BY ‘SEGUN ODEJIMI
Tope Oshin Ogun has won several awards in both film and TV and she has directed several episodes of popular TV soap opera, Tinsel. Tope has also directed several short films such as The Young Smoker, New Horizons plus award-winning feature Journey to Self.
She consults for EbonyLife TV. She is a director, producer, as well as an actress. She studied Theatre Arts, Television and Film Production at the Lagos State University before moving on to study Filmmaking Technologies and Methodologies at the Colorado Film School, USA.
Tope is the CEO of Sunbow Productions Ltd. TNS caught up with and she talked about filmmaking, her directorial style, New Nollywood and many more.
How did you come to filmmaking?
I’ve probably told the story a million times, so I’ll simplify it this time around. To start with I got the awareness and nudging from the late Amaka Igwe of blessed memory, who identified the director in me while I was yet an actress, and encouraged me to give it a thought and develop myself along those lines. This prompted me to find out more about filmmaking was all about anyway. I gobbled up all material I could find on directing and filmmaking, which took me to interning with established professionals, and then working with them as an assistant director, and then directing things on my own and the rest is beautiful history.
What’s your opinion on film school?
There’s no learning that’s ever a waste. If you get the opportunity and the means to attend film school as a practicing or prospective filmmaker, by all means GO! It affords you the opportunity to learn and practice with equipment you might otherwise not be able to afford or lay hands on as a start up. Also refreshing learning from masters and professionals who have studied filmmaking and know how it works and tips and tricks. And for the younger ones (in filmmaking or in age), it helps you make your first film. That should be something to look forward to at least.
What does filmmaking mean to you?
To me, art. It’s an art form. A form of expression of what lies within or a mirror of what lies without,with the power to inspire, change, entertain and evoke thoughts intended by the artist, the filmmaker. Pure magic is what I call it.
What inspires your art?
My thought process at the point in time. My experiences, my reflections, my state of mind, my environment and what’s prevailing the most at the point in time.
What are your thoughts on the insistence by some that directors must be ‘auteur’?
It’s a good thing, but it doesn’t make the other kind of director less than a director. It’s not to be taken for granted or belittled, the ability to interpret someone else’s idea, and give it life on screen infusing one’s own interpretation and art into it. That is a rare gift and talent not to be toyed with. All directors, auteurs or not, are creators, giving life to an idea and moulding it into something you can see, and almost touch, something able to evoke emotions and goose bumps.
Take us through how you prepare for a shoot.
Definitely starts with the story developmental stages for me. Work on the script first. As the saying goes, (and I’m sure my quote is not accurate), the most important part of a film is the script, the script and the script. It’s got to be in perfect shape for the shoot. the character and story arcs properly followed through. Casting, then discussions with my Director of Photography and the Production designer, to discuss and align thoughts on the look and feel of the project. I share with them my vision, and what I see in my mind’s eye and want to create. Then involve the Producer(if not me) on plans etc for the shoot, embed in the remaining finer details of pre-production, and we are more or less ready to roll.
Which do you prefer: Directing television drama or making a film?
Films definitely. Films give you wings to fly and be creative without bounds. TV dramas are somewhat restrictive. There’s a TV network or Supervising Producer to please, and a certain pre-determined style of the show, most times. Having directed about 200 hours of television drama content over 6 years, I must say that directing for tv serves its own purpose though, because I find that sometimes I yearn for it. Basic difference, on TV, content is king, for films, the director is king.
What’s the most interesting aspect of directing?
For me, the entire creative process from pre-production to editing, gives the total satisfaction. It’s a total experience for me, and I can’t say that any part of the process interests me more than the rest.
What’s the most stressful aspect of directing, in your opinion?
Hard for me to say… I can’t think about directing and stress within the same sentence.
What’s the silliest mistake you ever made on set?
Forgetting to take a very important cut-away shot.
How do you work with actors?
I generally place first and most emphasis on character learning and development. My main goal is to intimate them with their characters. sometimes, I get them to write me bios, or back stories to involve them and help them with the immersion process in their character, and to make the character human to them, as well as create some sense of ownership for the actors playing the roles. I spend time asking the actors questions about the actors and discussing the characters than running lines. Lines to me are secondary, though important. Understand your character, his story and what his experiences are within the film, and your learning your lines will be the easiest part of it all, and this way also, it’s very difficult to forget or lose the lines on set while shooting, because the actor knows each moment in time in the character’s life within the movie.
Beyond directing, what other aspect of filmmaking fascinates you?
I’m a working casting director as well as a producer. But beyond those, cinematography fascinates me to bits. Painting a picture with lights and lenses. Pure magic. I’m fascinated by the art and have a healthy respect for true Directors of Photography. Emphasis on the word “true”.
Are you the kind of director that understands and loves technical aspects of filmmaking, or do you work with capable hands and concentrate on story and directing the performance?
Oh no! I’m the kind of director that knows everybody’s business. hahaha! I’m as interested in the technical as I am in the artistic and performances. I am able to communicate appropriately in technical terms with the lighting and camera department as well as the art department and actors. I have taken time over the years to study each department. I am a firm believer of the fact that, to be a true boss of all, you must know a lot about the jobs of everyone who works for/with you. So yes, lenses, lighting, angles etc I ALWAYS know exactly what I want at each given point in time and able to communicate it appropriately, or if it comes down to it, do it myself.
Digital filmmaking is gaining ground by the day…what are your thoughts on this?
Even Hollywood cites this as the best thing to have happened to the world of filmmaking. The ability to get close to ‘film’ quality on digital cameras. The digital process is more user friendly.
What do you think of Nollywood? Would you like to be known as a Nollywood director?
Whatever name it’s given, we are all Nigerian filmmakers, and we should stay focused on representing Nigeria in a positive light and presenting positively astounding works from Nigeria to the world. This should be our focus, not appellations.
Do you believe there’s a ‘New Nollywood’? If yes/no, why?
Any less than keen observer would notice that there’s a visible improvement in the quality of the films from Nigeria. A few stand out and are able to be showcased internationally, get some recognition and even awards. This is what is being referred to as the “New Nollywood”. A deviation from the kind of movies made and seen in years before now. I embrace the change, and I wish more filmmakers in Nigeria would be a part of this movement and create works that can be showcased and compete internationally.
What do you think should be the ultimate aim of a film: to entertain or to educate the audience?
Neither reason is wrong. It all depends on the inclination of the filmmaker and his/her intended target audience.
What would you say to fellow filmmakers who are also at the point of making a career breakthrough?
Keep on keeping on and don’t relent on your determination to break the norm and rise above the status quo.
And to those coming behind.
Never give up, and keep on developing and honing your skill. Dream big.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Exporting the essence of Nigeria, and indeed Africa to the world.
Photos: Tope Oshin-Ogun