MBTN-Move Back to Nigeria Network recently hosted an evening of relaxed and informal networking session at the upscale Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island Lagos. MBTN provides attendees the opportunity to engage with a wealth of business and other professionals operating within and outside Nigeria. Brycee Adiah Bassey emerged the winner of the awards ceremony which formed part of the highlight of the event to appreciate the extraordinary personalities who have featured in MBTN’s weekly interviews. The winning interview received the most votes from readers on the MBTN website.
MBTN founder Adabara Abdullahi with 2014 MBTN awardee; Brycee Adiah Bassey
MBTN is the foremost and fastest growing network of Nigerian professionals in the diaspora with its key objective to connect Nigerian professionals, businesses and investors with the various opportunities in Nigeria (and the diaspora), ranging from strategic recruitment drives to investor outreach programmes, relocation information, financial advice, real estate and more. The event also featured a keynote address delivered by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ogun State; Hon. Abimbola Akeredolu.
In the following winning interview, Brycee Adiah Bassey shares her experience on relocating to Nigeria.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell us who you are?
My name is Brycee Adiah Bassey. I am an actress here in Nigeria and also a professional violinist and proficient Spanish speaker.
Please briefly walk us through your educational background?
I studied Modern and Classical Literature in Spanish, which includes Spanish, French and Portuguese, but I mastered the Spanish language. I also studied Political Science, which was at Wichita State University in Kansas, USA, graduating in 2012.
Did you do all your growing up in the US?
Yes I grew up in the US. I spent all of my life there and had never visited Nigeria up until the time I moved here.
You graduated in 2012. What came after that?
After graduating, I stayed in the US for about another 6 months, and then I moved to Nigeria; in March 2013 to be precise. I actually went to Ghana first, and did some work for a hair care company I was a brand ambassador for. I also spent some time helping out at an orphanage, and then eventually I came to Nigeria.
What influenced the timing of your move back to Nigeria?
I knew that after graduation, I would move to Nigeria. That was already determined. My dad knew that, my sisters knew that; it had been planned for a while. I always had the intentions of launching my career in Nigeria. Bear in mind that while I had never visited, I wasn’t exactly disconnected from Nigeria. I knew what was going on in the country and kept up to date. I have a lot of family in Nigeria. When it was time for me to move, I got up and bought a one way ticket back home.
What was the initial experience like being in Nigeria?
Interesting! I went to Ibadan first, staying with my cousins (and aunt) for a few weeks and then moved to Lagos and have been here ever since. I knew what I was going to Nigeria to do. I had done some networking in the US and went to places in Atlanta and North Carolina, places I knew that had a Nollywood interest, so I had some connections in place before I left. However despite the plans I had when I was coming in, things kind of worked out a bit different. The truth is, people ended up disappointing me completely; despite all my networking, I was literally almost starting from the scratch.
What did you plan on doing in Nigeria?
I knew the whole point of moving to Nigeria was to launch my Film (Nollywood) career. I was open to shooting films, acting in films and other related roles. I also wanted to capitalise on my language skills and teach Spanish, and that went pretty well because people here want to learn international languages. But yes the whole idea was to launch my acting career, and that’s what I did. Right from the age of 3 years old, I have always wanted to be an actress and actually did theatre in the US.
The first 6 months of moving back were terrible. Initially I had a script I was working on with someone for a movie, and at the end of the day, after all the time and work spent, nothing happened. I got another role in another film, which I was very excited about, but yet again nothing happened, despite a lot of time and money spent going back and forth. It was a frustrating period. There were other scripts I got, where I didn’t like the storyline and I simply chose not to go ahead with the movie because those roles did not fit within the type of actress I am trying to be, as in the stories lacked depth, the characters weren’t developed. I wasn’t going to do any mediocre films that didn’t display that Nigerians can produce great films. Not to sound stuck up but when you are passionate about something, you take this seriously.
How did you go about landing your first role after all the challenges?
Someone gave a recommendation to the director of a TV series for Ebony Life TV called ‘Deadline’. I went in and did my screen testing and did a reading and eventually, I got the part. Before this I was in a short film which I thought was a good idea because I’m aware short films go into film festivals and all that, however up until this day, I do not know where that film is or whatever happened to it (laughs). It just didn’t get released. I persisted and just kept networking. I think it was a bit more difficult for me as someone with an American accent. Sometimes it has worked out as a disadvantage in the Nollywood industry. I was actually discouraged by someone in the industry that said because of my accent, I won’t get any job…. Well, that definitely isn’t true. When I heard that, I honestly wanted to give up, but something told me to keep pushing, and I am glad I did.
Thanks for that. Please tell us more about the role you initially got.
I played a character called Isabel Bowsan and she was the daughter of a Nigerian journalist, who owned a newspaper company. However the company ran into trouble and then she came back from the US to help out and took over the company to help turn it around. I was a lead character and I was grateful for getting that role. This opened other opportunities for me, and after that, I landed TV/newspaper interviews and a TV show where I have a fitness segment every morning on Rave TV. I recently wrapped up my first major film as the lead, Better Than the Beginning, directed by Kingsley Omoefe, starring alongside Seun Akindele, Bimbo Manuel, Akin Lewis, Ronnie Dikko, Yvonne Jegede, Tony Akposheri (Zacky); Runs, a docudrama, alongside Stephanie Linus-Okereke, Onyeka Owenu to name a couple, and about three more films pending. So now in addition to acting, I also do a bit of hosting and public speaking events.
There is a lot of criticism of the Nollywood industry, in particular in terms of the quality of the final production. How do you respond to that?
I agree the production work is not great but things are getting better. It has to do with everyone, the pre-production, the post-production, the Director, the Artists etc; it all boils down to quality at the end of the day. The way I feel is even if a film is a low budget film, it does not have to feel, sound or look low budget. A lot of these things get rushed, by trying to shoot movies as quickly as possible to save as much money as possible and that leads to poorer quality. What’s ironic is that a lot of productions that do that end up spending more money trying to correct mistakes later. But like I said, the industry is getting a lot better. People like Kunle Afolayan, Emem Isong, Omoni Oboli who recently released her first major production as a director, Lancelot Imasuen, Kingsley Omoefe who I just had the pleasure of working with; these are just some of the emerging filmmakers who are doing great work which is helping to increase the quality, standard, and demand of Nollywood films.
There are people popping up and doing a really good job to get rid of the stereotypical nonsense about Nollywood – bad audio, over dramatic acting, mediocre story lines, bad soundtracks, etc. Also some people think Nollywood movies are home videos only! That’s not true! Nollywood is the entire film industry as a whole, but most times when people here Nollywood, they groan and say things like, ‘Ugh, not those home videos’. Proper cinema featured films are still Nollywood. For example, ‘Half a Yellow Sun’ technically is a Nollywood movie. Remember, our movie industry is very young. Hollywood has been around for a long time, as in, a good 100 years. Nollywood I would say is about 10 years old and it’s getting better at an impeccable rate. There are a lot of creative and talented people here and with time we will eradicate the mediocrity that can sometimes be associated with our industry.
What about the problem of piracy? How does that impact your career as an actress?
We really can’t battle piracy too much without the help of government regulations. They are the ones to really enforce these laws. You see people on the road, hawking and selling copies of ‘Half a Yellow Sun’. Kunle Afolayan tweeted some time back and saw this, and actually took copies of the pirated DVDs and broke them. It’s not even his movie, but that just shows the frustration he’s feeling for the filmmakers. Everybody knows ‘Half a Yellow Sun’ is still technically in the cinema, so the film maker is losing money. Illegal hawking is wrong, but unfortunately there is next to no enforcement of the law on that front. Having said this, we actually do a better job at monetising our movies. We now have more cinemas, and more being built, where you can go and pay to watch movies, so that is helping quite a bit. There are many other legit mobile movie platforms that are available too. It’s all about getting people through the door and Nigerians need to support our movies and give our films a chance. I mentioned earlier about the production quality issues. At the end of the day it’s the investment coming out of movie sales that can be poured back into production to make things better. For example, for a movie to go into the cinema the sound has to be right, the quality has to be right, so that improves quality. We should encourage our own to support our films. Also in terms of promotion we need to do more. Our movies are not promoted enough. The promotion of the movie needs to be wrapped into the budget of the movie to ensure we get it out there and people know about it. If people know about the movie, they will come out and watch it.
What do you mean in terms of promotion?
It goes beyond movie posters. It goes beyond getting things out to bloggers and social media. It needs to be more contests/promotions, chance to win tickets, movie premiers, billboards, TV commercials, radio commercials and so on. Promotion is very important to get people hyped up to come out and see the movie. I can only remember in the last year and a half I’ve been here, I’ve seen one movie’s trailer on television during commercial breaks.
Interesting! So how lucrative is it being an actress in Nollywood? How much do they pay you?
The truth is that it’s no secret in Nollywood that we don’t make nearly as much as even a minor character in a Hollywood movie. Nollywood is relatively new compared to Hollywood that is over 100 years old. For example in the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Vin Diesel had a part; it was a minor part. He even dies off in the film, and was only in the first quarter of the movie, and how much did he get paid? $7,000. That was in 1998. That is almost what our very very top actors and actresses make per movie in Nollywood and that is for a MAJOR role in a MAJOR film. So that should put things in perspective. Having said this, we also get paid via other channels like endorsement deals for brands etc, partnering with telcos and all that. It also depends on how you price (package) yourself. If you sell yourself cheap, then that is what you are going to get. But if you know what you have to offer, you’re confident in your skills and you can deliver and bring something different to the table, and you’re professional, then you can do better.
How have you found the experience of living in Nigeria, and the challenges that come with that?
When I came home, people thought I had already been here before. I adapted quite quickly. I had no choice. However, there were some tough times. For example when I was in Ibadan, for the 3 weeks I spent there, we probably had Nepa for less than 24 hours – IN A 3 WEEK PERIOD!! It was really bad. Then water issues, people not obeying traffic laws; it was a new experience.
So do you see yourself in Nigeria for good or do you think you might one day run away?
I actually see myself in Nigeria for quite some time. I have been living here for about a year and a half now and despite challenges I’ve faced, I’m doing just fine.
Finally what advise would you give people abroad thinking of making the move back?
I’ve learned that there is a factor out here that purposely targets people’s plans and finds a way to destroy them. I advise people to have a plan A, B, C, D, E AT LEAST, and to be logical when you’re working towards your passion. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket at all, and don’t allow anyone bring you down; believe in yourself and never forget God when you’re doing well and when you’re low.