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Ebose Ehi-Bello’s Big Plans For Faith Based Films
Young independent filmmakers have been churning out diverse projects in the last few years. Thanks to social media and the increased use of easily accessible distribution channels like YouTube, new voices have the platforms to tell new stories that challenge the status quo.
One new voice is Ebose Ehi-Bello, a young female filmmaker who released her debut short film, The Day We Met, in December 2022. The short film tells the story of Christian parents, Anthony and Cynthia, recounting to their daughter the events that led to their first meeting at a university nightclub.
The sixteen-minute film is largely character-driven and is able to drive home a simple message that sometimes, things in life happen in the most unexpected ways.
In this interview, writer and producer Ebose shares works that inspired the project, her writing process, and the reasons behind some decisions made in the film.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
First of all, congratulations on the success of your new short film.
Thank you. When you and your team watched the film, what did you think, genuinely?
I watched it and I liked the concept. It talked about how things can happen in the most unexpected ways.
Okay, thank you.
What is it like writing and producing a faith-based film as an independent filmmaker?
A friend of mine once told me that faith-based filmmakers are probably one of the bravest people and I agree because we are going into a terrain that is hard to crack. Faith-based films are not readily accepted; they are seen as boring, preachy, and cliché. One tricky thing is how to balance the message of Jesus Christ and entertain people enough to watch to the end of the story. It can be quite challenging. I wrote the script for a long time, trying to write something that is unexpected, that people haven’t seen before in Nollywood, at least.
When I asked people how I could market my films, folks said my first audience is the church. I get that, but I don’t want to speak to the church. I want to make films that are enjoyed by everyone. And I want outsiders to experience Christ too, not only Christians. Also, I want to create safe content for young people. I love movies but almost everything that is out there on social media and streaming platforms makes me question what I have gained. That’s what I want to fix. I want to make viewers entertained and also learn something.
How would you say that this process is different from that of other films?
Personally, I would say that the difference is in the development stage. It is a story, of course, so as the writer, there is some restraint when you’re creating a story. You think of something you want to add to a film and you can’t because you’re trying to pass a specific type of message and you can’t put that in. It’s all about having to maintain a balance of making things interesting and relatable while putting in the value and the core message of the Word of Jesus. And for the marketing, it is also quite different. People say ‘sex sells’, or you see an action film that sells as Marvel does and you get the appeal. For my kind of stories, it’s about how I choose to portray a valuable story and then proceed to market that.
How did you move from the ideation phase to the writing phase?
I actually don’t remember how I started writing this film. I had the idea in mind but I just opened Final Draft and just started writing. I heard someone – the actor O-T Fagbenle in Black Widow, when he had a speaking event in Nigeria – say that sometimes as a writer, you just have to pour everything out that is in your head as a rough draft and just start editing after. And that was what I did for this story. Pouring out and then refining it. The line in the film where Cynthia said God told her, “Teach him what I taught you”- I was writing at 2 am and was praying about how I desired to make that character say what was needed and that was what came to me. And it has been a memorable line so far. How best to talk about Jesus without being too preachy? It’s about two people in a club talking about Jesus and the Holy Spirit kept pouring in ideas and that’s it.
Beautiful, thank you for that. Are there any cinematic references or works that inspired or guided the writing of your project?
Yes. How I met your mother influenced the story. Not that I wrote it with How I Met Your Mother in mind, I was watching the show and I used the idea to reference it. Friends also. Those sitcoms helped us with how we did our blockings and so on.
The short film is about how people can experience things in the most unexpected ways. The two characters are Christian but somehow meet themselves in a nightclub. In a world that has become very controversial, how do you say we can draw the line between right and wrong?
When we are born, we have a natural sense of what is good and bad. Stealing is bad, killing is bad. What I would say as a Christian is the Word of God has to be an authority in our lives. So I want to put the message of Jesus out there. I believe that God is real. I believe that Jesus did die for our sins and was resurrected. So, His word dictates what is right and wrong.
Now, what would you say is the relationship between the interpretation of situations and their contexts, putting your short film in mind?
People will interpret situations depending on where they are in life. When I wrote the film, it was just two Christians meeting in a club. It is funny when the film you write begins to preach to you when you watch it. In the part in the film where the girl asks the guy, “Are you a Christian?”, she didn’t judge him because he was in a club. That ministered to me. You shouldn’t judge someone by the situation they find themselves in. The context to why they are in the club is this: someone struggles with believing God because he wants something and doesn’t get it, so he thinks God doesn’t answer prayers. Consequently, he falls back to his old friends who are clubgoers and the other one falls into peer pressure with her friends. There is a scripture that says God makes everything work together for our good. I want people to have the interpretation that these are two Christians that may look like they are backsliding but they are still in that moment where God says “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. At that moment God uses that girl that has slipped under peer pressure to speak to this boy that is doubting God and makes him remember that He is God.
It was also to show the ladies in the Christian community that THE ONE mustn’t be one Pastor and to show through the parents that this guy is no longer who he used to be. He is now stronger in Christ because of his relationship with this woman. But of course, one must take caution when dating and confirm that the other person is submitted to Christ.
Your short film also teaches a lesson. What do you have to say about a film being viewed simply as an art form? Is every film supposed to have a moral lesson? And how do you think film can be combined with didactics?
I love this question. My teacher in school used to say “everything you do communicates.” Whatever film you make is giving someone an idea. We are out here saying we want world peace; we want people to be happy and have morals, but people don’t understand the power that art holds. Art communicates something to people about their lives. Every movie has a message, it can be someone relating to being a loner or it could be moral. People should understand that their art has power, especially to kids.
The two characters in the film use the voice-over narrating style. Do you think this technique is overused? And why do you think indie filmmakers opt for voiceovers?
I don’t think voiceovers are overused. I put it in the story to attempt to communicate the voice of the Holy Spirit.
In the film community, they say to show more and talk less. And that is good. But some independent filmmakers are still growing. For me, I’ll learn how to communicate something without necessarily saying it.
The visuals of the story make the audience boxed in, was that an intentional effort from the script, or was it the decision of the director to use static shots for the story to be enhanced?
As we go, we certainly get better in our creative direction. You learn as you go. Almost everyone on this set were students fresh out of Ebony Life. We are still growing and honing our craft, we will get better. I would have liked more moving shots, but we had to take out a lot of other shots so that the story wouldn’t drag. But the static shots helped create intimacy between the audience, Anthony, and Cynthia.
As the head of Above World Films, the company responsible for producing this film, how do you feel about other Christian works on Netflix like God Calling, Loving Amanda and so on.
It is amazing. It’s refreshing to see Christian films on these platforms. It’s all about the quality of the content now. Christian filmmakers have to get smarter, with stories that have a message and are also relatable. My target is young people. So I’m competing with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Stranger Things, Wednesday, so I have to be very smart. I need to have a captivating story, see what is working, and bring it to life.
Is the Nigerian audience ready for faith-based films? And why do you think so?
The Nigerian audience is ready for faith-based films but they do not know it yet. I say that because Nigerians just want something that is entertaining and different. I know that my film was entertaining and different. When they see that, they will pay attention. So, the idea is to make the story entertaining and different, but make it about the message of Christ.
You also happen to be the marketing associate at Inkblot productions. What lessons have you learnt there and applied in your independent filmmaking journey?
Working at Inkblot, I’ve grown a lot in film marketing. December was a busy month so I wasn’t able to put that much into marketing the film, but a lot of my strength will be going into that this month. One thing I do at Inkblot is to create content, so I’ll do that to get more people interested in the film. I need more eyes on the film and I want more testimonies from it.
Your film won the award for next-rated filmmaker at the Fountain International Film Festival. If you were to give advice to young faith-based filmmakers like yourself, what would you say?
Do not be discouraged. You’re doing something for God, He will help you. I had so many miracles while making this film. Believe in the miracles you have seen and know that you can have one. Keep on growing and don’t give up. Just let God guide you to create something for Him.
Now that the film has premiered for over a month, what would you change?
I would not start with the prayer scene. It wasn’t supposed to start with that. We had to cut some things out. From what I know about YouTube analytics now, I should have put something engaging. And it was set in the ‘90s, so I would have added more details. People have been asking how they got together, so there may be a sequel, or not.
Seeing that you wrote and produced the film, what was your process in picking a director? Was it imperative that the director had the same values in order to convey the message, or the director simply had to understand the vision of the film?
The director had to understand the vision of the film. I know that he is very good. When I spoke to him about the vision of the film, I could see that he understood what I wanted it to be. They say writers shouldn’t be on set. So, when we started, I had to leave the set and let him work and trust that God is involved and it came beautifully, even better than I imagined.
What projects are you currently working on?
I have a big dream this year. I wanted to do some small projects, to test my hands. But I have decided to shelve that and believe in God for big things. If I want to have something on Netflix, then why not? This year, I’m focusing on scripting a beautiful series with some other people that we plan to create for a streaming platform.