Anything that can go wrong — an excursion into a week from hell on a Nollywood film set

Editi Effiong
8 min readJan 19, 2022

Part 2 of my last article on making The Black Book. You probably should read Part 1 first — here

“Sorry Editi, but the actors are not available. They are still in Lagos”

This is where it began. We had planned for months to execute one of the biggest logistical operations in Nollywood history, shooting not just at the remote Tarkwa Bay island location, but at the Apapa seaport, a highly regulated location. As complicated as the location was to move equipment to, we managed to pull it off at the last minute.

And then, somehow, we did not have the actors for that night scene. The story I was told by production was that the agent who had ‘supplied’ the actors hadn’t picked up their call all week. And so what? Don’t you have the actors’ direct numbers? Silence.

Yes, this was the moment.

Anger is too important an emotion to waste, I always say, so I usually cycle through the gears, from green bell pepper to Cameroon pepper. The top-level of anger for me is when I say absolutely nothing, which is where I was at that moment. I stood there for a bit, trying to figure whose head to chop first.

But chopping heads would not give us a scene, and not shooting this scene was absolutely non-negotiable. We had no spare days, in fact we were running about 11 days behind. Solutions, solutions.

“Call the crew.”

The production guys didn’t think this was a good idea, as this was a problem that needed senior heads. They proposed we find extras in the community and from the crew to MILT the scene. This couldn’t work, because the interior part of the scene had already been shot and you can’t just change character actors mid-film, or can you?

The interior bit of this scene had already been shot in the studio

This suggestion really did infuriate me, but you know what? It’s ok. Call the crew.

The one thing I knew about actors, they take a lot of photos, and often, crew members take those photos with their own phones and share them with actors via Whatsapp. So, my thinking was that even if the production didn’t have the numbers, some crew members would. Sure enough, the crew members had the numbers. We quickly located the cast, who were busy with their lives, but because they really loved this project, were willing to show up.

It was past 7 PM. The waters of the Lagos Lagoon are closed to civilian traffic, so asking to bring the crew to Lagos Marina sounded like a lost cause, but that’s exactly what I asked. Two of the guys were in Ikotun, which is quite far, but I believed they’d be coming against traffic, or whatever. If we could get them to Marina by 9 PM, we could shoot by 10 PM.

But how will you bring them from Marina, production asked?

When we arrived Tarwa Bay, we got caught in a little brotherly quarrel, between the Army and Navy, which we had to settle with the Navy in order to land our barge. During that peacemaking process, we had made a few friends from the Navy.

Shortly before 8 PM, we went to the officers of the Nigerian Navy and begged them to help us clear our cast to travel from Marina to Tarkwa Bay. They happily obliged.

By 9:30 PM, somehow, against all odds, we managed to get the cast together for the scene.

Lights, Camera, Action!

The real question, however, is why we were in this situation in the first place.

One of the most important things done in preproduction is a schedule. A schedule lists everything you’re going to do during production and lines them up with actor availability, location availability, cast days, etc. ADs often insert a few open days to allow the production some flexibility in the event that stuff doesn’t go according to plan (stuff rarely goes according to plan).

E.g. This was our draft schedule for the pickup shoot

Once the schedule has been agreed, it’s communicated with the cast and crew, but it is most important for the actors, who take the schedule and plan how many days they are going to be on set and plan accordingly. This being Nollywood, actors really can’t afford to do one project at a time, so it often happens that most actors have to schedule time between two or more projects.

(While our project required some actors to not work on any other project during the period, the supporting actors weren’t bound by such commitments.)

On shoot day 20, despite all the testing and precautions we took, we had a COVID outbreak on the set. Yes, we had a COVID protocol, yes it worked, but a new crew member joined, tested negative, then developed symptoms the next day. He was a popular person and had contact with many of us. The resulting outbreak affected the DOP, AD, sound department, and pretty much the entire production unit. It was a disaster! We had to shelve production and worry about the actual lives of our crew.

Luckily everyone pulled through, but 11 days were lost. 11 fully paid days for equipment rented from Panavision UK (pounds o), local equipment, cast, crew etc. Most importantly, the cast schedule was in shambles. People who had locked time to be on our set now had to renegotiate those times. Three key actors, including our lead, had to be on another project, etc.

This meant that actors who had lost weight and grown hair for the project had to gain weight and cut hair for their next project, which meant we needed to plan time for them to lose weight again when they were done, and grow their hair back for continuity! Money.

You can plan for 2 or 3 days off schedule, but how do you plan for 11 days?

This is partly why that craziness happened in Tarkwa Bay. While the actors had known their previous schedule, the 2nd AD had not been able to communicate the new schedule and did not escalate.

The consequences of those 11 days were heavy on us, and many of our previously well-resourced plans took a hit. Apapa was one of them.

In many ways, Tarkwa Bay was much easier to secure — a letter from the Army sorted things. The Apapa port, on the other hand, a heavily regulated facility, was a completely different beast. If you recall, writers write these pretty scenes, directors say “Oh nice”, but producers say “Your fada”. This location was one of those Your fada locations — it took a year of applications and approvals to secure. Everything was good, until it wasn’t, due to the 11-day shift.

While we were dealing with our own COVID outbreak, the location had a number of positive cases and they were afraid to allow a film crew into their facility. A seaport runs around the clock, so a COVID outbreak would affect core operations. Imagine not being able to get sugar at your local store because Nollywood was shooting a film — God abeg o.

However, looking at our schedule, we had to shoot that scene. We just had to. Failing to shoot meant we could end up a month off schedule — this was a very expensive proposition. So we called, begged, negotiated. I spoke to everyone — CEO, plant manager, tea lady, Sikiru, the guy who cleans the wall clocks, etc. It wasn’t looking good.

3 days into our sojourn in Tarkwa Bay (3 days from our planned shoot at Apapa), we caught a break. The facility management wanted to review our COVID protocol, in order to decide a go or no go. This was great news. I broke off from set, got on a boat, and ran to Apapa, accompanied by my assistant, the production manager, location manager, and production designer. We were desperate to make a good impression.

September 2020– 4th visit to the port/recce

The meeting went well. We broke down our COVID protocol, agreed to come with a scaled-down crew, an isolated holding area, and zero contact with the port staff. All cast and crew were to be tested before showing up . The facility team felt good about our plan. All we had to do now was wait for the management's decision.

September 2020 — Apapa Port recce

We waited. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

Friday morning was ground zero. We had worked from 10 PM Thursday night to 7.30 AM on Friday. The 3-hour actor delay had real impacts. Ade Laoye, one of our top actors, went back to the hotel to wait for her call since we were now off the planned shooting schedule. While sleeping by the pool, she was robbed — phone, wallet, jewelry.

Yep! It was that kind of night.

We finally finished after 7AM on Friday, having barely managed to pull off the ‘twilight scene’ before daylight (dusk can be shot at dawn and vise versa because the sky looks the same). However, we could not retire. Jerry, our Guadeloupian camera assistant was leaving that morning (because of those 11 lost days — to be replaced by another AC who was coming in from the UK that morning), and we gathered to wish him well before the crew started packing to return ‘home’.

Eyes were firmly on Apapa. We still planned to shoot in Apapa on Saturday and had to put all our energies into making that happen. This need for energy was real — especially for the light and grip team, who are unfortunately the people with the toughest job on film sets. They arrive first and leave last because all that rigging has to be de-rigged and packed safely.

I always tried to stay behind until the grip team is done, for morale reasons, but on this day, I was seriously tempted to leave. I was so exhausted, I walked into the ocean fully dressed and just plopped in.

The grip team didn’t finish until 1 PM.

This is what the camera and light teams looked like at 1.30 PM

I started texting my contacts at Apapa by 9 AM, desperate for information about approvals. I was told to expect a call before 12 noon.

12 noon came, no call. 1 PM. 2 PM. 3 PM. We got on the last boat and left Tarkwa Bay.

The call came at past 5 PM. We were not approved for Saturday. The only way we could shoot there would be, maybe, in a month. No, there was nothing he could do about that.



Editi Effiong

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