“We are creating the future with MTF Masterclass”

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A renowned filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi, is the Academy Director for MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) West Africa. A flagship corporate shared value project of MultiChoice Nigeria, the initiative kicked off recently with the highly anticipated Masterclasses. In this interview with ENIOLA DANIEL, Odugbemi gave insight into the MTF project and its objective to redefine the African movie industry, as well as groom filmmakers, who will tell the African stories with the aid of new technology.

What’s the vision behind MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) Masterclasses and who is qualified to participate? 
The project is conceived for those, who are working and leading difference technical line of our film industry. We got 60 of them doing the audio Masterclass with Dolby, but everybody is selected from the major player in the industry. There are senior people in the audio section of NTA, LTV, Silverbird, independent production companies and Nollywood. The real reason for Masterclass is to actually touch the whole area of the industry with information. We’ve done so much experimentally but there’s more we can do with passion. The world is an amazing technological space; things are changing at such an alarming rate that by the time you think you know it, everything you know would have changed. So, we are not talking about fundamental only, we are talking about how to bring knowledge to the table that is current, global, that is best practice; that’s the only way we can create the future place.

We are doing a lot in our country, but the only way to make our filmmakers prosperous is simply to ensure that their work can travel. Not travel in the sense that Netflix will need to invest a million dollar to redo everything in order to have it ready for international audience; the million dollars should be given to the guy. It’s about time we empowered the HOD for the sound, camera, production design… these are the guys that really make the films look the way they are.

You Started with sound, which is a major issue in the Nigeria films industry, were there experts selected to speak on Nollywood?
Sound is a major problem in the Nollywood. I do believe that our next goal is that our work is best practices across board. Technically, we have the challenge that the sound must be cleaner, better but there are many thing we don’t know about sound that I think we need to tackle. The creative side of sound, the use of silences… few of us are getting better at it, but we need that knowledge to be all of us.

Right now, in Nollywood, a lot of guys are making money by having to clean up sound by doing Additional Dialogue Recording (ADR), costing more than it should. The biggest thing everybody talks about is that even when our sound is clean, it’s mono, or when it clean, it’s been so manipulated that the stereo itself is not so stereo, but our audiences have been very forgiving. If they can just hear the dialogue, they are fine but they are not the only ones that we need to serve.

Those who are in the technical area are committed to getting better, but the question is, can they afford the courses? That’s where I think the industry leader like the MultiChoice must show leadership; they must bring to the table the enablement for these guys to do what they need to do because it comes back to them. The same film that these guys are going to make, are the content that MultiChoice needs, so, in that sense, I think that both training the kids that will start from scratch and training those that are already there actually becomes midterm and long-term strategy. In the meantime, we must make our people better in the technical beat, but in the long-term, we must grow those, who started with an empty hard drive and they’re loading with the right kind of information.

How many participants are expected to benefit and what criteria were used in selecting them? 
You have to actually be doing something before you can be a beneficiary. Almost everybody participating is either the heads of some department in the TV station. It’s for people, who are already doing something; the information is just too technical for someone who is just starting.
Some self-taught people in the industry, who have had some level of success, might think they don’t necessarily need this kind of initiative to stay relevant. What’s you take on that?

The question is, to stay relevant where, in our local industry? It depends on how high you wish to fly. Nobody questions the description of a duck as a bird, but when you are talking about eagles and where eagles fly, its name will never come up because it simply does not have the enablement; it has wing but not of the sort we are talking. So, I’m not keen to force anyone to grow but you know, growing is an economic thing; the better you are, the more you earn. If you are happy with where your life is and you really don’t need anything extra by all means, that’s fine. We live in a democracy but I don’t like this conversation that says to us, ‘mediocrity is fine.’ Regardless of how good you are, anything in the world, there’s always a way to be better and the only way to be better is to get more information.

As the director of this academy, how soon should we expect the students from the MTF Academy to be ripe enough to take over?
I don’t want them to take over; they are not revolutionary filmmakers. If they take over, they will chase me away; I want to be here and working. We believe in them, I believe strongly in their passion but I don’t want them to take over individually, that’s what I mean. I want them to form cells, teams, to work together, to create passion into something that is structurally strong. Not to work as individual, but create production companies. We want 20 of them to hire another 100 people; we want them to become game changers in the economy of the creative industry. I don’t want them to come and show how to make films, films will be made; we want them to come and expand opportunity for other people. We want to have certain mind-set that is exposed and digitally driven. What we’re trying to create are filmmakers of 10 years from now. That filmmaker 10 years from now is not just carrying camera; he/she is making content that is making a difference.

I’m looking for filmmakers, who understand the impact of platform like Facebook create, Instagram TV because content is going to be extremely personal in another five years and we need to prepare those, who will own that space at that time. So, there are lots of technological interfacing in what we are doing simply because they are young enough to understand it; it’s their world. They already know how to manipulate all these devices.

The African stories will never die but technology will ask questions and the questions will be asked of the filmmakers and the filmmakers cannot come to the table as an illiterate; they cannot come to the table unable to explain the kind of stories he’s telling. They cannot come to the table with a cynical village story, where everything is solved by juju. That can no longer happen because even now in Nigeria, how many things do we solve by juju? Those, who know the juju, have died. Essentially, I’m looking for some of them to create apps, not all of them will carry camera; that to me, is the goal.

What are the challenges so far?
I think the biggest challenge in our industry is, everyone questions everyone’s motives and my response to that is to always let the results speak for themselves. I’ve never really been keen to prove to anyone anything. My years as ITPAN president, my commitment has always been to training and to the future. So, for me, it’s a challenge because it means transparency is key to part of what we are doing. I was very keen that we are transparent in the selection process. Initially, my worry was that it’s often easy to create public relations thing and do it like a reality show and throw the kids in like they are kind of zoo animal, but MultiChoice agreed not to make this a TV show.

People understand that I’m a serious person; I’m not a red carpet person, I am not interested in the celebrity part of what we do, I’m a professional. Multichoice has at every point so far proven that they live by the agreement they made with me concerning how we do this. They provided every resource that is needed and some of these resources are extremely expensive. Bringing Doldy here is not cheap; the equipment the kids are using is not cheap. We got like three linux cameras. Multichoice has been honest with their intention and hopefully, it will continue to be that way. I also think that the people I respect in the industry have been great; they come to the table. Kunle came when he was rehearsing for Moremi, yet, he came here and he was supposed to stay for just two hours but I was the one that eventually chased him away. Mildred Okwo spent the whole day here and that’s highly unusual of her. We had lawyers from chambers to come and do intellectually property law. There’s community effort towards this vision that I think is worthy of commendation.

You talked about them forming cells, how well have they been able to integrate?
We created a process to pick 20 out of 3000; despite that process, anything could have happened. They are human beings and they are young, but they have been able to come together; they do their assignment in groups. So, I’m hoping that the group themselves, who live together, work together, do assignment together. It’s unlikely they don’t form a measure of bond; that was what happened to me in school. I went to film school around ‘79 to ’85 and the truth is that some of the people that were in my little cell are still my friends today. So, it’s a lifetime thing but I think I have to give credit to these kids; it’s one thing to have talent, it’s another thing to have character and I’m really quite amazed. They’ve all been passionate and they pay attention. We start here 8:30 every day, sometime I get here by 7a.m and meet them in the compound. They have a lot of homework to do; they do reflective essays on books. They have to read a book a week and they have to write a summary on it. I also hope that some of them would become film critics in the future because there is no better film critic than somebody, who knows film. But they also must know how to write. One of the things I’m proud of is, some of them came here, they had spelling and grammatical issues but after one semester, that’s gone because of the intensity of the engagement.

Is the programme fully funded?
Yes, it’s fully funded with free lunch.

What are you doing to make sure that the major objectives are achieved?
They will deliver at the end of their course; they are pitching, they will sell it like any filmmaker supposed to pitch and sell. Hopefully, those who are in Africa Magic at the other side will commission them and make decision. For me, I think the greatest thing you can have, as a student is to see something that you conceived on a blank sheet of papers, to sit down and watch it broadcast. That you’re going to make money from it or that you are going to win an award from it, is tangential from the initial point that as a creative, you actually create. That’s the first identity point and it is from that you start talking about the economy of that space. So, my goal is to get them to the point of ‘I create’ and hopefully I’ve done enough that the quality of the creativity allows them to find work. They are not going to look for work with uncles or any relative; we are getting the economy for them so that they pitch, they can find commission works, they are able to present a business plan that is clear on how the money will come back. They are not being taught to make films so that they can go on Instagram; they must become entrepreneurs.