It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–which Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work- Seth Godin
Filmmaking is a capital intensive venture and every film is like a startup, it needs funds and investments to get off the ground. For many years this power was in the hands of studios and broadcasters who decided who got funding and who didn’t depend on whatever personal and internal criteria they choose to greenlight.
Celluloid is expensive to shoot on as well as the laboratory fees to process it. Add to that the cost of professional cast and crew and the price just keeps going up. Which is why the Nigerian era of filmmaking on celluloid died in the 60s and 70s and digital gave birth to Nollywood in the 90s. This brought the democratization of filmmaking, almost anyone with the will to do so could go out and make a film.
But with the rise of cable and satellite a new generation soon looked to get picked by the network, the streaming site, the satellite tv channel who dictated what got made and what didn’t and who got to make it, thereby defining what is known as Nigerian film to masses.
But at a point some filmmakers inspired by the story of US filmmakers like George Romero (Dawn of the Dead), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Richard Linklater (Slackers) who did whatever was required to self-finance and make their films, instead of waiting for the system to deem them worthy.
Daniel Oriahi picked himself with Misfit(2013) and went on to make Taxi Driver: Oko Asewo(2015), Sylvia(2018) and direct projects for Ebony Life, Mnet and Iroko.
Dolapo “Lowladee” Adeleke picked herself with her film “Brave” which went viral, which lead to commissioned work, than back to her creating her own series “This Is It” and then “Plan B” shot in Kenya which bypassed the cinema and went straight to her fan base on YouTube, as of this writing it has more than 1.3m views.
CJ Obasi picked himself with “Ojuju” and “O Town” two low budget films which allowed him to travel around the world. in 2017, he adapted Nedi Okorafor short story Hello Rain for the screen and has participated in multiple film labs in Europe for his next film.
Eric Aghimien picked himself with “A Mile from Home” and “Slow Country” setting himself apart as the action film director and connoisseur of screen violence of the new generation of Nigerian filmmakers.
Dare Olaitan picked himself with “Ojukokoro”, exploding on the scene with what is arguably the best directorial debut of theatrical Nollywood and the best sophomore follow up with “Knockout Blessing”.
Ema Edosio picked herself with “Kasala” which has screened in over 30 film festivals and invited to several universities across the globe.
Kunle “Nodash” Adejuyigbe, picked himself with “Delivery Boy” a topical film which is the best thriller of theatrical Nollywood and hits the cinemas in May 24th 2019. It’s a film you have to see and be astounded at what was done with almost no budget.
These filmmakers had stories to tell and didn’t wait to be given permission, they picked themselves exercised the creative expression and control they never had on commissioned projects.
Interestingly enough, two of the best films of 2018 Kasala and Delivery Boy were made on low budgets where the director pulled quad duty as Executive Producer/Cinematographer/Editor because there were no funds to hire people in those roles. This also allowed them to maintain a certain level of creative control as their American predecessors Robert Rodriguez(El Mariachi 1992) and Shane Carruth(Primer 2004) did on their $7,000 budget films.
There is the assumption what all filmmakers in the US have it easy but that’s simply not true. Shane Carruth spent 5 weeks shooting PRIMER with a crew of 5 made up of friends and family. Shooting at a 2:1 ratio because film stock(16mm) was so little, leading him to storyboard every shot.
Post-production took 2 years because he still had a day job as a Software Engineer, couldn't afford to pay an editor, thus did it during his downtime. Primer, went on to win the 2004 Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and is hailed as the most scientifically accurate time travel film ever made.
This would never have happened if Carruth waited to get picked.
There are many untapped stories waiting to be told which the powers that be and gatekeepers have no interest in telling so it’s a waste of time going hat in hand to them and expecting any sort of support. In the event, they do once they write you a cheque the movie is no longer yours because you have been picked.
In a blog post titled, “Reject the Tyranny of getting picked”, Seth Godin wrote
“Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound”.
Most of the best work out there has come from those who picked themselves because those films weren’t made by committee or audience permutations in a boardroom.
At 2019’s AFRIFF, The Man who cuts Tattoos and The Lost Okoroshi, directed by Michael Omuna and Abba Makama respectively, were two very interesting films which won't (likely) be box office juggernauts in the Nigerian market but give hope to those who love auteur-driven films with a singular artistic voice exist.
During a Variety, Actor on Actor talk between long-time friends and co-workers, Chris Evans and Scarlett Johanssen, the Blockbuster dominations topic and Scorcese comments came up (crowing out of indie/smaller film) Evans on reflection said,
“movies get inundated with studio notes and all of a sudden get boiled down to the lowest common denominator and now you have no one’s favourite movie but everyone’s lukewarm movie”- Chris Evans
There are unique voices out there who may never become mainstream hits within the country but have an audience outside our shores as evident to international festival responses to Kasala, Delivery Boy, The Man who cuts Tattoos, The Lost Okoroshi, and others.
That can you be you. The world of cinema is waiting for your voice, your unique storytelling style. This is the time for African Filmmakers.
Pick yourself. Go forth and be awesome.
This article which originally appeared in The Guardian on April 28th 2019 has been updated