INTERVIEW WITH NOLLYWOOD FILM DIRECTOR, AGBER 'SMALL PETER' PETER


Film Director Agber Peter, fondly called Small Peter is a native of Tiv from Benue State, Nigeria. He started off as a Production Assistant for Desmond Elliott and got his big break working for Jeta Amata in the making of ‘Black November’. His is a story of rags to riches and grass to grace. In this sit-down interview, he talks to Gidi Box Office about his beginnings and his expectations for 2022.


Contact Small Peter for business enquiries:

IG: @agberpeter

FB: @Agber Peter (Small Peter)

smallpeter21@gmail.com

M: +234 813 766 5119



Q1. How did you become a Nollywood Film Director?


I notice how beautiful green grass looks after rainfall and I felt the need to record it, so others could see it. That’s how I fell in love with motion pictures. In Benue State, our entertainment industry is still in its infancy. Everything happens in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Abuja.

 

In 2005, I got a job as a Production Assistant and worked for Desmond Elliott. 

 

A few years later in 2010, ‘Black November’ directed by Jeta Amata was being filmed in my community in Benue State. Majority of the movie was made in my community, and it gave me the opportunity to meet Jeta Amata. The river portrayed as the Niger Delta river, was River Benue. Due to safety concerns, filming couldn’t be done in the Niger Delta area. I stopped attending classes and put school on hold to be a part of this project. I would wake up early to observe the crew at work. That’s how passionate I was about filmmaking. Every day, I would pray and hope that someone would ask me to run an errand. Eventually, one of the crew asked me to get boxes for them. I was overwhelmed and so happy to do this job. James Costello, their US based Director of Photography had been watching me and wanted to know more about me. He said that over five days, I was the only person in the community that had shown any interest in what they were doing. He introduced me to Jeta Amata.

 

In addition to the hands-on experience I gained working with Jeta Amata, I watched videos on YouTube. After they had left Nigeria, I used my working with Jeta Amata as leverage. I would let Producers know that I had worked for him and therefore, I was given jobs. I worked with Obi Emelonye and other Directors as a Script Supervisor. As a Script Supervisor, I also doubled as an Assistant Director on jobs. In 2018, I directed my first film ‘Trapped in the Closet”, addressing domestic violence. I usually get hired to direct films by other Producers, as funding issues mean that I haven’t been able to make my own film. Most of what I have learnt about filmmaking has been through apprenticeships as well as taking classes in Cinematography and Directing.

 

Q2.  Is Small Peter your real name?


I got the name Small Peter, whilst working on the set of ‘Black November’. We were two Peters on set and to distinguish between us, I was called Small Peter. The ‘Small’ is because I have a small stature.

 

Q3. In terms of financial rewards and remuneration, would you say that you are adequately paid?


The truth is that we are not paid enough for the work we put in. I work tirelessly because I always want to put in my best. Onyeka Nwelue, is a Producer, a Script Writer and is currently a visiting Professor at Oxford University. Whenever he’s making a film, he must have me onboard, because of my work ethic.

 

When I started as a Production Assistant, I wasn’t being paid a dime. My mum would borrow money to pay for my travel to Lagos. In Lagos, I would work on a film set and not get paid. For my travel fare back to Benue, I used to wash the clothes of the cast and crew. After filming, I would knock on their room doors and ask if anyone would like their clothes washed, as I was washing mine. My clothes didn’t need washing, however, I used it as a ruse to wash their clothes. I would wash their clothes, then I’d borrow the Costumiers iron and return their clean, ironed clothes to them. At the end of the production, someone would give me N1,000, another person would give N2,000 and encourage me to keep working hard that we’d meet at the top. In the end, that’s how I earned money. I’d return home and I’d be able to give my mother like N5,000. She was so proud that I had earned some money. She didn’t know that I didn’t make the money from filming. I am also a Casting Director and interestingly, some of the actors’ whose clothes I washed, I now cast for roles. I’d get a call from Germany to say that they’re coming to Nigeria to film and I'd get asked to cast actors. 


Back then, Producers would pay me N20,000 for 3 months’ work. Even when I was a Script Supervisor, Producers would pay me N20,000 or N50,000. With that, I wouldn’t even be given accommodation. I have had hard times in this Industry. I’d travel to Lagos or Owerri and my name would not be on the Accommodation and Welfare list; so, I would sleep on the location bus. If we were staying at a hotel that had a gateman, I would make friends with the gateman. That way, I could use his bathroom to freshen up each day. Other times, if I shared a room, I’d sleep on the floor, whilst the actor slept on the bed. I even caught pneumonia sleeping on the cold floor. To feed, I would eat some of the actors’ leftovers. I just wanted to work and learn.

 

Gradually, as my financial remuneration improved, so did my Accommodation and Welfare. Now, I’m asked which hotel I’d like to stay in. My rates have gone up and now I get paid in excess of N300,000 for a 2-week job.

 

Q4. You mentioned that you would like your region, Benue State in the North Central to get more exposure, how do you intend to make it happen?


When I train people, I follow up and give them referrals. Nollywood needs to focus on this part of Nigeria. There are talented and passionate people here. And the truth is, it is less expensive to film here. My state is the food basket of the whole nation. We are the ones who have food. If you want to film here, it means first that Welfare is not an issue, because we have a lot of food and moreover, it’s not as expensive as Lagos. Our hotels are not as expensive as hotels in Lagos. There is also no traffic here, unlike in Lagos. There are a lot of advantages to filming here. If there's a good story, we should focus on this part of Nigeria, because we have good actors. I bet you in the next couple of years, if these people get a push, then Lagos people will have a strong contender.

 

I organise training every quarter of the year. The good thing is that I’m giving back, by training the people. My vision is to own a degree certified film school in the North Central.

 

Q5. What are the challenges in Nollywood or the things you see and think could be better in order to create more opportunities?


The basic challenge in Nollywood is the cabal. If you don’t belong to this cabal, then your film will not see the light of day. There are a particular set of people that are just moving, that are the big shots. It’s only their films you hear about. It’s a clique and it shouldn’t be that way. If you have a good story, if you have good actors, good sound, good lighting, why shouldn’t your film be shown?

 

A Director I already mentioned, made a film with several prominent actors, such as Segun Arinze, Juliet Ibrahim, Empress Njamah and the film was rejected by a cinema house. He was asked to re-shoot the film with stars. They didn’t care about the story because of the actors in it.

 

We have good stories here, but how do these stories see the light? We don’t have a lot of funds, like the people in Lagos, which they can use to market their films. The little funds we have are used to make a movie, which is then rejected because we don’t have plenty of stars or the preferred actors in it. Now, before you make a movie, some cinemas in Lagos would tell you who to feature in the film. If we keep doing this, how will the world ever see the talent of these young people? It's my pain. I wish there was another way for our films to be shown that bypasses these big cinema distributors. That way, they would know that they are not the only avenue for people to become successful in the movie industry.

 

Q6. I believe that’s happening anyway with streaming platforms, like Gidi Box Office, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO max, Showmax, irokoTV etc., there’s a shift, albeit maybe not as fast as you would like?


I really hope so, because for Netflix Naija, there’s also a cabal. Most of the films on Netflix Naija are films distributed by a particular distributor. It’s like if you don’t have a strong connection with this distributor, getting your film onto Netflix Naija is also a big problem.

 

Q7. It is an observation that a lot of the films that are on Netflix Naija by this distributor are high quality in terms of post-production value, to name a few. How can a lot of Made for TV Producers up their game and make better quality products with high post-production value?


Producers need to pay Editors well. After all, they have spent a lot of money making the film and therefore, should be willing to pay their Editors properly to achieve high production value. Instead, some Producers use an Editor that is still in training to save costs. A very good Editor is going to cost a lot more, which is why a cheaper Editor’s services are used. Most of the good Nollywood Films on Netflix Naija were edited by Nigerians. There are still good Editors here, there are still good Sound guys here, but Producers end up using a cheaper person who ends up doing rubbish. It messes up the millions that the Producer has spent. I think that is also a problem, Producers should go for people who can deliver, not people who can do it cheaper.

 

Q8. How do you obtain funding for your film projects?


It’s very challenging, especially in this part of the country. It’s very difficult for you to get past the door with a Business Plan because people here don’t believe in entertainment. There are a lot of musicians here that are stranded. They can’t afford to make a good music video because nobody is interested. Even people in Lagos will tell you it’s challenging. They have it better however, because there are people who believe in filmmaking and know that entertainment is a good venture. Here, in Benue, it’s very difficult to convince people to invest in movies. Most times, money comes from family and friends, from people that believe in what I’m doing. Bank of Industry funding is also difficult to access.

 

Q9. What projects are you currently working on?


There’s a myth about Tiv women; people feel that when you visit a Tiv family, the husband offers his wife to his male guest. The Tiv people are the most hospitable people in the world. For example, if a male guest visits a Tiv man and his wife, the Tiv man and his wife will allow the guest to sleep in their room. They do this because they want the guest to be comfortable. The wife can even go as far as giving their guest her wrapper in place of a duvet (those times, people didn’t use duvets) to cover up while sleeping. This led to rumours when people would see the guest using the Tiv man’s wife’s wrapper. Their conclusion was that the guest must have slept with the Tiv man’s wife. It’s far from the truth, as it was only a gesture of goodwill that the Tiv couple were extending to their guest. The Abuja chairman of the Director’s Guild of Nigeria asked me to make a Short Film about this myth, for it to be shown in the AMVCA Short Film category. The Short Film is circa 25 mins duration. Eventually, this Short Film will be made into a feature film.

 

Recently, I worked on a film, ‘Aki and Paw Paw the remake’, along with one of the Producers, Abazieh Ugwu in Lagos three months ago.


I also worked on Lost in Transit for IOM, a branch of the UN.

 

I shot a pilot for a high school Drama Series that will be made next year. Here in Benue, I want to change the narrative because we have a lot of talented young people yet to be discovered. A movie made in Benue isn’t seen by many people because there isn’t a strong connect, I want to break that norm, I want these young people to be seen.

 

Q10. Upon reflection of 2021 and as we approach the end of the year, what are your plans for 2022?


My first plan for 2022 is to make sure the world sees more of Chris Aboh, fondly called Papa Chris. He played Lucy Ameh’s father in ‘Amina’ currently showing on Netflix. I manage him and will do everything to make sure he gains greater exposure. He is my personal project, him featuring on a Netflix film, listed on the Top 10 Netflix global is a huge feat. This achievement is every actor’s dream. I want to make sure he keeps getting big gigs. He has acted in so many films in Benue and his success will help those coming behind him in Benue.

 

Papa Chris must be celebrated for attaining this feat and I want to make sure he stays at this level. If we get him great gigs for the next one year, it means that everyone who has worked with him three or four years ago stands a chance of getting good exposure. There are musicians who worked with Burna Boy and Davido years ago who didn’t release their songs then, but now have. This is because they can associate with the success of these Afrobeats mega stars and also cash out. I’m looking at relocating Papa Chris to Lagos, because here, there is little appreciation for his talent. There is also enlightenment that needs to be done here.

 

Secondly, I would like to use the high school Drama Series to project Benue talent. The series will be 24 episodes, and the Script is currently under development. A pilot has been shot and is currently under post-production. I will be hosting a Private Screening in February 2022 to raise funds for this project. I will be inviting people that I know have my interest at heart, so that their investments can go towards raising funds for the project. I’m looking to raise N20,000,000. Some of the money will be used to buy equipment, because when we have equipment, it’s cheaper for us to work. Accessing good equipment is one of our challenges here. Usually, you pay a lot of money in Lagos or Abuja to access equipment. Once equipment is sorted, the only thing left is Welfare, which isn’t a problem, because our talent lives here in Benue. We also won’t have to worry about hotels, except for our guests from out of town.

 

For now, these are the two major things that I want to achieve next year. 

 

Thank you very much for speaking to Gidi Box Office.

 

Contact Small Peter for business enquiries:

IG: @agberpeter

FB: @Agber Peter (Small Peter)

smallpeter21@gmail.com

M: +234 813 766 5119