This is a collection of things we like.
It all started with a client asking us to do two ads, to be shot in Nigeria. “How exciting!” we thought. “How exotic!” However, filming in a country like Nigeria, who’s vast natural beauty is matched only by it’s vast lack of filming infrastructure, is an experience unlike most. Exciting and exotic? Definitely. But it’s also massive, busy and at times, terrifying. What follows is an honest account of the experience by our DOP - Cobus Oosthuizen.
"Unlike Grant (de Sousa, director), who straight away fell into a pit of nervousness, I had been to Nigeria earlier in the year for another job. A trip during which I not only fell seriously ill after eating a dodgy meat(?)ball, but during which also almost got shot down by the military whilst filming out of a bulky flying machine. For these reasons, you could say I ‘sort of’ knew what to expect. From having to go through the various injections, to purchasing a 3 week food supply (I had learnt from my mistakes) and making sure we had made our amends with the ones we love, myself and Grant were off.
With one large bag and two heavy pelican cases full of gear, we arrived in Lagos. We went through the regular airport custom of handing away American dollars to whoever stopped and asked us questions. We were also met by a “liaison” officer. He was supposed to ease the move through the airport, but unfortunately did little to help when I arrived at the Customs counter. I was dragged aside and asked for some dollars to “ease the process”. Having only the princely sum of 100ZAR on me, I was held at a desk with two sweaty military men for a good hour. After they realized that I simply didn’t have any other cash, they let me go with a slap on the hand. For what, I am still unsure. An hour later, we arrived at “DE-Vine Hotel. Nothing really “divine” about it but we all discovered it was, by Nigerian standards, OK.
The next morning we were met by our driver SK, who had been working for our client for the last 12 years and had promoted himself from driver to PA overnight (He promoted himself about four more times during our first week there). We met with the agency, which always takes a full day of traveling and getting pains in the lower cheeks from sitting in a car.
We shot the first spot in Lagos, which involved fighting through the crazy traffic, tropical rainstorms, street boys who needed their cut and being dropped by location after location, not to mention that we had almost zero lighting. It was a heavy exercise in problem-solving every step of the way but we maintained and putted along. The first commercial was completed and we moved on to the second one.
DAYS 5 - 10
This meant it was time for the road trip leg of the journey. Or as we like to refer to it, the ‘Wild West’ in northern Nigeria. We packed our kit, all pumped and full of biltong and nuts - the staple diet for everyone other than Grant. We negotiated the traffic in Lagos once more, giving ourselves 4 hours to get to the domestic airport, which by normal standards should be a 35 minute drive. But hey - this is Africa! (Right?)
Eventually, we boarded an flight. It only took an hour, but it was the best 45 minutes I have ever spent in our planet’s stratosphere. To say we were flying high is an understatement. After spending the better part of an hour staring at the curvature of the earth and wondering how much oxygen we had left, our 747 then came down at the same angle at which it took off - vertically. Surviving that flight was a miracle - plain and simple. And our kit came out with great speed and all in one piece - another miracle.
Safely back on terra firma, three transport vans were tightly packed with all our gear and off we went to Victoria Bridge, our first location. We acquired our military escort and shot what we needed on a bridge. We finished up and were informed that we need to head to Obudu. This seemed fine, as we were told that this was about a five hour drive further east into the jungle. Plus, we had Grant to keep us entertained with his suction speaker and music collection. However, about eight hours later we were in pitch black darkness, batteries for music flat and on some of the craziest roads we have ever driven on in a taxi bus, driving at ridiculous speeds past trucks and accident after accident. We pulled over to get fuel and were told that we had about another three hours to go. “Lets push through” was spoken, but after an hour of some more crazy roads, more dead guys and military roadblocks, the client called it and sent us back to the town we stopped at for for fuel. They found a hotel, we pulled in downed a few Stars (local beer), and tried to sleep in rooms that were, let’s say, less comfortable than we had hoped for.
We slept. We woke. We got the fuck out.
The rest of the journey to Obudu took about another six hours. By now we were all a bit tired. Also, we had started feeding the driver because if we were drained, the man with our lives in his hands must have been way worse off. We finally arrived in Obudu.
Sans a lighting department (a story for another day), we shot the beautiful mountain pass and in a nearby village, got what we needed and went straight to bed, weary but grateful that worst seemed to be behind us.
The next morning we were all up and ready to go at 4am to get back to the airport, where we would travel up to Abuja. My mind is a bit of a blur now about that because of lack of sleep, but the 15 hour trip went reasonably well (bar some excessive traffic weaving and our military men pulling out sirens, guns and whips to get people to move out the way for us). We made our flight and off we were once again.
Arriving in Abuja, we ran into a South African crew, who after exchanging pleasantries warned us about a bombing in the city. Thankfully, we were heading further north. This was met with mixed emotions and non-encouraging words from them. That was the first time we really got a bit worried about the BOKO HARAM. But we pushed on. Also, we were presented with some cooked goat wrapped in newspaper as a birthday gift for Grant, which seemed like a good omen. Charming.
The next morning we were on our way to a ‘goat’ location, for a shot we needed with some of these (alive) delightful animals. We arrived at a rubbish dump where said goats were being kept. Our producer said “We have a bit of a situation. What do we think of this location?”. We laughed jokingly at him, only to realize that he was serious. Needless to say, we ended up paying our own good dollars for the goats and took them to another location. We filmed the shit out of those goats. packed up and did the three hour drive back for the ‘Shebeen’ scene, AKA a viewing centre in Nigeria. We made sure the goats were alive when we left, too.
The following morning, we got up, ate a breakfast and got ready for a 45min drive to our northern Village location, for a magical ‘fishing festival’ shot. The drive took about 4hours but we got there. Interestingly, the villagers had never seen white folk and we were cautiously ogled as we went about our business. Needless to say, these people did not speak any English whatsoever, which made for an interesting day. We worked out our shots around the fact that we still had zero lighting equipment by this stage and even made a little make-shift green screen out of cloth from a villager vendor. We then shot the ’river scene’, which I can only describe as manic, with villagers bouncing around in water and with the client screaming at the top of his lungs jumping up and down. I imagine it’s kind of like being on acid in a shitty club with people trying to do speed breakdancing. But we got the shots we needed, packed up, said farewell to our new friends and started the long journey back home.
Back in Lagos, we had 20 of the best tasting beers of our short lives. The next day, we were put in cars and driven to Lagos International. There, we handed over our passports and like fish moving upstream, made it to the check-in counter. With tickets in hand, we headed for passport control, had our stuff stamped and went straight to the boarding gate.
Boko Haram had spared us and we went home.
Images courtesy of Cobus Oosthuizen and Grant de Sousa. You can follow their exploits on Instagram - @cobusoosthuizen and @grantdesousa.
We had to dodge armed rednecks and drive through raging fires to test the Red Dragon in low light for an upcoming project, watch this space.