BREAKING THE MOULD WITH OLATUNJI AFOLAYAN
Olatunji Afolayan is an accomplished production designer who has facilitated notable and outstanding film projects, television productions and game shows in the areas of set building, property management and art direction. He holds a certificate in Dramatic Film Making from the Nigerian Film Institute (NFI), Jos and is a graduate of Mass Communication from the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Ikorodu where he currently lectures as technologist in Broadcast Production and Scenery Design. Afolayan is also a production design facilitator at the new Tunde Kelani-owned Mainframe Film and Media Institute (MFMI) in Abeokuta, Ogun State, where he will commence lectures during the second module. He has contributed majorly to production design in the Nigerian film industry having worked on over a hundred movies with directors like Izu Ojukwu, Tunde Kelani, Steve Gukas, Kunle Afolayan, Chris Eneaji, Daniel Ademinokan and Iyke Okogwu including The Narrow Path, Maami, Dazzling Mirage, Amina, 93 Days, Rivers Between, Domingo’s Daughters and Ghetto Dreams.
You studied Dramatic Film Making and Mass Communication. Is there any relationship between the two and how have they helped your professional work?
They are interrelated, owing to the fact that mass communication feeds five major fields of professionalism namely; journalism, print, radio/television, photography/photojournalism and film. As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to enroll for a film course at the National Film Institute, Jos. It was such a great experience that I took it as the greatest opportunity that could ever come my way. I would also want to add that as an undergraduate, I had the privilege of working in the movie industry with the best hands on the job. After my first year at school, we were asked to choose any media organization for our SIWES industrial attachment. Because of my desperation to become a filmmaker, I went to Mainframe Film And Television Production company, where luckily I met Tunde Kelani. During the interview, he asked the two of us who wanted the SIWES placement, what other vocational experience we had outside our mass communication studies. I told him I learnt sign writing and design as an apprentice during my secondary school days. He was impressed and said to me ‘Tunji you have a goldmine at hand, you will be useful in the art department.’ At that time, he was getting ready to shoot Efunsetan Aniwura for YEMKEM so he asked me to join KOSMAC, the production designer (my talented boss!) on the job. That was how I jumped on the job with all happiness. When were on location, school had already resumed but I didn’t go back until the production ended! At that time I had cued into that department fully, owing to my vocational orientation as an artist and the little I had learnt as an undergraduate. Then the most interesting and glorious time for me was when Mainframe wanted to shoot The Narrow Path in Benin Republic and my boss had to request for me to be released by the department! That was how it started! Immediately the opportunity to attend a film course at film school came, I took it with warm embrace! The two are inseparable twins because film is in mass communication and mass communication is in film. As an undergraduate, I was already everywhere, working on big and international projects like the popular MTN TV commercials of those days. I was also privileged to work on BBC TV series, Wetin Dey pilot edition as the property master under my boss KOSMAC, who was the production designer.
How do you balance your job as a lecturer and facilitator at two different institutions in different states with work on film sets which have sometimes unpredictable scheduling and require a lot of travel?
My job as lecturing technologist in LASPOTECH, facilitator at MFMI and as a field person cannot affect one another since they are all part-time jobs. I am a freelance production person, so I schedule my time to fit the jobs and cannot be charged for moonlighting. Teaching students at my alma mater is an opportunity for me to give back to the school what it embedded in me and I am happy to be chosen out of the multitude to teach!
You recently worked as the production designer on the epic movie Amina directed by Izu Ojukwu, which was shot in Jos. What was your experience working on the production?
The experience on that set is unforgettable! I worked with one of the best film directors in the industry, Izu Ojukwu. The producer Okey Ogunjiofor who produced Living in Bondage the first ‘new’ Nollywood film, is someone I have worked with for over five years, being the production designer on his TAVA awards. When the Amina idea came, I was shortlisted to work as production designer alongside other notable ones in Nigeria, and I eventually got the job. Amina is a period piece, and it is always tough to meet up with such a project’s demands. As preliminary work, we went to ‘recee’ different locations for filming with the director and finally settled for the National Museum, Jos, then returned to Lagos to plan for the shoot. Something terrible happened though! When I returned to Jos to commence work on the sets with my team, the whole place had collapsed and had become a ‘wilderness’ overgrown with grass, with just relics of the building remaining, without a roof. And we had palace interiors to shoot! It was a 4-month job but thank God it was a success!
What is your starting point on a film project when working with a particular director for the first time?
Whatever the project I am working on and whether it’s my first time with that director or not, the first thing I ask after reading the script is to find out and work out the general feel of the film, colour scheme and so on. I believe in the harmony of colours and try to work with harmonious ones while setting up the scenery design.
How complex or simple is it working on period movies and did you encounter any challenge getting props and situations for the movie since we hardly have a sense of history or properly documentation
Like I said, we shot Amina at the National Museum in Jos, where we had almost nothing to work with. I had to travel far and wide to get many of the set props needed. As we were racing against time, I got point persons in places like Kaduna, Zaria, Kano, Jos and Abuja, who all worked on several items for the sets and props. I also worked with a fantastic action props master, Sele O Sele, which made the job a dream come true!
As a production designer or art director, how do you manage everyone and set the mood and tone for the different scenes?
Well, I always refer to the words of Steven Spielberg, who said, ‘a director is a benevolent dictator!’ Once you have the best hands working with you, your work is as easy as a Sunday morning! Working with great people like costumier Milicent Jack and makeup artiste Gabazini make my work easy, and having an impeccable director to oversee all was glorious!
You recently worked on the set of 93 Days directed by Steve Gukas, a contemporary medical film as the props master. What was it like?
Property mastering is also a sector of the art department so, working as a props master on 93 days was just facing strictly the props on set, with little worry about overseeing other sectors of the art department! I worked with Bola Belo who was the art director, though I am always mostly tempted and find myself working as a production designer because that is my calling!
The work of production designers was derogatorily referred to as carpentry. How much has that perception changed over time?
Production designers being called glorified carpenters is not new and we are used to it! It is owing to the fact that 65 percent of our work is carpentry. However, if you don’t know how to do magic with wood, then you are not yet a designer. We always retrain carpenters with basic knowledge to be able to fit into our domain.
What are the sub-specialties within the art department and how many hands are needed on a production within this department, using the Amina project?
Besides the makeup and costume department, the people who worked in the art department were not less than 25. There are usually many assistants seeing to the different areas in the props and production design departments. Some are attached to some particular characters and scenes.
Has it been rewarding working as a production designer, do you do other jobs outside production design and lecturing and what new projects are you working on?
Yes it has! I love what I do and my background and training from Tunde Kelani and KOSMAC have added much value to my work. I have had the great opportunity of working with wonderful Nigerian and international production designers like Pat Nebo, Kehinde Oyedepo (KOSMAC), Bola Belo, JT CAMP and Damani Baker from the United States. I have also worked on many shows like Star Quest and the TAVA Awards. In addition, I have built sets for several music videos and sound proof studios for people in different parts of the country. My clients include Inspaya, Segun Odegbami, Stella Damasus and Complete Sports. Presently, I am building a set for a TV show for Tee A the comedian so watch out for it soon!
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