BY CULTURE CUSTODIAN
There is a paucity of credible film schools in Nigeria and it has translated to the quality of motion pictures made in the country. The current crop of up-and-coming young filmmakers and actors endeavor to dissociate themselves from the mediocrity—histrionic acting, watery stories, shoddy films—that’s become Nollywood’s trademark. Those who desire an education in film, if they have the means, often have to look at film schools abroad or self-educate with resources found online: YouTube and Google; then complement that with the short-term film schools that spring up every now and then, promising to offer masterclass-standard lessons in film courses, ranging from acting to directing.
Usually, these “masterclass” film schools are facilitated by actors and producers who are not masters at their crafts yet, many just at the start of their careers, neither are they known to have been sufficiently trained in film or with reputable works that attest to their credibility. These masterclasses barely lasting a month and charging exorbitant fees seem to be another money-making venture for these filmmakers. How do we rationalize Nollywood actress Chioma Chukwuka Akpotha charging 84 thousand naira to offer a four-day training on acting?
It is this gap in the Nigerian film industry, and in film industries in Africa at large, that necessitated the MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy, a 12-month long training program organized by MultiChoice Africa, the parent company of satellite television DSTV and streaming platform Showmax. The MTF Academy offers free and quality film education to only young filmmakers who have proven themselves talented and passionate about learning filmmaking and filmmaking. Equipping them with skills, experience, and qualifications needed to launch their careers in the film industry. The program is facilitated in regional academies in Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia. In Nigeria, the MTF Academy is based in Lagos; the first-class held from September 2018 through to September 2019.
Gilbert Bassey, filmmaker and best graduating student of the MTF Academy inaugural class, takes us through his career, the MTF experience, and getting nominated for the AMVCA.
Writer, songwriter, musician, filmmaker. Did you always know you’d be all of this? How do you juggle these many talents and skills?
Depends on what you mean by always. When I was in the third year in school, I didn’t know I was gonna write, sing, or make movies. Maybe I had thought of music on some level, but not in a concrete way. The rest came after music.
It wasn’t until 5 or so years ago that it became clear that the remainder of my life would revolve around 3 suns—filmmaking, writing, and music. Of course, the one element that unites them all is the story… hence, I’m really just a storyteller.
Regarding how I juggle them all at once, they were actually never supposed to happen all at once. The plan was writing and music first since they complement each other based on their use of my time and attention. I handle writing in the morning and music in the afternoon, then close by evening. Anyways, that was the plan, but when a good opportunity knocks, it’s mostly unwise not to answer.
Good Opportunity. MTF was surely one. Share your experience training in the academy with us.
I’d say it was a life-changing experience that left me with lessons that prepared me for the filmmaker that I am today. Prior to auditioning and getting in, even though I had aspirations of being a filmmaker, I did not think I was ready to be a filmmaker yet. I was content with my daily routine of writing my novels and making songs on Fiverr for clients all over the world
But MTF gave me all the experience I needed to ready me for my journey as a filmmaker. It afforded me the opportunity to be at a film festival, movie sets, and to be trained by some of the best minds in the industry, filmmakers such as Femi Odugbemi and Tunde Kelani. The experience wasn’t just about the mastery of the rudiments and technicalities of film. Femi Odugbemi would often tell us: “You’re a creative entrepreneur”. We did not need to wait for jobs, we had the requisite knowledge and training on film; that was the power we needed to become filmmakers. It’s given me the courage to continue on the path I’ve chosen today.
Interesting. You graduated the best student. Tell us about it.
Yeah. I was the best graduating student. It felt surreal. I was awarded the NYFA award for graduating best student which came with a 2-month fully-paid internship to study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.
Wow. How was that experience?
I’m yet to attend the internship, the reason being COVID.
The two MTF project films, Life of BIM and Dream Chaser are of similar themes. Both are about young people chasing careers that are not quite the dream careers—doctor, engineer, lawyer—of the Nigerian society. Was it intentional to have both films themed around the struggles of young people pursuing unconventional careers, especially as it relates to filmmakers being artists?
I’m not the right person to answer if it was intentional. We were divided into four groups and each group was tasked to pitch two story ideas. So the factor that influenced the stories that got made was really the quality of the story. I think the themes were similar because we are young artists, so it’s natural that we would want to tell stories that would resonate with our experiences. It also agrees with what Jonathan Haynes mentions in his book Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres that the creativity of a people, the stories they’d want to tell, would often relate to their current desires or struggles.
How did it feel having both projects nominated for AMVCA?
It felt really good. I mean, look at small me at the AMVCA, with a nomination!
How did it feel losing to Promise, a film by the MTF students of East Africa?
My journey to film making didn’t happen because I wanted to win awards. I was enamored by the world of film and wanted to make such magic. I’m not one who would base my validation on an award system; not that I don’t think awards are important. I’m aware of their purposes. However, a richer experience, for me, is how I made the audience feel if I had made them feel the right emotions. People watch your stuff and they go “Holy Shit!”, “Fuck! I’ve never seen that before”, “oh! I really enjoyed that film.” That’s really what I care about.
Your short film, Wole’s Revenge, was shot in monochrome. What was the inspiration behind it?
The story is told from Mach’s point of view and so it’s his philosophy, the way he sees the world—he sees the world in the binary of white and black—that inspired telling his story in monochrome. And also for the aesthetics, I’ve always wanted to shoot a film in monochrome and was waiting for the right story that would justify the use of it. Wole’s Revenge was the story and Bolaji Adelakun did an amazing job with the cinematography.
How was the reception when you first screened it?
I first screened in class, that’s MTF. I was too nervous to gauge the reaction when the film had finished because the screening was quiet and I feared that I might not have done a very good job. But my co-producer, Minwon Metong, noticed and raved about the reviews later. And I guess people being spellbound to the point of speechlessness is good reaction. Robert McKee talks about it in his book Story, and I’m only paraphrasing here, that when there are no words, no words to describe the feeling, that’s how you know you’ve done some good.
Can you share a little about your ongoing project?
It’s a short paranormal thriller titled Ananze and the Zipman(AatZ for short). It’s about this one time when an immortal, new-age dibia came in contact with a female ‘superhero’. Their meeting occurs on two levels of existence. We’re quite excited about it because it’s gonna be so totally wild! Everyone on the crew is unbelievably passionate about what we’re trying to create. They are all making sacrifices to do the impossible—spectacle on budget. There’s a fight sequence in a rotating room pitting MTV Shuga’s Uzoamaka Aniunoh against her series buddy Chimezie Imo (if all goes well). They are super pumped for their face-off because these are roles they’ve never had to play before. Saw their training video two days ago and I couldn’t stop grinning in excitement. We’re working with Mr. Nollywood to make sure our fight sequence hits bang on the money. The spinning room is the cream on the cake. Fingers crossed. Mr. Nollywood is most notable for his solid stunt choreography work on Merry Men 2. He’s been wonderful so far.
We’re approaching the end of pre-production and will be shooting next week. No release date has been set yet, but once it is, we’ll be excited to announce.
Sounds interesting. We can’t wait to see it. So tell us what you think made MTF pick you?
This is a tough question. I think you need to show them that you really desire to be a filmmaker. So the MTF opportunity is really like a nudge to do better, to improve in your craft. To be a better storyteller and filmmaker. What you’re is in the doing of it not in the saying of it. Go on Instagram and everybody is claiming to be everything. Anyone can claim that they’re writers or filmmakers, but you need a body of work to actually show talent and passion. So back to your question, why did they pick me? I think they saw talent, passion, and hard work.