Femi Odugbemi: Grooming the Next Generation of Filmmakers



Vanessa Obioha writes that prominent filmmaker Femi Odugbemi whose TV series ‘Tinsel’ and ‘Battleground’ redifined TV culture is taking on a bigger task with the launch of MultiChoice Talent Factory

Over two decades ago, leading video and entertainment company, MultiChoice Africa, introduced a film initiative, New Directions, to empower a crop of budding filmmakers on the continent. The platform was open to directors and scriptwriters with the sole objective to stimulate the growth of emerging African filmmakers. Nollywood at the time was at its teething stage. Prolific filmmakers like Tunde Kelani, the late quintessential Amaka Igwe, and Mahmood Ali Balogun, were part of filmmakers who enrolled in the training. The knowledge and skills garnered established these individuals as masters in the field of storytelling. Through their eyes, other filmmakers were able to understand the craft and business of filmmaking.

Prominent filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi, was also a beneficiary of that programme. Though he studied film and television in Montana University, USA, it is not unlikely to find the Ondo State born gentleman on a quest to find new ways and meaning to storytelling through film and TV. His love for the camera is unrivalled. Whether he is catching still or motion pictures, or leading a discourse about the creative industry, one thing is certain, Odugbemi’s life revolves around the camera.   His lasting relationship with MultiChoice since ‘New Directions’ has and is still yielding good fruits in the industry. A good pointer to this is the intriguing way he reshaped the TV culture with his successful TV series, ‘Tinsel’ and more recently, ‘Battleground” which already has a cult following. Both programmes are shown on Africa Magic channels on DStv.

His latest endeavour with the company, however, is in talent development through Multichoice Talent Factory, a pan-African social investment initiative aimed at igniting and growing Africa’s creative industries into vibrant, economic centres.

“Multichoice Talent factory for me is the most exciting intervention the African creative industry will witness. It is an intervention that I think covers almost everything about our present and our future. It sustains what I will consider the Multichoice family values of promoting excellence in the industry. They have a legacy for doing that and I’m one of the products of that legacy. The initiative attempts to institutionalize, put in place touch points to engage the industry in excellence and to engage excellence as something that is not random but something that we actually do as a habit. It is really an exciting journey that I’m looking forward to,” Odugbemi said.

Launched in May, the programme is open to young and talented persons whose passion lie in filmmaking. It was founded on the reality that Africa needs more technically and operationally skilled professionals in the film and television industry. As such, MTF is spread across three regions in Africa: Southern Africa, West Africa and East Africa. Each of these regions will have a learning hub known as MTF Academy which is the first touch point of the initiative. Nigeria is the hub for West Africa, Kenya for East Africa and Zambia for Southern Africa. The Academy which is a 12-month intensive training will focus on the youth market and a curriculum will be developed in partnership with relevant local and international industry experts. In West Africa, Odugbemi is the academy director.

According to the filmmaker, the academy is meant only for persons who are committed and passionate about film and TV. It is more than a film school which overall impact goes beyond skill acquisition.

He added: “It is a film school, a business school, a passion school wrapped into one. It has the potential not only to empower the participants to become great professionals in whatever their chosen skill focus is; whether they be writer or director, it really empowers them in a powerful way with up-to-date information the likes of which you can only get from the best film schools across the world. It empowers them with technology to achieve whatever it is their skill level, but more importantly from a creative entrepreneurship perspective. MTF will empower these talented young ones to build institutions, to become employers of labour. They become people who have enough empowerment in understanding the business of film and TV, such that each one of them has the capacity to employ tens more of their colleagues.”

In essence, Odugbemi said the intensive training will make creative people to begin to get the benefit of their creative skills. “They have to understand entrepreneurship. You cannot work in distribution,   be it TV cinema or film if you do not have the key understanding of how distribution works, of how selling a creative idea to a television channel works. If you don’t have the understanding of the business end, you will limit what your creativity and your talent can do for you. The difference between the Academy and other film schools is that we want to ensure that your creative talent empowers you. We are connecting creativity to commerce, connecting professionals to industry,” he noted.

For this project, the academy is working with the School of Media and Communications, Pan Atlantic University, to develop a curriculum that will accomplish its mission. Only 60 slots are available in the academy which closes its call for entry on July 5. Twenty participants will be selected from each region across 13 countries that Multichoice operates in. The academy will probably spread its tentacles wider to North Africa and other African Francophone countries in the subsequent sessions.

So far, the response has been great. Scientific methods as well as psychometrics will be deployed in the selection process, though Odugbemi pointed out that what they are really looking out for are motivated and passionate persons. “We don’t want to award this opportunity to wrong persons. That’s why we askedm them on the application page to write a short piece on what motivates them,” he said as he sips his coffee. We were at the MultiChoice office in Victoria Island, Lagos. You can tell from the excitement in his voice that he is eager to kick the ball in motion. The training will fully commence in October. Every financial responsibility involved in the initiative will be borne by MultiChoice,” he stated.

The film industry in Nigeria has achieved great milestones right from inception. But many stakeholders like Odugbemi are concerned about how the industry can soar higher and meet up with the demands of the ever-changing film landacape. He lauded Nollywood’s abilityto soar on the wings of entrepreneurship over the years without a functional power system, while pointing out some of the gaps in the industry. One of such loopholes is technology which Odugbemi said is the only way that the African continent can meet up with its contemporaries in the new world.

“Africa got an incredible opportunity to empower new economy, take its youth off the streets, off crime, listlessness; they got the unique opportunities because somehow the youths of Africa find storytelling as part of their heritage. They are able to express themselves through storytelling. Everything about Africa is a story. Politics of Africa, economics of Africa are all stories. I think at this moment, technology is asking a lot of questions of Africa communities as in how you are going to take the opportunity technology offers. How are you going to connect it to development? The fastest way to do it is through storytelling. If we are really going to match the kind of demand that the quality and content the new world demands, the kind of content that technology asking of us, we are going to have to up the game,” he said.

Issues like these will be addressed at the masterclasses, the second touch point of the initiative. It will involve a series of classes that are specifically designed for industry practitioners who cannot attend the Academy and will focus on single skill sets. Established professionals from across the world will facilitate this phase.

The last phase of the initiative is the Portal which Odugbemi is especially enthusiastic about. “It is an online platform that connects all African creative industries. It means you are connected in such a way that people can contact you, view your work. It’s like an African IMDB, Facebook meets LinkedIn. Filmmakers from different parts of the continent can actually work together through the portal,” he said.

Perhaps, Odugbemi’s greatest fulfillment so far is that he is still actively involved in imparting knowledge on younger persons whom he described their energy as the greatest asset of Africa.

“I think this generation has the best tool for everything and anything they want to do. This is the joy of my journey; that my career has not ended before these beautiful things like technology so I can engage in this adventure. I don’t want them to be me; I want them to be much better than me,” Odugbemi stated.