Teniola Olatoni exudes creativity. Manic kind of; her countenance gives her away as such. It may not be far from her multiplicity of talent which impulsively throb her. A Disc Jockey, a Mobile Rave organiser, a Bartender, and now a Filmmaker, Olatoni has done more than mentioned. The CEO and Creative Head at Sourmash Stories Production in this chat with Ferdinand Ekechukwu talks about growing up, family, journey into theatre and film, her directorial debut, “The New Normal”, which
has been so well received, and more about her that is hitherto unknown
Who is Teniola Olatoni?
Teniola Olatoni is a 40 something-year-old creative who loves God, family, film, adventure, creating new things, has always wanted to tell stories and lives life voraciously on her own terms.
What was it like growing up and what fond childhood memory do you hold?
Growing up surrounded by my siblings and cousins, many days felt like special events! Fondest memories include creeping to watch Mirror In The Sun and Behind The Clouds when we should have been in bed, learning the lines of Jimi Odumosu’s Fiery Force and Lola Fani-Kayode’s Mind Bending and acting it out! I’m laughing at the memories even now. Those were definitely fun times.
How did your background and formative years shape you?
My parents Lanre and Dupe Ogunlesi as well as my Grandparents on both sides are disciplined, hardworking folks. So there is no excuse and no room for nonsense. They taught me love of self, love of fellow beings, kindness and respect for all, to be confident, and follow my dreams. So, each time someone says to me ‘you are so humble’, I want to ask, ‘as opposed to what?’ The manifestation of their constant love and support is the Teniola you see today.
At what point did you start thinking about making movies and would you be seen taking up any acting role soon?
Ah! No acting for me o! I am enough drama on my own! Coloured hair, piercings and tattoos? Behind the camera and prepping the production is where I am happiest. I am elated my directorial debut The New Normal has been so well received.
What other profession would have caught your fancy if you had not opted for what you are doing now?
I have been a DJ, a Mobile Rave organiser, a Bartender, Owner/Manager at Adam & Eve Luxury Homeware Store, Creative Genius at Gems of Nubia Contemporary Jewelry, Restauranteur at La Cachette and Rodizzio to get here. 1st of January 2018, it was crunch time. Note to self was ‘Do it NOW or forever shut up!’ Two and a half years later, here we are post film school and theater production of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, it’s The New Normal! This for me has been a 20+ years dream deferred and I am just so thrilled to finally be doing it.
How supportive were your family and friends to your decision to venture into movie making?
Extremely so! Everyone went above and beyond to support, especially with locations and other logistics otherwise this would have cost thrice as much and probably not as good. Your tribe has to be in your corner o!
Your latest movie, The New Normal, has been widely received, with two prestigious awards. Tell us about the journey to making it and what was the motivation behind the movie?
I had a bunch of stories playing around in my head that just needed to be told. Things I have encountered and watched other people deal with. Things so many people experience but as a society, we never talk about. I see how people suffer in silence, afraid of other people’s judgement and unable to seek solutions even for the smallest things. I shared them with my writer, Tunde Babalola and he did an amazing job with the script. I was nervous about directing it myself. Tunde and Tobi (my Associate Producer) said to me ‘Teni, it’s your story, you tell it!’ I borrowed brain from there and it was game on!
How has the reception been at home, what is your projection and will it go on Netflix after the cinema run?
Reception has been brilliant! The feedback from those who have watched it has been overwhelming. I just want to encourage more people to go see it. You’ll learn a thing or two and you’ll definitely be better for it. The characters are so relatable. You’ll find yourself changing how you think and treat people. We are exploring all avenues to make sure everyone gets to see it.
What has the experience been like since venturing into Nollywood?
Nollywood is growing, getting better and if we all keep bringing our A game to the table, we will all reap the rewards. I’m resilient and I’m here to stay – like it or lump it.
You seem to appear more in casuals. What’s your definition of style?
My definition of my style is Teni o! I’m always dressed for comfort first and I always do me.
What has been your high and low moment in life?
I don’t do lows o! I am thankful for every moment and count on God to make it all end in praise. High moments – being alive, seeing my children grow and develop and of course seeing my name and movie in lights!
It’s a common notion (probably wrong) that showbiz is no place for decent women who want to build a home and family. In your assessment, what do you think?
That has to be one of the most condescending statements if ever and a terrible mindset to have. It is just another way of limiting great potential. Many of us have successful balanced home life, thriving children and careers. And decent by whose standards anyway?! Abeg they should get with ‘The New Normal!’ In fact, they should go and watch it to help them keep their judgmental boots at bay.
You are the CEO and Creative Head at Sourmash Stories Production. Tell us more about this company?
It is hard work but I am so enjoying it and having fun all the way. Sourmash Stories is my medium for telling stories via Film, Theatre or TV. As long as it is strong, impactful stories, we are there.
What’s the plan for Teniola Olatoni moving forward…what next can we look forward to from you?
More stories of course. Follow us @sourmashstories and me @teniolaolatoni on social media for regular updates.