Nollywood, Nigeria’s budding film industry is burdened with numerous snags, especially with its productions. Common amongst these problems is the story-telling approaches of this African most prolific movie industry that has repeatedly shown a lack in its ability to deliver well laid-out plots, convey rich story-telling and utilise brilliant screenplay techniques.
Toluwani Obayan is one of Africa’s first-rate screenwriters, a script-fixer, screenplay editor and film director. She is zealous about the power of change-inspiring narratives which drives her works as she finds a voice through her writings – one of which, helped in winning Best African Film at the International Tourism Film Festival (ITFF) Awards.
With regards to films & TV, she is the writer, director, and editor of the short film, Heart and Might (which was dedicated to Nigeria’s fallen heroes), and the author of the book Becoming a Spectacular Woman. She is the Head Writer for Nigeria’s Premier political satire show The Other News with Okey Bakassi on Channels Television (which is in its 4th season). She is also the writer of Kayode Kasum’s This Lady Called Life. She was also involved with Femi Olugbemi’s 4th Estate (Script Consult and Re-write) as well as in The Get-Together movie. Asides several other works lined up, two of her works are expected to be in the Cinemas this year or early next year.
In this interview with Africa Movies Hub (AMH), this top-notch story-teller, creative screenwriter and passionate author, highlights key areas where Nollywood screenwriters get it wrong. She also talks about the core of screenplay, some dos and the don’ts of scripting for movies and many more. Enjoy the read:
AMH: Please introduce yourself, your brand, and tell us about what you do.
Toluwani Obayan: My name is Toluwani Obayan. From my name, it would be easy to assume that I’m just Yoruba when in fact my heritage is actually quite intertribal (Mum- Edo, Dad – Kogi + Abia). I think this has played a large part in fuelling my passion for change inspiring narratives in a nationally holistic sense and also in a global sense. We all have a part to play in making the world a much better place. Storytelling is one of the major ways I play my part. I’m a Creative who tells stories mostly through Screenplays, Teleplays, and Music. My work philosophy is “Great Work, Period.” Not great work based on industry or existential limitations, but great work, full-stop.
AMH: How did you get into screen-writing and how has the journey been?
Toluwani Obayan: Initially directing was the dream (I’ve done a bit of that too) because I’ve always been very drawn to visual narratives, but then during my Masters at the University of Portsmouth I did a Screenwriting course. The rest they say is history.
It has been a journey of learning, unlearning, relearning. You never really arrive, there is always so much more. It never gets boring. It’s been a journey of heartbreak, delays and disappointments. So far it has also been a very fulfilling journey and I’m grateful that I get to do something I’m passionate about.
My work philosophy is “Great Work, Period.” Not great work based on industry or existential limitations, but great work, full-stop.
AMH: What sets you apart from other screen-writers?
Toluwani Obayan: I’m always blown away when I observe the world and the people around me especially in line with the biblical accounts of how it all came to be. God’s work in creation inspires the way I take on the worlds and the characters I create in my stories. He breathed life into clay and we got Adam, how can I breathe life into my characters? He gave His creation free will within the grand scheme of His predestined narrative, how can I give my character’s freewill within the grand scheme of my planned out stories? He knew me before He formed me in my mother’s womb, how can I know my characters and the world before writing “Fade in” on that script? How do I create diversity and authenticity in everything I create? Like Him, I never want to do anything in half-measures.
When I’m done with the things I create I always want to be able to say “Very good”. The goal is that with every creative work it gets better and better.
AMH: What has been the most challenging job you took on, and why?
Toluwani Obayan: The one I just finished working on recently. I signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) so I can’t say anything about the story and the title etc. But then, I was asked to do a Script Consult on it and based on my consult I was then asked to do a re-write within a short period of time. For the most part, it was extremely challenging because I had to find a way of fixing faulty story foundations without straying away from the valid premise of the story. It was like fixing a faulty foundation without tearing the whole building down. This combined with the fact that I had agreed to hand it in sooner than I should have, made things quite intense. Thankfully, it all worked out.
AMH: Was there a time you almost gave up your art? If yes, how were you able to pull through?
Toluwani Obayan: I don’t think so. There have been times of great difficulty, but giving up has never really been an option for me. Does one truly ever give up on a calling? I’m the type of person who is extremely dogged when I’m sure I’m where I am meant to be.
In secondary school, I thought I wanted to be an architect but by SS2 I was done with Technical Class. Thankfully I failed Maths (the irony of me being thankful about failing lol) and had to repeat. Repeating made it possible for me to course correct. I moved to Arts Class, studied Mass communication, and did my Masters in Film and Television Studies. Thanks to God’s leading every step of the way, I didn’t come into this testing the waters. Yes at times giving up has been tempting, but it has never truly been an option.
Thankfully I failed Maths (the irony of me being thankful about failing lol), and had to repeat. Repeating made it possible for me to course correct. I moved to Arts Class, studied Mass communication, and did my Masters in Film and Television Studies
AMH: What can filmmakers watch out for when going for good stories?
Toluwani Obayan: There are a lot of things but I’ll mention two; empathy and drive. To whom it may concern: Do you feel like you are the protagonist? Do you feel like the Protagonist’s world (Story World) is your world too? Is the protagonist’s drive authentic enough for you to feel like it’s your mission as well? Or are you just watching the journey unfold patronizingly?
AMH: One common challenge for African filmmakers is the absence of a plot, which is evident in most Nollywood movies. Where do screenwriters get it wrong and how do we begin to fix this?
Toluwani Obayan: We can begin to fix this by learning how to plot properly. Many people don’t realize that putting together a good story (even before scripting) is a lot of hard, strategic, deliberate work.
A concept is not a story. In the context of plotting, a story is not everything that could possibly happen, it’s the strategic creation and proper structuring of plot points with proper narrative pacing in a way that ultimately fulfils the dramatic code. Proper plotting is a strategic process.
Glossing over details is one of the key areas we get it wrong. Also, having a desired ending and forcing the plot to get there without fixing the technicalities and making it realistic is another.
Some of the ways to correct these are; fixing your premise before you start plotting and fixing your plot before you start scripting (things will most likely change along the way), but this gives a very necessary foundation.
Many people don’t realize that putting together a good story (even before scripting) is a lot of hard, strategic and deliberate work – Toluwani Obayan
AMH: The coming of Canal+, Netflix, etc., into Nollywood proves that the industry is catching the eyes of the world. Does it mean we are getting it right? What areas do you think we are still lacking as an industry?
Toluwani Obayan: Yes I would say we are getting some things right but I think their willingness to collaborate is more from a business perspective. They need products that sell to their target market.
Nigerian’s love Hollywood for the most part, but Nollywood is an industry for the people and made up of the people (and not just Nigerians).
To Nigerians, Nollywood is family. In our hearts, we want to take ownership of Nollywood. When a Nigerian film does well, we all feel like we’ve done well. It’s like football and the Super Eagles. For Canal+, Netflix etc. to make the best of their goals of profiting from the Nigerian/African market, Nollywood is a force that must be reckoned with. It is a symbiotic relationship.
AMH: What do you think will be the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Nollywood? And how can we beat these challenges as an industry?
Toluwani Obayan: In all honesty, I’m very optimistic. COVID-19 has made a lot of people reflect on the things that really matter. It has given a lot of people the chance to improve and de-clutter. I think Post COVID-19 we could potentially create timeless films because even in entertaining these films will speak to issues that will be relevant trans-generationally.
Also, based on how COVID-19 has made us value community more than ever before, Post-Covid-19 I believe Cinema Houses will greatly benefit from this newfound appreciation for community.
Read More AMH Interviews
- Why Blood of Enogie Series Is My Best Work Yet – Charles Uwagbai
- Nollywood Has Too Many Movies, Lesser Structures – Chukwuemeka Ejiofor
- I Will Choose Standup Comedy Over Acting Anytime, Any Day – Dr Smile
- Nigerian Film Industry Needs More Digital Platforms, Cottage Cinemas – Kingsley Omoefe
Creativity is about problem solving, there is always a way. When we figure out our crafts, we can always creatively work around budgetary constraints, but even the biggest budget cannot fix mediocre craftsmanship.
AMH: There are many common put offs that are peculiar with our productions in Nollywood such as poor subtitling, issues with sound, poor lightings, terrible scripting, awful directing, etc. Where and how do we begin to address these issues?
Toluwani Obayan: I think we need to start by respecting our craft. We respect our crafts when we continuously strive for excellence and not just by local standards. The work we do speaks for us long after we are gone. Beyond remuneration, would your products inspire true creatives to emulate you?
Over the years, we have made enough excuses for why standards are lower on this side of the globe. It’s time to figure out how things will work because things can work. Creativity is about problem-solving, there is always a way. When we figure out our crafts, we can always creatively work around budgetary constraints, but even the biggest budget cannot fix mediocre craftsmanship.
AMH: Kindly share 4 tips for new-comers who are hoping to become successful like you in the entertainment industry.
- Always hold yourself up to a higher standard.
- Study Film(s), study Screenplay(s), study those honing their craft brilliantly, study people in general, and study your audience, study the world around you.
- Never settle for mediocrity. Practice.
- Know that the work you do is extremely important. Storytelling is a superpower, use it wisely.
To see more of Toluwani Obayan’s works, click here
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