Every aspiring actor or actress needs someone to discover him or her; the ability to discover a talent or someone talented is in the few that recognize potentials and have the willingness to nurture the potentials. Alhaji Abdulsalam Mumuni in an exclusive interview with Pleasures Magazine reveals how he discovered most of the movie stars in Ghana. It is an interesting piece that also takes a look at how Ghana and Nigeria stated collaborating in film making.
PM: Nice meeting you Sir. Please when did you start production of films?
Mumuni: Thanks for having me in your Magazine, yes it started long ago, precisely, I started involving myself in production in 1998, and in 2000, I started my own production outfit called Venus films production.
PM: How was it then when you started?
Mumuni: Oh at that time we depended solely on Nigerian movies, in fact I started with selling of Nigerian movies because at that time we had not started producing our own movies in Ghana. Nigeria was the Hollywood of that time; we watched their movies and honestly we loved their production. We still love Nigerian movies till date but as at that time we could not fault their production because we were yet to start ours. As one of the distributors of Nigerian movies, I drew a lot of inspiration from Nigerian production and at a point we said we should also try our hands in production. So in 2001-2002, I started inviting Nigerian actors to join our local actors here in Ghana because we needed the Nigerian market as well considering the fact that their market is very big.
PM: So how did you start gathering your own artistes to collaborate with Nigerians?
Mumuni: What I did then was to start looking for people who I could see with some talent regardless of their poor performance at the beginning but in as much they were ready to learn through the line and humble themselves, I encouraged them. Van Vicker was a Radio presenter, I told him if he would like to act, he said “oh yes”. It was like joke, way back. Then I brought in Majid Michel and Jackie Appiah; at that time Majid was acting stage drama with some students at the University of Ghana, Legon cinema hall. When I invited him he was happy too. I then located Nadia Buari; I must be honest with you that most of these artistes did not pass the audition stage but they had the heart to do it and as a producer, I made up my mind to groom them and today they are super stars.
PM: What was the reaction of people then since no one could tell what the future held for the industry?
Mumuni: It was terrible, because a lot of people told me I was wasting my money; at that time they were not wrong because I started with a movie titled:” Divine Love”, it was not a break but I intensified. I made up my mind that this is what I wanted to do and I didn’t care what was going to happen. After Divine Love we released another one that was promoted in Nigeria and Ghana and that was a great break, I said to myself, yes we are getting there. Then “Beyonce” was the next and this became the talk of town and the game changer. Nigerians too started seeing what we could do. So it got a lot better. It was during the audition for “Beyonce” that I got Nadia Buari, and when she came for audition she did not perform as expected but she showed a lot of commitment and I said we will continue to have her. “Beyonce” sold very well and at that time I had some Nigerian friends in the industry that were requesting for some of my casts. By the time I informed my casts, it was all “Yes” from them, so the collaboration between Nigeria and Ghana became very strong after I released Beyonce. It also sold well in the USA, in fact it was the first African movie to sell as much as 200,000 copies. At this period our artistes were becoming known and popular. It was my great joy, first that the film sold well, second that the production was well accepted and again that my people were now becoming celebrities. At this time someone introduced John Dumelo to me. When I saw him I said “this is one guy I need”, he was good looking and he also said he had wanted to meet with me. So we started working on Princess Tyra, But before we shot, I saw Yvonne Nelson, I approached her to join acting but she said no, that she would rather prefer to be a model that was in 2006 but I saw something great in her. Later she called me that she will like to act. I took her on immediately I told her we are going on set; she took part in Princess Tyra. So I gave her a major role which she did and honestly, no one gets there in a day but we were able to make it work. Another interesting story about John Dumelo was that when I brought him in, my Director then said he didn’t want him but I insisted he must be there. He then said if John will be there, he will take half of the money I wanted to give to John, because he felt he as a director had to work on John to be able to bring out the best in him and I discussed the conditions with John and to my surprise, he accepted, he came on set, and that was the beginning of great things and now we thank Allah for all of them.
PM: It’s like you are the one that discovered all Ghanaian Movie stars?
Mumuni: To the glory of Allah, I can say most of them but of course some joined along as we grew, but I can say Van vicker, Jackie Appiah, Yvonne Okoro, Yvonne Nelson, John Dumelo, Majid Michel were my major cast in Crime to Christ, I discovered them and many others. I have worked with all others, like Kalsum Sinare, Kofi Adjorlolo, David Prince Osei and many more. However, I must say apart from the fact that I discovered them, they are equally good. They are great actors and actresses and we are like family today which is the most important aspect of any business organization. It’s not about the money alone. Shortly after the discoveries I got a call from Nigeria requesting for John, Majid and Jackie, that gladdened them and it was a big hit; today we do a lot together, Nigerian producers have seen the quality we are equally made of and I am happy about that.
PM: How has the collaboration helped the industry?
Mumuni: The collaboration of the two countries has really helped both nations; now we can sell our movie in the two countries, Ghanaians see their people in the movies so also Nigerians as well. I think it has really opened us to the World market and other countries are eager to collaborate with us. If you get out of Africa, most of the productions are tagged Nollywood, they see us as one family and indeed we are now one big family, Nigeria-Ghana have become two great nations in all sectors, economic, entertainment, and even cultural, we are two strong nations.
PM: What would you say are the challenges?
Mumuni: At the beginning, we were faced with a lot of challenges, trust, believe and ability, but now we have overcome that; no problems again; now most of our productions feature both Nigerian and Ghanaian actors, so we have grown above some of the challenges.
PM: Most movies today do not promote our culture in Africa, why is it so?
Mumuni: Honestly it is a challenge, because what the market wants is what we also try to produce; don’t forget that it costs a lot to produce movies: you will pay your casts, and spend on mass production and promotion. If you produce to promote our value system and you lose your money, nobody will lick the wound with you. If we have government input it will help us a great deal; and I see that happening when we the producers decide to have the same vision. However, we must learn to promote our culture; let me tell you one nasty experience we had with Majid in the Gambia. At the hotel we were lodging, as Majid came out of his room, a man started running away, pointing at Majid as a killer, we had to let him know that he only acted such a role but that doesn’t make him a killer. So in view of this I will say there is need to promote our culture as well in our movies but will be effective when we have Government support.
PM: Are you a member of the Actors Guild?
Mumuni: I am not a member as it were but I support whatever they do there, just that I don’t attend meetings with them, but I am a member of the Distributors Association of Ghana. I am even the Vice President, and I have occupied the office for the past eight years, reason being that at every election no one challenges me but I wish that they challenge me for change (LAUGHS). At a point they wanted me to be the president but because of my time, I begged them to allow me remain as the VP, because I go on location almost every month.
PM: People see the movie stars as rich, are they really rich?
Mumuni: Yes, they are rich, but that depends on how we all see it. You know apart from acting, some of the Stars are invited for adverts, they are made brand ambassadors and so on and so forth, so they are not lacking financially so to say. They are busy most times and whoever is working is expected to have money. I know people harass them for money when they see them outside; it is not only in Nigeria or Ghana, it happens everywhere in the World. But I appeal to our people to always take it easy with them and respect them.
PM: You mentioned you were in Gambia, what did you go to do there?
Mumuni: Yeah, there is a Nigerian Movie producer in the Gambia; he contacted me for a collaboration asking for three of our stars, Majid, Jackie and one other. We agreed on the fee and he paid a part of it, with the agreement that on arrival he will balance up payment. When we got there the story changed, he couldn’t pay. So I thought we could not just come all the way to The Gambia and not get something productive out of the trip, so I quickly put a script together and that was how we shot “The Groom’s Bride”. We started in The Gambia and we completed it here in Ghana. And it came out fine. PM: Is Government supporting the movie industry enough?
Mumuni: I don’t think so; Hollywood is a big business but here in Ghana, we don’t have such support. We need more cinemas in the country. Right now what we have is about three Cinemas in number and this is far too low for what can encourage our growth as a result, everybody is doing production on his own. It’s not only in Ghana, Nigeria needs over 100 cinemas but not available. If you go to the USA, Universal studio is big enough and you can do all you need there, the props are there, good locations within the studio but here in Ghana there is none; you have to move from one location to the other. It is limiting the business aspect of the industry. We don’t have a good structure; the one built by Late President Kwame Nkrumah has been sold to TV3. In Ghana alone we need at least 200 cinemas. We also need investors to build cinemas for us; I believe Government can really help us in that direction.
PM: How about series, what we see here is movie and our people are watching foreign telenovelas and so on, why are we not locally producing more series?
Mumuni: I think we are producing enough series both in English and local language, but the issue is the payment. Most series here don’t attract enough money; the TV stations are not ready to buy because of the cost. Most of the series from Mexico, India and other parts may not cost more than $50 an episode, but I will not collect that for an episode for a new locally produced series that probably I just shot, No. But maybe after ten years of producing it, I can sell it at that rate of $50 or even cheaper because it is a plus to me. But this is the time to produce more series because DVD is dying. Youtube is killing DVD, technology has affected DVD market. Though we still have TV channels that are ready to pay, DSTV pays well and you can sell your product via Youtube as well as Iroko TV and you can as well sign with Youtube to sell your product so those viewers will not be watching for free.
PM: How about stage Drama?
Mumuni: I believe Ghana is doing well now, we will surely get more of stage Drama, and it is one area to discover great actors.
PM: What is your vision in the next five years?
Mumuni: Insha Allah, I have the vision and plan to build a studio that will have all props and good location. Also, I have it in plan to have a TV station. As Allah helps, we would get there.
PM: Do you discipline your artiste?
Mumuni: Yes, we discipline people a lot. There was one of the actresses that misbehaved in my set. I placed her on one year suspension, she came begging, she even brought her manager and mother, but I insisted and I passed the information round fellow producers. When she served her punishment and term was due I was even the first producer to bring her on set to record a movie. You see, these artistes become proud sometimes and lose control as a result of the fame they enjoy forgetting that we producers made them what they are and today some of them have even grown into producing their own movies as well.
PM: What do you do at your leisure time, because it’s like you are always busy?
Mumuni: Do I really have a leisure time? (LAUGHS), I love watching movies, my day always start at 12 noon, I will watch till around 3am and go to bed then wake up around 11am, so most times I don’t see my children until weekend. I also do other businesses. So I am always busy. As a Muslim, I wear native on Fridays but other days am in my simple dress.
PM: What is your advice to your colleagues and younger producers?
Mumuni: I will only tell my colleagues not to relent in their efforts. We should continue promoting the works and think big, and to the younger ones, they should not be in a hurry, they should shoot good movies and let the content be good as well as the production, it should be a quality one not just for money.
PM: Thank you very much for hosting Pleasures Magazine; it was nice chatting with you.
Mumuni: The pleasure is mine.