Tag Archives: filmmaking

WHERE ARE THE NAUTEURS ?

In film criticism, auteur theory holds that a film reflects the director’s personal creative vision, as if they were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”).

In spite of—and sometimes even because of—the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur’s creative voice is distinct enough to shine through studio interference and the collective process.– Wikipedia

The Auteur theory is one that has never gotten unanimous agreement. Many strongly disagree and emphasize the contribution of the crew. While this is a valid point, the auteur theory is quite an interesting one.  Proponents of the Auteur theory advocate that,

Auteurism was to make a distinction between films and the films that are worthy of serious study, making them unique in style and voice.

You can see this in the work of Directors like Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorcese, Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, Tim Burton, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Nicolas Widn Refn, David Fincher and others who do work with studios, but still show an indie spirit, there is a consistency in their body of work, a unifying thread and voice that you recognize, especially when others are trying to imitate the. The stories they tell, their dialogue, their cinematography (framing &composition), use of music, use of colour, the kind of characters who always appear in their stories, recurring themes

Which leads to the question, Do we have Auteurs in Nigeria? Andrew Dosunmu and Newton Aduaka, Akin Omotoso  can be said to be auteurs . They tell African Stories, have identifiable cinematic voices, but how about those living and practicing their craft in Nigeria?

As this is Nigeria where everything is a little different, I’d like to propose the word Nauteur

NAUTEUR :A Nigerian Auteur who overcomes insane odds without compromising and executing a unique creative piece of cinema

Not to be confused with British Slang, NUTTER, a crazy person.

But we’ll revisit that another day


“Auteurs are directors who put a strong personal stamp on their films, usually through the mise en scene. They are contrasted with the metteur-en-scene, the director who merely functions, more or less, at the service of the script”.

I know, we don’t have a studio system (though marketers dictate terms like studios do) .

Do we have Directors whose body of work distinctively carries their voice in a very recognizable way, Has traits that are distinct to their style of filmmaking and shows up in all their films? Distinct enough that you can miss the opening credits, haven’t previously heard of the film, but are familiar enough with their voice that you can recognize it (or an imitation of it),

If so. Who? Not a rhetorical question. I really want to know them cos they could be flying under a radar cos cinemas and marketers just don’t know what to do with the types of films they make.

The aforementioned names have all significantly contributed to American cinema in the last 30 years , and have influenced many young filmmakers world-wide; while you may not like some of their films (or any) their impact on cinema is undeniable

Their voices are able to stand out in a marketplace that is flooded. Their films have a distinctive flavour that makes it different from the journeymen directors, directors for hire and others. Auteurs have turned the tide, created milestones and sometimes set the tone for the next decade(s) in film. They’ve started movements, opened doors and blown us away with their brilliant films.

Think about it in today’s world. Where a large proportion of what is available are generic rom-coms and comic book movies. Do you like that?

Where would cinema be if we didn’t have The French, American, Asian new wave, Dogme 95 et All the work of mostly auteurs, who wanted something different and put their stamp on it.

While generic (sometimes, widget) commercial filmmaking which is what keeps the doors open and the lights on, Auteur filmmaking is what keeps it an interesting art form and mode of expression, and while there are lots on non-auteurs with interesting and unique work, there is a reason artists like Fela Kuti, Basquiat, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Bob Marley all stand out in their fields, they weren’t just great, they were unique and their work is studied for its contribution.

 

The good news is, Nollywood is still very young, and evolving and can still define its cinematic voice in Nigerian, African and World Cinema.

The change in tone, ambition and production aesthetics in the last 10 years alone is very encouraging, and as filmmakers develop, evolve and transcribe cinematic language; the audiences will be in for a treat; and as technology improves, further democratizing the process by lowering some costs and directors are able to stamp their identity on their films, it will be a very exciting time for the future of Nollywood.

What do you think? Leave a comment and lets discuss.

Naija FilmMakers in diaspora telling their story

Representation in recent years has gotten the attention it’s long been denied, with more demands for diversity on-screen and behind the camera being taken seriously; Wonder Woman getting a female director, Black Panther getting a Black Director, Queen Sugar having all female directors, Donald Glover on Atlanta as; star, writer and Executive Producer. Issa Rae doing the same on Insecure. The idea being creators, directors of the same gender/race of the character are in the best place to tell that story best.

I think this applies to nationality/ethnicity and how they’re portrayed. Hollywood and Western media in general don’t have a good track record of portraying other nationalities. Nigerians in American have always gotten the short end of the stick, as television shows have a certain way of portraying them as criminals, drug mules, voodoo practitioners or goofy comedic stereotype of a naïve or clueless African, when in reality; many are College graduates and highly qualified professionals in Engineering, Law, Medical and other professions.

There’s a growing number of filmmakers of Nigerian heritage, some who immigrated and naturalized and others born in the diaspora (North America & Europe) . These storytellers identity with both worlds, one rooted in their culture/heritage the other in an often contrasting environment they live. They know both sides of the coin and are able to tell stories in a way only they can.  Stories of the immigrant, culture clash, identity, racial politics and much more, with characters who are more than a punchline or token in somebody else’s story.

Nigerian Americans, Yvonne Orji(Insecure) and  Damilare Sonoiki(Black-ish) created First Generation and  African Time respectively, webseries on growing up with immigrant parents and the expectations which come with that. Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) wrote his lead character in DOPE as the son of a Nigerian Immigrant. British Nigerian Destiny Ekaragha directed Gone Too Far adapted from the Bola Agbaje play about a London born Boy who meets his Lagos born brother and the hijinks which ensue when they hit the streets of South London. South Africa based Akin Omotoso(VAYA) tells the story of a Nigerian man in S.A investigating the death of his brother who death was a Xenophobic attack.  Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George follows a young wife new in the States and under pressure to have a child by any means necessary. All stories requiring that unique worldview.

A proportion of the bad reputations’ deserved, every country has its bad eggs, just as guests on Jerry Springer or Maury aren’t representative of all Americans that’s not the entire story. That’s why in a world where most of the West’s only exposure to Nigerians are email/Nigerian Prince jokes in sitcoms and adverts,  self-narrative is essential .

A Blind Spot Holding Back Indie Filmmakers in Nigeria

Nine out ten kids experienced this growing up. You are engaged in something; watching a great show, reading a great book or playing a video game, and just when it gets to the best part, your mom asks you to go and bring for her an item from her room. As you don’t want to get up, you respond, “I don’t know where it is.” She insists, and you get up to go look for it, and as you go, you’re saying to yourself, on the walk from your sweet spot to her room, “I don’t know where it is” over and over. You get to the room, open the cupboard and you are proven right, you can’t see it. You go back and forth as she insists it’s there and you say, “I’m looking inside the wardrobe and it’s not here”. Annoyed, she comes over, and picks it up; it was right in front of you the whole time. This is what’s called a Scotoma, a figurative blind spot in a person’s psychological awareness.

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the uncertainty of film

There is a saying in film “Nobody knows anything”. Originating from William Goldman’s Adventure in the Screentrade, it basically means, you could have a massive budget,the world’s biggest stars, a great script, and award-winning director, and the film could still not work out. On the other hand you could have a small budget, no stars, a new or unknown director, and the film could be a massive hit eg Blair Witch Project,Paranormal Activity,My Big Fat Greek Wedding. No matter how well you plan, it’s still in the hands of the audience to decide the fate of the film.

Here’s what the director of two of the highest grossing films in history had to say

I don’t think you ever know things are going to work out in any endeavour in life and certainly not in movie ; and you can make a movie exactly the way you imagined it without any compromise and have it go out and fail in the marketplace because of some fundamental disconnect between you as an artist and the audience out there.

And that’s what we ultimately fear as filmmakers. We dont fear the fact that its going to rain and ruin a day’s shooting.

We fear the fact that our filter for what works for us emotionally and in terms of what excites on the screen is different from the audience at large. – James Cameron

james cameron

FILMSPIRATION #2 – THE FIERY ONE

FilmMaking is a tough business to crack financially and creatively. You may have all the ideas but no money, you many have all the money, but can’t put something great together . It’s a little bit of Art,Science and Business . But some people , manage to crack the code, fully or partially, and tell their stories. We’ve heard of how Robert Rodriguez did it with El Mariachi for $7,000 and years later, Shane Carruth (a former Software Engineer), with PRIMER for $7,000, wining the Grand Jury Prize at 2004 Sundance Festival.

As inspiring as those stories are, their realities are quite different from ours. There are lot of things we can take from them, but at the back of our mind, we know that stories of those Stateside, arent easily transplanted to everyday Nigeria.We need our own stories.

Glad to let you know that there are also inspiring stories, right here in Nigeria.

Here is one, that of C.J “Fiery” Obasi, the writer/director or OJUJU , a no budget zombie film which won him the 2014 AFRIFF Best Nigerian Film and AMVCA Trail Blazer award winner, Not bad for a feature debut.

In his own words.

For me, it wasn’t really a conscious choice or decision. Most people I know at some point had to make that decision to become filmmakers, maybe as a result of an experience or whatever, for me I don’t remember ever making that decision. I just know that ever since I had consciousness of seeing movies, I knew I wanted to make films. As a child film was such a wonder to me, such magic to me, and I always wanted to be a part of that. So growing up, as an adult was always about chasing that wonder. It was never just purely about making films. It wasn’t that simple. It was more about chasing an ideal, a purpose…something idealistic like that.

As a young filmmaker in Nigeria, if you don’t have a rich Uncle who’s going to bankroll your every whim and fantasy, or you don’t have Dangote on speed dial, you have to confront one bitter truth, which is that you’re on your own. Once you’re able to swallow that bitter pill, and let it work its magic in your system, then you can wake up to reality and start making things happen for you. ‘For you’ being the key phrase here. Jim & Joan was a result of ‘swallowing that bitter pill”. Unfortunately we were never able to finish it. But we took a lot of lessons from it, moving on to make and finish OJUJU, and then O-TOWN.

I kinda figured earlier on, that if I was going to abandon a lucrative 9-5 and venture into the unknown wild of indie filmmaking, with absolutely no real prospects for success, the only way it would be worth it was, if I did it on my own terms. Maybe if I got bankrolled at the early stages, I would have made soul less films, with no depth or vision, who knows, but I always had a conscious belief in my storytelling, in my background, in my influences, and in my voice…It had to be my kind of storytelling or nothing. Some people will call that ego or narcissism but we all chase after something. If what I chase after is purity in my own art form, in my voice being unhinged, then who’s to say what. So long as I’m happy.

You can follow CJ on Twitter

PERSPECTIVE – The Director’s Eye

Perspective has a Latin root meaning “look through” or “perceive,” and all the meanings of perspective have something to do with looking

– a way of regarding situations or topics etc.

As a Director, Your perspective is the way you see . How your knowledge,beliefs,life experiences and desires shape your outlook . It then influences your storytelling style, tone, how you approach scenes and the over all outcome of your film. Some directors have a stronger voice than others and that’s why their work stands out , those that dont have a voice or strong perspective may make entertaining and profitable films , but never much of an impact cinematically.

#Perspective is why John Woo,Brian DaPalma,JJ Abrahms,Brad Bird and Chris McQuarrie all brought something very different to the Mission Impossible films

#Perspective is why John Hughes films has an unrivalled view of teenagers that stood out from every other high school or teenage film out there.

Perspective is why Ridley Scott and James Cameron both made ALIEN movies but brought something very different to the table with the same character, played by the same actor.

#Perspective,is why John McTiernan makes action films very different from what Michael Bay, Bret Ratner or other action directors would make

#Perspective,is why Steve Norrington’s BLADE is tonally and visually different from Guillermo Del Toro’# BLADE 2 or Goyer’s BLADE TRINITY

#Perspective is why Doug Liman’s Bourne Identity is visually different from Paul Greengrass Bourne Supremacy & Bourne Ultimatum #filmMaking

#Perspective is why Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese can all make films set in the same neigborhood in New York and each will make us feel very way dfferent about it.

#Perspective is why Richard Linklater’s films about relationships will be different from Judd Apatow’s .

#Perspective is why Spike Lee telling a tale of an empowered black woman will be very different from what Tyler Perry would interprete.

#Perspective is why Andrew Dosunmu as a Nigerian that spent most of his life in other countries, can tell the kind of stories about immigrants and Africans in a foreign land in films like Restless City and Mother of George. Same for “Gone Too Far” by writer Bola Agbaje and director Destiny Ekaragha.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable– Spike Lee

I don’t know how much movies should entertain. To me, I’m always interested in movies that scar. The thing I love about Jaws (1975) is the fact that I’ve never gone swimming in the ocean again– David Fincher

Perspective is what makes certain directors have a strong fanbase and following .What makes Lynch,Cronenberg,Widn Refn,Fincher,Aronovsky have such a unique perspective of the world, evident in their work. It’s what makes some voices stand out cinematically and others not be heard at all despite similar opportunities and circumstances.

QUESTION: Which director(s) have a strong perspective which you like or have been captivated by?

AS YOU BEGIN,YOUNG, OBI WAN DIRECTOR

Young Jedis , im here to share some thoughts with you, about your venture into being a director in the film and television world.

Im not going to tell you how to shoot, cut or direct actors. Im going to tell you somethings that took me way too long to learn and cost me too much, some of them im still learning.

You have to know that as a Director, you are the General of an army (or in case of smaller production, Team leader of a platoon)
patton

YOU have to lead them uphill, into battle and into victory. There is a lot of psycology to working on a film set , especially as a director. You have to learn how to relate with so many other humans, and like our parents did with us , different behaviours required different tones of voice to get us back on track.

If you have a tendency to be reserved, soft spoken and diplomatic. CUT THAT SHIT . This is not Sesame Street these are Mean Streets .

cut the shit

Do not be the nice guy on set. People will take advantage to disregard instructions and direction. Better to be firm, and apologize later if you turn out to be wrong, than to be so diplomatic and soft that they walk all over you.

human doormat

While im not saying you should be a tyrant on set and scream your lungs off.
sgt hartman

Learn to make people know that you are all there for business and not to muck about. A film set is WORK just like an office or any other environment where a person is paid to be there. You may dress in t-shirts and 3/4 shorts,go unshaven for days,and if its a really long shoot,almost look homeless but its still WORK.

Some crew tend to want to give actors feedback or comment on their performance. I’ve had this happen, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES let this happen. If they have anything to say to the cast/talent they should tell it to you. Your voice on set is the only one talking to the talent about performance. Learn from me, CUT IT OUT IMMEDIATELY anyone that attempts to do so. If you let it pass more than once, their boldness increases.
not my tempo

YES , listen to suggestions, YES respect everybody (ESPECIALLY if its no pay or low budget) BUT walk off the set anyone whose attitude or behavior is detrimental to the vision of the project . Listen to the experts(Cinematographer,Sound,Special Efx etc) but the creative decisions are ultimately yours to make , Dont let anyone ride you.

No matter the vision, talent and skill you have as a director/artists/auteur. You wont execute your ideas properly with a crew that are all going in their own directions

Cut off any form of mutiny or dissent you smell, cos it can and will spread like a virus.
WalkThePlank

No matter how much more experienced a crew member is than you, they are there to serve YOUR vision. So while you take their advice. Dont allow their status to intimidate you and let them take over your set. In Naija there is a tendencey for some crew to want to do Egbon and veteran and think they can run things better than you.

BANE AND DAGGET

If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.- Tim Ferris

If they want to run things, they can go do that on their own set, not yours. RESPECT them, but let them know there is a hierachy on set. Its a set, not their family compound. Anyone refusing to act like a professional should be anywhere else but there.

NOW i will repeat LISTEN, dont assume you know it all. I did not send you that one. If you dont listen and just talk, you will miss out on a lot of things and if you just scream at people. They may not bring to your attention vital information cos you’re a ticking bomb FilmMaking is COLLABORATION .Listen to the experts you’ve hired/been assigned, thats why they are there. Even a P.A may have something valuable to point out, but be a strong filter and know what to accept and what to discard.

It wont happen in one day, but learn these and save yourself a lot of the hassle, frustration and results that dont match your vision . Trust me, these are things i took way too long to learn and it cost me A LOT.

Good luck, and may the Zoetrope be with you.
class dismissed jpg

My Story

image

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.