By Seun Sanni and Angela Ukomadu
PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (Reuters) - With fists, flips and kicks, a Nigerian stunt crew is bringing blow-by-blow recreations of famous fight scenes to Nollywood, aiming to put some muscle into a film industry better known for drama, comedy and romance.
The 15-member Xcel Theater, based in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt, started out posting dance and comedy routines on social media.
Last year, the group began clashing swords, ducking kicks and flipping over scenery to recreate some of film and television's most intense fights, including "Into The Badlands", "The Witcher" and "The Raid" as well as scenes featuring actors like Jason Statham and Jet Li.
Now, producers who spotted their talents have flown them to Lagos to choreograph action sequences for upcoming films in a bid to bolster the genre within Nollywood, a multibillion dollar industry churning out movies and TV shows at a rate second only to India's Bollywood.
"This started as a result of a passion I have for creative stunt works that I see in most big films," said Samuel Iyare, the 35-year-old founder of Xcel, at a shoot in Port Harcourt.
Iyare, a fan of Hollywood action films, bankrolls shoots on as little as 30,000 naira ($80) by making furniture - a skill also useful when creating props.
"We dull the edges," he said while holding a wooden knife. "We paint it to give us the feel of the weapon, then stain it with a little blood so once you are making the motions, it looks as if the person has actually been cut."
Attention to detail brought the crew to the attention of Nollywood filmmakers.
Olukiran Babatunde Olawale, a director and producer, drafted the group last October to choreograph stunts for Mamba Diamond, an action-comedy about two amateur thieves who mistakenly steal one of the world's most valuable jewels, set for release in May.
"We were very, very impressed," said Olawale, who sees a bright future for Nollywood action films featuring the athleticism of fresh talent like Xcel. "They are going to be in a lot of film projects."
($1 = 381 naira)
(Reporting by Seun Sanni in Port Harcourt and Angela Ukomadu in Lagos; Additional reporting by Nneka Chile in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Angus MacSwan)