Interview

How I Wrote Figurine – Kemi Adesoye

Kemi-AdesoyeKemi Adesoye’s name may not ring a bell in the movie industry, but with successful features in films like Figurine, Phone Swap, Tinsel, Prize Maze, The Line Up, and a catalogue of scripts for favourite television series under her belt, Kemi has built a solid career in scriptwriting. But becoming a scriptwriter was something Kemi never dreamt of. ORUKPE NELSON spoke with the award-winning scriptwriter recently.

How was the journey from the beginning?

In every journey there is a beginning and end. I don’t think I am at the end yet; I am somewhere in-between. I started out as an architect; I didn’t plan to be a writer or knew what scriptwriting was.

But I loved films. I was exposed to a lot of foreign films and I would say my interest in films began from there. I came from a family where all my siblings went to the science class, but being the last of four children I was allowed to do what I wanted to. By the time I was done studying Architecture for about seven years I decided I didn’t want to be an architect.

I graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Technology, Minna, in Niger State. Though writing didn’t come to my mind, I just knew I wanted to go into films. The truth is that what encouraged me more was the death of my mother. It made me realise that life is too short. If I die today what would I say I was happy doing? Of course my father panicked; I was a science student moving into arts. They called family meeting on my behalf and he asked my siblings what I was doing. They then told him I was trying to find myself and he said “find yourself but don’t take too long”.

How did you come about scriptwriting?

On a particular day I stumbled on a scriptwriting book in a science library. I don’t know what the book was doing there. I forgot completely about the assignment I intended to do and even went ahead to photocopy the book. The name of the book was The Elements of Scriptwriting and it opened my eyes. Five years later, I found the original copy.

With the help of the book I wrote my first professional script as far back as 1999 titled The Special Gele. MNET was having a competition and I decided to enter. I didn’t know anyone in the industry and I had only been in Lagos for a year because I thought that was where people who wanted to do movies go to. I don’t know about anyone, but for northerners or people born in the north, Lagos comes to mind. I was born and raised in Kaduna. So, I was picked by MNET along with four other semi finalists and I said to myself that it means I could write.

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They had a workshop and we were in a room with producers who I had only heard of in Nollywood. I remember particularly that Amaka Igwe was there.

Tell us about the MNET writing competition

Somehow, the script opened the door for me and I was in the midst of big figures in the industry. I was shortlisted and I was so sure I would win, but I didn’t. So, all the confidence came crashing before my eyes. Some hit gold from their first script and it goes on like that, while it took a bit longer for others.

After the crushing defeat I was still around the media and I got a job in the radio because I needed it. I worked in the radio for like five years and that was also a bit enlightening. Two years later, MNET had another competition and I won. The following year too they had another and I won.

How do you feel being at the background where mostly don’t really appreciate

One thing about script is that nobody sees your work; the only thing people see is the finished work, the film. If I asked you about who acted and produced the last movie you saw, you would probably know them but I don’t think you would remember the person who wrote the movie. So, it was the first thing I had to learn. I really wanted to be out there, but I saw that my place was writing stories.

The industry was not what it is today too and there were no awards ceremonies for instance. Though, actors were celebrated because they were famous but who knew a writer? Many people love to go into films because of the fame, but who knows maybe that is not where your strength lies. Audiences might not know you, but people in the industry know you. What opened the door for me were my stories.

How is scriptwriting been paying your bills?

I must be sincere; it is very hard to survive off writing scripts. At the time I started I had a regular job and it helped me not to be too desperate, but that doesn’t mean I was expecting less. It is hard to survive as a writer alone, except if your passion drives you. Writing is not like a regular job where after sometime you are sure of a promotion. So, that is the major reason one has to be sure if it is what one wants to do because there will be periods jobs won’t come.

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What do you think that need to be done to protect scriptwriters

Confidentiality agreement is something one should consider, though I have never experienced a case where someone stole my script or produced it without my consent. But the truth is that it is hard to track a script. If another person picks your script and changes the characters, there’s no way you could say it is yours. One needs to protect his or her work by getting a lawyer and make sure you get the signature of the other party. In my journey I took some risks too, though I can’t do that now.

I know of a writer who wrote a series because his uncle said he would settle him. For like two years he didn’t get any money, but the uncle paid the third year and it was huge.

What do you charge to write a script?

Some writers are gifted in negotiation. I wish I am good at it, but I am not. I was approached recently by a management, so I am working with them. But I am still open to people because we have filmmakers who have the passion but don’t have the fund. I looked for a way to work with them.

How do you get inspiration to write stories?

Stories come from you or outside of you. What matters to one person is different to another; I don’t know what matters to you. Sometimes, a newspaper could give me an idea of a story. People come to do me with stories and I tell them what they have are ideas.

Some people will tell you that they went to school and there is no big deal in what you do, but playing a piano is different from people who have mastered it. There was a time I was writing in the public and a kid came to me asking where I was copying it from. I didn’t know her anywhere, but I later thought of it. To us (writers) it is a normal thing, but it is not normal. So, don’t think everyone can write or have that imagination. If you desire to be a writer, yes you can acquire the skills. If you are gifted, work at it and make your stories.

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How did you come about the award-winning ‘Figurine’

I was a writer and radio presenter when I met Kunle Afolayan, the producer and director of Figurine and I had written short films. He came with a script and I told him what I thought with no disrespect to the owner because it is not easy to write. It was to be titled the Shrine, a thriller. What I had seen I didn’t write because I didn’t want anything to do with it. He said I should fix it and I told him I was very busy. I did get very busy then. He called me, himself, a producer and the writer and we brainstormed.

I could easily tell the writer what I felt but I am very sensitive about people’s job. I know what it means to have your work being tampered with, but the truth is that it could be for good or bad. So, we wrote a treatment and that was it. Two years later nothing happened, though Afolayan still called me occasionally. It was later someone told me that he had taken the job to other people and still didn’t get satisfaction. After like two years and he was still knocking at my door, I decided to take the job. Afolayan said he would pay me what I wanted and I told him I was going to reap the other script apart. Once, he said I should go for it, I went for it. When I was writing it the ideas came so easy, but it doesn’t always happen like that for writers. I remember I typed it and took it to his office. On getting to his office, I left him because I cannot stand it when you are reading my script. He called and he was like “wow”. I live for that “wow” moments; writers live for those moments, but it is not always like that all the time. The money he paid me was huge; I even gave him the figure to chase him away.