Jnr Pope: I Iost millions of naira when JT Tom West died on my movie set – Mike Ofuonye

Film producer, Mike Ofuonye speaks from his base in America about the losses he incurred when late JT Tom West died on his movie set. He also sympathizes with the producer of the film that let to the death of Junior Pope. Excerpts:

Introduce yourself

My name is Mike Ofuonye. I have an extensive background in broadcasting, having worked with different media companies over the years. My last job in Nigeria, was with MCL TV, a private TV station airing from the southeast, where I ran the programs department as Head/Director programs for 15 years. During these 15 years, I led the teams that were able to close partnership deals with other foreign media houses, such as Aljazeera, Voice of America, Dw, France 24 and Reuters, to mention a few, and the experience I had picked up over the years proved instrumental to our success. In 2020, I became the DISCOP Ambassador to Nigeria, a role which snowballed into my directing the United States-Nigeria Investment Summit (UNIS)  organized by Nigeria Embassy  which  was held in the prestigious Ballroom, New York. I have since moved over to the United States.

How did you contract JT Tom West to work on your movie? What are the circumstances that led to his death?

We shot till about 2am in the morning while returning to our hotel room the accident occurred

We rushed him (Jt Tom West) to a private hospital for immediate attention. Unfortunately, he was later diagnosed with internal bleeding and required specialized care at a general hospital. Despite the efforts of the medical team, we received the devastating news that he didn’t make it.

I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Yemi Blaq, Monalisa Chinda, and Mike Ezuronye, who were instrumental in supporting us during that difficult time. Their kindness and generosity meant a lot to us.

Additionally, I’d like to share that we’re working on a film project that was going to change the face of Nollywood.  We’ve assembled a talented cast and crew, and we’re committed to telling this important story. It’s was a challenging journey, but we’re determined to make a difference until the expected happened.

What was the reaction of Nollywood to his death?

I was disappointed with the negative reactions and rumors surrounding the film project. It’s unfortunate that some individuals, including those I held in high esteem, reacted with anger and jealousy instead of support and understanding.

The rumors and misinformation spread about the project, including claims of shooting with live bullets was alarming and highlight the need for fact-checking and responsible communication within the industry.

My point is about the guild’s responsibility to address these issues and promote professionalism is well-taken. It’s crucial to have a supportive and informed community that values accuracy and fairness.

Compare JT’s death who died in active service with that of Junior Pope.

Regarding the tragic accident involving Jr. Pope, I disagree that banning the producer or director is not a constructive solution. It’s essential to investigate the incident thoroughly and take appropriate measures to prevent similar accidents in the future.

My point,  I agree that it’s important to gather accurate information before making comparisons between incidents.  Filming can be a high-risk activity, and it’s crucial to prioritize safety and preparedness.

My suggestion that the film industry should have insurance policies in place to protect cast and crew members in case of accidents or unforeseen events. This would provide financial support for families and loved ones in the event of a tragedy.

It’s disappointing to know that those in leadership positions within the guild may not be proactive in promoting and protecting the well-being of members. It’s essential to have strong leadership and a supportive community that prioritizes safety, fairness, and the well-being of all industry professionals.

I hope my experiences and insights can help spark positive change and improvements in the Nollywood industry.

Should producers be held responsible for the death of actors on their movie set?

Holding producers and directors solely responsible for accidents on set isn’t the solution. A thorough investigation by a panel of experts to determine the root cause of the accident is crucial. Additionally, implementing safety protocols and mandatory insurance policies can help prevent such incidents in the future.

Closing down the entire project or punishing individuals without addressing the underlying issues won’t solve the problem. Instead, we need to focus on finding solutions and implementing measures to prevent similar accidents from happening again.

In the film industry, safety protocols and regulations can be put in place to minimize risks, such as conducting thorough risk assessments, providing proper training for cast and crew, and ensuring that all equipment is well-maintained.

Insurance policies can also provide financial protection for cast and crew members in case of accidents, as well as for the production company itself.

Let’s work towards creating a safer and more responsible industry for everyone involved!

What lessons have you learnt from your experience in Nollywood?

It’s unfortunate that the Nollywood industry, like many other industries in Nigeria, is still grappling with issues like envy, greed, and corruption. However, it’s heartening to hear that there are still dedicated individuals like Kenneth Gyan, Yinka Edward, and Afred Chia who are working to change the face of Nollywood for the better.

It’s important to remember that change is a gradual process that requires persistence, dedication, and collective effort. By supporting and encouraging these individuals and others like them, we can work towards creating a more positive and productive environment in the industry.

Remember, every industry has its challenges, but it’s how we respond to them that matters. Let’s continue to push for change and support those who are working towards a better future for Nollywood.

“During the casting process for our film project, we faced challenges with some actors being hesitant to commit due to the length of the shoot. We had to make tough decisions and let them go, but we remained focused on our mission to revolutionize Nollywood. Unfortunately, the actors who didn’t make the cut started spreading rumors and exhibiting negative behavior, revealing the darker side of the industry. Despite these obstacles, we persevered and continued working on our project until the accident occurred.”

The movie was scheduled to be shot for a period of one month, and JT Tom West was not only acting in the film but also co-directing with me. That’s a significant commitment of time and resources.

Co-directing a film can be a challenging experience, especially when working with a large cast and crew. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to navigate the situation before the accident.

We invested a significant amount of resources into the production, including securing high-end camera equipment from CNN Nigeria. That’s a substantial loss, both financially and in terms of the effort that went into setting up the production.

It was a notable production, and the actors involved were all impressed by the scale and professionalism of the project. I can only imagine how millions of Naira went down the drain.