SOCIAL ENGINEERING THROUGH SHORT FILMS WITH ‘TUNJI JAMIU SHOYODE
Shoyode ‘Tunji Jamiu is a graduate of Mass Communication from the Lagos State Polytechnic and holds a professional certificate in Design for New Media and Communications from the Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos. He also has a certificate in Production/Project Management from the Dubai College of Technology. In his early years, he spent several years of tutelage under the educationist, Dr. Tai Solarin. As a digital imaging technician/camera operator, he has worked on several projects including television commercials for multinationals, short films, documentaries and full-length feature films before his interest in multimedia led him to Mainframe Productions, run by foremost filmmaker Tunde Kelani. As a passionate producer and director for alternative film narratives, he has collaborated on feature ﬁlms including The CEO, Dazzling Mirage, Delivery Boy and The Naming. With his exclusive managerial skills, he co-curated the Bem-Vindo A’Nollywood Film Festival in Brazil, managed the film section of the Black Heritage Festival for four years and worked as the cinema coordinator for the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF).
Shoyode’s debut informative and entertaining project, Aliyyah’s Wish, a short film on child neglect he wrote, produced and directed was first screened at the Freedom Park, Lagos in late September. Other screenings took place at the maiden edition of Real Time Film Festival which took place at NERDC, Ikeja. The short film has also been selected to screen and is in competition for Best Short Film at the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF) taking place this November in Lagos.
Congratulations on the first screening of your short film Aliyyah’s Wish. What inspired it and why is it titled in the real name of the protagonist?
About two years ago on social media, a story broke about a child’s essay in school saying she wanted to be a TV set so she could get her parent’s attention. I don’t remember if it truly happened but it got me thinking. We parents and guardians often neglect our children and wards due to work or flippant things we derive pleasure from. I must confess that parenting these days is not particularly easy. Since then, I had a working title and started developing a story around this incidence. Interestingly, the real life Aliyyah also had a wish though this is not her story. Although we had other titles in mind, after many deliberations with my production team, one of them suggested the film should be titled Aliyyah’s Wish so I went with that. Being a filmmaker, one is often away from one’s family so I am starting with myself as the first guilty one. I am working towards being around with my family more because if care is not taken, children or wards grow up to become like strangers. At the end of the day, it is your family you have if and when things go sour. It can get bad with some families where quite a number of times, fathers are guilty and don’t even remember the age or class of their children. At times when asked questions about them, they have to ask their wives. Women are not completely exonerated either. There have been cases of unavailable mothers and worse still, some parents are absent leaving their children to their devices and the mercy of preying outsiders.
What was the reason for making a short film and not a full length one?
I have directed a few projects but this is my personal directorial debut as I wanted to test the waters and show people what I am capable of. It is also prudent to crawl before walking and running. Filmmaking has two sides; the artistic and the commercial so you cannot just jump in. One needs to make films and do business; it is about investments and returns. The truth is I do not have the funds to do the kind of feature films I would love to, so starting with a short was the best way to go. I also needed to show work that can garner future sponsorship and support needed for achieving my set goals in the film industry.
What was the budget and how did you source for funds?
The initial highly conservative budget was N1.5 million naira, which I did not even have, and this was before recession (laughs)! I decided to call for help from my fellow filmmakers and leverage on my relationships with friends. Their payment will be made eventually when I get funds from other projects. It was humbling to see people’s love and support. A friend helped in getting free welfare and raising some funds so I could at least pay something to cast and crew. However, I still owe them! We filmed in the house of the director of photography who said we could do anything we wanted except break walls because it was not his permanent house. Other friends supplied all the cameras and lighting required. The school we used threw open their doors, the film composer and sound designer took it as his personal project and the production designer left a big project he was working on to dash down to Lagos to work on my project for a few days, and the makeup artist also made sacrifices. We even had to remove some scenes for lack of funds but I feel very blessed and privileged working with the team.
Some cast and crew of Aliyyah’s Wish; Wale Lampejo, Aliyyah Ibidun, Odenike Odetola,Femi Awojide, Shoyode. Image credit: Ken. Yousuff Photography
You have worked in various capacities on other film and TV production sets. Why was your own production important?
I have always wanted to do my kind of films but it would have been impossible if I didn’t work hard by practical learning from the best in the film industry even after learning at school. Fieldwork is a must and working in different capacities on sets opened my eyes and mind to possibilities. There is always a beginning and though the thought of not been fully ripe to be on my own crossed my mind, I decided to give it a shot regardless. Many filmmakers wish to break out with their own production so here is mine!
How long did filming take?
As I was working with a non-existent budget of N1.5 million only in my head, everything had to be planned to the letter to ensure seamlessness and the shortest possible filming time. After everyone got the script, I asked them to make individual budgets. We were in postproduction for six months as I had to work while the crew were on other projects they earned money from. We met often and planned the film almost frame by frame, discussing texture, camera angles, lighting, mood, score and all the other aspects. Actual filming took a full day and two others, and then we went into postproduction. It was quite hectic especially for Aliyyah who was acting for the first time. Though she said she enjoyed herself, she literally slept on the set at some point! Even when her real mother who was with us all the time tried to wake her, she didn’t budge and we had to wait for the poor child to get some sleep before continuing.
Any particular reason for choosing this cast?
A friend and I did the casting but because I had since learnt from ace filmmaker Tunde Kelani that the story is the most important in a film and not necessarily the actors even though they are key, I was not particular about working with any famous one. I just wanted people who could bring the script to life. Its Aliyyah’s debut in film, as her mother told me, she wants to be a model, broadcaster and actor and her sister had filmed some short videos of her in these roles; children are tech savvy these days. Those videos also helped in making her my final choice as the lead. Someone else had been cast to play her mother but 10 hours to the call time for filming, she said she could not make it anymore when everything had been scheduled and everyone was on cue. However the show had to go on and as God would have it, we contacted Odenike Odetola who instantly came through having just read the script seven hours before filming started. She is a thorough professional with about 10 years acting on stage, and she came prepared even with a wedding band as she was supposed to play a married woman. She was like an angel and the whole thing was surreal and nothing short of a miracle. Coincidentally, she and Aliyyah could pass for real life mother and daughter!
Odenike Odetola and Aliyyah Ibidun Image credit: Ken. Yousuff Photography
Aliyyah and her mother Moji Molade-Ibidun. Image credit: Ken. Yousuff Photography
How do you intend getting your return on investment?
Return on investment is not only about money. Firstly, I am happy to have done it. Secondly it will help in the search for greater opportunities and future collaborations. If I didn’t make any film, I would not have had the opportunity of screening it to about a 100 people at the Freedom Park. Part of my expectations has been met, starting with this screening and I believe I will be taken to greater heights.
At the screening you were commended by filmmakers like Albert Egbe who directed Basi and Company, Femi Odugbemi a renowned documentary filmmaker and international judge at several film festivals, for the nuances, film texture and performance. The celebrated Jimi Solanke, even asked for an encore. How will these impact on your career?
I am grateful for the kind words and support of these great men, and as one of my mentors Tunde Kelani always says, one has to stay humble no matter how successful one is. People will speak well about your film not because it doesn’t have any flaw as even Hollywood blockbusters do, but because they want to support and appreciate your effort. I will not take it for granted that I invited people to see my film on a Monday evening and they showed up. I will keep working hard and maintaining a level head.
Femi Odugbemi, Odenike Odetola and ‘Tunji Jamiu Shoyode. Image credit: Ken. Yousuff Photography.
Jimi Solanke with ‘Tunji Jamiu Shoyode. Image credit: Ken. Yousuff Photography.
How do you think the film will impact on viewers and how can the scourge of child neglect and abuse be stopped?
The first thing we need to realize is that the society is a product of each family. If each household is doing what is best, we will have a better society. My target is to nip things in the bud before they are blown out of proportion. About 4 weeks ago, there was a sad story about a 61-year-old, HIV positive man who defiled a 9-year-old girl who that usually hawks around his house. When asked why he committed such a heinous crime, he blamed it on the devil and the fact that the child comes around to play with him. If the parents of this child were around, vigilant and took good care of her, this would not have happened. My short film is not set in a village but in the city. Child abuse and neglect happens everywhere. You may give your child all the material comforts, send them to the best schools at home and abroad, but if you are not there when they need you and the consequences could be irreparable. When I was studying at the School of Media Communication at the Pan-Atlantic University, our dean and lecturer, Professor Emevwo Biakolo said life is like circle, which must be full, but with different segments that must balance out. So your pie chart is required to have segments for family, work, rest and so on. At times some people dedicate more time to one area while the rest suffer.
What are your plans for distributing the film, do they include taking it to schools, places of worship and the media?
I am working assiduously to get a wider coverage for online distribution. There are also plans to show it on satellite and terrestrial TV stations, and these don’t even have to be commercial. The most important thing to me is for people to see and learn from it. For starters,I discussed with my team, my ambitious target of screening the film at all Parents Teachers Association (P.T.A) meetings across Lagos. My plan is to reach 100 P.T.A meetings in the next two months. It is a short film, which is 11 minutes, 30 seconds long so it is not going to take much of their time no matter how full their agenda is. A film that highlights the importance of child development will hopefully not be rejected. There are also plans for screening at worship centres but it will not be limited to only those places. I am also looking out for sponsors so the film can be screened at many other places.
What is the next project you are working on?
I have 2 short films I wrote in development, as well as 2 feature films. People who have seen my work with other filmmakers and the trailer of Aliyyahs Wish, wrote and sent me scripts for feature films. I am open to working with other people on projects that resonate with me.
‘Tunji Jamiu Shoyode
August 11, 2020
June 24, 2020