Walter Taylaur, a gangly, gregarious Nigerian writer-director, needed a place to shoot his movie, Gbomo Gbomo Express, a low-budget “comedy-thriller.” In the movie, the head of a music label hits it off with a socialite while out on the town in Lagos. On their way home, three working-class Lagosians kidnap the couple for ransom, but the hapless kidnappers realize too late that they’re in over their heads.
In Nollywood, as the Nigerian movie business is known, there are no actual studios. Filmmakers usually rent an abandoned or empty mansion and transform it into a set. But Taylaur hadn’t found one yet. Then a friend came through. He owned a derelict house with servants’ quarters in Ebute Metta, a congested neighborhood in one of the oldest parts of Lagos with faded, peeling apartment buildings, pastel-colored two-level bungalows, and a sprawl of open-air markets. Taylaur could use it if he wanted, for free. He’d just have to clean it up first. The street outside might present a problem, though. It was loud: generators rumbling, people shouting, horns blaring from vehicles languishing in traffic. No, Taylaur said, that sounded perfect.
When he showed up at the house two days later, Taylaur had to cut the padlock off the gate (his friend had lost the key). Inside, he found rooms knee-deep in trash; it took several hours—and dumpsters—to get rid of it all. He and the crew gutted, cleaned, and painted one space to use as a greenroom, adding fans, lights, tables, and mattresses for soundproofing. They also built sets that passed for an office and a hospital suite. When they began filming, they left the street noise in.