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Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Creativity vs. Commonsense: The Entrepreneur's Challenge and the Filmmaker's Nightmare
The past few weeks have taken me on a roller coaster ride that has been intriguing, exciting and the most terrifying. I promised in my last article to keep you in the loop as I shot my movie Silver Rain, with the lessons along the way and so here I am, if you are ready.
First thing I had to deal with on this journey was my person. How do you combine being an artist with being an entrepreneur? I wrote the story of Silver Rain, and I am directing it, but worst of all, I am the executive producer. As an entrepreneur and the executive producer, one has to keep your head in the books and know how much you spend, where it is going and why. In a paragraph of Stacy Parks' book 'the insider's guide to independent film distribution,' she talks about the need for filmmakers to think like entrepreneurs, and I agree! I have flirted with that combination of creativity vs. business my entire short life.
Nothing draws the stack contrast between the two however, like a movie does. A particular instance: in my creative stage, I wrote in two rain scenes. Imagining the thundering rain beating the dirt on the ground whiles my actors dug into the depth of their souls to bring out a spectacular performance. Mind you, the rain in these scenes also has symbolic significance to the human condition and so I just wasn't thinking aesthetics. By day 11, when we got to the scenes, we had already exceeded our budget by over 40 percent!
As the director, I fought with my producer who tried to give me (to my mind), a substandard rainmaker. I accused her of sabotaging and undermining the essence of the scene (Bless her patience!). She stood her ground and told me we couldn't afford what I wanted. I knew she was right. I was also assured that what we had would work equally well, but I wasn't buying it! I used every tool at by disposal to get what I wanted, including issuing threats of the sack!
All the time understanding very well at the back of my mind that exceeding our budget was unacceptable. How was I to achieve my creative vision whiles keeping my eye on the money? Pretty much, all my money-common sense went out of the window as I fought for my rainmaker -- it wasn't a very pleasant episode.
As a filmmaker, this is my ardent creed; that Africa stands in a unique position to make an impact on the world through its films. One of the most important paths to achieving this is through the making of pan-African movies that leverages on our collective strengths as a continent! I therefore set out to make a pan-African movie and came face to face with barriers like no other.
For those who do not know too much about Africa, you may find out that it is a really big continent. Mainly divided into North African and sub-Saharan Africa. I work mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. My goal was to cast in at least, five African countries. Nigeria is approximately an hour by plane from Ghana and has collaborated with Ghana on many fronts, as between us as a country, 70 percent of our neighbors are French speaking, whiles we are English speaking. That is the first barrier in Africa: language.
Nigeria's film industry, known as 'Nollywood,' is written about expensively. 'Nollywood' arguably the second largest film industry in the world with sheer numbers. As a pan-African filmmaker, it was therefore critical that I cast from Nigeria. I also identified other key countries like South Africa, Kenya, etc.
Trade barriers, industry barriers, movement barriers and everything in-between, stares you smack in the face! In my estimation, it would have been much easier if I had tried to get 'A'List actors from the United States through a named 'Casting Director'. I teetered on this goal many times and really must give credit to my amazing casting team, lead by a phenomenal casting director; who had never casted outside of Ghana before, but took on the task like a soldier. This exercise must have taken at least 20 percent of our budget and is responsible for 50 percent of the hairs that fell of our already balding heads!
This is the one point I can go on and on about. I face this barrier difficulty all the time as an entrepreneur, but in my mind as a creative person, I somehow was too elevated by my passion, perhaps to apply common sense and boy, did we pay the price! I am and will continue to be an advocate for pan-Africanism because I think it is truly the most undervalued strength we have as a continent; the argument does grow pale when you are faced with the reality of the mountains you will have to climb to get there.
I had an amazingly eager team. Young people eager to make a difference through film and excel in their craft. They came to this project understanding our key goals and purpose and were committed to making it happen. In many instances, I will pick attitude over skill, as an entrepreneur. I have come to learn, that skill can be impacted, but attributes like loyalty, commitment and diligence; may not be so amiable to teaching. As an artist though, I struggled with this lesson.
When I think about how many jobs the industry could potentially bring to the many young unemployed people teaming around, and the impact adequate skill-sets could make on an industry that has already proven its potentially to impact economies! At the last data count, Nigeria's film Industry was its second largest contributor to GDP with over 200million USD. I marvel at this golden opportunity just passing the continent by. I was in a filmmaker's nightmare. By the forth day of shoot, I was loosing my voice from all the screaming, lack of sleep and simple inadequacies that meant my full attention to what was happening in-front of the lens was constantly challenged.
We are about 85 percent complete with the production, and I can safely say that In many ways, the production is a good representation of the state of the continent of Africa, generally. Watching the rushes with my crew, we are constantly amazed at the quality and beauty we see before us! the constant confusion is not apparent; one can not by the stretch of the imagination, imagine the constant ups and downs to get here!
We shot on a RED, with very talented cast members that were open to improving their craft and listening to direction, backed by a team that did all they could, to keep their attitudes and spirits high, despite the mountain-load of challenges that got throwed at us. I guess, knowing what we had to go through to get here, makes it even more beautiful and worth it... this is the story of my dear continent, Africa!