Sierra Leonean film maker, Suliaman Stephens, who, despite having a university degree, chose to pursue his dream of becoming an actor and a film maker, has told Politico that acting is a profession, an art and a craft not meant for mediocre.
“All I can say is that there is nothing like mediocrity in film production, you must be educated and your interest and passion can get you on the right track,” he observed.
Our reporter, Albert George Sheriff, caught up with him for an exclusive interview on the film industry in Sierra Leone, how far they have come and what sort of acts should actually come forward in movies that could sell the country to the gradually increasing competitive world of entertainment.
Politico: Tell us a bit about yourself?
Stephens: Well I was born in Bo in the southern province of Sierra Leone. I attended the St. Francis Primary School in Bo and later moved on to Christ the King College (CKC) in the same township. I’m a Division II graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and Linguistics option from Njala University. My parents are Samuel and Fatmata Stephens.
Politico: Growing up away from the city where movie business is virtually not trendy, did you ever think of becoming an actor, let alone a movie star?
Stephens: No, I had always thought of being a Doctor or a Lawyer, stuffs like that, but whiles at CKC in Bo I joined the Royal College Theater. That was the first time I went on stage to act. I also had great interest in martial art. I trained Shotokan Karate up to the black belt level. I had no intention of being a movie maker because my parents wanted me to become a Doctor.
Politico: At what point in your life did you know that acting was for you?
Stephens: I first realised my ability to act when I joined a comedy group in Bo called the Sierra Entertainers. Although I was frowned at by many, I was so obsessed with acting and that has propelled my interest in film production.
Politico: Tell us about some of the movies you have produced?
Stephens: I have produced four movies. The first is titled: “Facing the Hurricane”, a second one was “What it Takes”, the third was “Waking the Dead” and “Agony in Kpetewoma”. My films are feature films and they tell true life stories. They tell the Sierra Leone story.
Politico: Did you do any studies in film production?
Stephens: No, I didn’t study film production. But one can be a successful producer without studying film production. Successful producers like Quintine Tarantino and George Lucas didn’t darken the corridors of a film school. All I can say is that there is nothing like mediocrity in film production, you must be educated and your interest and passion can get you on the right track.
Politico: What has been the biggest movie you have ever made?
Stephens: My biggest movie that really brought me in the limelight was “Waking the Dead”, a feature film about the late journalist Harry Yansaneh.
Politico: Are you religious?
Stephens: Yes I am a Christian and I believe without God, I wouldn’t have reached this point. I always pray for His wisdom. To Him be the glory.
Politico: Aside movie production what other things you do?
Stephens: I also do TV adverts and editing of musical video clips for artistes.
Politico: What really motivated you, film production, TV Ads or editing musical video clips?
Stephens: Film making motivates me more than all of them.
Politico: What can you say about piracy?
Stephens: Piracy is a sickness, if not cured will kill the great potentials in the film industry. Imagine the amount of money spent in film production and at the end you see your stuff being pirated. It is really frustrating. I implore them [those in the habit of pirating copyrighted productions] to stop and help develop the industry.
Politico: So how would you assess the Sierra Leone film industry currently?
Stephens: It’s going to do well if we only do the right thing. It picked up well and people have started appreciating Sierra Leonean films, but we shouldn’t get lazy or floppy. That is the problem with a lot of us, when we think we’ve arrived we think we shouldn’t work hard but seat back and think we can just do anything and they will accept it. The Sierra Leonean audience is like that, if you surprised them they’ll surprise you; you give them something good they’ll say it’s good, you give them something scrappy they’ll tell you it’s scrappy, get out. So the more people appreciate what you do the more they raise the bar for you. So you have to put in some hard work to actually do what is expected of you. Acting is not for a mediocre, it’s for serious people.
Politico: Now into your private life, are you married?
Stephens: I wouldn’t want to comment on that.
Politico: Anyway how do you cope with your female admirers?
Stephens: We cope well, we are friends. You know that is part of the job. You have to know that this goes with the job before you get into it. I’ll give hugs and smiles, that’s all. You cannot mix business with pleasure, the moment you start mixing up you heading for doom.
Politico: Your best music?
Stephens: I like Sierra Leonean music. It communicates a lot. I dance to them. It’s not because I have done a couple of video clips for Emerson but I like his songs and other artistes like Wahid. There are a lot of them. I really admire particularly those old Sierra Leonean stuffs.
Politico: What is your advice to your admirers and all who aspire to become film producers, actors and actresses?
Stephens: I think they have to take their work seriously. We are not jokers here. You have to take your education very seriously and don’t rush. Get a degree or finish high school with something sober and then you can act. No matter what happens if you don’t do something you will be limited. I know there are lots of people who want to be actors and actresses, not everyone was born to be an actor, actress, a script writer or director. But those who actually want to do it must take their work seriously. I have gone through many challenges. I have been laughed at, kicked around and I’ve been looked as if I’m not serious but I took my work very seriously and I told guys that I don’t care what happens. I don’t even know where my degree is right now. I have kept it and now doing something different. But if I was not determined, I wouldn’t have reached so far. So I‘m imploring them to work hard, I think we’ll all get there.
Politico: Finally, what are your fans expecting, is there anything new coming up?
Stephens: Yes, this year I’m going to do films, because my fans are asking: “when are you going to do other films? Why don’t you do other films? You are always doing adverts because there is money in that”, but that is not actually where the money is. I’m really going to do films, I’m just finishing a screen play and I did a comedy when I went to the USA recently with David Vandy and other guys. I told them when I come back home I’m going to films. Soon fans will hear from me. I’ll keep them abreast with what will be coming out. It’s going to be a feature film.
Politico: Thanks for your time.
Stephens: It’s a pleasure talking to you.