Welcome to the #SyncityNGLLL show! This is our second installment in the screenwriting mini-series. This week, we have @nkirunjoku as our guest!
She was a consultant show-runner for MTVShuga Babi; the Ivory Coast version of the show. Her directorial debut, a short film called Oríkì which was also written by her, has been screened at several film festivals across the world.
Nk’iru. lives in London and can often be found on Facebook where she writes for fun.
Glad to have you here, ma’am.
How does an emerging screenwriter become an Nk’iru. Njoku? What do we need to do to have a portfolio like yours?
I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I did. How about that?
I wrote prose and poetry and spent a long time posting on internet platforms that hosted young writers. It was for no pay. I was just writing sha, because I liked to write. I wanted it to become a career but I wasn’t sure how.
I knew a few people in film and TV and ‘disturbed’ them a lot about my writing and what I wanted to do with it. A mentor told me to try expanding one of my short stories into a longer one, for the heck of it. I did. It was a mess.
You are one of us after all.
How did you transform this “mess” into a message?
When did people start reading what you had to write?
I’m definitely one of you. Sometimes I read scripts I wrote 15/16 years ago and I shudder.
I read the book that was recommended, I practiced and practiced. And I trusted my natural story telling talent. Sometimes criticism can make you lose confidence if you don’t get out of your own way.
Name of book if you don’t mind sharing, please?
I call it my screenwriting bible. And here’s a secret – the late Amaka Igwe swore by it as well. It’s an amazing book!
The story was long and rambling and lost direction after a while. It had like 6 points of view and after a while even me I was confused.
I was stubborn sha. Didn’t want to take the lessons. Argued with my mentor and shrugged off his concerns. But he knew it was my youth and my creative ego that were combining to make me silly. Then I entered my poetry for a British Council mentoring scheme.
I got into the scheme and spent one year honing my creative writing. I loved poetry but got the chance to learn long form story writing without losing the poetry of my piece. I developed an actual prose voice during this scheme and then I got the confidence to write more stories and attempt writing a film script. So my mentor recommended a book for me and I got it. It opened my eyes, my screenwriting brain, and helped me gain the confidence I needed.
When did the opportunities start coming asides the help from your mentor?
Like I said, the first one was the writer’s room in Ikenne. This was 2004/5 I think. Maybe earlier. And then more work just kept coming. In our industry the more work you have, the more you get.
Some older friends thought I had potential so they started introducing me to their own friends as a writer. Then a big Nollywood star asked me to write a film for him. Hey god! Panic!
I wrote the film and the thing had k-leg. My mentor made notes and showed me where I went wrong. Then I went back to the book I talked about, and applied all the principles I’d learnt about. The final draft came out good, and my confidence soared!
And that was the beginning. Word goes round you know? And so it did. I got to write on some shows, wrote a film, and was invited to test for a writing position on the Tinsel team, by then head writer Tunde Aladese.
Word started going around that I was a good writer. I was acting in a soap at the time though, but writing was what I wanted to do. Eventually I got invited to a writers room in Ikenna, along with Chris Ihidero and a bunch of other writers. We created a series.
That’s how I came in and stuck my feet in – by taking a chance on myself, and convincing people to take a chance on me, working for free sometimes just to ‘show myself’ and get into the faces of the people that matter.
In the middle of all of that, I also worked with Ultima Limited as a content director for Project Fame West Africa. It was my first time behind the cameras and it was a multi cam show (13/14 cameras). But I did it, excelled at it and became Head of content.
Thank you for that detailed expose into your screenwriting journey. It re-inforces the belief that people have to put in the work of they need something badly.
Speaking of getting into the faces of people that matter, how do we do it? Tomi Adesina mentioned shooting your shot last week. Any other helpful tip to get a producer/filmmaker to give emerging screenwriters a chance?
Unfortunately there’s no cut and dried way to do this but I feel like new writers are luckier than I and my peers were. When I was starting out there was no Facebook or Twitter. We didn’t even have 4G. Now? The world is truly your oyster!
MAKE YOUR CONTENT! Use your SM platforms. Tell stories, use pictures or amateur video footage with your text. Build an audience! Then tag people and ask them to tag their film and TV people. If you have potential, someone will spot you!
Certainly shoot your shot at producers, but let me tell you – people often prefer ‘tried and tested’ esp if they don’t have the money and time to take risks. So get innovative. Don’t worry about your work looking amateurish. Tell that story and push it with your SM.
I have always wanted to ask this question:
How much is a screenwriter involved in the making of a film?
As someone who is a director/filmmaker, is there a need for screenwriters to be on set?
There’s no film if no one writes it. But that’s the extent of the screenwriter’s involvement. The producer or director might need you to do rewrites whilst on set, or not. If they don’t, you’ve finished your work, go home. The rest is up to the director.
In television however, writers are needed to adjust scripts as issues crop up on set. It’s part of the contract. The lead writer designates this duty to the script editor or handles it him/herself.
Do you focus on just setting, background, transitions and dialogue when writing a script or do you describe camera angles, movements, screenplay graphics et al?
Camera angles and all that aren’t your concern as the writer except you’re also the director and you’re doing this to make your work easier. Or maybe there’s somethin that needs to be underlined for story sake. Ordinarily, it’s not your job.
Ma’am please, what was the online platform that you were writing in, for free, at the beginning of your career?
It’s been so long, but the major one I remember was called Nigeria Exchange. I was given a ‘page’ after having submitted several poems that got some engagement. I met a few Nigerian poets there who are my friends till date.
As a writer, after you’ve written like 5 million stories (clearly exaggerating), how do you still find fresh, new story ideas for new projects?
Oh you find the ideas. I have a rich inner world and I am a watcher of people, and an analyser of behaviour. Everything is a potential story if you can see the corners and depths and colours that others do not ordinarily see.
And if you write for tv, you must earn your pay. The day you can no longer squeeze water out of a rock, Ah, e don be for you o.
Why do producers fail to give young ones a chance? I know how bad it feels to be assumed bad at something, when you haven’t even been given a chance to try it. How do we convince them to let us write for them?
They don’t have the money and time to take that risk. So you prove yourself BY YOURSELF with the work you’re practicing with, so that they know the probability of their money being wasted on you is lower than it would ordinarily be. It’s on you!
My question is this: what tips can help one to get over fear of writing what’s not appealing? I mean you know if you express yourself consistently you’d get better but taking that first step is so scary.
That first step is scary even for established writers. Sometimes to start a new story, you have to push yourself hard. You know you want to finish what you start, you know you want it to be good. That’s pressure. It’s your duty to push back.
Let’s quickly talk about funding before we wrap up.
For those who want to do short films(Congratulations on Oriki) until something big comes along, how do we get funding?
Secondly, is there a directory of festivals to submit short films to?
I funded Oríkì and 32 (my new short film) with my salary. I am the wrong person to ask about funding. However I’m looking for funding right now and have been making applications to funding bodies all over the world.
You can get money from crowdfunding, from harassing your family members, from begging your friends, etc. Or asking your rich family. If not, mehnnnn, just go to Google and look for funding bodies. There are MANY. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO APPLY. Just do it.
I use filmfreeway.com to identify film festivals that I’d like to send my work to.
The issue of payments and charging for working on scripts seems to be a hush hush topic. As a result lot of (especially new) screenwriters have no idea what to ask for. What would you call fair for a full script and what would you call a ripoff?
A script can fetch anything from 5k to 5million Naira. It depends on MANY factors. So here’s what I always say – ask them for what their budget is, then consult with a more experienced writer and let them guide you. This matter requires a long conversation actually.
We are so blessed to have you.
Is there anything else you would like to say before we end the show?
Be passionate about your writing. Also, learn when to back off. Sometimes a story is never going to work. Be brave enough to step away from it and focus on making something that works. Writing is a daily battle.
Thank you for having me. I enjoyed the conversation. Best of luck to all my fellow writers. Don’t give up! #SyncityNGLLL
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