Sandra Okunzuwa’s first theatrical outing, Something Like Gold, launched in cinemas across the country yesterday, 29th of September, 2023. The movie stars Sandra Okunzuwa, Teniola Aladese, Segun Arinze, Patrick Doyle, Kunle Remi, Timini Egbuson, Mercy Johnson Okojie, and a host of others. The romance title is directed by Kayode Kasum, the director of Love, Lust, and Other Things, This Lady Called Life, Soole, and Obara’M.
In this exclusive interview with Sandra, she tells us about the process of making the film, how fund was sourced for the project, and the challenges experienced while making the film and in the industry generally.
Continue reading to know more about Something Like Gold, currently showing in a cinema close to you.
You just made a huge attempt with a big-budget film at a young age. When did you realize you were going to do this and how did you do it?
I have always wanted to talk about this for a very long time and I am glad we are getting to talk about it. As an actor, I have always wanted to be on different platforms: cinema, Netflix, YouTube, everywhere. I am not limited to a particular platform. I wanted to show my talent on different platforms. I kickstarted my career with Iroko TV, where I did some really good movies. I noticed that most gigs I was getting were just from Iroko TV, Africa Magic, and YouTube. I would go for auditions for cinema films and I wouldn’t get picked. This led to me introspecting about not being good enough, not being fit enough. I always felt I did well at the auditions but I never got picked.
I usually tell God in my prayers that I want to be a part of cinema, Netflix, and Prime Movies. I want a part in big films. So while praying one day, I heard this thin voice that started telling me, “Sandra, since you are praying about being part of something big, why don’t you build it yourself?” I laughed at that. I was thinking about how much I had in my account that I would use for a big-budget film. I was simply interested in a producer casting me for a big film, so I attributed the voice to the devil trying to hinder me from praying.
However, it became a consistent thing in my head. Whenever I finished praying, my mind always went back to the voice I had heard but I kept pushing it away.
In 2021, I later spoke with a writer, Ada, to send me some scripts. I found some of the scripts difficult to read. They bore me and I sleep off while reading them. I enjoy a good script and can read that from beginning to end non-stop. However, there was a particular script that took me less than two hours to finish. I told the writer that the script was fun, engaging, and nice. I shared the script with the guy I was dating then and told him I was thinking of producing it for Iroko TV. He also shared it with his mother, and they were both impressed with it and thought it should be for the big screen but I didn’t have the money for all that. I left that script alone in 2021 with plans to shoot it when I have sufficient money.
While praying again, I heard the thin voice, so I asked it to provide the money for me since it was so insistent. I came out of a set one night and I called Kayode. I had always wanted to work with him but I wanted to have the right script. I told him I had a script and I wanted us to do the movie together. At this time, I didn’t have the funds for the movie.
I had some money but it was not up to half of what was needed. I spoke to him with confidence and faith. He told me he would refer me to a director that would be able to do the film. I insisted I wanted him for the movie and didn’t want to be referred to anybody, but he didn’t respond in the affirmative. So, whenever I heard the thin voice, I retorted to it that even the director I wanted did not want to do the film.
One day, after my morning prayers, Kayode called me and told me he wanted to do the movie. I asked him how much he thought would be needed for the movie. When he told me the budget, about 70 to 80 million, I was shocked. He told me that was the range if we were going to do it.
That was discouraging but I am a very driven and focused individual. I have always had this push to see things I am interested in through and completed. That’s how I am built.
When he told me about the budget, I informed him that I did not have the money but I kept reaching out to people to support. There was an executive producer who did a movie at that time and promised to support me once he got some money from the movie he had produced. I also tried to help push the film for him so that when he got the money, he could support me.
Sadly, his movie did not do well, he got cheated. He asked me to give him some time but eventually, he sent me a long message, telling me it wasn’t something he wanted to be a part of. I felt bad. This was in 2021.
Later on, Kayode broached the idea of collaborating with me on the film. He would pay a part of the budget while I’d take the rest, which I did not even have. However, I didn’t want to come off as unserious and a time waster. This was now the beginning of 2022. At one point, I pitched the story to FilmOne but they were not aware of any project I had done before and didn’t want to invest their money wrongly.
I have an aunt with a background in film. She had worked with production companies in the past and she had seen some of my films. She agreed to come in as an investor. I was left looking for the rest of the money. Kayode and I had decided to go on with the project. I was transferring the money bit by bit to the account we were going to be deducting from. All the while not telling Kayode I did not have the complete money.
I had someone whose money I was banking on. I think the person was meant to add 15 million. Two weeks before the start of the project, the person sent me a long epistle, telling me they didn’t want to do anything film-related and they wouldn’t be a part of the project.
Kay said even if we couldn’t go to the cinema, we could go straight to streamers. I am an actress, so I asked producers for payments for some jobs upfront just to put into the project. That was how funds for the project were sourced.
Let’s talk about your production timeline. When did you guys start going on set? When did you finish principal photography? Also, about casting, how were you able to get the stars for the project?
We have Mercy Johnson, Kunle Remi, Timini, Broda Shaggi, Teniola, Tope, and other people. Cinema is in such a way that not only do you need a story, you also need to ensure it is commercial. Picking the cast was a decision between Kayode and me.
Mercy Johnson is a super-talented actress. She is someone I have watched and I love how she does her stuff. She is very good. She knows her onions. In those days, when she started, she used to act in a lot of emotional roles, but recently she started doing more comedy. I decided to bring back the emotional side of her for the film. There were some difficulties in doing this because of her rate card but I was determined to use her for the production.
I wanted the movie to comprise different people. I wanted veterans and those of us who are upcoming. So we have Segun Arinze, Mercy Johnson, and Patrick Doyle so that those who have been following the industry for a while can get to see the movie and enjoy it. We also have people like Kunle Remi and Timini who have been there before me. I also wanted newbies like Teni, myself, and Tope. I just wanted a feel of the different phases in the industry.
Also, Brodda Shaggi’s role was suitable for him. From the script, I had three people in mind, but he was the number one, and I am quite glad he came to deliver that role. There wasn’t sentiment, we needed to get it right in terms of casting and I believe we did.
What is your biggest expectation for this film? What do you define as success?
I define success as when people get to watch a film and enjoy it. I want people to come out en masse to watch the movie because it took a lot from me and I don’t want the effort to go to waste. I really want it to be a good one. The same way we enjoyed the script when we read it, I want people out there to enjoy the finished product. At least, the money that was spent on the movie should come out. People are waiting to see the outcome of this, to know if they can trust me.
This movie will be successful. Once it is, it will make more people trust me. This is a childhood dream, and I feel happy. I feel some kind of fulfilment. I am not someone who is usually proud of myself, but I was proud of myself when we wrapped up principal photography.
I have had some minor frustrations. The plans I have sometimes don’t go the way I want them to. I am at a point where I am learning how to keep going irrespective of how I feel.
I am not here for a temporary thing. I am here to stay, take up space, and work with people. A lot of people, having tried the cinema, get discouraged and decide not to do it again but that isn’t going to be me. I made a good film, with an interesting story, and a good cast. I want people to come and watch it. I am giving them value for their money.
Did you go to law school?
Yes. I did. I attended Abuja Law School, Bwari campus. I was called to the Nigerian Bar.
What was your driving force for the big switch?
I’d say passion, though it has not been rosy. My parents funded my education and they actually wanted me to become a lawyer. They wanted to be called Papa Lawyer and Mama Lawyer but I know for sure they had always known within them that I was an entertainment child. From being a social prefect in secondary school, I have always been a social child. The only thing that discouraged me from singing was when I tried singing one time and my roommate begged me in the name of God to never sing again. Right there and then, any dream of being a musician died on arrival.
As a lawyer, I was good at it. As a law student, I went for a competition in Washington DC. I was a member of the International Law Student Association (ILSA). However, if I am not doing something that makes me happy, I won’t give my best to it. Entertainment can be tiring and frustrating but I will keep at it because I feel fulfilled doing it.
What is the one thing or person you are grateful for from the start of your career that pushed you forward?
I am grateful for my mum. She is always praying for me. She is always supportive of me. My dad is late, and she isn’t the kind of parent who will dictate what you must do. She guides me to follow my passion.
In the industry, however, I am grateful for Enem Isong. She might not know this but I came to Lagos because of her and the Royal Arts Academy. I did not know her in person. I only knew of the movies she was producing then like Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
I always wanted to work with her. Coming to Lagos and working my NYSC back to Lagos from Abuja just to attend the Royal Arts Academy, she was the first person who gave me an opportunity in a lead role. Though my acting wasn’t strong then, she still took a chance on me. I grew and became better every day. So I am really grateful to her.
Do you think Nollywood rewards hard work?
I won’t lie, not enough. This isn’t just speaking from the part of being an actor. I am talking about the crew members also. We work a lot. We work so hard. I remember telling a colleague that next year I am going to slow down on acting gigs. Right now, I seem to be focused on only one part of my life. Different things are getting affected. Friendships. Relationships. Passion about something leads to a desire for its success, and what we get isn’t enough.
With the work I have put into acting and producing, people would think I should be earning a lot but I am not. I am just trying to be comfortable. It isn’t rosy out there. Even the crew members work back-to-back every day but some don’t even own a car.
They don’t own houses for their families and they are not living so well. Sometimes I come on set by 8 or 9 and I am not done until 4:00 am. If it was about money and not passion, I would have gone into something else, maybe real estate or tech. I have gotten other offers. I stick with this because of my passion and I feel fulfilled. I have gotten messages from people about movies saving marriages and helping with depression. People giving joy should on their own be okay and comfortable.
I feel bad when an actor who has been in the industry a long time is going through medical treatments and then they are calling for public funds. I am not saying it is bad to source for public funds but we should be buoyant enough to take care of such circumstances without needing public help to do that. I pray for an industry where we earn well with the amount of work we put in, and the work of our hands is really blessed. I know I have my own plans for the industry but I pray the industry gets a lot of support in terms of funding we need and we also have a lot of consumers.
I want the industry to be better in terms of funding and in terms of people appreciating our work. People criticise and compare us with Hollywood which has a lot of support and funding. If we can get a quarter of the support Hollywood gets, we would do a great job.
We do a great job with what we have, we can’t wait until we have all the support needed so we make do. For Something Like Gold, I did my best. When it gets out there, some people will say it isn’t good enough. That is fine, my next project will be better than this. We are not perfect but this I did to the best of my ability and to the best of my pocket’s ability.
There is a way my family looks at me which was why when I went to beg for funds from them they were amazed that I didn’t have 80 million in my account. I can remember one of my cousins telling me that Google says I’m worth $500,000. How?
Nigerians generally are determined and strong people. We know how to push ourselves. Things will get better. I believe.
Something Like Gold debuted on the 29th of September 2o23. Be sure to see to go see it and feel free to share your thoughts with us.