Category Archives: Film Making and then some

the return

Hello. Is this thing on? Is anyone out there? Earth calling , Pilot to co-pilot.

Been having major issues with my website for the last few months and been unable to post anything new since the last LOGAN post. Did ya miss me ūüėÄ

OK,since the last post i have made a couple more videos looking at a few things happening in the Nigerian Film & TV ecosystem .

NATIVE Mag, a pretty awesome new online publication i came across in these radio silent month reviewed HONEY .The Age of Webseries video , the Art of Blocking . and Evolution of Nollywood’s Aesthetics

KONBINI did a write up on NAIJA IN 25 FRAMES .

So, if you haven’t, please check them out, watch the videos, like ,share and subscribe. Cheers

CHAINED ELEPHANTS AND FILM MAKING IN NAIJA

 
There is a story told by life coaches and motivational speakers.
 
It’s about the Baby elephant in the circus.
Now a baby elephant is cute and pretty “harmless” but the circus owners have to think about when it’s fully grown, so to break it, and make it controllable. They tie it down , pin it to the ground with the strongest shackles they can get.
 
No matter how long it struggles and trashes about unable to move or break free. It remains this way for however long it takes for that elephant to stop struggling and resign its self to its fate, losses hope .
 
The chains that restrained it have gone, but psychologically that elephant is never the same. Even as an adult the trainer can tie it to stick with a rope and it wont struggle. It wont attempt to break free.
 
Psychologically that rope NOW, and the chains from THEN are the same thing.
 
Due to how things were in the early days of Nollywood, the struggles,the challenges , the technological and financial limitations , there were a lot of things that were impossible to do. There were places we could not see ourselves going, so resigned to those limitations, creatively, technologically and otherwise.
 
However in 2017 with availability of ANYTHING you want to know about film : screenwriting, directing, cinematography, editing, VFX etc available on YouTube. With the same technology available to us that has won indie filmMakers with $7,000 budgets prizes at Sundance etc .
 
We still use, “this is Nigeria, it’s not possible because of….(insert reasons)
 
Granted, Nigeria has its own unique set of challenges, nobody is denying any of that . There are unique frustrations in Nigeria (area boys, generator noise etc) other countries don’t have .
 
Our problems wont go away anytime soon.  But we want to make great films within our limitations and challenges.
 
But they will never be as great as they could be if we continue with the default of “it’s not possible”, “because of Naija”, “Stop comparing”
 
Actually, each time an audience member has to decide to how to spend their N5,000-N10,000
(Tickets for 2,Parking,Pop Corn& Drinks (Hotdog&Shawrma),Petrol+their TIME) on a Nollywood film or a Hollywood film, during that one free day in a week/month they are able go to the cinema, comparisons would be made 90% of the time it Hollywood film they choose.
 
WE have to break the psychological trap which has us defaulting to;
 
–They tried acknowledge their effort( Will you apply this next time your Bank,Telco messes up or Restaurant served you bad food?)
 
-Film is not easy in Nigeria( it isn’t easy anywhere, even with $m budget, ask
 
Josh Trank about Fan4stic($125m)  
David Ayer about Suicide Squad ($175m)
Joss Whedon about Avengers AoU($316m)
All problematic, stressful and frustrating productions with mostly underwhelming results ,despite abundance of finance .
These weren’t as a result of incompetent directors, if you know their earlier films you know ability was not the issue.
Resources and infrastructure are not a guarantee of a film turning out well or being a pleasant production experience.
 
On the other hand
Barry Jenkins whose $1.5m budget film competed with and beat films with budgets of $30m and above to win Best Picture.
Damien Chazelle’s $3m¬† budget WHIPLASH which took home two Oscars a few years back.
 
They made the best of those budgets and still beat films who probably spent their entire budget on feeding cast& crew  for a few weeks.
Some reading this is getting annoyed and thinking:
“$1.5m!!!¬† DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THAT IS IN NAIRA!!!!”
Converting their budgets to Naira does not change in THEIR country,those are small budgets for the type of films they were making and the rules that apply on work hours,work , safety, insurance, minimum pay etc
With the SAG minimum pay requirements and the rules of  other Unions they have to work with, $1.5m wont go as far as you think in the U.S .
The scale the scale of what they could do. BUT they still made fantastic films  WITHIN what the finance they could raise.
 
This is NOT about encouraging bashing or criticism of our films,
This is NOT about dismissing the difficulties of filmmaking in an environment like Nigeria
 
but discouraging getting defensive or upset when anyone says.
 
-We need to do better
-We CAN do better
 
If you tell a student they can and should do better in their grades, is that a bad thing?
 
If you tell a man he can and should do better in his role as a husband and father is it a bad thing?
 
If they start to list reasons why Nigeria makes it difficult/impossible being a good student or a good husband/father what will you think?
 
Not the same thing but, you catch my drift.
 
FILM IS HARDDDDD
 
But we make it harder when we let our minds work against us to the point that even with opportunity our subconscious is wired in impossibility.
 
Please feel free to :
-Mssscheewwww and dismiss this as just talk
 
Feel free to Say or Think:
-All this one na theory
-Na America be that, stop comparing us
-Go and make your own let’s see.
-Sharrapp. Which one have you made?
-He has come again oh.
 
Or we can think
 
despite all our issues/challenges
 
financing (not unique to Nollywood alone)
 
distribution(again, not Nollywood alone)
 
lack of Infrastructure (French New Wave& Italian Renaissance sprung out of these)
 
piracy (come on!, how are you watching Netflix &  HBO shows)
training
Hostile Environment
 
How can we , despite all this, make fantastic content?
 
THEN ,our minds will collaborate with us to think our way around these issues and maybe even make them work for out stories/Productions . Instead of it providing confirmation for why we cant meet certain levels of storytelling and production we want.
 
I don’t have a dog in this fight(yet) , im just a fan, who thinks there is greatness waiting release.
 
Ciao
 
This video is LONG  but worth it. (If you can binge watch a whole season of a TV series you can watch this).  Here you can listen to indie filmmaker in the U.S speak frankly about the challenges they face in financing, making and getting distribution for their films.
You’d be surprised how similar our challenges are.

THE IMAGERY OF ANDREW DOSUNMU

Andrew Dosunmu is one of the interesting Nigerian filmmkaers working in the international scene. He started as a photgrapher and later directed music videos for  Talib Kweli, Les Nubians, Angie Stone and others. His background in Art and Fashion Photography influences how he approaches filmmaking in an incredible aesthetic way ; how the frames,composes and unveils emotion.

We look at how he does this in his 2nd feature, MOTHER OF GEORGE.

 

Short Films , Nigerian Film and Nollywood’s possible Future

In the last few years, short films in Nigeria have begun to gain a level of attention and respectability that was denied of the as close as 7 years ago. Now short films are recognized by the top local film festivals and award organizations . Check out my piece for Shadow&Act and see some of these short films showing what could be the future of Nollywood.

CAMERA MOVEMENT IN FILM

Ok. So lets talk about camera movement.

Camera movement is part of the visual language of cinema, and a key part in the screen grammar in the artist kit of a Director, used to tell a story. Unlike in non narrative music videos where movement doesn’t have to be motivated. In narrative story telling , 99.9% of the time, there should be a motivation for moving the camera.

Some motivations are

Subject movement motivated : the subject within the frame is moving and the camera moves along with them to keep them within the frame.

Subjective Camera: this is when the camera sees as the characters sees, and also moves accordingly. This is mostly in POV shots.

Reveal or Conceal : this is when the camera moves to reveal or hide a character or information. This is best employed to uncover critical narrative details or actions which till that time have been off screen.

Actual Camera Movements

Dolly Shot: this allows the camera to move closer or farther from an object(or subject) . Dolly in or Dolly out, are also know as a Push in or Push out.

Crane Shot : this raises the camera vertically up or down in relation to the subject.

Steadicam Shots: Steadicam is associated with free flowing dynamic camera movement. It allows the operator freedom of movement while maintaining a stable and clean shots (free of wobble & shaking)

Handheld: When shooting handheld, it MUST have a narrative purpose. It should just be done because a tripod wasn’t available, or getting the shot as quickly as possible when shooting guerrilla style. It can be used to give a documentary style feel. But if not done right, it can feel tonally out of place and pull out the viewer from the film. If shooting handheld, consider its place visually with the rest of the film, and the purpose of shooting that scene handheld. Are you creating a sense of urgency? Chasing a character? Following a character? Portraying a psychological or emotional state?

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WHAT’S IN THE FRAME – VIDEO ESSAY #2

OK, So i decided to do another video essay and this time it’s on FRAMING . Using examples of films by Nigerian Directors .
Check it out. If you like what you see and want to see more. Click on the subscribe button, leave comment and if you want to you can support the making of more videos( they take time to make) on Patreon

You can see it with some notes on my guest post here

Which one have you made(R.I.P)

There is a saying by Archbishop Desmond Tutu “Dont raise your voice, improve your argument” . I think that is a fantastic thought process to apply to any dispute or difference of opinion.

Creatives are very defensive of their work, especially when it comes to criticism they feel is harsh,unfair or lacks objectivity. The popular response for a long time to unfavourable reviews has been to say, “Which one have you made” or “Go and make your own let’s see”.

That response yields nothing. They learn nothing and you’ve painted the picture of being someone unable to hear anything else but praise.They have your own words to paint you as a tantrum thrower,and you stay pissed off in addition to risking your health with all that anger. Nothings’ been gained .The only winners are bloggers who can post the headline “Film-Maker fires back at critics: You are all stupid”

I think that response should retire for a new one. Before I share that ; I want to remix the Archbishop’s quote.

Improve your argument,present a logical & factual case, instead of raising your voice,bringing in sentiments or insulting the other person.

In 2017, if you feel your film has received an unfair review. You feel the reviewer didn’t understand your choices or that their views lacked objectivity. Here are some considerations

1) IGNORE IT – Many celebrated filmMakers, with not only billions of dollars in box office response to their body of work but also critical acclaim havent read a review in decades. I’m talking about some of the most influential directors of the last 20- 40 years who have made some of the most culturally impactful films. They just choose not to read reviews (or selectively read only certain critics). No matter your level of success/acclaim even a bit of criticism stings and is the one remembered.

2) FIND SOMETHING VALID – If you want to read, see if there is any validity in what they say buried somewhere in that review. Even if it’s just 1% you can take away. They paid to see your film so maybe they have something you can take from their thoughts.

3) KNOW THEY ARENT YOUR MARKET – If you make a product for everybody, you’ve made a product for nobody. As Marketer Seth Godin says ‚ÄúAs soon as you’re willing to say ‘it’s not for you’, you’re freed up to make art.‚ÄĚ. Maybe they didn’t get it. Maybe they aren’t your target market.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest grossing franchise in film history. More succesful than the Stars Wars,James Bond,Harry Potter franchises. Yet, there are people who can’t stand the films. There are people who would never watch the films even with free ticket and popcorn. Many faithful fans grew up reading the comics and watching the cartoons, to them the films are a dream come true.To others comic book movies are the death of cinema, have nothing to offer and they want no part regardless of box office success .

Some films are more about relate-ability than anything else and if a person can’t relate, then it’s not for them. Once you think about it that way you avoid a lot of stress.

4) MAYBE JUST MAYBE THEY’RE ACTUALLY RIGHT- I’ll use myself as an example. A few weeks ago I was in the office a colleague I respect and see like a senior brother. The thing about him, he never holds back and often leaves me with a lot to think about personally and professionally. We eventually got talking about a film I made and he gave me his honest opinion. He felt I could have done more with the story, I could have pushed the envelope and i allowed my own moral reservations get in the way of the story which stopped it from having the type of impact it should have. It turned out, OK, when it could have been, OH SHIT,DID THAT JUST HAPPEN. He was absolutely right. If I had prepared more, probably done another draft, hadn’t compromised and gotten out-of-the-way of the story i could have achieved much more.

Is it possible that you are too close ,too invested in your film to see its flaws? Are like the love struck hopeless romantic who thinks their lover is perfect, but friends and family can smell the rotten fufu in their character and intentions.

Is it possible a screen test with an honest trusted audience before releasing the film could have revealed pacing issues or scenes to hitting the floor ? Is it possible not enough time spent on the script? Too little time in pre-production? Was the edit rushed to meet a premi√®re date ? Perhaps the editor is great with music videos but doesn’t know how to cut drama?

Is it possible that maybe the story was too generic and offered nothing new in its genre? Failed to live up to the expectations of the genre? Is it possible someone was miscast and that ruined a significant part of the film?

5) RISE ABOVE – Ok, lets assume they were wrong and your film was actually great. If you choose to respond. If you MUST spend your energy and time responding . You are a creative person who put together a film in this Naija. That is no easy feat , so let them see that creativity. Respond like the Creative Professional you are

Let it be an intelligent response ,contrasting what you feel theirs lacked.

Let it be a response detailing the reason for certain choices and what they missed.

Let it be something the fans, upcoming filmmakers and the reviewer can learn about your craft as a writer/producer/director.

If you feel the review lacked enough understanding of cinematic storytelling/film language, this is a chance to share your experience so that they can do better next time and review from a more informed place. They aren’t going away so you might as well make soup with their bitter leaf .

Let the defence be based on facts, stating the creative/technical intents in making those choices.

Rise above any pettiness you feel may have existed in the negative review.

Rise above any personal agenda/emotions you feel may have influenced the writing and let the facts be your defence.

It will be hard, especially if the review was more of a rant than anything else,but things really have to change. No film in the history of film-making has had 100% positive response. NONE. If you wait for a time where your work gets 100% love and praise, you will spend a lot of time being angry and frustrated.

If nothing else your calm and informed response will show your character and probably win you new fans who respect how you handled negativity.

I honestly feel the industry would be the better for it. I really do. The younger generation who are yet to discover they want to make films need to see that we can respond without insults or emotions and can rise above it all.

HOW “THE WEDDING PARTY” SHOWED US THE FUTURE

The Wedding Party has become THE highest grossing film in Nigerian box office short history, making over N200m under three weeks . It has been a clear winner with Nigerian audiences with its very relatable wedding affair in which audiences can see themselves,experiences,friends and family. It’s also a shining example of the power of collaboration and the benefit of bringing resources together.


This isn’t an endorsement of the film, nor a commentary on the performances,directing,cinematography, or screenplay. But on the business model used in financing, producing, promoting and distributing the film

The combined power of Ebony Life + Film One + Koga Studios + Ink Blot brought this film together and arguably, it probably wouldn’t have been the same film if one person had decided to go it alone.

I think there is a lot all filmmakers in Nollywood can learn from this collaboration. Each studio brought something to the table and their collective strength enabled it to go very far. At this stage in the industry we need a lot more collaboration than competition. At this stage, any success is a collective success. Right now , we are still in a battle to win the sceptics who still have reservations about seeing our films in the cinema. The people who see 5 -6 films every month, but are hesitant to make any of those choices a Nollywood film. These are the people we need to win as they spend more money than everyone else.

While different filmmakers have different visions and ambitions, sometimes, going it alone is a dis-advantage and spreading the investment, risk and reach takes it just that much further.

Mission Impossible is one of the biggest franchises in film. The most recent film MI:ROGUE NATION was the collaboration of several productions companies ,Bad Robot,Sky Dance, China Movie Channel, Ali Baba Pictures and Distributed by Paramount Pictures. Individually each of those companies already have tremendous success in their various endeavours, doing millions and billions in annual revenue, but they came together to make that film happen, and it was succesful with the next film already in the pipeline. There are many other examples of this as a film needs, Conception, Creation,Financing,Production and Distribution with each company bringing something beneficial to the table.

There needs to be more collaboration and not only by the bigger companies. The “little” guys need to do this and maybe even need to do this more than the bigger, more liquid companies. I’m sure you can think of some films from the last 4 years which with a little more financing could have elevated what they are able to do and how far they could have travelled. How much could have been put into marketing and distribution. Films which were under-seen because the producers were only able to raise enough money to make the film, but not enough to market it to get as many asses in seats as the film deserved. There were only able to do social media, but no billboards, very little radio and probably no TV at all. No matter how fantastic your film, if people don’t know it’s out there, they wont see it.

Not everyone would be a good fitting. Not everyone can work together. Not everyone wants to tell the same story. There will always be creative conflict and creative differences. The key would be in finding a vision you can lock into in which everyone involved brings value for a collective win.

Clearly the ELFIKE Collective believed in the vision of The Wedding Party and it has paid off. For some people it’s the first Nigerian film they have watched in the cinema in years, many declare it as the best they have ever seen. Others have praised the production values and scale as the difference. Each of the companies released individual films between 2014-2016, none of their film’s box office total, comes close to how fast TWP made so much money and received such good word of mouth.

This is not to say EVERY film released has to be a collaboration and not every collaboration has to be on the grand scale of TWP; even smaller stories can benefit from collective resources and passion. Regardless of your thoughts on the actual film, it’s evident the collaboration approach has brought a bountiful harvest. As the saying goes “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”

MAKING NIGERIAN STORIES CINEMATIC – ANDREW DOSUNMU’S IMAGERY

Andrew Dosunmu is one of the very interesting Nigerian born filmmakers working in the international scene. His background as a fashion photographer brings a unique representation of his stories and characters which i think are admirable and worth studying.

In his two feature films he’s told the stories of African characters in a foreign land adjusting to their new environment, while maintaining a strong African identity and sense of community.

The beautiful thing about his work is how he captures the black skin and portrays Africans in a way few other filmmakers do.

But the focus today is on his film MOTHER OF GEORGE and he how uses imagery to tell a story, add subtext and let you know how the characters are feeling.

MOTHER OF GEORGE is a story of Adenike and Ayodele, a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn, are having trouble conceiving a child – a problem that defies cultural expectations and leads Adenike to make a shocking decision that could either save or destroy her family.

SPOILER ALERT

The openings scene shows the wedding of the couple surrounded by their friends and family , this is one of the few scenes where they are surrounded by people. The clothing and the lighting here is the brightest in the entire film. This reflects their world and how they are feeling emotionally. Notice how the framing takes in more than just the couple and their friends but shows their world.

After the wedding their life goes on and as they discuss having a child , Dosunmu, using a frame within a frame portrays their situation as they discuss the challenges of conceiving a child, medical expenses and the expectations they are experiencing. By using a frame within a frame, he shows how they feel trapped by this situation.

One of the choices Dosunmu makes in shooting a scene is to forgo the convenstional shot reverse shot, to cover a conversation, by focusing on one character for most of and sometimes the entire conversation. Allowing the viewer to pay attention to that character and see how they are feeling,what they are saying/being told is affecting them.


Here Adenike is having a conversation with the doctor about the difficulty she’s having conceiving


Adenike being harrassed by her Mother in Law for not yet being pregnant after over a year of marriage

The character who the information is most important to is the focus of the scene.

Here Adenike is speaking with Biyi who is having a guilty conscience and want to tell his brother the truth about the pregnancy. The camera stays with her most of the time and we hear Biyi off screen

He composes his shots using architecture or props to underscore the meaning of the scene, whether it’s distance between characters or a division being created between them.

Some of his compostions represent isolation; emotionally,psycologically or actual seperation from someone. Notice how none of the images after the wedding are as bright or as colorful. Some of the scenes have a cool blue tone in contrast to the warm tones of the wedding scene.

This shot below combines the frame within a frame and also isolation. Biyi getting the news that Adenike is pregnant, and only three people know his brother is not the father. He is unable to celebrate as life is about to get really complicated.

It’s said the human face is a landscape of emotion. Dosunmu sometimes lets the shot linger on the face of his characters, without any accompanying dialogue, just sometimes silence or non digetic mood sounds

There’s a misconception that great cinematography is about drone shots,sweeping movements and all sorts but the thing about Dosunmu is that he rarerly moves his camera. He may follow a character with a handheld shot and they are usually composed, centre frame

His choice of clothing color and framing to draw our eyes to a character to make them stand out are worth noting

What i love about Mother of George is its a very relatable Nigerian story which has been told in hundreds of Home Videos, but not in the cinematic and beautiful way done in this film.

His collaboration with Cinematographer Bradford Young is undeniably a part of the great look of his films;their collaborations, Restless City and Mother of George both won Cinematography awards at Sundance. I look forward to whatever he chooses to do next and to seeing more Nigerian stories beautifully captured cinematically by other Naija filmmakers, especially those at home .