Tag Archives: filmmaking

PUSH IT FURTHER

Insomnia grabbed me by the throat one night, so i decided to revisit some of my post production work.

Its amazing what just 5 mins of tweaking can do, What can an hour or a day yield ? And this is me just trying out stuff as im not as good as I want at color correction etc

I asked, “How can this look better”, how can the aesthetic be enhanced beyond the flat images provided by the camera.

Technology allows us to do so much to digital images these days .

This is by no means a finished work, this is what 5 mins at  3am and exhausted eyes could do.


Work can always be better, pushed a little further.
#filmmaker #Director

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Nollywood and the power to influence(not taken)

A few weeks ago, this came across my twitter timeline.

“In Hollywood movies, Russians/Arabs are (Nuclear) terrorists, the Japanese die aimlessly in battle, the Americans are the smart, patriotic, pragmatist who always saves the day. That is how Film is used to brand a country, to shape the social values and worldview (politics) of a country. If you have never visited America, Hollywood is all you need to see it as an enviable paradise, pillar of justice. But America is, obviously, shitty from within. You need to visit America or “read” protest writers (especially the minority) to see the real America. But this is not even the point. My anger is at Nollywood and how it does the opposite”- @KelvinOdanz

There were a lot of replies, the usual outrage in defence of Nollywood, then the other side, some people confirming their experiences and encounters (with fellow Africans)  due to perceptions from Nollywood. Is this valid?  Does Nollywood have blame in some of the negative ways the world see Nigerians? If so, can  do the opposite and  shape a fully dimensional image of Nigerians?  Not necessarily a “positive” image but a more realistic picture?

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The thread reminded me of the power of narrative and perception and a friend who schooled and then worked in the U.S for 10 years. In that time he never saw any FBI agent in their famous stencilled windbreakers, not once. But the television shows and movies made him aware of their existence.  His perception of American Law Enforcement had been shaped by Hollywood long before he set foot in the U.S.

Today all you need is a social media account to interact with everyday American citizens. Before the internet, most Nigerian’s only exposure to American s  was from television shows, movies and music videos.  If you didn’t know any American, the movies were your major exposure.  Nerds wore glasses, bad boys rode motorcycles, cool guys played football and the cutest girls were cheerleaders.

These movies and TV shows were the catalyst to a generation  of 80s kids deciding America was where they needed to study and settle. We heard of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, CALU, UCLA etc and desired to attend those schools; were sold on the American armed forces by films like Top Gun, Iron Eagle, Stripes etc.  Young Nigerians left  for the US and joined the Navy or Army because these films sold us on the nobility, patriotism (and bad-assery) of being a U.S soldier, a Navy Seal, the few the proud the free. Something they would curse you for suggesting they do for Nigeria.

Film and TV shows in the 90 s painted a picture of African Americans as mostly thugs, gangbangers, hood rats or people with a chip on their shoulder who blamed “the man” for everything wrong with their life. Why? The prevalence of hood films, the stereotype of Black men as criminals, black women as weave snatching loudmouths with multiple baby daddies.  The same way Hollywood convinced many that Africans all live in mud huts in the midst of wild life, something many still believe in 2017.

Cinema has been used throughout history for various purposes; Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” convinced a lot of Germans to believe in Hitler’s cause. Utilizing the language of film and powerful imagery it won the Fuhrer the support he sought.  Uncle Sam responded with “Why we Fight”, which convinced many Americans to support the government in joining WW2, whether it was by joining the arm, buying war bonds, morale or other means. Cinema is that powerful.

Nigerians were collectively pissed about the portrayal of Nigerians in District 9, ditto, the Will Smith accent in Concussion, cos we didn’t like those portrayals, inaccuracies. How we portray and what we say about ourselves in all art forms and stories are equally important.

I’m not suggesting we run away from the reality that there is a lot of evil in Nigeria like anywhere else in the world, a lot, but even in that subject matter, tone, context, delivery etc all matter in how the narrative is presented. Gritty realism of City of God didn’t put the whole of Brazil in a bad light but the shaping of the narrative highlighted it was a harsh reality for many young Brazilians.

However, what is glorified or normalized on screen as our identity as a people, especially without a balance to show shades of grey, absolutely matters. Hollywood is also bad at portraying anybody who isn’t Caucasian; resorting to lazy stereotypes, archetypes, clichés and reductive short cuts in portraying Asians, Latinos, Africans, Indians and other ethnicities. The people from these communities are justifiable outraged and disappointed and many have decided not to wait for Hollywood to portray them accurately and tell their own stories.

“Art is inherently political. Even trying to make a film that has nothing to do with politics is, in and of itself, a political act. Once we make the work and release it into the world, it’s beyond our control.” — Barry Jenkins

We can’t complain about the American sitcoms making Nigerians the butt of jokes and negative portrayals in Hollywood films when we do similar to ourselves with tribal stereotypes/cliché’s, shallow archetypes, one dimensional characters; the lazy gateman from a certain tribe, the seductive house-girl from a certain part of the country, witchcraft, Pastors or Imams being the solution to all things. Perception matters and these create more than the laughs they intend to get.

African American filmmakers like Spike Lee know this power 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.

This is not to suggest that every film should have a “message”; navel gazing, meditative, pseudo intellectual or life changing. Nor saying, filmmakers shouldn’t make entertainment, fun films or aim to make people laugh while making a tonne of money. There will always be room for such films and not every filmmaker can pull off certain tones and themes. But we have to keep in mind that cinema is powerful and in as much it can be entertainment, it also has life changing ability. Films have shaped paradigms, worldviews, perceptions, ideology. We can’t finance and put blood, sweat and tears into reinforcing the existing negative images they have of us.

The visual images of cinema penetrate our subconscious, taking a place in the deep recesses of minds and lying in wait till it can be confirmed or reinforced. Nigerian filmmakers can play a huge role in how the world perceives us. Through stories, narrative and the power of cinema, we can show we are more than the negative press on 24 hours news cycle, the email they received from a Prince, the bad experience their friend had, or the conclusion they have drawn from hearsay. We can shape our own narrative, and it’s not by whitewashing, pretending to be squeaky clean or creating a façade, but by being intentional with the narrative we shape through the power of cinema.

FilmMaker, You arent alone in your challenges

Whether its London or Lisbon or Arlington. Indie filmmakers have many similar challenges. Raising finance, limited shoot days, finding favourable theatrical distribution etc.

Each country has its own unique environmental and idiosyncratic challenges but the basics are the same. It’s easy to assume that indie filmmakers in the West, have it on easy street due to their environment, and YES , some have it easier than others. Some are more enabling than others ,especially shooting exteriors and power situation. But its encouraging to see how others overcome their challenges and know that you aren’t alone

For the forseeable future, challenges like Finance, Government support, enabling environment, distribution are not going to change anytime soon. So if we want to make films we will have to work around those issues or just give up and go work in a cubicle with AC, cafeteria and a guaranteed salary.

In the same USA where Hollywood makes movies where the feeding budget can be in the millions, there are indie films whose entire budget is under $10,000.

Josh Caldwell’s  Layover – $6,000

Shane Carruth’s Sundance Winner Primer – $7,000

Edward Burns Newlyweds- $9000

Dont fall into the assumption that every filmmaker in the West has automatic access to all the equipment, gear, locations and abundance of shoot days. Its simply not true. We dont hear about them like we would those who make studio films, but these people exist.

Watch how Actor/Writer/Director/Producer speak on how he made the films he wanted to make in spite of the many financial and distribution challenges.

If you chose to discount this as oyibo advice that doesn’t understand the Nigerian situation, and his environment is enabling and can’t compare and Yankee is this and Jand is that, and Naija is hell . Well, i cant help you there.

 

What are your thoughts on the video

GETTING ON, YOUR VISUAL LITERACY

Cinema is a global language, it’s a visual language, that’s why its called MOTION PICTURE.   The use of images to tell a story. Before sound “the talkies” filmmaker could only rely on the picture and cards to tell the story.  Buster Keaton didn’t like the use of card, so he made sure his images told most of the story.

As filmmaking has evolved, so has its language.   The way an image conveys a message, a story, says something about the person within the frame, whats happening to them and how they are feeling.

Filmmakers use framing, composition,lighting, lens choices and camera movement to interpret a story, convey an emotions make a psychological statement.

Filmmakers require visual literacy to know how to best carry out these things and its acquired by  paying attention to cinema, understanding how certain choices tell the story the best, create an experience, convey emotions and a psychological connection in a visual form.

Watch films by great directors, not just what came out last week.  Go back 40,50, 60 years as see how they told stories visually.

Why would you use a CU instead of a MS?  How does that convey the feelings of the character or the aim of the scene better?  What lens ,shot composition, type of lighting is best to convey the feeling of claustrophobia or isolation in a room full of people?

Just making pretty pictures is never enough, WHY behind your choices is the most important thing as a storyteller. The HOW can easily be googled and accomplished.  The WHY?  That is something you have to take time to build, and you do that by studying great cinema, watch great films with the Director’s Commentary on. Listen to interviews of how a Director made their film and the choices and challenges they faced.

Sometimes you may even need to study bad films to learn what not to do and why certain choices by that filmMaker didn’t work.

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.

continue reading here

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?