There is a popular saying that “a film is made three times: first in the screenplay, next in production and finally, in the edit”. Every film that was ever made was first created in the mind of the writer. A screenplay is the blueprint for a film and the story, characters, and dialogue all originate from the writer’s imagination. In Nollywood, one of these writers is Ife Olujuyigbe.
Olujuyigbe has written In Her Shoes, When Are We Getting Married, Roles Reversed and Eluku amongst others. Her writing spans a wide range of forms: short films, feature films, documentaries and Web and Television series. Olujuyigbe not only writes, but also produces. Some of her production credits include The Trade, Ile Owo, Obara’M, Road To Spotlight and forthcoming films, Something Like Gold and Eko Miami.
In this interview, Olujujuyigbe highlights her experience writing for different genres, forms and media. She goes ahead to demystify some myths about certain genres, and talks about things that budding Nollywood screenwriters need to learn.
You have worked with Kayode Kasum’s Film Trybe for a while now as a producer. How has the experience been working with Kayode Kasum?
It’s been great. It’s like working with your family. We do good work, we have big laughs and we try to make good money. It’s a win on all fronts.
Did you receive any training to be a film producer, or did you just learn on the job?
I received training. I remember asking my first mentor, Jade Osiberu, if I needed to go to school for film. She told me I could learn everything I needed by doing. And boy, did I learn from her! Everything I do now, I have learned by doing. I’m grateful to every single person who has shown me or given me chances to do.
You have produced features and short films. Apart from the time frame, what are the differences between producing shorts and features?
Well, there is the cost. Also, most shorts are independent films; they are rarely backed by the big financiers because they mostly do not give the returns feature length films do. Of course, there are exemptions, like when a brand decides to tell short-form stories that are not necessarily for profit, but there are more financial opportunities for feature length films.
What about the differences in the writing processes?
I approach all of my writing as storytelling. Whether it’s for some big client or for a post on Instagram, I give it my best storytelling approach because that’s really what it’s about. In the writing, however, there are rules to everything. You need to research, master, and abide by the rules of every format to be able to communicate within them properly. I remember the first time I wrote a screenplay many years ago, I used Microsoft Word. I think about it now and just chuckle.
Apart from writing and producing, you edit as well. How would you say your editing is influenced by your writing?
I used to edit when I mostly focused on literary writing. I don’t do much of that any longer, but my approach as an editor was about finding the best possible way to get a thought across. I like to write simply, in a way that communicates very clearly what I’m trying to say, but also with wittiness and humour. So when I edit, I do the same thing, just fine-tuning the storytelling to a point where language is used beautifully, and comprehension is so smooth yet so satisfying.
Apart from writing for screen, you write fiction and have published on platforms like Brittle Paper. What have you borrowed from fiction writing to writing for the screen? And does fiction writing still influence your screenwriting today?
When I began to extend my writing to screen, I had to learn it like I didn’t know how to write at all. It’s mostly because it’s a craft on its own with its rules. I think the main thing that has featured in both of them for me is the story creation part. You have to pay great attention to the story in both genres, and convey them clearly on paper.
However, there are things you can get away with in fiction that may not necessarily fly on screen. Screenwriting is very showy. I’m not listening to your thoughts and feelings. I’m painting you a clear picture of characters doing things, and saying things as though they were not saying them, though they say it so clearly. Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense but it does.
Why did you decide to move from prose to script writing?
I wanted to make films, and in order to do that, I needed to write them. I am more focused on the screen now, but I wouldn’t say I moved. I’m still a prose writer. I probably will always be, as there are several books/anthologies still left in me to write.
Are there differences between writing web series and writing TV series?
Definitely. I have written both so I know. The first is brevity. There’s also the need for more cliffhangers because of this brevity. In fiction, it’s like a short story compared to a novel. You can dance around the characters and really build them in a novel, because your journey with them is far. Things may be more implied than shown in a short story (in this case, a web series), because you don’t have all the time in the world. This brevity runs into other things too like number of characters, number of plots.
What was the inspiration for Ile Owo? Also, what films or books did you study in preparation for the writing?
Ile Owo was written by Dare Olaitan. I simply added some writing to it, and the bits I added stemmed from what was already available. But to answer your question, I am very much into supernatural thrillers. I wrote Eluku which is currently on Showmax, and Eribulu which was made by Dioni Visions Entertainment. I am always excited to tell those kinds of stories, so when the chance came for Ile Owo, I jumped at it too. I recently just concluded writing a TV series in this genre and I watched a lot of supernatural horrors to get my mind in the zone. Many of them were by the king of horror, Stephen King. I love how his mind works. But Ile Owo is Dare Olaitan’s story.
What did you think about the responses to the film? Many have said that the film is heavily metaphorical. Is that a deliberate creative decision?
I guess Dare would be best to answer this accurately. Personally, I think the responses to it have been the usual responses to art: subjective.
Do you think Nigerians are ready for horror films?
Yes I do. I think we are ready for good stories, no matter what genre they fall into. We thought action was not a Nigerian thing, but see how much the latest action thrillers have proved us wrong. We thought crime thrillers wouldn’t work in this clime, but here comes The Trade, shocking everyone.
I believe if these genres that are not inherently Nigerian have been accepted by Nigerians, how much more horror that is a typical Nigerian reality.
I mean we grew up on stories of Madam Koikoi and Bush Baby, on how people turn into yam when they pick money off the ground. We are an intensely superstitious people, and horrors have resonated with us on a deep level in the past. Films like Koto Aiye, Karishika or Agbara Nla had me shuddering for days. Horror simply needs to make a comeback on our screens and Ile Owo is a step in the right direction.
What inspired the creative choices of When Are We Getting Married? Are there films and books that influenced creative choices?
I’ll say experience played a small role. But at the time I was writing the show in 2020, I had not experienced a lot of the things that happened on the show. When I was producing it in 2021 however, it was no longer people’s experiences but a lot of mine. As producer, it was easier to see to it that the experiences were properly depicted. I had a brilliant director, Diji Aderogba, who was open to considering my inputs while we were on set. The actors, Immaculata Oko-Kasum and Ric Hassani, did fantastic too.
Why did you feel the need to tell the story as a series, rather than a feature film?
Two things: scale and budget. The scale of what we wanted to do was small but fitting for a web series. I know people make features for the kind of budget we had, but we didn’t just want to make something for TV. We wanted something that could fit the scale of the budget that we had. I think we also wanted something easily accessible, and we wanted to touch on many different themes.
What do you think about the depiction of love and relationships in Nollywood films? Do you think Nigerians are tired of romance in films? Also, do you think these films are too stereotypical?
There are so many Nollywood films on love and relationships. Some get it right by pulling at our heartstrings or getting us to relate and root for characters. But some don’t. Why? Love means many things to many people. The one that works is the one most people can relate to. I don’t think we will ever get tired of romance. Everyone loves. Everyone feels for something or someone. As long as we keep feeling, people will continue to relate to love stories.
Interestingly too, love is the one story trope that runs across genres. Think of any three films you like, and you’d find at least two of them with a love story weaved into the plot, romance film or not. That’s just ‘cause it works. Love always works. And yes, as stereotypical as it may seem, it would still work. Personally, I believe there is a formula to genres. The peculiarity of the story will of course determine how the formula plays out, but it exists. That’s why it’s possible to teach storytelling. There’s a
how-to-do-it. A great storyteller then takes this formula and spins it so much till you almost cannot see it anymore—like blending to makeup. And then you go ‘whoa!’, because you didn’t see them coming. It doesn’t change the fact that they used the formula.
Stereotypes are formulae you have seen before. They show because the story may not have been distilled enough, layered enough or the storyteller hasn’t mastered the art enough.
Was there a specific message you had about love while writing the show?
Yes. That you need to love with your heart and head. Someone smart once said “When you see a person through rose coloured lenses, red flags are just flags”. We are all imperfect people, but before you take a leap, be sure the imperfections you are about to condone are the ones you can live with. Also, I wanted to show the difference in the way men and women generally love.
Ile Owo is a horror film, and When Are We Getting Married? is a romance TV series. What are your thoughts about writers sticking to one genre?
I do not believe in it. I think writers who do it are not bad, but stories go in different ways and a good storyteller should be able to tell the story wherever it goes. It’s the same way people say you should only do one thing in life to guarantee success. We have seen people do that. We have also seen people be many things and bag profound success. The real tragedy will be to be capable of many things and yet stay with one because the world has told you that’s all you’re good for. If you can tell sweet action and sweet romance and a sprinkling of whodunit, go right ahead and tell it. The world is your oyster.
What is your advice for young film producers looking for their “big break”?
I’ll tell them what I tell myself: You are only a producer when you produce; you are already a producer once you produce. There’s no telling what the things you produce will become. I produced/directed my first short film with my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) allowance. Just go ahead and produce something, and something else will happen; and then something else. A chain of events will be unlocked. That line of dominoes will topple once the first one is hit.
Some young filmmakers still argue that directors should not alter anything in a story. As someone who wears the hat of a writer and producer, what are your thoughts about a director sticking strictly to the story of a writer?
I think it’s a question of who the director is. Some directors are not only skilled, they are also really smart. They know how to take the story from a 5 to a 10. The problem with writers is that we sometimes think we are the only smart ones in the room. It’s not the case.
Directors are saddled with the huge responsibility of taking what’s on paper and giving it life on the screen. I believe it’s their prerogative to design how that transition happens, for how long it happens, and how well it happens. The writer and director are both very important, and a good director accentuates the work of a writer.