INTERVIEW: Why Nigerian filmmakers underestimate stuntmen

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A stuntman is a trained professional who performs daring acts like jumping from a high-rise building or walking through a fireball in a movie, but when he takes the place of another actor, he is called a stunt double.

While stunt work is a lucrative career in Hollywood, it is still undervalued in Nollywood.

David Patrick, or Mr. Nollywood, is an unassuming Nigerian stuntman. You’d walk past him and not realize months ago he was a brace for the footballer Alex Iwobi when he had to jump over several cars in Lagos traffic.

As a first-generation Nollywood stuntman, he spent most of 2020 and 2021 falling from multi-story buildings, smashing cars, choreographing fights and surviving hell.

He has acted in several films, including “King of Boys”, “Soólé” and “Devil in Agada”, “Superstar”, and the recent “Mambas Diamond”.

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he talks about some of his death defying stunts and the low appreciation of the stunt industry in Nigeria.

PT: What is the role of stuntmen in film production?

Mr Nollywood: The stunt or choreography industry has been around for a long time. The stunt coordinator is responsible for security on this set. For example, I have already been set on fire, jumped from two-story buildings and many other risky things. So I risk recommending a safer approach for the main players.

PT: How did you get into the stunt game?

Mr. Nollywood: It started 20 years ago, in 2001, when I was in high school. I learned karate, martial arts and Nigerian Man O’war, not knowing that all of these things would add up to be a better thing for me. My colleagues and I performed in Nollywood movies for free. We didn’t even realize what we were doing, we just felt like we were action actors, but over the years we realized that the industry in Hollywood was called the stunt and fight industry.

PT: What were your childhood aspirations?

Mr. Nollywood: I wanted to be a doctor. Once I sold herbal medicine; joined the Nigerian Red Cross, where I was certified. But as I got closer to my dreams, other side attractions started to arrive. I liked Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Van Damme, so I embraced martial arts. I was playing with my mind and it became a reality.

PT: What death defying stunts have you done?

Mr. Nollywood: I was burned on a movie set. I also used a shuttle to collide with a moving vehicle; I did it twice. I take these risks to understand the security measure. But, unfortunately, we don’t have all the facilities to spare in Nigeria. So stuntmen put our lives on the line to protect our superstars.

The most dangerous thing I’ve done is set myself on fire without a fire drill. Ideally, I was supposed to have performed a fire drill as it was to help prepare me for evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency or so that the fire would not touch my skin. Unfortunately, the producers had a string shoe budget. He wanted to set a dummy on fire first, which was unrealistic for me, so I jumped at the chance.

PT: How did you do it?

Mr. Nollywood: I smeared myself with so much cloth and water. People would think it was just fabric and water, but it was burning inside. Although it didn’t rip my skin off, I felt all the heat. And they poured five liters of fuel on me. Funny enough, the movie hasn’t been released yet.

PT: You were in the three highest-grossing films of 2021

Mr. Nollywood: Yes, I acted in three films, “Soole”, “King of Boys”, “Mambas Diamond”, “Devil in Agbada”. I also coordinated and performed stunt coordination on the accident scene in the movie ‘Superstar’.

PT: What does it take to do a stunt in a movie?

Mr. Nollywood: If you didn’t pull off a realistic car crash, you should have used a doomed car. It will help you to know the impact of the crash on the car because I can’t perform some stunts twice. If the camera is not well adjusted and correctly aimed and you do such a stunt on a new car, it will represent colossal damage.

PT: Have you ever performed such a stunt?

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Mr. Nollywood: I was the stuntman for a footballer, Alex Iwobi, when he had to jump over several cars in Lagos traffic in a DSTV commercial. I had to rent a car from a mechanic garage, pay them for a full body and use it to rehearse.

Unfortunately, my knee broke the goggles on one occasion and I significantly damaged the vehicle before I mastered the stunt before it was finally recorded. However, on the day of shooting, I practiced 20 times on a brand new car without breaking a single window because I had practiced for a long time on a doomed car.

PT: Do you also appear in comedy sketches?

Mr. Nollywood: I have worked with all of the sketch makers in Lagos.

PT: What kind of stunts do you do in the comedy sketches?

Mr Nollywood: I performed a crash stunt for Agent Wose with an expedition bike and another for Oluwa Dollars, where he fought with a kidnapper, but it turned out to be a dream.

PT: What is the place of stunts and special effects in Nollywood?

Mr Nollywood: Regardless of what we have done in the industry, the place we have at the heart of the industry is 30%. It’s because some filmmakers don’t even know that in filmmaking we have a department called stunt and choreography department in filmmaking.

PT: I’m curious how a stunt would fit into a romantic movie?

Mr. Nollywood: Yes, if you have a love story where someone wants to kill themselves, you need stunts, maybe because of the grief the actor has to jump into the bridge, it’s a stunt.

PT: Comparing Hollywood and Nollywood, what does Nollywood have to learn about stunts?

Mr Nollywood: The first thing they need to learn is stunt budgeting. Most Nollywood movies do not include stunts. Only a few people are open to modern films that include stunts. So producers want to cut corners, forgetting that these stunts are risky, and that a good stunt requires a good budget.

PT: What has been the highlight of your career?

Mr Nollywood: The highlight of my career was after AY’s Black Panther comedy skit.

Before shooting the skit, AY looked for a stuntman or fight choreographer in Lagos but couldn’t find one, until Alex Ekubo gave Ay my contact. I’m Alex’s gym teacher.

After shooting the AY sketch comedy, I got other deals with Netflix, DSTV, Ebony Life, and more.

PT: Is there a career path in the stunt industry?

Mr Nollywood: In Nigeria, the stunt industry does not have a defined career path as the offers do not come in every day.

PT: So apart from stunts and special effects, what else do you do?

Mr Nollywood: I am a facility manager in a real estate company, while cinema and stunts are more of a passion that now pays some of my bills.

PT: How did you earn the name Mr Nollywood?

Mr. Nollywood: First they called me Cruise Marshal, then I was a music promoter. Then I joined the Actors Guild of Nigeria, but I was not happy with the pace the industry was changing then. So I launched a WhatsApp platform for child actors where I give actors to producers without necessarily going through auditions. I did this to save many promising actors from the hands of sex for roles, which were rampant in the industry then, especially in Surulere. There was this hotel known as “Wenis,” where they did a lot of auditions and assaulted young actresses. My girlfriend was a victim.

So when a lot of people saw that I was all over the industry, they started calling me Mr Nollywood.

PT: How does it feel to be called Mr Nollywood?

Mr. Nollywood: The name is a heavy burden because the industry is so big, and the Nollywood brand we power every part of the industry, empowering young actors.

We were the first to fight against the phenomenon of gender roles for cinema, which was rampant in Nollywood. By the grace of God, we were able to overcome this widespread crime. I also mentored a group of stunt coordinators and fight choreographers in Nollywood.

PT: You mentioned that you have championed a struggle against gender roles for film. How did that happen ?

Mr. Nollywood: It was successful. We blocked some directors who were the perpetrators of sex-for-role. If there is an audition where an actor has been abused, we will make sure to stop it. This is how we fought sex for non-industry roles in Lagos.

PT: Is the role of sex-for-movie a thing of the past?

Mr Nollywood: It is still rampant in Asaba, Delta State although it started in the international market of Festac and Alaba before they moved to eastern Nigeria.

PT: Have you participated in foreign film projects?

Mr Nollywood: Yes, I was featured in a Bollywood and Malaysian movie called Blackout produced by a Nigerian based in Malaysia. I also acted in another Hollywood movie shot in Nigeria but was cast overseas.

PT: What’s the difference between stunts and sleight of hand?

Mr Nollywood: There is no movie trick without a stunt as they both require good editing, makeup artists and stunt people.

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