Now Reading
Barnabas Emordi: Successive Steps Behind the Lens to Becoming Nollywood’s Highest-Grossing Cinematographer

Barnabas Emordi: Successive Steps Behind the Lens to Becoming Nollywood’s Highest-Grossing Cinematographer

Barnabas Emordi - Afrocritik

“What is important for the cinematographer is making shooting decisions that will influence how the audience reacts to the film or a scene in the film,” _ Barnabas Emordi

By Seyi Lasisi

When Barnabas Emordi first stepped on a Nollywood movie set in 2015, he didn’t envision becoming a filmmaker. Between 2010 and 2015, Emordi, who initially wanted to study Information Technology, had studied Mathematics at Delta State University, and he was waiting to go for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).  Like many young Nigerian graduates waiting to be deployed, Emordi was trying to do something worthy with his free time.  It was in this quest to keep busy that he began his foray into the Nigerian film industry. 

In an interview with Afrocritik, Emordi speaks about contacting his friend who was already in the industry for a soft landing, and from that first conversation to his first moment on the film set, his interest in filmmaking gradually developed. It was his friend who introduced him to the camera and eventually into cinematography.

At present, Emordi is Nollywood’s highest-grossing cinematographer. But, all of this would not have been becoming without taking that first step to the set and “working in almost all departments”. Working in different capacities on a film set, Emordi quickly bounced between departments, learning valuable lessons that would aid his work, up until he decided to become a cinematographer. “Before I decided on what to do in the industry, I had been in every department”, he began, “But, I enjoy cinematography more because it brings words to life through images”, he adds. In the same year, he began working on film sets – and after his short stint in multiple departments – he held the camera for the first time, buoyed by a newfound likeness for taking pictures. After that, his attraction and fondness for capturing images grew. 

Over the years, Emordi has worked on several projects, credited with shooting titles such as Elevator Baby, Prophetess, The Ghost and the Tout Too, Dinner at My Place, Hey You!, A Weekend to Forget, The House of Secrets, and A Tribe Called Judah, working across different genres. From doing camera work on comedy,  thrillers, and rom-coms, the cinematographer has expanded his filmmaking filmography. A Tribe Called Judah has earned Emordi the title of the Nollywood highest-grossing cinematographer, with the film’s unprecedented box-office return of over 1 billion Naira earning the filmmaker this credit. The term, “highest-grossing”, is an acclaim much of the film’s cast and crew now enjoy, with Emordi receiving his fair share of praise. 

Given Nigeria’s current economic situation, and with the country experiencing a dire financial downturn: the price of goods tripling by the seconds, the harsh economic situation, and the government’s reluctance to salvage the situation, it takes interest and passion to watch a Nollywood film in the cinema. However, the extent of marketing and publicising a film are factors that cannot be overlooked. And with A Tribe Called Judah, it becomes evident that this success was not overnight, all things considered. Produced by Funke Akindele, the film, during its production and post-production stages, saw Akindele actively marketing the film. Considering how unstable cinema culture is in Nigeria post-COVID and audience reliance on watching films on streaming platforms, the film’s box-office return is deserving of applause. 

Still, reflecting on the milestone that A Tribe Called Judah achieved as Nollywood’s highest-grossing title, Emordi appreciates Nigerians for genuinely loving Nollywood and the filmmakers involved in the project. “Conclusively, it’s an incredible success not just for the filmmakers but for the industry and Nigeria at large,” Emordi quipped. 

But he, too, is no stranger to the spotlight, and he rides off this wave and publicity. Before A Tribe Called Judah, Emordi was also the cinematographer on the Niyi Akinmolayan-directed Prophetess, which earned a 100 million naira box-office return. Emordi was recently recognised as one of the 100 influential Nollywood practitioners by YNaija and EbonyLifeFilms. He has also been gracious with the press, granting interviews and speaking ever so cheerfully with cultural publications. The creative recognises the place of singing one’s own praise – even at an octave higher – about one’s achievement. “In this generation, we place value on successful people and the media does an amazing job of enhancing your ‘brand’ reputation by publicising you. But, it’s also important to blow your trumpet; letting people know about the good work you’ve done,” he said in an unrestrained countenance. 

But, he is also wary of the hurdles that fame brings. Emordi still wants to enjoy life without any restrictions and hindrances to his personal life, as the unsolicited attention that fame attracts too cannot be overemphasised. “At the end of the day,  it’s just about finding the balance”, he concluded.  

Barnabas Emordi - Nollywood cinematographer Afrocritik
Barnabas Emordi

The Art of Cinematography 

Cinematography is the art and technique of making motion pictures by capturing a story visually. Understanding the technical artistry of visual storytelling, a deft cinematographer, with an acute understanding of the art and craft, uses an available camera to capture an unfolding action. As the story unfolds and the actors sway their acting to the demands of the story, a trained cinematographer captures as pivotal moments occur. 

Watching Niyi Akimolayan’s The House of Secrets, one of several Anthill Studios productions Emordi has shot, in different scenes he guides our visual appreciation of the film’s plot and actors’ performances. One scene that keeps coming to mind is the intimately shot first encounter between young Sarah (Efe Irele) and Panam (Shawn Faqua). The scene is memorable because of the Emordi captures attraction and tension – the draggy footsteps and non-verbal gestures of the two strangers who will eventually become lovers. 

To Emordi, it is about visually making words come alive, and bringing to light the important part of a story.  “It (cinematography) should elevate the vision of the film. What is important for the cinematographer is making shooting decisions that will influence how the audience reacts to the film or a scene in the film,”  he said.  Often, artsy and inventive camera movement and framing of a shot can sway the audience’s attention from the main story. Enamoured by the cinematographer’s work, the storyline becomes subverted in the audience’s mind. The person behind the camera ensures that the audience’s mind and focus aren’t shifted from the story. 

Before shooting a scene, the cinematographer asks these questions: Why is the scene important to the story; who’s the most important person in the scene; and whose point of view are we talking about the scene from? Emordi, with the confidence of a knowledgeable classroom teacher, discusses, “Once I have answers to these questions, it becomes easier to make creative shooting decisions that won’t shift or distract the audience”. In selected scenes from The House of Secrets, Emordi, penchant for using his camera to serve the story,  shows the internal conflict of the older Sarah (Najite Dede) by paying close attention to her facial and body expression. In the recent A Tribe Called Judah, Emordi apprehends the intricacies of Jedidah’s conversation with her children by paying attention to their gestures. “For me, the important part of every scene is understanding why the scene is happening,” he concluded. 

IMG 9610 scaled

But all these considered, each project presents its unique hurdles. And in his almost-a-decade stint in the film industry, Emordi acknowledges the challenges each project presents. But in his experience, one of the ways to overcome creative hurdles is by being involved during the development stage of the project. “Every film has its challenges but it’s how you approach those challenges and how you deliver your role that matters and distinguishes every film. As a cinematographer, I’m always interested in the development stage of the story because the essence of cinematography is to make the story amazing. So, getting involved during the development stage is important,” he told me. 

Involving important crew members during the development stage of a project is a safe way of not just intimating them with a film’s storyline but also an avenue to converse and discuss possible hurdles to expect and creative solutions for resolving them. Although, it’s understandable that financial reasons might dissuade directors and producers from often following this pattern, involving creatives who will work on a project earlier is a viable way of ensuring a better-made film. 

Using House of Secrets as a reference, Emordi speaks about how the director involved him during the development and writing phase of the psychological thriller. “I was shown the story’s plot and synopsis. I was involved during the writing phase”, he enthusiastically shared. Emordi reiterates how being aware of the project during its development stage gave him ample time to create and evaluate a better way to shoot the story. 

For filmmakers, unionising – its political stance aside – is a structure to nurture and nourish oneself creatively. Enjoying a wide range of advice from other creatives whom you belong to the same union or guild with could increase the pace of growth. While researching for this piece, I discovered that in America, there is an American Society of Cinematographers that “advocates for motion pictures as a type of art form.” Beyond advocacy, society is a place to foster relationships and growth among filmmakers. Curious if such an organisation or stricture exists in Nollywood and which purpose it will serve I asked Emordi. And, as always, he was graceful with his response. 

See Also
Kidnapping Inc - Afrocritik

There is a body of cinematographers being established, and within the coming months, Nollywood cinematographers will start feeling its impact. “For me, the importance of a body like this is the moving forward of Nollywood cinematographers. There are no fixed structures in Nollywood. All that we have been doing and achieving in the industry are done by individuals. Now, imagine that there exists a body that caters to the welfare of Nollywood cinematographers. It will create an environment for learning and exchange of ideas”. Emordi’s association with these award-winning cinematographers isn’t that he tries modelling his shooting after them, it’s also how he has maintained a working relationship with other creatives in the film industry. He opens up about a similar relationship with Akinmolayan, the director of Anthill Studio, from projects like Palava!, Hey You!, and Prophetess,  to the recent The House of Secrets.  “I have a connection with Akinmolayan,” Emordi shares, brimming. 

IMG 9572 scaled

The Cinematographer is also a Director

English cinematographer, Sir Roger Alexander Deakins, best known for his collaborations with directors, The Coen brothers, Sam Mendes, and Denis Villeneuve, and the Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has been actively working with Hollywood directors for Steven Spielberg since 1993, are cinematographers who inspire Emordi. Talking about his fondness for these cinematographers and how they influenced his approach and style to cinematography, Emordi said, “I love Deakins because he believes in simplicity. I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple. I grew up watching some of his films. I’m an advocate of if-it-doesn’t-work-for-the-story-don’t-use-it.”  As an advocate of this shooting style, Emordi believes in following what the story demands, and once the camera angle of shot framing isn’t elevating a story, it’s better not to use it. 

Pinned to Emordi’s X (formerly Twitter) handle, is the poster to his directorial debut, Wheels. Despite publicly displaying this, Emordi is known more for his cinematography work than his directing.  But, watching Wheels through an exclusive link Emordi provided, I noticed how strong and confident the artist is as a director. Wheels, inspired by the story of his friend, is Emordi’s attempt to create a safe space for disabled kids who are lonely and scared. The film was shot in Ajegunle, a densely populated town in Lagos state. The story follows a disabled boy who begins to question life and living in Nigeria. “I  got a scholarship to filmmaking in the UK. Due to visa issues, I couldn’t go. During this period, I was motivated to make my first film with my friends who reside in Ajegunle… my friend inspired the story”. 

One cannot say for certain whether Emordi will direct again. Although he mentions that he has had numerous offers to direct, he concludes that if he would further venture, it has to be stories like Wheels, and for courses he is passionate about.  “I understand the amount of work put into directing. But, when I direct, it will be to tell stories I’m passionate about.” 

Barnabas Emordi - Afrocritik

Neither Emordi nor his family would have foreseen that the creative would wound up in filmmaking. It is miles apart from Mathematics, or even tech, his first interest. He had grown up in a household that constantly watched Old Nollywood and Hollywood films, and even in those moments of staring at the screen, the idea of being a filmmaker did not register in his consciousness. Still, he opens up about having accommodating parents who accepted his decision to make films. “This is one of the most important parts of my story. My parents are the best… For my parents, as long as you are progressing they will support you. Even when you’re drawing back, they’ll still support you. I have the best parents,” Emordi told me with infectious confidence in his words. 

With the monumental appraisal and commercial successes that Emordi has enjoyed, one can safely list him as one of the cinematographers changing the visual identity of Nollywood films. 

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email:

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure

© 2024 All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top