My Story

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From a very young age I was an avid reader, this extended to an interest in writing when in Yr5, we were told to write a story as a class assignment. That,was the spark that set my creativity on fire.

From that day i was consumed with the passion to write, It became my number one hobby, and even as young as 11 i had started writing a small novel.

Going into my teen years my passion increased, i dreamed of a future where i would be a novelist, like those i admired, but the Nigeria of the 90’s was not one that supported creative career, least of all one as a writer. So i took all science subjects , so i could be a “professional” in the future, but was miserable and the only thing that kept me going was the writing i did on the side; short stories which got good feedback from fellow book worm friends.

Fast Forward to my Bsc graduation day . I was sitting with a group of friends talking and one of them mentioned changing careers and going to film school to pursue his directing dream.That was when it CLICKED. All the stories i had been writing i always imagined them becoming films. As i’d write i’d see my self on set discussing the scene with actors.

From that moment i was fired up, i started to research on how to write scripts, watching every behind the scenes interview i could find; finding every screen writing article or fiction writing book i could lay my hands on. At one time i had to copy by hand a book on writing that a friend didn’t allow me borrow.

I regularly checked end credits of shows i enjoyed to see if i could send my script in and enter the business. I eventually did make it in as a staff writer on a show called The Station (thank you Lanre Yusuf and Ike Umeadi).

There i met and worked with Kenneth Gyang. We’d have extensive discussions on film and cinema then one day he screened “City of God”. That film was a revelation, it was not a Hollywood movie, and yet, this little film took the world by storm and create a buzz in the film community. We had been inspired by the story of Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and Kevin Smith(Clerks) but this was something else. I felt, if our Brazilian brothers could make a film like that, why cant we?

I resumed my search for a film school and found SAE Institute London. Film School was certainly useful,but aside a documentary most of the work i did i was not happy with. I was depressed, my dreams of directing were becoming like an ice cube on the Sahara

Then one day i ran into a friend Sunny King, who i grew up with back home, but had relocated to the UK since our teens . We had not seen in over a decade, so imagine what it was like discovering we were both pursuing a career in “the pictures”.

We’d have lengthy discussions about movies we liked and where we saw Black,Nigerian and African Cinema going, even dubbing the change of pace as The Naija New Wave .

Our talks revitalized me a little, and by the time he made his short(SIGNS) where i was a Lens Visual Precision Adjuster( ok , i was a focus puller) and it got good reviews, i was determined to do something.

Like Kurosawa said, “With a good script a good director can produce a masterpiece, with a bad script, one can’t possibly make a good film”. Trying to minimize location and cost I wrote a script that was all dialogue and no story, naturally it fell on it’s face. I was beginning to question if i had “the right stuff.”

Two more friends from grad school made nice short films and i was mad at myself for slacking, and determined to try again.

Luckily this time, i had watched an old Hitchcock interview on YouTube and it completely shifted my paradigm, when he said, “tell the story visually and keep the dialogue to a minimum.”

I took that advice literally, wrote another script, and with the last few pounds in my account made a short film called BLISS. Recruiting a course mate from school as producer(Roberto Iacurci) we set a date and God willing the shoot went great.

We released it on FaceBook on vatlentines day, and for the next two months, we had comments coming in, the responses were very encouraging,people enjoyed it.

Too broke at the time (and too late) to enter for many film festivals, we got into the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival , and got a Special Mention .

This revitalized me, and i realized all those disdained films were my REAL film school.

Like the Edison story about the creation of the light bulb, i didn’t fail, i learned several way how NOT to make a movie. They were my learning curve and made me realize just exactly what indie film makers and the one back home had to go through to get a film made and realize their vision, and how sometimes despite passion and best intentions, it doesn’t work out.

ON THE FUTURE

Nigerian cinema is growing both domestically and in diaspora. With films like Half of a Yellow Sun and Mother of George premiering at TIFF, Confusion Na Wa at Rotterdam , Gone too Far at the BFI and the trailers of historical dramas “October 1st” and “76” have also raised a lot of excitement.

It is very clear that Nigerian Cinema is switching into a whole new era and i’m excited for what the future holds

This is my short film BLISS.

Please check it out, leave a comment (on YouTube) and share. Thanks.

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REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR NOLLYWOOD

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Nollywood means different things to everyone in Nigeria. It is one of those very polarizing topics ,almost as polarizing as religion, politics and morality. There are those that LOVE it as one much as one could love a film. They buy all the dvds they can afford, praise the directors and worship the stars. Then there are those that have less than stellar opinions, and to them, all they can see is that , the emperor has no clothes on.

While they may have their valid objections with the technical, creative, story telling flaws that some of the films have( like Hollywood), id like to look at some reason we can and SHOULD be grateful for Nollywood.

*BIG & BLACK -Nollywood has managed to do what no other black populated nation has done. It’s created an industry for it’s self and by it’s self. Though it may not be perfect, or anywhere near it, it is a self-sustaining industry that has created superstars that are recognized all over the world. Many black film makers in North America and Europe would kill to have in their countries what Nollywood has created in Nigeria.

*INDUSTRY -Though a full structure is not in place, but the fact is, there is an industry. No country in Europe and not even Britain can boast of a film industry. With the death of UKFC which was the closest thing to a studio, it seems that things were set back several years. Though we don’t have a studio system, the independent spirit was embraced and the industry manages to release over 3000 films annually of varying quality(like Hollywood), but they all find an audience, which is what is important to theirproducers.

*WORKING AT HOME- Directors, are able to work at home. It may take sometime to get into the industry, but Nollywood has done for it’s directors what Britain has not been able to do; i.e they can work at home. Talented British directors from Alfred Hitchcock to Chris Nolan and Edgar Wright, after successful films, still had to go to the US to be fully appreciated and find the finance to make the kind of films they want to make. Nigerian directors don’t have to do tha. Now, not all get the funding they need , or the complete freedom( depending on their clout, and producer they work with), but the fact is, things are only getting better. With films like; Misfit , A Mile From Home, Confusion Na Wa and others coming out, you can see that , young film makers are beginning to do things , their way, and things can only get better.

* GOOD ROLES Depending on your prespective, this is subjective,but let me explain; with Nollywood the actors are not restricted to token or stereotypical roles, unlike their black colleagues in US and America, who are subjected to roles like : Gangster, Pimp, Robber, Prostitute etc. Many Black actors in the US and Europe find these are the only roles they get early in their careers, and even later on, unless you are Denzel or Will Smith, most roles are written with a Caucasian in the lead and cast that way.

Many black actors in Europe have to go to the US to really be appreciated; Chiwetal Ejifor, Idri Elba, Thandie Netwon and many others are British born, but despite stellar work at home, they eventually had to move across the pond to REALLY work The reverse is the case for Nollywood, where you have British Born Nigerians moving back to to Nigeria to work as actors. Within a few decades we could see African American Actors moving down here to either work or do their own productions. Render to Caesar already has Gbenga Akkinegbe who starred in HBO cult classic “The Wire” testing the waters.

STILL GROWING- Hollywood has many phases. It started with the silent, then to the talkies, then to the Golden age.

There was then the 70’s where names like Speilberg, Scorsese, Lucas, DePalma, Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola roared into the scenes, and

The 90’s brought Tarantino,Fincher, Rodriguez,Spike Jones, David O Russell, Wes Anderson etc .

There was an evolution, and each phase had it impact on what Hollywood is today. Hollywood has come to an almost standstill. People are getting tired of remakes, endless franchises that get worse with each new film, and movies that have no depth, style over substance.

Nollywood on the other hand, is just entering it’s second phase. The era of bad production is slowly coming to an end(slowly) Slowly new voices are entering the scene showing what they can do,films like Ije and Figurine paved the way for a new standard,showing that IT WAS possible to make films at that level, and others have come and surpassed what they did.

The only way is up(with continuos momentum and artistic integrity) and from what i have seen of short films, webseries and one hour tv movies that have been coming out in the last 18 months, i think we can all be excited that soon, some of the things that Nollywood has been mocked for, will slowly phase out in the next decade or so.

NEW NIGERIAN CINEMA- There is a movement called the New Nigerian Cinema. Similar to how Indie Film Makers and those that work outside the Hollywood system, do not regard themselves as part of Hollywood. But, the fact is, without Nollywood, they would not have a platform to appear on CNN and get international interviews. Nollywood, created a platform , that became a brand that the world recognized.

NB- Not all film makers from the U.S are Hollywood filmmakers, Not all film-makers in India are Bollywood film makers, and they usually make that distinction clear. So, not all film makers from Nigeria or of Nigerian Birth are Nollywood film-makers, this does not make them snobs. A film- Maker has a right to choose who or what he is identified with or as.

Nollywood put a spotlight on film making in Africa, and many filmmakers, are benefiting from that spotlight directly or indirectly. There are many great filmsdin other African countries, but none have the kind of attention that Nollywood gets, or the brand attachment. Just look at the film competition AfriNOLLY, though open to the whole continent, they took the NOLLY, which immediately made it a different playing field and opportunity for new and unknown (but working) film makers to showcase their talent

Now, am i saying that the industry is perfect? . NO, we still have a long way to go. A VERY long way in MANY areas. There are some mindsets we need to discard. There are some perspectives that need to be dumped and new ones accepted , and some excuses and victims mentality need to be destroyed.

But despite our objections, protests or reservations, i do think we need to acknowledge how far it’s come and the platform it has created; whatever your views on it may be, you can’t deny the impact that it has had both on the industry and the continent.

PS- What other reasons do you think insiders and those that work in the creative industry should be grateful. Please lets keep comments respectful. Cheers

Rise of the Naija Auteur 3

So it’s been an interesting 9 months, there have been several short film competitions, the biggest being the Afrinolly competition which sent a creative ripple across the world; displaying the film making talents of Nigerians both at home and abroad. The competition managed to bring to light many talented directors, just proving that the future is very bright for Nigerian Cinema.

So many voices doing great things with little budgets; just think what would happen if they weren’t limited and had a good budget to play with

Of the many shorts i’ve seen in this period, two particularly 

LOOP , a mind shagger that will leave u wondering. Written and directed by Stanlee Ohikhuare

BLINK by Tolu Ajayi

When i saw this one is was like WOAHHHHHH, Left me with a big smile on my face cos of how ambitious it was 

Dunno about y’all, but i look forward to the future releases of these two gentlmen.

So a few weeks ago i hear comicon is happening in Lagos, first of all i was pretty surprised, it was always something for off, Stateside. So i decide to attend and see the turn out and what was on offer, boy am i glad i did. I saw some pretty good indigenous comic books and art work , but what impressed me the most , was what i can only describe as African Anime.

A small company by the name of Sporedust Media, who aim to be the Pixar of Africa have created a film called Chicken Core, and from what i can see of the trailer im highly impressed.

Im always going on about the future of Nigerian Live Action films, and New Nigerian Cinema, but WOW, these guys have me thinking about the place animation can have in Nigerian cinema. I wont say any more, check out their work and decide for yourself

THE TIDE: THE RISE & RISE OF NEW NIGERIAN CINEMA

So a little while ago i talked about the tide turning in Nollywood. An age where the things it’s been known for; contrived plot hole ridden stories. poor production audio and visual and hammy acting. The days of Nollywood just being admired for quantity,are coming to an end and the wave of quality from New Nigerian Cinema is coming in and it has several riders.

I’ve seen several trailers that have me intrigued and excited. From the premise to the performances it seems an epiphany A-bomb was dropped on the industry and sent ripple effects around. One of the recent trailers to catch my attention is HOOD RUSH starring OC Ukeje,Gabriel Afolayan and Bimbo Akintola making a return to acting after a hiatus Another is also starring OC Ukejwe,co directed by James Omokwe & Ethan Okwara, a true indie film made by a couple of friends on a tight budget.

The first being a musical thriller with two of the hottest young actors in the game. I foresee a very bright future ahead of these two if they keep making the choices they make. From the trailer, i can say I’M very excited.The latter , is a film, about movie making. The first of it’s kind as far as i know for Nolly (of this production quality anyway). One of my earlier entries talked about “Lions of 76” and “Half of a Yellow Sun” going biopic/historical,and hoping the kind of budgets they had would become more frequent, in spite of that though, with these contemporary stories things just keep getting better.

Everyday there are new film makers rising. Both resident here and those returning home, (much like the music industry), fresh blood and new thinking is changing things and the quality of work we are seeing. From short films to tv shows the game is changing and it’s evident that things aren’t what they used to be. Films directed by Nigerians are now getting wide theatrical openings and screenings in Europe and America , something that didn’t and couldn’t happen some 7 years ago.

If we keep up this momentum and keep raising our game, i see Nigerian Cinema being a rally point for black actors and being the go to place for International collaborations in Africa. We may see a time when African Americans no longer play African roles but our body of work showcases that we have enough talented peeps to play the roles. In fact, i foresee it getting to the point that Hollywood is throwing money at us just so we can create content so they can service the diaspora market.

The tide is rising, and i pray we ride this wave like the big one.

NB: As i haven’t seen any of the films, im basing this on trailers and teasers that have been released. Like everyone else i’ll have to wait to see the final outcomes.

A New Era ???

So recently two features wrapped up shoot. The adaptation of Chimamanda Adichies “Half of a Yellow Sun” starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Dominic Cooper, and “Lions of 76” set in the backdrop of the Military coup,Directed by Izu Ojukwu starring Ramsey Noauh and Rita Dominic, which just came off a 77 day shoot in Ibadan. Did he just say 77 days shoot!!! of a wholly Naija filck!!.

Yes i did, for those farmiliar with production in Nollywood it’s undoubtedly an abnormal number of shoot days. The normal for a feature or to be more specific “Home Video” shoot, can be anything thing between 5-10 days sometimes even less.

Is this a new era in Nigerian film making? Are we seeing the beginning of one to three month shoots?

Are these one offs , or are things finally beginnig to change in the way films are made in Naija?

I for one certainly hope so. The rise of a new wave in Nigerian Cinema is around the corner, the old is showing it’s wrinkles and the new is strutting it’s baby fresh skin and i can only hope that the time taken to make this flicks will be a challenge to others out there.

Instead of a producer making 20 films in one year, each with a 5-10 day shoot, and dire quality and then lasts less than a month on the shelf, and sooner out of the memory, they can focus on 2 or 3 films, each given the care it deserves and have a film that can last in the cinema and later on DVD.

Yes, those films have huge budgets, that far exceed the average home video budget, by several light years, but if we come up with great source material, maybe investors will be more willing to write cheques when they see the cinematic possibilities.

When these flicks are released, we’ll find out what they have in store for us.