The name Teco Benson is synonymous with Nollywood , and that is because he has been in the industry for 21 years and has made several blockbusters movies.
The seasoned filmmaker who started his career as an actor in 1994 is renowned for his action movies, and owing to that; he is fondly called Action Director.
In this interview with NET, Teco Benson speaks on his career as an actor, producer and director.
You are known for action/thriller movies, why is it that you always shoot such movies?
In 1992 Nollywood was born, the new Nollywood that we have today. Just like you and I know, before the Nollywood of today, there was a film industry that existed and died. In 1992 ‘Living in Bondage’ was the film that started this new phenomenon. And if you could remember, the film had this theme of blood money, rituals and all that, so every other film that came after that tended towards that theme, because the market bought into that. So subsequent producers, subsequent films that emerged in that era actually stuck in that theme. So, I came in in 1994, two years after ‘Living in Bondage.’ After some years, the media began to take serious swipe at the industry because of the theme. And as a good filmmaker and as a good listener I decided to be different, I decided to focus on another area.
Action was not a very easy place to trade on because there were no action movies before, so we have to take the bull by the horns. I actually did the first one in 1997 called ‘Eye for Eye’ which featured Segun Arinze, Ramsey Noah, Hilda Dokubo and co. And people bought into it. It was a commercial success. In 1998, I followed it up with a movie called ‘Executive Crime,’ it was another hot movie, and the audience were really impressed, and the media had good reviews of these movies. They were clear departure from the norm, and I was really motivated by the positive reviews and the audience acceptance and the returns as well. So we have to now strike the big one- ‘State Of Emergency’ that turned the nation upside down. And we continued like that. We had other ones like ‘Broad Day Light,’ ‘War Front,’ ‘The Senator,’ ‘Formidable Force’ and several others.
You could see that it was actually the zeal to depart from the norm that prompted me to go into that. And again, as a filmmaker, my motivation as a kid was those James Bond films, those actions films, I never liked this idea of sitting down and just talking. I have never been a fan of that. I am a hardworking guy; I love jobs that can task me. In action movies, there is no dull moment for you, you have to stand, even run and scream and all that. Your intellect will be seriously put into test because that is where the creativity comes out. So those are the kind of jobs I like to do. I am not very comfortable with those ones that you will just sit down and watch things happen. That is actually my motivation and what prompted me to venture into that. Today people call me Action Director. It doesn’t mean I don’t make other movies, because I have made clearly movies in different genre, I have done lots of Christian movies, lot of horror movies, I have done love films and they turned out very good. ‘Two Brides and a Baby,’ I made it three years ago. I directed ‘The Price,’ which was a very hot Christian movie which featured RMD and Eucharia Anunobi in 1999.
Your films at a point dominated the industry; you were making virtually all the blockbusters that came out. It’s obvious you don’t make movies like you used to, what is responsible for that?
Yes you are right. I am a director everybody wants to work with; everybody wants Teco Benson to put a signature on their movies. Between 2004 and 2005 I took a decision to face my own productions which climaxed in 2006. And I have gotten married as well and I needed to build my own library. In 2007 I went back to school to do masters in Communication Studies to sharpen my communications skills. That one took its own time, 2 years, it was a part time programme, and so for two years I was busy studying too. What I do now is, when I see topics that strike me and I have funds, I will make my own movie. It’s not like that time that as I am doing a job, people are already waiting for me to come and do theirs; I was actually directing movies for different companies. What I do now mostly is jobs under my company so it can’t be that frequent
Let us into how movie directing began for you.
I came into the industry as an actor before I went into producing in 1996. So I was producing and acting at the same time. My directing career actually started in 1998. In 1998, when my directing career was picking up I felt I should concentrate more as a director. Because when I was coming into the industry, I gave God a promise that I want to use the medium of film to change the society. So I noticed that I may not be able to make the desired impact as an actor, because an actor is there to play a role, you are meant to act a script, when you put in your best you can even get an award for performing well, but beyond the performance, I am looking at the content, what is the message?
Yes we are here to entertain and educate but at the end of the day, what are people going home with? Because these are the legacies that people will remember you for when you are gone. We are here for a few years, I tell people that we are the history that people will see tomorrow, you see many people dying now, when we started it was like nobody was going to die, today Sam Loco, Enebeli Elebuwa etc are now history legends you can teach literature with now, because they are no longer alive. So that was actually what informed my going behind the camera so that I can influence the content of these movies. A director is the author of the film just like the writer is the author of the script. The movie is a different art form from the script; the director’s job is to translate those writings of that script into the images and the sounds of the motion pictures that you are seeing, so a film in other words can be called a directors interpretation.
As a director, did you acquire any formal training?
Originally I came into the industry straight-up as an actor, I learnt on the job before I now have to do theoretical learning. And that was wonderful because I was exposed to the rudiments of filmmaking; I started with practical approach, before I now did some academic approach.
You could have done something else, why acting/filmmaking?
I was actually doing something else before I came into the Industry. I was a civil servant; I was working with a government establishment. You see to every man there is a destiny, whether you like it or not, that is why the Bible records it that there are many plans in man’s heart but at the end it’s only the will of God that prevails. I actually wanted to be a medical doctor, but I never got the opportunity of studying medicine, because the first JAMB I did, the cut off mark eliminated me and I saw myself studying Public Health. And that was actually what influenced where I worked before Nollywood launched in 2002.
How did you get into the make-believe world?
Well I saw ‘Living In Bondage’ like I said earlier , and the opportunity came in 1994, an audition was taking place, I went and they looked at me and gave me the lead role. Unfortunately the movie never saw the light of the day, it was never released, and we didn’t even see the movie. It was very frustrating because that was my first job. So most of the guys that went with me were discouraged and many of them left in droves. But I stayed back because I already had a job. Something was pushing me here, it wasn’t a natural push, and it was a supernatural push which actually is that force of destiny. So I tagged along until the next opportunity came. The major movie that blew me out was an Igbo film called ‘Forbidden’ that was done in 1995 staring Ngo Ezeonu and a couple of other people
Tell us the movie that blew you as a director.
Well my directing career like I said earlier started in 1997 and the first film I did was ‘Waterloo,’ it wasn’t a wonderful outing. I already made a name as a producer before I began to direct and the name was very striking. If you remember those days of ‘Scores to Settle’ (I also acted in Scores to Settle), ‘Suicide Mission,’ ‘Compromise’ etc. I did all those movies as a producer. So coming into directing, there was a big name following me already and people were able to identify with me even before I went into action movies because there was this followership, there was something identifiable with the kind of stories and movies that we do then. You could remember a film that RMD was put in a bottle by Regina Askia in1997, that was ‘Suicide Mission,’ I did that.
For me it will be difficult to say the film that made me, but I will now say year 2002 was a big turning point when I released ‘State Of Emergency,’ it caused serious uproar in the industry and beyond. I remember the executive producer of the movie Ossy Affasson went to China because as at then there was no duplicating factory in Nigeria, no CD facilities, we were releasing movies on VHS here. So he decided to go to China to put it on VCD and there was an argument in China that it is not a Nigerian film. They didn’t believe it was made here because of the quality of the film. Till today people have not forgotten ‘State Of Emergency’ because that was actually an action movie everybody saw. Before it, I made ‘Eye for Eye’ and ‘Executive Friend,’ not that they didn’t make impact, but ‘State Of Emergency’ turned everything around. In 2007 again, I had an international exposure when I released ‘Mission to Nowhere’ in the normal cinemas. We released the movies; we had official release in the cinemas worldwide. When I say worldwide, we were in London, we were in Scotland, we were in Dublin and the film was released on 35 mm, and was played in all cinemas side by side the Hollywood movies for one month, it was a great feat for Nollywood. If you go through history, that film remains the only Nigerian film that had that kind of official release, others have been doing premiers.
You have been in the Nigerian movie industry for 21 years, how has the journey been?
It’s been wonderful; it’s been a tortuous journey too. People, who watch from outside feel the industry is a bed of roses where you swim with bread and butter, wine and dine with beautiful women. That is the impression, but the truth is, it’s been twenty one years of hard work, twenty one years of creative and energy-sapping process. It’s a profession I love; it’s a job I have passion for. It’s the love that drives me and it’s the love that has driven me so far to where I am and I am glad. Now I am married, I have five kids, and my sustenance is from this industry, everything I have achieved is from this industry. So I am happy that I took a decision in 1997 to resign fully, because from 1994 I was doing the job on part time basis because I was scared of resigning. As a salary earner I was scared of going on my own without that salary, I didn’t know how I was going to survive, even as long as the salary was not enough, you were sure that every month you will have it. I was going into a wilderness, the industry was still new then and people were not making big money, but the passion was driving me. I tested the water for three years (1994-1997), and I was encouraged to resign.
Before I resigned I spoke to one man I won’t forget, he’s called Soni Collins, he was the man that gave me the first opportunity to produce a movie, ‘Compromise.’ When I was in a dilemma, thinking of how to resign and how I am going to survive, he was the one that gave me the final word. The civil service job was slowing be down because I was working in the East, and I will come to Lagos to make movies and quickly rush back to my office. So in 1997 I resigned and I today I am happy I did that.
I am planning to get back seriously again. I want to get into serious topical issues, issues that border on our lifestyle on our existence, on the end time. There are so many things that people should know so that we will be careful the way we live, and remember that above all there is life after death.