Efefiong: Hello this is Film Talk from FilmLab Nigeria. My name is Efefiong Akpan.
Let me ask you! What if you created a tv show that rivals South Africa’s Jacobs Cross? What if that show featured some of the best actors from Nigeria and Ghana, who turned onset romance drama, betrayal, confusion and suspense into real life weddings?
Imagine that! Then the audience of that tv series are still glued to it Monday to Friday. Then as of July 8 2020, 13 seasons of Tinsel tv drama series clocked 2059 episodes. If you did that, you must be a renowned storyteller and screenwriter and casting director; who also earned music or soundtrack credits on movies he created.
Please help me welcome Mr. Yinka Ogun; creator of Tinsel, CEO at Mineworks and Next Rated Group. And partner at Initial Productions and Music Studios. Welcome Sir!
Yinka: Thank you very much.
Efefiong: Now let's talk Story directions and screenwriting. First of all, what inspired your dream?
Yinka: Okay so, I’ve always been interested in storytelling; storytelling and music had always been my major passions.
Efefiong: And you read architecture and architecture.
Yinka: Yes, I read architecture. While I was working with Ronnie Dikko some donkey years back; and it was the first time I was working in a proper tv production house. Before then I’d been doing soundtrack for films.
I hung around a couple of production people, because there's some people, I went to school with like Johnny …. Through him I met Reginald Ebere and we had become friends. I hung around productions informally. But when I was working with Ronnie, was the first time I was going to work in a proper production company. And with all the people coming in and going and me going on set and all that. That's why I was inspired to create Tinsel.
Efefiong: What circumstances inspired you to create Tinsel? I mean Tinsel is competition between Real Studios and Odessey Pictures. Now you talked about actually working in proper studios I guess that's where your story came from, but let's hear you.
Yinka: Yeah so; so that was it. It was based on a lot of the shenanigans I experienced, while working with Ronnie and in fact some of the names were inspired by real people I knew around that period. I’ll give you an example the only director I knew was there was Reginald Ebere
So, my director in Tinsel was called Reginald. You know; so, it was like that. A lot of the scenarios were based on things that I tweaked to make them more dramatic. Because I just felt that there was so much happening that I needed to know; people about.
Efefiong: How did it actually reflect social culture from Nigeria or Ghana.
Yinka: Well, I guess in a lot of ways, because remember when tinsel came out it was the first of its kind.
Efefiong: That's right!
Yinka: And as it goes without sayingmost of such programs have a way of influencing popular culture. So, either dressing; the way people talk; even the positive message of the story. Because remember it was an aspirational one.
Now we have studios in Nigeria; proper film production studios. We didn't have them then. It was aspirational. It was taking us going into the future; saying, “What if we had a proper studio?”
Okay that was probably wrong.Yeah, so in its own way it definitely influenced popular culture. It's subjective I mean where I started. I think that you might not think; might feel different. I think it did okay.
Efefiong: How did Tinsel; from the beginning and up till now been able to instruct your students to know what to write. The kind of themes that you reflect, you know when writing Okay tv series or movies?
Yinka: Now you have to understand that Tinsel was the first time we were doing a proper Daily Show. Daily Shows are character driven. They're not story driven. Other kinds of shows, your sitcoms, your dramatic stories, they are story driven. Daily Shows are character-driven. It was new territory, you understand?
We were learning how to tell character-driven stories and now and through the years people have now learned how to do it properly and so you know you have about five or six of them running concurrently. So how you tell those stories is very different, because they're character driven.
It's about the things the characters continue to do. It's not about one major story the starts and ends.
Yinka: So, in its own way, yes people have learned how to tell those kinds of stories. And interestingly even the principles of that are applied to other kinds of storytelling, in which people just break down the activities of characters and start to juxtapose; which is a spillover of the storytelling style in daily shows, which was started by Tinsel.
Efefiong: Well, I can remember very well, when you were trying to recruit me to write a series for you was many years ago. If you remember I sort of did not know about character-driven definition of stories, you understand? But my next question is talking about cultural shock.
You've been in South Africa. You've done training on international stories like Binnelanders’, ‘Egoli’, and ‘Generations’ in South Africa. Given your ability to interpret culture, did you experience any cultural shock. Because I mean some writers go to some situations; you have to research to understand the culture.
Yinka: Let me tell you something. Major, major major; more major shock. Major, I’ll tell you why. We speak differently. So, we write differently okay; and most importantly our realities are so different.
I'll give you an example. I worked under um someone, who is essentially a legend in South Africa. Her name is Mitzi. She's the number one head writer and story consultant in South Africa. I worked under her.
Efefiong: One would also say that our political systems are completely different; because they were under apartheid. We were under, what would I would say semi-freedom; because we were once in awhile under military regimes; you know to and fro along our history. But you experienced cultural shock working with that head writer. Yeah, go on please.
Yinka: So, I’m story-lining and then later when I’m reading out my storylines, I get to a point where everybody's glancing at themselves like, ‘What's he saying?’ I’ll get to a point and someone wouldjust say, but why didn't they just call the police; and I’ll be like in Nigeria we just don't call police anyhow. Because when you call the police that’s wahala(problem). You know so our realities were very different.
Efefiong: Would you say South Africans also had, have, been having or maybe have had had cultural shock?
Yinka: Definitely! Definitely! Definitely! And I can tell you that's for certain, because I remember in the early days there was an issue that came up between Angela and Amaka in which, okay, in the script. I don't know who wrote it; but had Angela referred to Amakaas ‘Auntie Amaka,’ and feedback was like people were wondering if people were wondering whether, she was now having an affair with her auntie’s husband. The fact is that in Nigeria, people, who are older than us are ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles.’
Efefiong: Okay now, would you say having been able to teach students that your students are afraid of research on themes, objectives and arguments, when it comes to writing script. My experience in Nigeria is that a lot of people, who write scripts run away from research. They don't know how to explain the theme.
They don't know what objectives, they want to obtain in the story. They don't know how to create arguments in scenes. Would you say a lot of most of your students or some of your students or less of your students have had that kind of problems, when it comes to researching?
Yinka: I think to a large extent it is not so much about them being my students or not. I think it's a personal choice. Some people write because they want to earn a living. Some people write because they want to be immortalized by their writings.
Efefiong: That's right.
Yinka: Where he wants to be immortalized, his writing will seek to excel; continuously excel. Research is one of the things that makes you excel, because you bring out either the unknown information; unknown perspectives that give extra value to the audience. You will be immortalized; but if you just want to write the episode and move on to the next, yeah, you'll get paid and you just might be lost.
Efefiong: Maybe the next job will not come again to you.
Yinka: You understand, because there's nothing remarkable about you, okay?
Efefiong: You're talking about value addition. I always love that phrase anytime I’m talking about storytelling or screenwriting. That's it's like a screenwriter having his own opinion; expressing his own pain; his own justifications for any story or for the character that is a lead character and that leads me to the question of high and low concepts.
I don't even know how I could explain this aspect; because it's been a problem even in Nollywood. People don't understand why they should add value to storytelling and screenwriting and be able to obtain, move from low to high concept?
Yinka: Well, I again I think it's a function of drive. Some people are instinctively complacent and some people want much more and to him that we get much more he has to give much more. Yeah, yeah;so, if you go out of your way to read off stuff; learn stuff I mean someone like me I read up all kinds of things I watch all kinds of shows; because I just want to absorb knowledge.
I spend most of my time watching Nigerian shows; but I also spend a lot of time on VOD platforms. Because I’m consuming shows and films and trying to keep abreast of modern trends. Because the truth about it is that writing has evolved gradually through the years. So, you find that these days people are you know like we know as writers you have this golden rule of enter late, leave early.
Trust me now people are entering extremely late. There's no need for that old-time pandering and building up scenes you understand. People move from one position to the others. Ability is immediate, you don't have to go on with another scene, so the stories are fast paced.
These are things you need to know, so that at every given point in time, what you do can compete favorably internationally.
Efefiong: I can't fool around with audiences these days; because they are up and up there. They want to watch the next exciting show.
Yinka: Yes, and you see the thing about that which a lot of people don't take it to cognizance is that the same audience that watch your shows, watch international shows as well.
Efefiong: That's right!
Yinka: Because they're so easily available. Now you have Netflix; you have Amazon; if you go down your street there's a guy selling CDs DVDs of all these things you can't see them. So, these same people are consuming international content. So, for you to resonate with them and make some sense and gain their respect. Your game has to be on that level as well.
Efefiong: That's right! You know in recent times Ebonylife and Netflix have just signed some MOU to do the fact-based the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka’s Death and theKing's Horse and hit debut novel the Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wife. I mean, if you look at those two projects that would be coming very soon, do you consider them on the high side in terms of concept or the low side in terms of concepts.
Yinka: So, you see, these are two internationally acclaimed novels, books so to speak and for Netflix to want to explore them means that even they have seen the potential for it to resonate with their audience that is majorly millennials Generation Z. So, these contemporary audience, they've seen enough. You need to believe it will resonate with them. It's going to be a big project. It will not; it might.
I don’t know, it might not be as contemporary as other shows; if you go on Netflix. I mean there are so many shows that are based on books.
Efefiong: You helped script Your Excellency, if I’m right; which is a political statement.
Yinka: Yes, I did.
Efefiong: Now, if you compare what was obtained in Your Excellency and move it back to also compare with what would become of the Death and the King's Horseman and Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wife, what foreseeable impact do you think; if you compare both of them.
Yinka: First things first, if I was going to answer the question, I would say that these two shows will probably be working with a much higher budget. Okay; which in terms of production should instinctively translate to higher production values.
Okay I also think that it's a testament to the quality of things like Your Excellency,where like Hibiscus Hotels and other things that Ebonylife has done, which can be found on Netflix.
That Netflix would choose to partner with them on this project. You know how things are; if you do your own thing with so much dedication, the next man will see the amount of dedication you've put in there, and also realize that if they put more money into your hands, if they support you, you will definitely do much better.
Because even with your own money you've done a lot; so, I think that that's probably part of the thinking that would have resulted in that. But in terms of comparison, apart from the fact that we probably be working with two different projects, they might also…I don’t know. I can’t say for sure.
Chances are that the directions might be different; because with your Excellency, maybe Nigeria was the primary audience; and the international is secondary. Chances are with these two (other) projects the primary audience might make international.
Efefiong: You know at face value, what I meant from the beginning when I asked that question is that, if you look at Your Excellency it's comedy; but very strong political language; and like you said its primary audience is national audience I would go on to compare that and Death and King's Horseman or the Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wife with a movie like Harriet Tubman.
Would you agree that at that level, when you say in terms of technical quality and let's call it classic storytelling; there'll be a departure from Your Excellency, despite the fact that both of them or the three would make almost the same kind of social, political and economic statements, you agree with me?
Yinka: Okay! Okay! Yeah, yeah; because those genres will be different, I agree with you.
Efefiong: Yeah, that's right. Now in terms of aggregate themes and objectives, which define story directions you know. You created Daddy’s Girls, the winner of MCVA 2016 Award for Base TV Series and were sort of consultant on MTV Best Series Sugar 4. For me this is a lot of versatility from you. So, what sort of themes and objectives should inform our storytelling in Nigeria; even outside Nigeria.
I always believe that if Nollywood movies do not tell stories that travel, we probably will remain where we are. That's why I always believe in value addition. So, what's your take? Do these productions or stories define your understanding of the kind of themes we should use.
Yinka: Okay so most of the time, when I’m asked for my profile or CV, I usually drop a condensed one. The truth about it is that I’ve created Hausa tv shows. I've created Yoruba tv shows. I’ve created Igbo TV shows.
Efefiong: You're very versatile!
Yinka: Because storytelling is storytelling.
Efefiong: Yes, right!
Yinka: It's not about understanding language or necessarily knowing so much about the nuances of the people. The truth about it is that things like nuances, the culture and all of that, those are the bold colours you add to the tapestry.
Efefiong That's right.
Yinka: When you finish your sketch.
Efefiong: That's right.
Yinka: So, the sketch is storytelling. I can tell any story. I can tell stories about Zulus; about anything. I probably need some Zulu writers to help with the big colour; put those bold colours on this tapestry.
Yeah, so based on that I think that's all the things that has just made it easier for me to either create and choose across a wide spectrum of historic consultants for a lot of things. I think another thing that helps is the fact that I’ve lived a checkered life and I’m still living the checkered life, so I am home in the back streets of Mushin as I am in the high streets of Victoria Island. I could blend. I grew up late.
Efefiong: Yeah, so if you are watching I’m still talking to Yinka Ogun, versatile storyteller and screenwriter. So, my next question would be, if you, like you said are able to harvest so much from tapestry of cultural tapestries do those bases influence your ability to, you know , become a judge of stories. I know they would, but how do they actually influence the ability to judge stories, screenwriting entries and all that.
Yinka: Okay so I’ll tell you what? If I’m judging Nigerian stuff, I tend to lower the bar.
Yinka: Oh yeah so, I’ll tell you. Recently, I was one of the judges in an international competition. It was actually by the Writers Guild of South Africa. I was a Final Round Judge and the criteria, which was the normal standard, would have been ridiculously high for Nigeria. In the sense that a lot of writers, with due respect are quite sloppy with their jobs.
People have problems with tenses; horrible problems with tenses. A lot of people don't proofread their scripts. They will not dot their ‘is’ cross ‘ts.’They feel it's not important. You read some scripts and the person is like, ‘É go understand wetin I think.’ You must spell it right. You get what I’m saying?
Yinka: So, going to critique scripts based on dotted ‘is’ crossed ‘ts’ and tenses and all that you know can be now really tight, you know. But beyond that, I think that most importantly… IfI have not digressed, I think that the most important thing, is I look for the ethos the heart of the story, okay? You understand, exposition? Is the person revealing these things in such an exciting engaging way.
Is dialogue realistic, you understand? I mean I have interesting experiences with dialogue; because people just write and they forget the character, the characterization, you understand?
How do you?Okay: so, a woman who grew up in the village you understand, she's in her 70s. She's seeing her grandchildren and saying come and give me some sugar. Excuse me!
Do you understand? Does it make sense? You have not explained. You have gone out of your way to let us know who is this woman; who tries to be funky; who tries, who apes everything she sees on tv; then we can understand why she says so. But if not, why are you saying that!
I read a script once and the daughter-in-law was telling the mother-in-law, ‘Mama, your bread, egg and tea are ready.’ Just say breakfast, ‘Mama your breakfast is ready!’
Efefiong: I always say one thing, you see, when people do not have good beginning in terms of literature what are you looking for as a scriptwriter? What are you doing as a scriptwriter? I’d also say that I don't know why producers shy away from employing scriptwriters that know their onion. I told you before that there was a time, when you wanted to recruit me to write be a writer on the series and we flopped.
So, from then on, I told myself for every script that I would write, I will do peculiar research. I will do peculiar exposition. I will do peculiar subtext in terms of my dialogue. But that's what a lot of people don't understand. That for every story there are peculiar texts that you write or dialogue or description that you write; and so in doing so some peculiarities could have their own linguistic innovations that must express the story the right way.
So, the next question would be how would you advise a collaborative harmony between the producer and the scriptwriter; so that at the end of the day the scriptwriter will reflect what the producer wants. You know not when a producer tends that way and writer tends that way. They're not in harmony; they're not on the same page.
How do we go about making, creating that synergy; so that when stories come out, they make sense. They can go international. I always say they can travel and people beat their chests and say oh we sell our movies in America. The diaspora buys our films.
I remember some time ago, there was this conference; funding conference at the National Theatre, Iganmu (Lagos) and somebody said this is how we do our films. Whereas the financiers were telling the producers look, if you do this your stories will travel; so, we can give you money. Believe me, obviously now a lot of people in Nollywood just stubbornly refuse to upgrade their games; so where do we go from here?
Yinka: Okay as concerns the writer and the producer, they're often at loggerheads. It's still happening today. I mean yes even earlier today on the on the platform for the Writers Guild something like that still came up. The truth about it is that, because we do not really operate in a very professional way, we tend to have that disconnect between writers and producers.
One of the people I enjoy working with the most is Ebony Live; because I never had those kinds of issues with them; for the simple reason that developmental process is a collaborative effort .
Efefiong: And it's continuous!
Yinka: Yes. So, when it's collaborative you completely understand what the producer wants you to understand their mindset. It is your job to offer the best advice and everything; for at the end of the day, of course you guys go back to the fact that, that is your client that got you for a job. But in as much as possible you try to give them the best advice. So, this way I’m going with it.
The problem usually is sometimes the producer comes and says I have a story. Then he recounts the story for three minutes. Then he says go and write. Three minutes. Then you go and develop that his three minutes to something that can do 90 minutes; then you write it down. No this is not what I wanted. Three minutes!
Efefiong: And the producer might not even understand the story he or she is trying to tell so how would a screenwriter understand write to suit what he wants?
Yinka: Most of the time someone told him about one woman, whosehusband was cheating on her and to show him she committed, because of misunderstanding in a relationship and everything. So, when you now create yours, they will now say, ‘No! No! This is not what I wanted.’ But you only talked to me for three minutes.
I tell you people have had to work with ridiculous things. I have had to work with a title a producer told me to. Just know that this is the title of the film no story. This is the title! Go and create a story that fits this title. But then I did at one point. I know a lot of people are going through that.
So, my candid advice for writers. First things first. It's either the producer has a treatment or a synopsis that they've written; if they don't have let them give a voice note of the story. But what you could do is tell them okay, you don't have a story really. You have this idea. before we move forward, we need to have a treatment.
So, you pay meX amount I will write the treatment then we will go back and forth and agree on that treatment. When we are both pleased with the treatment. Or most importantly when youare pleased with the treatment I will now go on to script.
Yinka: Which you want it so. It's not that tomorrow you will come; from a real-life experience I once did a script for a producer. He wanted to change the character from male to female. I’m like well that's a new job.
Efefiong: Now so let me just come in there! Let me just come in there! If a writer must develop a story idea to fruition wouldn't the producer at least make effort to pay development fees?
Yinka: That’s what I said now? First things first before you write the treatment you must collect a percentage of money; because you've started the work.
Yinka: When they don’t pay do not do the treatment. When you do not agree on the treatment, they will not give you a percentage up front to start the work.
Yinka: So, at the end of the day before you type the first EXT. SHEAMUS HOUSE-DAY you already have between 50 and 70 percent of your money in your account. That's the only way it makes sense.
Efefiong: It is it will be shocking to you many screenwriters don't understand what logline does to every story that is written for screenplay. You're just talking about treatment some of them don't know how to write logline some of them don't know how to write the very treatment you're talking about; not to talk about writing the going forward to write the script. So could you throw a little light on logline towards treatment and all that.
Yinka: Well, the logline is that statement that essentially captures the whole story; the essence of the story in one line. That's why it's sometimes called the elevator pitch.
Yinka: You understand yeah so, because I mean if you meet this studio head and all that you only have about between the door and the skies, to wrap up your story pitch. It is a statement, one sentence; so, you have to capture the whole story in that one statement; in such a way that is engaging and intriguing enough for him; to either slowed down and say tell me more; which you now move into the synopsis sort of. Or he says be here tomorrow; but you would have made progress, if your logline is there.
Efefiong: Yeah. When you created himself, you left it off for sometime and other writers came in, you know. The production went on. Today it's 2000, what is it again 2019 episodes. Were you ever afraid that the concept will derail?
Yinka: No! No No! You see the whole idea is that it was developed; created as a daily show and the beauty of a daily show is when it's well created it can last for as long as possible. So, we have shows of 30 years. You have shows of 20 years. Egoli was about 15 or 16 years. If it's properly created, it can go for as long as possible. So, it's not surprising they also keep getting experienced and talented people, who work in the scripting department.
So, yeah it becomes like a factory line continues churning out.
Efefiong: You worked with people like Tunde Kelani. You've also listened for Ebony; even produce. If I may say so. You've done a lot of titles like The Governor, Live 101, Sons of theCaliphate, Royal Hibiscus, Oloture, a human trafficking thriller. How have these experiences built your versatility and international outlook?
Yinka: Every job comes with its own challenges; which once you conquer, adds an extra feather to your hat. Because it means now you can do this now you know this; so, I’ll give you an example.You know initially I thought I said something about being a storyteller.
I can tell any story; anything. Yeah so, what I essentially did for Sons of Caliphate, was I was story consultant okay. There's this story set in the North and everything and all that; but the bottom-line is that it's about the heart of it is, it’s an interesting storytelling making the best use of the characters.
You have to understand telling the story the best way. It was very interesting for me. After doing that I learnt a lot of things. With The Governor, I learnt a lot about the political terrain, relationships on that level. How people in places of power at their core are no different from everyday people, if you remove the trappings of power.
So, with Life 101 that one was interesting and challenging on its own; because I don't think any of the characters was older than 20. You understand and I was also the head writer for that. So, everyone brings its own challenge and once you overcome that challenge, you find out that if that kind of thing comes up again, you you can easily deal with it. Because now you have the experience.
Efefiong:Yeah, that's right! So, well if you're watching I’ve been talking to the maestro himself Yinka Ogun, creator of Tinsel. My last question to you Yinka would be, you were born in England. Why is it so peculiar that many of us, who came back from the UK or America seem to do more than or do well-off than those that are here, in terms of storytelling. I know it's about environment, but I would want you to make some comments regarding that.
Why is it that people, who are been to, who are tokunbos; who come back to this country, do better than those that are here trying to tell our own peculiar stories, you know? I would believe that for us to have, for Netflix to have come into Nigeria to have MOU with Ebonylife, it means they saw something. Why is it so peculiar?
Look at Mo Abudu, she was abroad, do you understand? You were born in England. Let me put it that way. Why is it that so many of us, who are abroad seem to do better than people here. Why is it like that? Why is it that we cannot up our game to meet up with those that come back into this country and make movies?
Is it stubbornness is whatever it is I don’t know?
Yinka: To be very honest I’m not sure it has anything to do with that I think it's just a bit of a coincidence. Yeah, because again if you look at the wider spectrum there are a lot of people who are doing very good things and they're born outside this country.
The thing, if you're born outside the country; grew up outside the country, chances are that one, you would have been exposed to a higher level of the profession than you would meet here. That you generally meet here. There are very professional people here, but then you know it's almost, it's like a pyramid. The more professional it gets you understand, the smaller the thinner it is.
There are so many people there; so, if you're been outside the country, it would have probably been it's easier for you to run into people who have that level of professionalism. It might inspire, you understand? that's it. I don't think it necessarily has anything to do.
Efefiong: Well, we're about to close the show. I tell you what, you cannot exhaust this man, Yinka Ogun. I've known him for many years, but one takeaway that I would want to take over from this discussion is that for you to be a storyteller or a screenwriter or storyteller/screenwriter you must harvest from many spheres of culture.
If you want to immortalize your name like he said you also have to do what you need to do in terms of studying. In terms of discovering, in terms of cultures, whether you experience a cultural shock or not, it is well for you. It is good for us storytellers and screenwriters to do what we're supposed to do to upgrade our game.
I thank you so much for coming on Filmtalk. I believe I should have you again, because I mean we have not exhausted what you need to say. We absolutely need more time.
Yinka: No problem.
Efefiong: Probably when we have a seminar or something, hey we'll be able to exhaust all that you have accumulated over the years. Thank you so much. I want to have you again thank you so much for coming along, thank you.
Yinka: My pleasure.
Efefiong: Well, you've been watching film talk we're available at Fimlab Nigeria. We’re also available on social media Facebook, twitter and Instagram. Thank you for watching!