BY ROTIMI AGBANA
Nigerian documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, cinematographer, director, producer, photographer and rector, Multichoice Talent Factory, Femi Odugbemi, in an interview with Potpourri, speaks on the activities of the MTF Academy, its long-term objectives and goals.
What is different about Multichoice Talent Factory?
We promised three things and we plan to deliver on them. We promised a curriculum that is technically strong and functionally solid on international best practices. One of the things we look at in picking our students are their IQs. They make films; they shoot it, edit it and I have not been involved in whatever they do. They have an editing room; they all have laptops that have editing software on it. They are in groups where they make films, they pitch here regularly every week but beyond that, they are also required to read and we are building a library. We’ve got an e-library and we’ve got wonderful book donations from great people. We have about 500 books now. They read every week and they write a reflective essay, so it’s both theoretical and practical. But I think what makes a difference is they’ve also met people in the industry who I think are doing the real things not only as celebrities but as artistes. So, they’ve got to ask them about their process, not about their result. We’ve also taught them about banking and finance and I feel we’re on the right path, both here, in Kenya and Zambia. We’ve started our master classes and that series is expected to build what we want to call global brands to interface with people in our industry. A big difference that MTF has made is that a global player like Multichoice is putting its money to ensure that the intervention is not just about buying films but actually investing in the people who are going to make the difference and make better films.
What are the specific immediate and long-term objectives of the MTN master class and for whom were they conceived?
The master classes were conceived for those who are working and leading the different technical lines in our industry. We’ve got 60 of them at the event center already doing the audio sound master class with Dolby and every one of them were selected from major players in the industry. There are senior NTA audio producers, audio personnel from LTV, Silverbird, independent production companies and Nollywood. The real reason we are doing the master class is to actually try to touch all the areas in the industry. There’s a lot we’ve done experimenting; there’s a lot you can do on Google and there’s a lot you can do with your own passion. But the world is an amazing technological space, things are changing at an alarming rate that when you think you know it, everything has changed.
So we’re not talking about the fundamentals only, we’re talking about how to bring knowledge to the table that is current, that is global, that is best practice because that’s the only way we’re going to change the future and the only way to calculate that is to find whoever is already the best that we have and put information at their disposal so that we can be the best and compete internationally. We’re doing a lot in our country, simply by passion but the only way to make our film makers prosperous is to ensure that their work can travel. And by travel, it means Netflix will not have to spend a million dollars to re-do everything again in order to have it ready for an international audience. It’s about time our film makers, not the guy whose name is in the papers; I’m talking about the heads of department for the sound, camera, production and design. These guys are the ones that really make films look the way they look and empowering them is the goal, that’s the process.
READ ALSO: Black Panther movie nominated for Oscar
I started out in NTA in 1986 but there are people I left in NTA who have not attended one course since they’ve been in NTA and guess what, they produce every day. The people on our social media, the stars of our industry don’t make a film once every six months. They are on the road every day and I feel when we give, we must give across board. Multichoice is an independent company but it’s a leader in an industry, it owes that industry something and that’s the argument. So whether it’s Silverbird, NTA or Channels, we will collaborate with all and hopefully try to build this, simply by putting something in. The whole goal is this, no more time for complaining and it’s easy to cut things down and say this is not good enough but I hope it’s a season when we all do something. I do believe that our next goal should be that our work is best practiced across the globe. It’s not just about whether the sound is good or not but of course we know technically our challenge has been that the sound has to be clearer. But there are also many things we don’t know about sound that I think we’re also eager to know.
The creative type of sound, the use of silences, the way we use music, scores are part of it. A few of us are getting better at it but we need that knowledge to reach all of us. If we started out with the knowledge of recording cleanly, we will spend less. But can they afford the courses? That’s why an industry leader like Multichoice must show leadership. They must be ready to bring to the table the enablement they need because it comes back to them. The same films they are going to make are the contents Multichoice needs. In that sense, I think both training the kids that will start from scratch and training those who are already there becomes a mid-term and long-term strategy. Meanwhile, we must make our people better in the technical beats and in the long-term, we must grow those who start out with an empty hard drive by loading them with the right kind of information.
What criteria were used in selecting participants for the master classes?
I’ve said it earlier; you have to be doing something. The reason we’ll allow a beginner to join in is just to witness our process. The real problem with us in Nigeria is that we question every good intention, so it’s always a burden to have neutral people who don’t know production enough to know the quality of information that Dolby is putting on the table. We’re not the dumping ground for crap, old information, so it’s important that is also authenticated. Almost everybody here is a head of sound departments in a TV station and of course, we work with the Guild of Sound which is also important for me. But the critical thing is that the guild cannot really understand that what we are doing is for people who are already working; who are already doing something and the information is way too technical and too high for someone who is just starting.
There is a kind of attitude among self-taught people. They don’t need this kind of platform to stay relevant in the industry. What can you say about this?
It depends on how high you wish to fly in this industry. I’m not keen on forcing anyone to grow but you know growing is an economic thing. The better you are the more you can earn. Regardless of how good you are at anything in the world, there’s always a way to be better and the only way to be better is to get more information. We need our media to push the films that are important to grow. Nobody invites us to do film festivals just so we see a Nollywood person live. We now have young Nollywood film makers who are getting up to it. So, if you are a mediocre, your chances of making it in this industry are so slim. The two Nollywood actors that were invited to the Oscars have always been in England, so your nationality has nothing to do with your capacity. So, for those who are happy with what they are now, our training wouldn’t be for them because the first qualification is to be passionate and hungry to look for excellence. If we’re bringing the courses to the table, you should bring some measure of hunger too because nobody can be forced to learn something new.
As the rector, what’s your projection for these guys? How soon will they be ripe enough to take over the movie industry?
I don’t want them to take over; they are not a revolutionary influence. We believe in them and I don’t want them to “take over” individually so to say. I want them to form cells, teams to work together, to recreate the passion into something structurally strong, not to work as individual film makers but to 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, not to just show how to make films but to expand opportunities for other people. We want them to come with an exposed mindset that is digitally driven. What I’m trying to create is a film maker who 10-years from now won’t just be carrying cameras but will be making contents that will make a difference. We’re looking forward to having film makers who understand the impact platforms like Facebook, Instagram and the rest creates, because content will no longer be extremely personal in the next 5-years and we need to prepare those who will own that place at that time now. So there is a lot of technological interface in what we are doing and they already know how to manipulate these devices. So the question is how to tell the stories that are also customized for these devices. The African story will never die but technology will ask questions that will be directed at the film maker who cannot come to the table an illiterate or a novice or without the ability to explain the kind of story he is telling. Essentially, that’s the goal and in 5-years they should be able to form production teams and create digital platforms not just carrying cameras because for me, carrying cameras will end in another 5-years, technology will guarantee it.
Projects like this don’t come without challenges. What are the challenges you encountered while putting this together?
The biggest challenge in the industry is that everyone questions everyone’s motive and my response is always to let the result speak for itself. I’ve never really been keen to prove anything to anyone. My commitment has always been on training. For me, it is a challenge because it simply means that transparency is a very key part of what we are doing. I was very keen that we are transparent in the selection process, we made it digital. What would have been a challenge would have been that if this level of support will be sustainable. Initially, my worry was that it’s often easy to create a public relations thing.