Cinematographer Barnabas Emordi talks Elevator Baby, working with Niyi Akinmolayan, Social change and more

Cinema is defined as the art of moving images. This movement, intended to tell a story, is recorded by the Director of Photography or cinematographer who works in tandem with the Director of the film to make visual decisions on scenes and sequences that are in line with the established vision of the movie.

Cinematography in Nollywood has evolved over the years to become one of the finest in the continent. Our films are no longer accused of “not looking good”. One of the many players driving this renaissance is Barnabas ‘Barny’ Emordi and FilmKaku got a chance to chat with him.

FilmKaku: Can we meet you sir?

Barnabas: My name is Barnabas ‘Barny’ Emordi. I am a young filmmaker, a cinematographer and a nation-builder based in Lagos, Nigeria. I have a rich body of work consisting of DoD, Elevator Baby, The Prophetess, Her, Wheel, Namaste Wahala and so on. I have made films for box office and films that have made it to a number of film festivals around the world. That is my sidebar, in a nutshell. I’m also a mathematician. I have a bachelor of science degree in Pure Mathematics from Delta State University, Abaraka. 


FK: Why are you into film making? Why not mathematics?

Barnabas: I genuinely believe that film can be a tool for social change and can also entertain. The utility of the craft appealed to me and I dived in. All I’ve always wanted to do is tell stories that influence and, at the same time, make people happy.

FK: So, there are stories you are immediately inclined to work on?

Barnabas: Over the years I’ve told stories about social change. For example, about two years ago, we told a story about period poverty. The title of the film is Her. The film is basically about a young girl that discovers that she has begun menstruating but her mum, because of the poverty associated with Nigeria, prefers to use other materials such as clothes instead of sanitary pads, for her daughter. That film also addressed issues such as police brutality, sanitary pads deficiency in Nigeria, period poverty, and sanitation and hygiene issues. Also, recently, I have released the trailer for my latest film, Wheels. Wheels is a story about a disabled boy who is growing up in developing country Nigeria, and who constantly questions his chances of having a future in Nigeria as a disabled person. Wheels, amongst others, is one of the stories I have told particularly in order to influence positive change. I am interested in telling stories about contemporary social problems in Nigeria.

FK: Fantastic. Let’s talk a bit about your film education? What’s the story?

Barnabas: It was in 2015. After school, I entered the film industry because I wanted to do something before the mandatory National youth Service for young graduates. I have always loved films and had a friend that was already in the industry. So, it wasn’t hard trying to get into the industry. But then, coming into the industry without any film education, I knew I had to know what I was getting myself into. So I bought a lot of film books, read books online, downloaded YouTube tutorials and did a lot of personal research and study.  While I handled the camera for the first time in October 2015, my first actual gig in the industry came in January 2015. I was the camera operator for a series; A Minute to Shine. After this came to opportunity to be the continuity manager for the first season of This is It in February 2015. And that’s how I entered the industry. It’s required a lot of dancing between roles but thankfully, I’m now settled as a cinematographer. I believe all those roles I’ve played over the years have added up and made me the person that I am today. It’s a big advantage in an industry like ours to know a bit about a lot of departments.

FK: What pulled you to the craft behind the camera as opposed to screen? Why not acting or maybe script writing?

Barnabas: I don’t think I’m that talented.

FK: And that’s you just being modest right now.

Barnabas: Actually, I think I did a waka pass role in the first season of This is It. Episode Four, I think.

FK: I’ll check it out.

Barnabas: I think I had about a few seconds or so. Basically, I was doing the continuity, the opening for an extra role came up and I volunteered to do it, just for the fun of it. However, the  real reason why I’ve chosen to be behind the camera is that I feel I’m the only one that can interpret the kind stories I’d like to tell the way I want. And then, there’s the love of pictures as well. I love to tell stories visually. So, despite the experience in various departments, I never forgot what I’ve always wanted to do.

FK: Well done. So, tell us about your last project and your experience on it.

Barnabas: Well, I’ve done a couple of “last projects”. But let me just talk about The Prophetess. The Prophetess, I think, is the most recent film I worked on as the Director of photography. That was in October, 2020 and, trust me, it’s going to be a cinema blockbuster in 2021. It’s produced by Anthill Studios and Scene One Entertainment. It’s about a prophetess and her relationship to the game of football. She prays for people, and predicts the score lines of football games. The drama starts when a peculiar situation comes with one of her predictions. I can’t wait for people to finally see it.

FK: Wow! That sounds like fresh comedy.

Barnabas: There’s comedy, drama, a lot of football, religion and more. I think people are going to enjoy watching it in 2021. Also, we recently released the trailer for DoD (Day of Destiny). DoD is to be released in cinema in the first day of January, 2021. DoD is about two boys who travel back in time to change their parent’s fortune. It’s a time travel film, and the first of its kind from Nollywood.

FK: Alright. Well done! 

Barnabas: Thank you.

FK: Do you have any artistic influences or philosophy?

Barnabas: Philosophy? The only philosophy I have, and that has kept me moving is the one that my mentor and leader, Mr. Niyi Akinmolayan holds close: Keep moving forward. As you’re moving in the business, ensure it’s forward only. Whether you’ve done the best film ever or made terrible mistakes in your most recent work, just keep moving forward. That’s the philosophy that propels me.

FK: How do you prepare for a film shoot? Are there specific rituals you undertake? 

Barnabas: I basically prepare like everyone else does. We all know that a solid preproduction is the bedrock of any film. So, I make sure I have a realistic visions guiding any new production. The team discusses to see if they meet the expectations and budget before principal photography. A professional relationship between the cast and the crew members is also key to the success in planning for a shoot, as you can bounce ideas off each other and try to improve the approach. Filmmaking is a collaborative journey, so a successful execution of the project is and should be everyone’s concern. That is my job. More psychological and mental than some physical working to ensure success.  On my set, everyone matters and all opinions are considered.

FK: What’s next after DoD and The Prophetess? What should fans expect from you?

Barnabas: There are couple of films that I can’t discuss presently, and they’re mostly in the preproduction phase. And there are a lot of other projects still in various stages of development too. But one thing is certain, I’m going to continue telling the stories that I love. I am going to continue to try to entertain my fans. There will be a lot to look out for in 2021. 

FK: Are there DPs in the industry that you admire?

Barnabas: Sure, quite a lot. One of them is my friend, Emmanuel aka Cinema official, KC Obiajulu, Mohammed Attah and John D. 

FK: How about Hollywood? Who are your favourite DPs?

Barnabas: My favourite DPs are Roger Deakins, Janusz Kaminski and Rodrigo Prieto.

FK: Well, 2020 is almost gone. What are your five best films in Nollywood?

Barnabas: Uh. My best films at the moment. Kambili is one of them. It’s a personal film filled with drama and lots of romance. There’s Voiceless too. Then, the upcoming  Nneka The Pretty Serpent is looking like a favourite already.

FK: And foreign films?

Barnabas: Well, because of the Corona Virus Pandemic, I’ve not been able to see much. But I’ve seen a couple of series. I love The Crown on Netflix. It’s a story about Queen Elizabeth of England. Tenet came out a few months ago and I love it too.

FK: Which is more rewarding? Being on screen or being behind the screen in Nollywood?

Barnabas: I can only answer for behind  the screen as it’s where I’ve been for most of my career and I  can confidently tell hopefuls that it’s rewarding. But really, it all boils down to interest and choice. 

FK: I’m looking forward to seeing Day of Destiny and The Prophetess. But I’ve seen Elevator Baby, another film you worked on. It was a fresh offering and the humanity it sold was totally unexpected. The elevator scenes caused a bit of stir around as people wondered how the makers were able to execute it so well. I’m directing that question to you. How did you approach it as the DP of the movie?

Barnabas: For Elevator Baby, we had to build the set, the elevator. We couldn’t get a real elevator that would be willing to give us the amount of time we needed to execute the project as well as we would have liked. It was an interesting experience overall as the Anthill family worked as one unit. The audience reviews that continue to pour in every day have been amazing. But I can’t forget the astute professionalism displayed by the actors. Toyin Abraham, especially, and the brilliance she was able to pull off despite her pregnancy. 

FK: You mean the pregnancy was real in Elevator Baby?

Barnabas: Yes, it was. But, of course, we had to get another baby for the eventual delivery. After her birth in the film, we used visual effects to flatten her belly. It was until after a few months that she had her own baby in the real life.

FK: So, we’re almost at the end of the session. Do you have any questions for us?

Barnabas: How’re you guys contributing to developing the industry?

FK:  We are all aware of the influence of No Film School and other blogs on young filmmakers globally. The interviews, the tips, the resources and more, all available online, for free. Film Kaku’s goal is to be just that for Nigerian filmmakers. Our atypical industry demands certain practical approaches that are not available in books. Via interviews with craftsmen in the industry, we hope to share stories that will inspire and educate Nigerian filmmakers. There are also plans to have downloadable resources tailored to the Nigerian film circle available on the platform too.

Barnabas: That’s wonderful. I’m looking forward to learning too.

FK: Thank you for the interview Barnabas and good luck.

Barnabas: My pleasure. 



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