by Ella Bakare
Taiwo Egunjobi has been in the business of filmmaking for about 8 years, since the summer of 2013. FilmRats had a brief sit-down with the screenwriter, cinematographer and director to discuss filmmaking and “In Ibadan”, his debut feature.
FilmRats: I’m familiar with your work as a critic, film enthusiast and as a screenwriter. But when did you decide you were going to be a director? Was it always the plan?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Hmmmm, Wouldn’t call myself a critic but an observer, but thanks anyway. I have always been interested in making films generally. Cinematography and writing just happened to be something I developed on the side. I think I decided to be a film director in 2013 or 2014. I just felt I could do a better job than most people doing it.
FilmRats: Hmm, so it was a thing of wanting to fill a void you thought was there?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Maybe it wasn’t that deep for me but the desire was just sitting there. I had always told stories some way or the other as a child so, I felt I could do it better. I knew I wasn’t going to go to film school too, I just learnt to figure out how I could learn the craft and just make proper films.
FilmRats: So how did you forge a path? How did it all start?
Taiwo Egunjobi: I grew up watching Tunde Kelani and, in retrospect, those repeat viewings of his films and some others inspired me. I’d been writing stories since I could write, thanks to the books I grew up with and my steeping in literature. But it was in 200 level that I made up my mind. Of course, I was writing dramas, comedies and rap in school. But it was different this time. The desire was clear. I didn’t care about my course of study, all I wanted was to make films. From that moment, I sought out the reading lists of international film schools on google and started reading everything I could find. YouTube videos were helpful too.
The film bug continually bit me. I felt the urge to produce something. I was around 18 or 19 at the time so there was a lot of passion and entrepreneurial ignorance. My hunger for some form of collaboration and guidance led me to the best minds in the school and this was where I met young director Chukwu Martin. He had access to a community I did not know existed; camera men, crew members and some technical know-how.
I gave him a 120 pager script to co-produce with me. Yes, crazy number of pages, but what did I know? Martin was gracious enough to rework that to a 30 pager and told us to make a short film. I found the money and we made the film. That’s how it started.
FilmRats: Interesting. I was about to scream when you said “120 pager”. So I’m guessing that ended up being your first film. Do you remember how much it cost?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Can’t remember exactly, but I round it up to be around 50-80k
FilmRats: Do you remember the name?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Sure, Blades of Ennui. It’s on YouTube too. Funny, a lot of folks working in the industry today were part of that project. It was a big deal in school and my director wasn’t playing around.
FilmRats: So what was the first short you directed?
Taiwo Egunjobi: The first short I directed was never finished and I can’t remember the name. Then I made Amope, a period drama. I’m sure I made some stuff before this that never came out. Making Blades of Ennui was great but we got stuck in post-production for a year and it was quite ugly. But I learned a lot. For one, I learnt that it’s important to know the technical stuff yourself and not pin your hopes on someone else. Armed with some knowledge, I went on to Kalika and then Amope.
FilmRats: So, you did a couple of shorts and finally felt you were ready for the big stuff. What inspired ‘In Ibadan’?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Hmm, I’m currently writing about the whole process for my platform. But let me briefly share how that happened. I work with a team –my writing partner Isaac Ayodeji and my producing partner Kunle Martini Akande— and we collaborate a lot on my projects. So, we decided it was time to try a feature film. Realizing we didn’t have a lot to lose, we agreed to make a lean drama, share it around and see if it catches critical fire. Soon, we stumbled on a story we felt we could tell honestly and found a willing producing partner in Temi Fosudo, who was also trying to produce something small and accessible. We wrote it with our joint resources in mind and made it the best way we could. For us, it was about telling an honest story about young people navigating life in Ibadan. The Ibadan essence (that has appealed to a lot of people) is more than a backdrop but an emotional landscape itself. With regards to inspiration, we wanted to tell a story that was easy to make at our micro-budget level so we ended up writing this laid back introspection about the concept of forgiveness and heartbreak. The process was visceral, it took us to many places we had never been emotionally. The guys just got lost in this idea that we should make something very honest and true, heavily inspired by the moods of films like Ida, Blue Jay, Manchester by the sea and Tokyo Story.
FilmRats: So budget first, then script?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Well, we’d been doing no budget stuff for years and knew already what resources we had, apart from actual money. So it was really about finding the story and making it.
FilmRats: Understandable. Some directors are military commanders on set. Others like to adopt a more laissez-faire approach. What would you call your approach to directing, and what informs it?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Well, every madman will proclaim his own sanity goes a saying I love. It basically means most people would tell you good stuff about themselves, so maybe I will too. Yes, I have my own vision, thematically and visually, and I can’t work on projects comfortably till I’ve got that sorted in my head. But I believe in the teams I assemble, and their ability to be valuable members of the collaborative process of filmmaking, hence, I’m not too much of a military commander. I’m not laissez-faire also, I just operate in the middle, with enough firmness to run a set properly while also have fun doing it.
FilmRats: I love it! Where you also the DOP on your set?
Taiwo Egunjobi: No, one of our friends who’s also a director shot most of the film – Fadamaner Okwuong. But I was 2nd camera for most of it and shot a few scenes myself.
FilmRats: I feel like most people who are creatively inclined find it difficult to marry the technical and the artistic, especially for film. What’s your best advice for navigating this?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Do what you need to do to create. Learn as much as you can, even if you don’t like it. Then find friends who can do those things or want to learn those things and do stuff together. That is what has worked for me.
FilmRats: In an interview on his latest film, Oloture director, Kenneth Gyang, spoke about how we as Nigerians needed to start telling our own stories on a grand scale and not be so influenced by the West. As a Nigerian filmmaker, what kind of stories do you want to see more of?
Taiwo Egunjobi: It would be nice to say I want to see big epic projects. You know, swords clanging and stuff, the cool explosions and so on. But really, I just want to see a well-told story. There’s not a lot of that and it is a problem. So it doesn’t matter, drama or horror, romance or comedy, can we generally have better stories? Well researched, finely structured and visually “uncringey”. I just don’t want to cringe.
FilmRats: Why do you think this is?
Taiwo Egunjobi: We traded proper story development for big cameras and big actors.
Filmrats: Hmm. That simple?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Yes. There is also the matter of incentive. It’s difficult for folk who can win the market with poorly made stories to consider doing better with the stories. There is simply no incentive and that itself is a problem.
FilmRats: I agree. Finally, there has been a great deal of misconception as regards the function of a film director, what he is and what he is not. There is a sort of vagueness to the job prescription that even the directors themselves perpetuate. Could you give a definition of directing that reflects your experience as a film director?
Taiwo Egunjobi: Directing is all about leading the collaborative process of making a film. That means, the director must be able to textually, thematically and visually interpret the script, as well as modulating the acting performances.
FilmRats: This was awesome. I could talk about film with you all day but I’ll let you go for now. Thank you so much.
Taiwo Egunjobi: It’s been my pleasure.