WE ARE IMPOSTERS

Self doubt is something which a lot of creative people from pursuing their craft, going after or accepting certain projects or opportunities etc.  There is the feeling of not being good enough and you will be found out (Imposter Syndrome) . Listening to podcasts and hearing a legend like Francis Ford Copolla talk about his own insecurities as a young filmmaker brought a lot of comfort to me as its something i personally understand.

Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t continuously improve and focus on making our craft the best it can . But it also means not allowing those insecurities paralyze you from doing anything. Sometime it better at the start to do it and suck and then learn that and do it better, than not to do anything at all.

If you wait till you are able to make a film as “perfect” as those films you love and admire. You will be waiting forever. Steven Pressfield called it “the resistance”. The part of your brain which justifies not taking that action, that step or embarking on that project.

Admittedly, the resistance still gets me and looking back it had me in a submission hold (think Bret Hart’s sharpshooter) for many years.  Dont let it get a hold of you. To some extent that fear is what makes you strive to be better, which is certainly better than the Dunning Kruger effect, something you should pray you never have.

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

DONT BE POLITE

 

This is a lesson i took a little too long to learn. As you start,  especially on no to low-budget shorts,web series(or maybe even features) you will be working with people for no money or very little, because you are all looking to make something great and put your name out there. As Director this may affect how you control your set as you feel people are there doing you a favour(some are)

If you are too polite or too cautious in asking for what you need from an actor or crew member, too timid because you think you are demanding too much for them because you aren’t paying or paying little. I GUARANTEE you will not get the best results.

I know this type of regret.

They have agreed to help out and make the project,.

I’m NOT suggesting you act like a jerk embarrassing anyone, but while you are there, get the best out of everyone.

Few things suck more than getting into the edit and wishing you had an extra take or a different performance you didn’t ask for. Seeing a set up which if you had pushed for it, would have been lit better. Seeing something in the rushes that bugged you but you didn’t want to seem pushy by pointing it out.

If on set spending that time, then within reason and respect do what you need to do to get the best out of everyone, including yourself.

I’m NOT suggesting acting like a  tyrant on set; even if you are paying people 7 figures, you don’t want that type of atmosphere where people feel threatened, disrespected or  unappreciated.

DONT be a jackass , i no send you message.  BUT, take control, help them catch the vision, be the coach to bring out the best from everyone,

Believe me, when the result is something everyone is proud of, you will be glad you did.

Filmspiration – Bumping the Lamp

In the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit,  there is a scene where the detective  played by Bob Hoskins bumps the overhead lamp and it swings, casting a shadow on him, but not on the animated character in the same frame. When the Director, Robert Zemeckis watched this , he ordered the scene be reanimated to have the shadow and lamp movement also affect the animated character so its more realistic.  It would take hours and a lot of effort to re-animate but they did ,It was a small scene which 99.9% of viewers wouldn’t notice and wouldn’t care. But to Zemeckis, that tiny detail mattered. Thus the term, “Bumping the Lamp”.

That level of detail takes effort and a lot of time. But that level of attention to detail is what distinct one thing from the other, as seen in the works of filmmakers like David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick.

Disney adopted the philosophy of Bumping the Lamp to teach new and existing employees to go the extra mile and pay attention to detail that nobody else may notice. Go the extra mile and do a bit more than expected.

Even if others wont notice, we should decide to bump the lamp. Put in that level of detail which is for our own satisfaction. Something i aim to start doing.

Filmspiration #4 Your Friendships matter

There has been a history in cinema of great friendships between directors , the cahier du cinema writers who became directors together and started the French New Wave, the films school brats who shared youth and a filmschool/cinephile background and changed the American Film landscape and South of the US border the Mexican directors Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón.

They met early in their careers due to their love of cinema and immediately clicked.  They would share ideas, show their screenplays and edits to each other for feedback and help each other shape their films to the best it could be . This didnt change as they each moved to the US and grown successful careers with critical acclaim.

When Innaritu was editing his film Amores Perros, Del Toro flew in from Texas to Mexico city and slept on the couch in the editing room, helping him restructure the film.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Before Cannes, Inarritu also helped del Toro by excising 10 minutes from that film in a single day. “It was crucial,” del Toro says. “We didn’t have time. We returned to high school dynamics. We ordered pizza and stayed up until 6 a.m. We needed to ship the print the next day for Cannes. That’s the beauty of the friendship of the three of us. It keeps us young.”

This has happened through their careers and fame and bigger budgets havent changed them from the day they met on a TV show. Like the Film Brats of the 70s they have produced each others films and support each others films on every level.

This film game can tend to get you to see every other filmmaker as competition. Dont get into that trap, not everyone will be your collaborator but find those who you can support and who can support you.  Its a very tough industry, flying solo makes it that much harder.

Find friends who you can support 100% and who can do that for you.

Have a great weekend guys.

FILMSPIRATION #3

Seven, The Social Network, Fight Club, Gone Girl are some of the David Fincher films you may be familiar with. He is one of the best working filmmakers in American Cinema bringing a unique approach to his films.

But did you know due to a nightmare experience on his feature debut ALIEN 3 he swore off directing feature films.

“I thought I’d rather die of colon cancer than do another movie”

Thankfully he got past that and continued .

His passion for filmaking led him to start as a child making films when he got an 8mm camera for his 8th birthday. After high school he worked for Korty films and then staff of Lucas’s special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic.

The path wont always be straight, it wont be easy, at all. But if you love it enough, it gets you through the tough times till you get to the victory.

FILMSPIRATION #2 – No Film School? No Problem

You don’t have to go to film school to become a great filmMaker.

While it does help A LOT , what is most important is a love for cinema and a desire to tell stories.  Once you have those two, the rest will be much easier to pick up.  It doesn’t matter if you have a degree in something unrelated.  You aren’t the first and wont me the last. If cinema is in your blood, you don’t need a piece of paper to certify you to make great films.

Study cinema, increase your knowledge of cinematic narrative.  Tell your story in a way only you can tell it using the language of cinema.

Shane Carruth spent  5 weeks shooting PRIMER with a crew of 5 made up of friends and family. Shooting at a 2:1 ratio cos film stock(16mm) was so little. He storyboarded every shot.

Post Post Production? That took 2 years. You don’t stick to a project not making you money that long if its not driven by love. The $7,000 budget Sundance winner is hailed as the most exact time travel film ever made.  #BeFilmspired

HOW NOT TO LET A CAMERA HOLD YOU BACK

GEAR GEAR GEAR , Can we end this obsession with gear??

So many people would either never become filmmakers, or achieve their full potential because of gear.

They are either obsessed with the latest gear . Are waiting till they get the perfect gear before they shoot  or insist they must have a certain camera before they make their film.

Now, gear, for lack of a better word, is good. Im not discounting that

The right camera can do a lot for you, in terms of aesthetics, dynamic range, visual latitude and room to play with in post production.

But guess what? ITS JUST A TOOL

YOU, yes , YOU are the storyteller.

There are a lot of films shot of DV Tape which are better films and more engaging and re-watchable than films shot on RED or Arri Alexa .

A great storyteller with a Canon 60D will tell a better story and make a better film than a wannabe with Camera that shoots 4K has amazing dynamic range and Cooke Lenses but there is no story or its a poorly told one by a poser with access to capital or equipment.

Danny Boyle shot 28 days Later with a set of Canon XL1 camera and consumer camcorders and its one of the best zombie films of all time, beating out others with bigger budgets and better cameras and millions in latest gear.  Pre DSLR, Many films that have competed at Sundance and other indie film festivals, shot on DV tapes.

At the earliest stage of your career,(aspiring/beginner) don’t let the lack of “the best” or latest camera hold you back.  If you are reading this you likely have a smart phone that records video or have a friend who does. Use that, make your short film.  If you can find a consumer camera or DSLR use that. But don’t wait to have the “perfect gear” to start telling your story.

As an aspiring or beginning filmmaker, the best camera you have is the one you have available and USE to tell the story you are burning to tell the best you can with your current level of knowledge. As long as you keep learning, listening to valid feedback and applying it, soon, gear will be the least of your concerns.

 

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BE FILMSPIRED #1

People come to directing through different paths.  Not everyone will have the same path. It’s not always through apprenticeship, or attending film school. What is most important is the love of stories, a love of cinema and the drive to do whatever it takes to bring those stories to life on the screen in a cinematic way.

Find your own path. Grab a camera, use your smart phone, tell your story, build your own storytelling muscles, learn how to tell a cinematic story.’

Right now, over thinking or self-doubt is the only thing stopping you.

#BeFilmspired

God, Cinema, Life and all that jazz