We are out to cause a revolution with our films —  Laju Iren

In this interview with Nigerian NewsDirect, film-maker and Director, Laju Iren speaks about her new movie premiering this easter and her foray into film-making

Can you talk to us about your career trajectory?

I started as a poet. I wrote my first poem when I was 10. And then from then on, I was writing poetry and short stories. Then I started Mass Communication at the university. I had this in mind to be a doctor, because my dad is a doctor. But that’s an incident where I was doing well in a lot of Art electives.

I was getting an A in Literature and a D in Chemistry. So in SS3, first term, or was it SS2, third term? I think it was SS3, first term, I think. Or SS2, third term. I moved from, no, SS3 first term, from Science class to Art class.

I was one of the best students. I went on to work as a journalist, but after five years in journalism, I resigned to tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell.

So with my blog, I wrote even more books. But then from when I was an undergraduate, I had a desire to become a filmmaker. But there were very many opportunities for filmmakers.

My desire was to go to America. But I had no time to go to America because of ministry. I also didn’t have the resources, so there was that. But then, I wrote this book called ‘Loving a Man’ that I really wanted to make into a film.

As time went by, that was many years later after I had resigned, many years after university. And I couldn’t really find anybody who could help me make the film. So I decided to make it by myself.

In 2020 I went to film school and then I made my first short film and then I made my miniseries and then it just kind of evolved from there. So that was basically that, if you’re talking about my career trajectory, that’s where I’m coming from, I believe that would be the history.

I see millions and billions of people all around the world watching our work. And I believe that we’ll be able to change the space such that clean, beautiful stories are the order of the day. Just to provide people with a godly alternative that is fun, that is interesting and that’s of great quality.

I ventured into filmmaking and production because I wanted to create the kind of stories I wanted to see. It really doesn’t have to be naked, you don’t always have to use swear words, it doesn’t always have to be sex in it, it doesn’t always have to portray Christianity in a particular kind of bad light.

There are inspiring stories about our faith, about what we do, that can bless people and change lives and I think that’s the reason why I ventured into filmmaking because even though I worked as an author before becoming a filmmaker, I realised that the number of people who would read all my books in several months was not up to the number of those who could watch my films in a day.

So if a picture goes a thousand words you can imagine how many words a video is worth and I wanted to make that sort of impact.

You have made significant progress in the past few years since you released your debut film, what will you say is your secret recipe for success?

I’m thankful for how far we’ve come. I think because success is when it comes to work, my definition of success, I don’t think I’m there yet.

I’m growing as a filmmaker, and I’m not there yet but I would say what has helped me on this journey so far is just basically the drive to get the world to see our stories.

I think that’s one of the most important things, the kinds of stories, because it’s the danger of a single story, not just when you’re talking about stories that relate to Africa, but when you’re talking about stories that relate to the Christian faith. The Christian in the average movie is always the one pretending or lying or scamming people for money but the average person knows many good Christians and many good churches that have been there for people over the years, and I feel like as believers we’re not represented enough so that’s my drive and then I really like stories, I like filmmaking, I really love what I do so I guess that’s a motivation in itself.

You started the concept of a virtual cinema. What inspired this?

When streaming platforms first came into Nigeria, there were a number of people who tried their hands on creating their own streaming platforms, even Christian streaming platforms.

The issue is that the infrastructure needed to keep your streaming platform going is a lot. You’re paying for a lot of infrastructure and a lot of cloud space, the apps, you’re paying for them month in month out.

So it really is a lot. There are a lot of big brands that try to create their own streaming platforms and fail. And because of how expensive the infrastructure is, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because if you are going to have a streaming platform that works 24/7, you have to have all the content, all the resources, not everybody can be Netflix.

That’s the truth. That is not at this particular point in time for a new filmmaker. So what the virtual cinema does is that it gives us an opportunity to own a streaming platform for just for a while.

If you go to a cinema and you don’t watch the film around the time you’ve got the tickets to see that film, then you probably won’t watch it until you buy another set of tickets again going forward in the future.

So as a filmmaker, I wanted a platform that my fan base could easily access, but that would also be profitable for us as a company. So what we did is we have the infrastructure, but for Mistakenly Yours, for example, we are paying for that infrastructure for the duration of the virtual cinema.

I also wanted a situation where everybody could watch from anywhere in the world. Because if you do a traditional cinema, what happens is people can only see it in cinemas in their location. People might be too tired to go out or too busy.

And I can relate because even though I love talking to people. They are parts of my life that are quite introverted and introverted, extroverted, so going out is not really my strong suit, but I can stay and then watch movies.

I know that there have been people who’ve had friends who had films that came out, but because of how busy or how tired they were, they weren’t able to go out and watch. So we wanted something that everybody all around the world can see, because this is a film that everybody needs to see.

For the virtual cinema, we felt it’s more effective, and then for a growing company like us, you can still have the impact that your virtual cinema can have, but you don’t necessarily have to spend all the resources that a film that was traditionally going to cinemas would need to spend. We’re still growing in this area, but we think that it is something that is here to stay.

You have set an ambitious goal of N250 million in ticket sales for an unreleased movie. What makes you think people will buy tickets and why should people buy tickets?

We won’t know if we don’t try. We celebrated our N10 million milestone recently. Of course, compared to how much we made the film, we still have some ways to go. But if I never tried, I would never know.

It’s important that we try. So we’re going to push our very, very best to reach it. But the answer to that question is, why not? Why not?

I know that people have gone out of their way to support us a lot. When we first did this for “Loving Amanda.” We’ve done it before, maybe not this amount, but we’ve seen it in seed form.

So we believe that we will see it again by creating a much greater platform. We are exploring partnerships with other content producers and distributors like Netflix and Prime. Once we have concrete partnerships, we will definitely let our people know.

You have an upcoming movie premiering this Easter. What inspired the choice of the name “Mistakenly Yours”?

I’ve always loved romance and faith. So Mistakenly Yours combines two of my favourite loves when it comes to storytelling.

I really want people to have a different perspective of faith and to serve God. There’s a unique theme in my films which is that your past doesn’t matter as much as your future, so that’s a major thing.

It’s a romantic comedy, it’s fun to watch. There are some films where it takes a long time to find the right title, but this one was easy because it combines a lot of things I love.

I love good stories and I love the church. I love relationships of convenience within stories, so there’s a lot, and I just love bringing two very different characters together and just seeing them grow and shine.

In conclusion, where do you see yourself in the next five years as a film-maker?

I see myself on billions of screens across the world: phone screens, cinema screens. We want to cause a revolution so people know that films can be decent, clear, while still downright entertaining. We also, of course, want to spread the gospel of Jesus in every way. So we’re still going to be making Christian films.

We’re also going to be looking at films that might blur the genre slightly, but have an impact on society and the whole cultural revolution and cultural movement.

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