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Half of a Yellow Sun producer Andrea Calderwood on filming in Nigeria

Producer Andrea Calderwood has recently returned from Nigeria, where she was working on the upcoming film Half of a Yellow Sun. The feature is based on the Orange Prize-winning novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and is currently in post-production. It is being set up for distribution and will be ready for this year’s festival market.

Talking to KFTV, Andrea shared her experiences of filming in the vast country. She takes us through the process of getting visas, filming in different locations and the various challenges the production encountered.

What are the legal requirements to film in Nigeria?

It can be challenging to get visas to film in Nigeria. However, there is an organisation called the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) run by managing director Afolabi Adesanya, who will help the application process get started. THE NFC charges a fee per crew member, so bear in mind that feature films do use larger crews than say, documentaries. Fees can vary.

You have to register with the NFC for any kind of filming in Nigeria. They will in turn help you with registering with the Ministry of Information, another essential procedure. Generally speaking, you will need a letter of invitation from the organisation or people you are working with in Nigeria in order to get the visa. But the NFC is an excellent central point of contact.

For Half of a Yellow Sun, we got the visa application process down to a fine art, but it can take a while, so do apply in advance. 

Where was the shoot based and why?

We filmed in a place called Calabar in Cross River State, south east Nigeria. We were told that our schedule coincided with the onset of the rainy season, so we were quite worried about how this would affect the shoot. In reality, it didn’t really disrupt us at all. Admittedly, it rained on and off and there were plenty of thunderstorms, but nothing too drastic.

My experience of Africa is that the seasons have been changing quite a lot – the predicted dates for the rainy season are not very precise now.   

Calabar is known in Nigeria for being a very quiet state. It has no oil, and doesn’t suffer from the sectarian violence you hear about in the north of the country. It is famous for its yearly carnival every December, and promotes itself as a tourist area, which is partly why we chose it.

A big draw of the area was also the fully equipped film studio, Tinapa, built in 2008. We were the first full scale production to use it. The running of Studio Tinapa has just been taken over by a lady called Mosunmola Abudu , known as Mo. She has a long running chat show in Nigeria and is now setting up a 24 hour channel. Mo has taken over management of the facility from the Cross River State government, who built it, and has a whole team around her helping to run both the studio and the channel.

There really is a film-friendly atmosphere in this part of Nigeria – they are encouraging many more productions to film in the area.   

Were there any safety issues?

Where we were filming was very lush and tropical. Close to an area called Creek Town, it was very underdeveloped, with a remote, rural feel. It actually reminded me of the Caribbean.

There are places in the north with very different landscapes – the north is a place that has more conflict going on at the moment.

People often think Nigeria is a dangerous country, but the risks are in very specific areas. For example, in the delta where the oil is, there is a history of kidnapping. And in the north, there is violence unfolding at the moment. But the dangers are in defined pockets.

To not visit certain parts of Nigeria due to the perceived danger factor would be like not visiting London during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

What is Lagos like now?

Where we were based was an hour’s flight from Lagos, and two and half hours from the north of the country. Lagos is an amazing city, with a lot going on, and quite hectic. It is a challenge to drive around Lagos, although not as bad as it used to be!

The city’s governor Babatunde Fashola has been in place for a couple of years, and is a kind of Rudy Giuliani type. He is cleaning up the place, and there is a lot of investment and work going on to try to improve the infrastructure. I have noticed the roads are better in the four years or so since I have been visiting.

Was language a problem?

English is very widely spoken; although there are lots of different Nigerian languages, pretty much everyone you deal with speaks English.

Where did post-production take place?

Our post-production was done in the UK. However, there are moves to set up post-production facilities in Nigeria – in fact, Parminder Vir, founder and director of PVL Media, is currently working on just such an initiative. 

What would you say were the main challenges you faced?

Logistics are definitely a challenge, shipping and customs clearance being top of the list! The process depends hugely on the amount of equipment you are taking into Nigeria; as this was a feature film, we were taking a lot. Although many films are made in Nigeria, they are on much more of a domestic scale for the home video market so equipment for a big project is not easily accessed there.

Generally speaking, you should assume you need to take a lot of your own gear. Transport, shipping and customs are all areas which need a lot of research in advance, and allow plenty of time to get everything in place. We experienced a lot of delays, which cost us valuable production time.

How would you sum up the overall experience?

Somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of our finance came from Nigeria, so we had a lot of very strong support from both our Nigerian producing partners and the local stage government. Nigeria is a federal country, so the main support comes from the governor and the government of the state you’re filming in. It’s a very business orientated country, with a lot of commercially minded people, often easier to deal with than going through the sometimes lengthy government procedures. It has a real ‘can-do’ feeling, backed by entrepreneurial spirit.

Although there are still problems with the infrastructure, they can be overcome with good advice and plenty of planning time.

KFTV would like to thank Andrea for her insight, advice and expertise. For more information on filming in Nigeria, click here.

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