actually last up to three years in terms of mileage and the way I quantify mileage is that it brings other jobs. But if from one rubbish film, you collect a lot of money, you may not be able to do other films because people will see the film and see that it is rubbish. But if you feature in a good film and you earn less, that good film will bring more jobs.

What do you think about the government involvement in the Nigerian movie industry?
I don’t think they are doing enough really and the film industry is paying 5 percent entertainment tax. I think it’s unfair to be paying that and not getting anything in return. I just hope that the government would really come to our aid because there is a whole lot to be done to help the industry.

What does Nollywood need to get to the next level?
We need to partner with other production companies outside Nigeria. If we are looking to cut across more, then we need to start telling stories that will have universal appeal.

Adeola Adeyemo is a graduate of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from University of Lagos. However, her passion is writing and she worked as a reporter with NEXT Newspaper. She believes that anything can be written about; anything can be a story depending on the angle it is seen from and the writer's imagination. When she is not writing news or feature articles, she slips into her fantasies and creates interesting fiction pieces. She blogs at


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