Ama Psalmist: The Visionary Behind the Lens
Jovial- an odd and outdated word is the only one that accurately describes Ama Psalmist’s effusive energy and youthful optimism.
With the Nigerian film industry priced at 1 billion Naira and with an estimated 50 Nollywood films being made every week, most aspiring Nigerian filmmakers don’t make it with so much competition, but most aspiring filmmakers aren’t talented as Ama Psalmist.
In 2017, he was one of the 5 finalists for the inaugural Accelerate Filmmaker Project and his debut short film Penance won the 2018 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Award for Best Short film and Moet & Chandon and FilmOne Distribution’s Film Gala Award for Best Short Film in 2019.
Ama Psalmist has gone on to direct several film projects including Gana Street League and the upcoming Hunter’s Game. The youngest receiver of the Filmmaker AMVCA speaks to The Guardian Life about colourful suits, keeping going and reshaping the world with a lens.
AMA we’ve heard is an abbreviation of your initials but psalmist, where does that come from?
Psalmist has been since University, I used to sing, lead worship and all of that. My friends just started calling me that and it stuck.
You’re a filmmaker, brand manager and recording artiste, is it ever difficult switching between mediums?
Most of the time, you would see me doing one of the three, film being the core, so I concentrate on one till when I don’t have to.
How do you know which medium fulfils your vision best?
I believe film does this best as it is the most accommodating medium that would allow for all expressions.
What film made you realise you had to be a filmmaker?
I don’t think it was one film. It was a bunch of movies and most of the ones that made me want to be a filmmaker are Nollywood films.
What’s been harder, getting started or being able to keep going?
Personally, it’s being able to keep it going, because a core responsibility for me is always to do better on a project.
Your jobs seem to revolve on how people see the world, do you care about how people see you?
I do care but if I focused on that, I would be stressing for the longest time. I have learnt to understand that everyone just will have an opinion. That’s fine.
What’s the hardest scene you’ve ever directed?
The hardest scene would have to be an action sequence in the middle of the night. It was a lot of demand from the actors and crew especially as we already had a long shooting day.
You seem to have a thing for colourful suits and wild patterns, who is your fashion inspiration?
I do? I honestly like to keep it simple. So, whoever looks simple and nice, could easily be an inspiration.
What was the first set you worked on?
The first set that I worked on was my set. It was for a short we made for a competition.
What in your opinion is your best work?
I really like Penance, not just as a film, but because it’s the film where I had a lot of learning experiences.
How did you develop your filming style?
I didn’t even know this was a thing until someone pointed out stuff that I do all the time on set, and I realised that they worked. So what I would say is that I developed it over time.
Kubrick could do up to 19 takes of the same scene while Martin Scorsese depends almost entirely on actor’s improvisation. Which one are you?
It depends on the scene, the actor, and the time available. What’s truly important to me is to do what’s enough to keep the story going at least, for safety.
Do you show the world through your lens as it is or as it should be?
Film is mostly illusion so whatever it is, except maybe documentary, you would usually show as you want it to be.
Being a director means constantly collaborating with others. Describe the best and worst person for you to work with?
Best persons are people who listen and are willing to come to a compromise when there’s conflict in decision making. Worst person are folks who refuse to be flexible, mostly for no reason at all.
Directing is quite hard, you’re the decision maker and approval master. How do you destress?
I think it’s important to find a balance. For me, spending time with friends and family is the destress that I need.
How do you know a script is something you need to see come to fruition?
I think this is different per filmmaker. For me, what’s happening in the global/local space, the relevance of the story and its strength supporting an African narrative or a social cause, are strong factors that I consider.
Filmmaking depends very heavily on the audience, how do you maintain the balance between artistic integrity and commercial gain?
Art is meant to be shared in my opinion. It was important for me to learn to accept criticism and find a way to make my work really great as an artiste and really enjoyable as an audience. It’s also a talent or skill that I am still developing.
Nigeria’s notorious in the global film industry for our poor filming standards. Do you think this can change and if so, how?
I think that it can. It has to! I believe this can be done with better structure. Structures enforce standards.
Do you think yourself as a child be proud of you now?
I really hope that he would be. I really do, even if I know there’s a lot more work to be done.
How do you want people to feel after watching one of your movies?
I want them to feel like they were leaving another world into their current realities.
What do you want to be remembered for in 100 years time?
I want to be remembered for truly living.