You may know Waliu Fagbemi from movies like Strangers (2022), Prophetess (2021), Deal or No Deal (2021), Progressive Tailors’ Club (2021), Sugar Rush (2019), Elevator Baby (2019), and King of Boys Part 1 (2018). But as a casting director and talent agent, he has also worked behind the scenes on blockbuster projects like Domitilla: The Reboot (2023), Brotherhood (2022), Ile Owo (2022), and Passport (2022), to mention a few.
In this edition of Nollywood’s Hidden Men and Women, the actor, talent agent, and casting director speaks on his Nollywood experience and gives us a peek behind the curtains, breaking down the challenges of talent representation and casting in today’s Nollywood. He also shares tips on how he chooses which talents to represent through his Rare Gem Talent Agency.
How would you introduce yourself?
My name is Waliu Fagbemi. I’m an actor, casting director, and talent agent. I find and book talents for TV commercials and films.
How long have you been in the Nigerian film industry?
I’ve been in the industry for a while, on and off for about 7-8 years now. I think I decided to take this seriously in 2018, after I was a part of King of Boys 1. So, officially, I’ve been in the industry for five years. This past May was my second year as a talent agent.
What projects have you been a talent agent for?
This one go long o! My first ever official film production as regards casting was A Romantic Comedy Featuring Lara and Tobi (2022), directed by Segilola Ogidan and produced by Barbara Babarinsa. I’m grateful to those two women for trusting me with that project.
I’ve worked on Aki and PawPaw (2021), Brotherhood (2022), Ile Owo (2022), Passport (2022), Domitilla: The Reboot (2023), Tecno Mobile and Film Trybe’s The Thing with Feathers (2023); Tokunbo by Ramsey Nouah, Eko Miami by Adebola “Debola Lagos” Williams, Post-Cards, Afamefuna, Something Like Gold and other upcoming productions. I’ve also worked on advertisements for brands like Binance, Polygel antacid, Project Alert on Violence Against Women Campaign, Lagos Continental Hotel, and Premium Pensions, among others.
For most feature films that I’ve worked on, I didn’t necessarily handle the 360 casting; with Brotherhood, for example, I came in after Jade Osiberu and her team had done the casting of all the major roles. So, my job was to cast day players, a few speaking roles, and extras; and to be honest, I didn’t do it alone, because of the scale of the production. But I’ve handled the overall casting for some short films and almost all the TV commercials that I’ve worked on.
How did you become a talent agent?
As far back as I can remember when producers would send me scripts, I’d often get questions like, “Aside from this role we want you for, do you know anyone else that can play so and so kind of role?” And I don’t think anybody ever came back to me with complaints like, “This actor didn’t deliver.” It’s something that I like doing. So, casting doesn’t come as hard work for me. But what really made me delve into it was when COVID happened and the acting jobs stopped coming in. I remember being frustrated. So, I told God, “Open my eyes to see what else I can do within the industry as a side hustle.” And talent agency was what kept coming.
As a rising actor, you need to find other departments in film production that you’re good at if you really want to succeed in this industry.
What led to the inception of Rare Gem Talent Agency?
I wanted to create a platform where filmmakers can find the right talents for their projects, where talents can also connect with filmmakers and be in projects that will help them elevate their careers; productions that are stress-free. I’m an actor too and during my earliest days of acting, one of my biggest sources of stress was always having to think about when I was going to get paid—if I was going to get paid on time or at all. I’d also have to worry about how I would get home if a shoot ran late. You know, we young talents don’t often have people to fight these battles for us. But at Rare Gem Talent Agency, we ensure that all these other areas have been taken care of, and our talents don’t have to worry about anything aside from acting.
I’m hoping that Nollywood gets to a point where talents, especially young talents, can get treated better on set. Where they can say, “Because I worked through Waliu on that project, they were able to pay me right and treat me right on set, regardless of being a known name, a popular face, or not.” I’m hoping for an industry where, 5–10 years from now, people can do one job, not like a hundred, before they can say that they’re living the life. I’m not of the school of thought that says you have to work for everybody or do every job before you can start living right. Regardless of whether you’re an extra or a lead, you deserve to be treated with respect as a human. So yeah, that’s my goal.
How does the process work? And how would you describe your different roles?
In casting, the first thing is to get the script from the production; I read it, understand it, and ask for the Character Bible of each character that I’ve been asked to cast.
Sometimes, the production will tell you they already have their lead. Sometimes, I ask for an audience with the writer or the producer to better understand the story and the characters in their world. Then, I make a shortlist of about 5–10 actors who I feel fit the roles. I ask the production for more information, like the date of the shoot, and if the options that I have in mind can start auditioning for their roles. Then, I reach out to them and relay the information. After sending their audition tapes to the producer, I wait. In some cases, they can get back to me and say, “Oh, we like this person, but we still need more audition tapes from them.” Or they’ll tell you that they still need more options. When the producer or director—or whoever reached out to me—is satisfied, the job of the casting director ends.
Now, the talent agent is in charge of negotiations for the actor. You’re in charge of getting the right information from the production to the actor and ensuring that both parties are on the same page, especially if there is a contract to sign or if there are terms from the production to the actor and vice versa. You also need to ensure that actors don’t get overworked on set and underpaid, make sure that everyone does what they are supposed to do so that everybody is happy during and after the production, because you are the middleman between the production and the talent.
What are the challenges of casting compared to acting?
The two biggest challenges I often face are budget and time constraints.
Maybe due to inflation or the fact that there aren’t too many investors in Nollywood, we don’t have enough budget to pay talents most of the time. Sometimes some productions would want you to book somebody like—let me use another industry, for example—a Julius Berger to come and work for the rate of a local bricklayer. It doesn’t work that way. Your budget will determine the class of actors or talents that will want to join your production.
Then, time. Casting requires a lot of time. I don’t really like productions where I’m rushed, because breaking down scripts and getting the right people for jobs—even communicating with the right talents and convincing them to come on board—takes a lot of work and time sometimes. Also, there is a policy as a talent agent where, if you’re booking actors, it’s for a fixed duration as stipulated by a contract, depending on the scale of the budget and the time they are needed. If you book an actor for 6 hours and they’re already spending more than 8 or 10 hours, no matter who the actor is or how exciting that project is, they will not be happy to deliver. So, this is like an appeal to producers in Nollywood, that let’s not only stick to time, but also, if you find that actors are spending more than the time that was agreed on set, you should be able to compensate them, and it shouldn’t be a fight, especially for young actors. ‘Cause we won’t do this to veterans, right? Or established actors who are brands.
Shout-out to producers and directors who know all this and do the right thing.
How do you set out to solve these challenges at Rare Gem Agency?
Well, first of all, it’s not every project that I jump on. When I feel like I’m not getting the right vibe or there isn’t enough time to apply myself a hundred percent to a project and I feel like it may affect the quality of my work, I turn down the project if I can. Or I make my complaints known or find ways to resolve the issue.
With budget, I also apply this o! If I feel like the scale of the production can do better compared to what they’re offering for the talent, it’s my job to push for the talent to get what’s fair, right?
When it comes to the work, my producers or whoever is reaching out to me are kings. But my talents are also important. I find that I get to fight for young talents that are not that popular more than the popular ones. Helping talents get what they deserve is where I’m most passionate, where my heart is, and I feel like I put more effort into it because nobody really gets to fight for talents in Nollywood. But I have to always find a balance.
What do you look out for in talent selection? And what is more important in a talent: potential or skill?
Okay. Talent, confidence, personality, preparation, and good vibes—as in, if they’re amiable and easy to work with. I look out for effort and someone with a good work ethic. I’m not necessarily looking out for the best of the best, even though that is also important, because what’s the essence of casting somebody who has all the talent but no get sense or good character? In fact, I believe if you have an average talent who is willing to learn, they can still be managed or improved on set. Here is how I see it: when you’re going on set as an actor through an agent, you’re also representing your agent. No producer would want to work with me again if my talent messes up on sets.
What are the red flags you personally avoid?
I have zero tolerance for lateness because our work is heavily time-bound. I have zero tolerance for people who don’t have a good work ethic in general or who don’t know how to conduct themselves on set. When I send actors on set, I expect them to be on good behavior. Just go there and act. Do your work. Every other thing? Rest. Believe that your talent agent will fight for you in every other area and deal with every other thing that comes up. You don’t have anything to worry about, so why won’t you do the work, shey you understand?
This applies to production as well. I always ask my talents if the production treated them right or if they were treated with respect, just to know if I want to work with the production again. It applies to both parties, not just the talent.
Since casting is more of a collaborative effort, which other departments do you need to work closely with?
Aside from the producer, the director, and the executive producer, who make the final decision when it comes to who they want, I often work with costumiers, make-up, and hair departments. For instance, in Brotherhood, we shortlisted down to costumes, not just looks, because there was a lookbook and a color palette for every scene. That’s why all those colors on screen were popping and what everybody was wearing was blending.
I also work closely with the production manager, sometimes, to get information about call times, the estimated time of the shoot, location, and if they’re going to book a hotel, along with minor details that happen on set. We also discuss how and when the actor is going to get paid.
Would you call casting through an agency an emerging process in the Nigerian Film Industry?
Ah, I would say yes and no. Yes, because I’m barely two years in. But there are people that have been doing it way before me, so I would also say no. We have others like Tope Alake of The Casting Place and Effective of Wolf Tribe. In Nigeria, I think casting through an agency is more popular in the modeling sector of the entertainment industry. I would say it’s still developing in Nollywood.
What are your predictions for the field of casting in the Nigerian Film Industry?
Oh, it can only get bigger and better. For example, the international streaming platforms are here now: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the like. The casting sector has stepped up to meet the tastes of these streaming platforms, and more are still coming. The industry is getting bigger, and the more streaming platforms come, the better it will get, I hope. So, my goal is not just to be a talent agency for Nollywood but to be a leading talent agency in Africa with a global standard, where if any production in the world wants to reach out for talents from Nigeria, they will reach out to my agency.
What would you like aspiring actors and other talents to know before setting out in the Nigerian film industry?
The road to making it in this industry is a marathon, not a sprint; you will serve the industry before the industry serves you. Learn, understand the rudiments, and study the industry and how it plays before you join it. Don’t come into the industry because of the glitz and glam. Ask the right questions, and be sure that this is really, really what you really want to do, because it’s going to be a roller coaster ride; there will be so many ups, and there will be downs as well. You need to prepare your mind for that.
You also need to know when to apply yourself a hundred percent and when to take a break. I’ve taken breaks and they’ve helped me understand the industry better by observing it from the outside, because that’s how you’re able to realize what you’re not doing right, see what you could be doing differently, and understand how to find your own path, especially when you feel like you’ve set out a plan for yourself and you’re not really getting the results you want.
Most importantly, you need to have something to believe in. You need God, Allah or whatever you believe in. Sha believe in something and always pray. You will need it in your journey in this industry. It’s a beautiful profession and a beautiful industry if you come into it with the right intentions and know what you’re doing. But you need to be ready for the roller-coaster ride, and that’s the truth o! Me, I don’t know how to lie to anybody and I can only speak based on my experience, right? So, that’s the truth from me.
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