‘When I think back to that young man on campus dreaming of telling stories, I thank God’
From reading books on films to shooting shorts using classmates, Nigeria’s Akin Omotosho has become a household name in the African motion pictures industry. Earlier in the year, the South Africa-based director won the Best Director at the Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards (AMVCA) for his movie Tell Me Something Sweet. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the filmmaker spoke on his award, the winning work and future plans in the motion picture industry.
You recently won Best Director at the AMVCA 2016, how has the journey been so far?
The journey has been amazing; I’m truly grateful. I joined the industry after Drama School in 1997 and to still remain in the industry and be given an opportunity to contribute, is a true blessing. The journey isn’t over yet, mine is an ever-growing quest. In 1995, I made a decision at drama school to become a filmmaker. I taught myself about filmmaking by shooting shorts at drama school using my classmates, reading everything I could find about films and watching as many films as I could. After graduation, I got cast in a TV series and I used the money from that television series to fund my first professional short film called The Kiss Of Milk; it eventually became my calling card when I moved to Johannesburg. That short film got me an opportunity to make two short films, The Nightwalkers and The Caretaker (which was made as part of a program that was looking for new directors).
With three short films under my belt, I teamed up with a group of friends for my first feature film God Is African, which was shot in 2001. Since that time, I have directed a lot of episodic television, two more shorts, two documentaries, produced six feature films and directed three more feature films. Where there moments of doubt? Most definitely, the challenge is to not let the doubt cripple the creative process. I have been truly blessed to still be making films. When I think back to that young man on campus dreaming of telling stories, I thank God.
As a director, what’s your idea of filmmaking?
I heard an old filmmaker once say, ‘film making is a marathon.’ He was right; that statement defines everything around what a director goes through in bringing the vision to life. If you can imagine what goes into the preparation for a marathon (the stamina, the patience, the exhaustion), then you can imagine what the filmmaking team has to do in order to take something that started in someone’s creative mind, written on paper, get funds (which takes years), do casting, shot, edited, marketed and presented to viewers. You have to be ready to commit five years or more of your life to a project, that’s the extra mile.
What informed your decision to shoot Tell Me Something Sweet?
As a student, I watched Love Jones and was really inspired by that film and wanted to make a film like that. I also like love songs, so, Tell Me Something Sweet was born out of those inspirations.
How much did it cost you to produce the movie?
Every film has a cost and the challenge is to be able to recoup and make your investors happy. The film was funded by a team of crowd funders, The National Film and Video Foundation, The Gauteng Film Commission, Mvest Media, Ladies And Gentlemen, Pana TV and the South African Department of Trade And Industry.
What were your experiences on location, any specific challenges?
Every film has its challenges, but in our case, there were two moments when we weren’t sure if we were going to get the film made. To have overcome that is amazing. I mentioned the crowd funders above, there was a moment in prepping the film where the two major funders dropped out and it really seemed like the film wasn’t going to be made. Fortunately, this is a team effort and along with the team, we were able to recalibrate our process and we held a crowd funding evening to raise the additional funds. That crowd funders got us close to our goal and on that evening, we met Mathew of Mvest Media, who had been invited by a friend; his company ended up investing in the film. To have overcome that and not be crippled by the challenge was incredible.
What informed your decision to move to South African the first instance?
My father got a job at the University Of the Western Cape and we moved to South Africa in 1992; I was 17 years old at the time and in high school.
Having worked both at home and in South Africa, can you compare both film industries?
I think both industries are exciting and both have a lot to learn from each other. However, it’s great to see more collaboration between the two countries. Like you have issues of piracy in Nigeria, so it is in South Africa; it’s a big challenge. Piracy is a problem worldwide and I try to get people to understand that it’s theft. I support all initiatives to end piracy.
How do you juggle working in Nigeria and South Africa?
It’s all story dependent. The team approaches each story and we have been fortunate to be able to tell stories in both countries.
What are you currently working on?
I’m in postproduction on two films, which will be made public very soon. Just watch this space.
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