June 21, 2024
Colloquium

It’s time to change the story with scripts that foreshadow the future we envision for Nigeria, says Odugbemi

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  • November 29, 2023
  • 5 min read
It’s time to change the story with scripts that foreshadow the future we envision for Nigeria, says Odugbemi

Femi Odugbemi’s speech after he was celebrated for his 60th birthday at the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2023) with a panel session on film scriptwriting in Nollywood

I want to say a big thank you and express how honoured I feel that LABAF would do this session for me, to honour my birthday, and I’m especially thankful. Even if there were just two people here, it would have been a big honour and I’m really grateful. I want to thank the three men on the panel – Mr. Yinka Ogun, Dr. Victor Okhai and Dr. Shaibu Husseini. They are all special people to me. I’ve known the President of the Screenwriters Guild – Yinka Ogun – since I was a young man, and I’m happy to see him here, and we have done some of the most seminal work in my career together. He created Tinsel and he has always been an amazing storyteller.

I worked with Dr. Victor Okhai, when we were at Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN), and I was briefly president for four years. I was very concentrated on the training while he was the director of the training school and we have worked together for over 25 years. So, you are the right man to be here. I want to thank Dr. Shaibu Husseini especially for the work he does in this industry. He has been the chairman of the jury of AMAA, and he has seen more of our films and I think that he has been, not just a critic, but also an energizer for the industry and I want to thank you for the work you do and respect the fact that you want to be here today.

I don’t work with scriptwriters. I work with storytellers and I make the distinctions, because I get a lot of scripts from people, sometimes over 90 to 120 pages, and it’s like they are under the impression that I do nothing with my life. I talk to storytellers because they would tell me the story in four to five pages, with a lot lines, synopsis and treatment, and I know if it’s the story I want, because I see the world of the story. I see there is a character, a protagonist and an antagonist, and I know what the conflict is, as well as the insight of the story, and I know if it’s a story I want to tell, so you don’t need to write a script for me to work with you. You just need to be able to tell a story that works.

Filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi

I teach people how to pitch. A pitching document is what people put hundreds of millions of dollars on, not scripts. If you have a great pitching document, you don’t have to be the writer of the story. The story will still be yours, and you get paid for it, not crafting a hundred pages of nothingness which Artificial Intelligence (AI) can do. I was in Uganda and I asked them to give me a synopsis, and AI wrote the script in 17 minutes. It’s not the words on the pages; it’s the story. The AI does not own the story, but it can aggregate algorithms with the best writers in the world. Storytelling is no longer something done on a whim. At the end of the day, no writer should be blamed for anything. There is a team that should be blamed if a film goes wrong.

We need to consider the importance of team building and collaborations. If we continue to run our creative industry based on the strength of individual capacities, we will fail. We have to institutionalize our production, ideation and distribution, and when we build those institutions, we can have an industry. I’m hoping that by prioritizing discussions on storytelling at this event, we are also demonstrating that we’re ready to do that. The streaming platforms in Nigeria create stories everyday, because they have a virtual writing room, and each of those rooms have specializations with Nigerian writers. Now, we have people who are specialized as script editors, story editors and story researchers, and each room has five to six people who are crafting, and that’s what is done in an institutionalized process, so nobody is blamed.

There is always something to be created, and our way here is also to know that our first draft is never the best draft of anything. I met Ogun in Surulere where he used to write and read poems to us at a bar; then he proceeded to telling stories on the radio. He hadn’t written a single script when I met him, but he was a great storyteller. I hope he’s able to create people along that trajectory where we are not just writing but telling powerful stories.

Stories are important and I want our stories not judged only on whether they entertain, but whether they create a different kind of future. It’s very important that we write scripts that foreshadow the future of Nigeria. It’s the way it is because we keep reflecting what we already know, and it’s not going to take us anywhere, because film is also a refraction. So, you can change the trajectory of the light by the way you place the mirror. I don’t think our mirror should keep showing our society for what it is. We can’t keep doing the same thing and think we are moving forward. It’s time for us to change the story. It’s very important that we write scripts that foreshadow the future of Nigeria.

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