It All Starts With The Script: An Interview With Chika Anadu

NYFA: Would you mind telling us a bit about your background and what attracted you to filmmaking?

Chika Anadu: I was born and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria. When I was 16, I went to England to continue my education. My first degree is in Law and Criminology, and my Masters is in Africa: Human and Sustainable Development.

I’ve always loved film, from when I was a child. I always saw things in films that no one else around me saw, even the adults. It’s always been magic to me. But I never considered it as a profession because filmmaking was not a thing in Nigeria then. It’s a classic case of “if you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” In 2006 I was back in Nigeria for my Youth Service (a compulsory governmental work scheme for Nigerian Citizens with University degrees), and I saw the Italian Film Cinema Paradiso, and it was as if a light bulb went on in my head. I knew this was what I should be doing. That it had been staring me in the face, literally, my whole life, and I didn’t see it….

NYFA: Is there a particular lesson that you learned in your NYFA Screenwriting Workshop that you continue to apply to your own work?

CA: When the NYFA came to Nigeria for the first time in February/March 2010 with a slate of 4 week courses, I enrolled in the Screenwriting class (the best decision of my life) instead of the Directing class, even though I knew I wanted to be a director (at the time I had just made 2 short films).

I learned about structure, as it applies to story telling. In class we watched a film every morning, and broke it doing structurally afterwards, and then did practice exercises.   I had seen all but one of these films already, but afterwards I saw them in a new light. We take it for granted when we watch films whose storylines work. We only notice when it doesn’t work.

Using construction analogy, the script is the foundation. If you mess it up, your house/building is sunk. As they say, you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script.

NYFA: How do you feel that attending a NYFA workshop helped you to develop as a filmmaker?

CA: I learned that it all starts with the script. Get that right, and you have a fighting chance of making a decent film, and in turn making it in this brutal industry.

NYFA: Your films have appeared and done quite well at a number of prestigious festivals including the BFI London Film Festival, the AFI Fest, and Rotterdam Film Fest. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers to have their films selected for festivals? How important do you find festivals for not only promoting your own work, but also bringing together a community of filmmakers and journalists who might not otherwise know about each others’ work?

CA: I started thinking about festivals when I was writing my script. You need to be realistic about where the type of film you’re making can be programmed, especially if your last name isn’t Coppola.

I think there are four things to think about. What festivals your film could realistically fit into, the festivals’ standing/prestige, their Location, and do they have a competition section for first time feature filmmakers.

The best advice I got about film festivals is to be very careful where I premiere. If you can get into an important film festival, great, but be careful because unless you’re in competition or win something, your film will be lost while everyone is giving attention to the Hollywood indies. And by everyone I mean the reviewers for the main film magazines and the programmers.

So for example, instead of Cannes or Venice or Toronto, you may want to choose the London Film Festival because it is big and is also the main film festival in London, which is a major city with a diverse population, and huge media presence. They also have a competition section for first time filmmakers. Films in competition get press screenings, and a lot of push, which you will need if you don’t have Brad Pitt in your film.   A big festival, if you’re in competition, will likely pay for you to come for the festival, and then you can schmooze. Meet your audience, programmers, producers, media, and best of all, other filmmakers like you. You’ll swap stories with the latter, and feel better because you’ll know that you’re not totally alone in your suffering. You may not love the schmoozing part, but it’s a job hazard and necessary.

If you’re lucky, it kind of falls into place from there. You get reviewed by major film websites/magazines, and other good festivals could start emailing you and asking to program your film. There are no guarantees of course, because there are at least a thousand people with first features freshly in the can. But you might want to find out the contact emails of the programmers for the festivals you think your film would fit. Contact them even before your film is ready, so you can build a kind of relationship with them. In my little experience, I’ve noticed that programmers program the films of filmmakers they know. Good or bad.

NYFA: Following on the above question, you won the Breakthrough Audience award at the AFI Fest last November for your feature film debut B for Boy. How has this award and the recognition that comes with it effected your career?

CA: I got even more emails from other film festivals who wanted to program my film. And more people started following me on Twitter:)

NYFA: B for Boy tackles head-on the gender discrimination women face in Nigeria by telling the story of a pregnant woman who desperately wishes to have a male child. In which ways do you find the themes and narrative in the movie particular to Nigerian culture? And on a larger scale, what does it speak to regarding the way women are perceived and treated by global society?

CA: The two main themes I explore in B for Boy are the uneasy co-existence of modern and traditional culture in Nigeria. A woman is encouraged to get a good education, a great job, but she must conform and get married and have children – at least one of which must be a boy.

The second theme is that these injustices are perpetuated and sustained by other women. The victims become the victimizers, so to speak.

I’m glad you say gender discrimination because that is what it boils down to quite simply, and this is a universal problem. Men and women are under pressure to fit society’s idea of what male is and what female is. The key difference is that all the things a woman should be, sugar, spice and all that’s nice, is bloody hard. A woman is expected to be smart, not too smart though or men won’t think you’re sexy. Be sexy (I hate that word) , but not too sexy or you’ll only be good for being the bit on the side. Be successful, but not too successful or men will feel threatened and you won’t get a husband. The latter was reiterated by a U.S female senator or congresswoman when they were debating the equal pay act (victim becomes the victimizer). Why should there even be a debate about equal pay in the United States of America in 2014? Isn’t that crazy?

It’s like society expects the life of a woman to revolve around how she’s perceived by men. We’re not allowed to indulge in the large spectrum of human emotions, especially if we’re not looking sexy doing it, lest we appear less desirable to men. It’s made a lot of us miserable or irritated. I’m in the latter group, and I’m lucky that in B for Boy I have the medium to show the insanity, and hopefully it starts a debate that will stop it.

NYFA: The Nigerian film industry has grown exponentially in the past decade with Nigerian filmmakers and actors receiving increased attention from the global film community. Do you feel that Nollywood has grown in a positive direction? How has being a Nigerian filmmaker shaped the stories you tell?

CA: I think of Nollywood as a genre, as opposed to the Nigerian film industry as a whole. I really can’t speak for or about Nollywood because I work outside of it. But it has grown exponentially, yes.

As a Nigerian, so far I’ve only told stories about Nigerians because I write my own stuff, and you write what you know, and I know Nigerians. As a budding filmmaker, you’re still discovering you as a storyteller, so I’ve found that in the beginning successful story telling is better achieved the closer to home (the familiar) you stay i.e with regard to the themes in your story, the locations, your characters.

NYFA: What was the inspiration for the fantastic name of your company No Blondes Productions? Does the name hint at a certain philosophy or concept you seek to promote or explore through your film work?

CA: Well, the meaning is two fold. I’m saying no to women being judged, or judging themselves based on their bodies instead of their brains. And no to the western idea of beauty (skinny, blonde, and light or white skinned).

As a filmmaker I seek to question the status quo. “That’s how it is, or how it’s always been”, is not a good enough answer for me.

NYFA: Any parting advice you have to give female filmmakers who are looking to realize their visions on the big screen?

I need advice myself! I’m only just starting my career, but what has made it easier at times is to know that there are other people going through the same challenges as me. So get in touch and stay in touch with other female filmmakers (our journey is different because of our gender, like it or not). And work with other talented women on your crew. If we don’t employ each other, who will?

It All Starts With The Script: An Interview With Chika Anadu by