Adeola Osunkojo is a Television/Film Writer, Producer and Director who started her career as a teen actress, playwright and dancer and years later, served as a Content Director on MTN’S Project Fame West Africa for 6 seasons. She has since directed Television Drama Series like Tales of Eve, So Wrong So Wright, Binary Unit and the popular The Life of A Nigerian Couple on Ebony Life TV which she also created, wrote, produced and directed to rave reviews.
She also recently directed Ndani TV’s Rumour Has it. Her movie directorial credits include – The Date and One Spice at A Time which aired on Ebony Life TV in 2014.
In addition to shows and movies, she also directed Viral videos for the Always #MyFutureStartsToday for Procter & Gamble. and the Copa Coca Cola project with JJ Okocha.
She is currently working on a reality show with Ebony Life TV, a documentary on the Nigerian Coup of ‘76, a feature length movie and the second season of The Life of a Nigerian Couple
And she happens to be my sister. Enjoy my interview with her…
Have you always loved film making?
Well, I believe everything that has happened in my life has come together to make me who I am at the moment. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t get into he university on time, so I found drama. I started writing poetry while I was waiting to get into the University and started writing plays and from there, I started directing stage plays and then I moved into movie-making. I started handling camera, then started directing, I used all the money I had then to do a short film and from there, the rest is history. So, I grew into loving filmmaking, different stages of my life just led to the next. I started out from first writing to eventually studying theatre, acting a little and then ended up being a director for film.
I have always loved watching movies and when I flash back to a period in my life, I remember a movie I watched then, or music I listened to then and the people I met then. It always alwys been inside of me, but I had to grow into it over time.
What are your major challenges daily as a female film director? How are you handling them?
I remember asking something about the challenges of a being a female in film making and she said she never faced any. The truth is , to a large extent, if you can read between the lines, sometimes, you are treated differently, as a female director, a lot of times and when I go on set sometimes, people think I’m a make up artist. I remember a DOP saying ”Are really the director? Are you really really the director? The fun part, today, is there a number of female directors doing well and so we don’t have that issue anymore but we still get that kind of discrimination sometimes. People think that hey can really mess with you because they think “ Oh, she s a female, she will let it go’’. But you laso have to understand that the challenhes of female directors are challenges of women.It’s a problem worldwide, women do not earn as much as men in the industry, there’s statistics to prove that women earn less. I remember working somewhere and one day discovered that the male director was was earning more than me and I recall walking straight to my boss and saying ”Sir. I want more money”. And he being a very good boss, who didn’t discriminate, sorted that out for me. The reality is that female directors are treated differently, however, if you are good at your job, things will get better with time.
Sometimes, people don’t give you the job because they don’t believe you have the physical strength to do it and because, film making is a lot of work and so most people would rather not look for a female director to do those things. If you are looking for action films for example, you would want to use a man because its time consuming and energy sapping and it needs a lot of adrenaline which they believe men have in abundance. Discrimination can also extend to, people still basing things on gender and they say “oh this is a woman’s story, let a woman tell it’’, not necessarily! I just feel like I’m a firs a director, forget about my gender and offer me the job if you want me to work with you and I will take it if I want to .
There are challenges here and there, but things will come around, when we see more women being directors, that can be solved.
Women also have to learn to ask for what they want. As women, we have been taught to to be good and nice girls ,to be liked. We need to get over the disease of being liked. Because when you are being liked, as a director, and its just major motivation, you end up destroying the work you have to do.
Tell us, which have been your biggest projects ?
I’ve been a Content Director on Project fame for about 7 years, I’ve directed some episodes of Who wants to be a Millionaire Nigeria. I’ve directed and produced One Spice at a TIme, a movie for Ebony Life TV. I’m working on a web series at the moment. I’ve directed Ndani TV’s Rumour has it, Also Life of a Nigerian Couple, and just a ton of other things here and there.
Did you suffer any form of rejection?
Yes! I suffered rejection, some people said I couldn’t do it, and some people believed in me. I think everyone faces that. I remembered trying to work with a major production company, for about 5 years and recently, they were working on a new production and they actually asked me and I said: “I’m sorry I’m busy, I’m booked till next year.” So when I look back at that, I just have a good laugh because all of the situations we go through in life, we’ll look back and we’ll laugh. It’s just life.
Even from childhood, I remember when I was in primary 2, we were doing studying odd numbers and even numbers, and I didn’t know it and I asked my older sister to teach me and she tried to show me how it worked, saying “it was so easy” the school bell rang and she had to head to her class.
My teachers in primary school were very mean and called me all sorts of names and said I didn’t know anything and it affected me for a very long time, even into my teens and twenties because when you tell a child something at that age… They used to called me “Olodo”, you can imagine that, so yes, I have experienced a lot of rejection and bullying and shaming.
In secondary school, I began to think, there’s more to me than this, maybe if I put myself more into it, maybe I will be able to do well..I started reading a lot and writing my goals down and things picked up and by the time I got to the university, it got a lot better. I finished as no 1 in my class, in the theatre division.
But I have faced a lot of failures and adversity even as we speak, I’m facing some of those, which I will look back on and laugh over. And I always feel like, when things don’t start out well maybe they will end well.
I remember when we were going to start the life of a Nigerian couple, I went through hell looking for the money, people told me NO. I had to take all the money in my pocket and work on my production and now its growing and now I have, at least up to three financial offers for my productions. Now, I’m saying: “No, I’d rather fund the project and sell it”
A lot of people don’t hear about the failure, they only hear of the good stuff. Out of 10 things, I do, maybe 4 become a success and you hear about them and all the 4 kind of cover up for the 6 , it’s part of life. I’ve had cases where my Clients state that they don’t like what I did but they forget the circumstances they put me through to do that job but you know, I always pick myself up. You have to, you can’t afford to stay down and that’s how I able to deal with the pain because when some thing fails, I feel very sad and depressed and the only way I can get back up is to pull myself in the direction I want my life to go. I have succeeded at turning a class dunce into a Phd Candidate.
If you weren’t a film director, what would you be?
If I wasn’t a film maker, I would most likely be a lecturer. I love teaching because it shows you how much you don’t know and how much you need to know. I also would have loved to join the Army, I remember during my NYSC, I made friends with soldiers and I,absolutely, love the discipline the army reflects. I’m a tomboy and I also love the gear as well. Anyway, I would still be an entrepreneur; I like thee freedom entrepreneurship gives.
Do you lean towards the artistic side or the technical side?
I have some knowledge of the technical side but I’m more on the artistic side. For me, its always s about the story. Every story starts with a premise and anything wrong with that premise is your conflict. To a very large extent, I’m more artistic, I want to tell a story and I want to tell it as accurately, and be as interesting and as entertaining as possible. And if people can learn from it, I would love that very much. But I’m also working on learning more of the technical side because that you need to find the balance. As an artistic person,I like workshops and I do them all the time so that when the actors come on set and open their mouths they know what they are doing. I don’t like showing them how to act. I like it to come from within them because that when people can do things because they want to and be real, it looks better on TV!
You recently won a Sisterhood Award and gave an impassioned speech. How does that make you feel?
When I was told I was nominated, I was really touched. And I thank the organisers- Ebony Life TV and Wimbiz for creating this. I’m glad I was able to thank my mother publicly for her support and I’m glad she was there. I really wish my father were alive to see this. Because he was one of the people who really supported me in my career , even though , at first, he was a bit sceptical. I was just really glad and of course, I used the opportunity to put it out there that we need more women in film making.
We absolutely must talk about the Life of a Nigerian Couple, tell us about its success .
Life of a Nigerian Couple came out of boredom, I was bored professionally, I was just tired. And, you know they say, when you beg God for money, He gives you ideas. He gave me the idea for the Life of Nigerian couple exemplifies what my questions are, as a single woman, when it comes to marriage. Almost all of my friends are married and they have their stories to share. I remember doing a class in the social studies in high school and we were taught that the first place of socialization for a child is the home. So, the home is very important and I thought lets do a show about it. now, because im more of the artistic side, i decided to tell a story. I didn’t have the money but I took the little I had with me, borrowed some from my mom and went on set.
We were plagued with a lot of problems. During that period, my car messed up. On the day of production, my mom was sick and in pain for hours, she had been doing some last minute shopping. We had just finished shooting another season of Project Fame, so there was no time to do preproduction work. She, being the strong women that she was, encouraged me to go on set, instead of staying back or taking her to the hospital. I had to load my equipment and props into a old broken down car, which we had to push, along with mine to get on set.
It was supposed to be a web series but my editor told me: Adeola, there’s no way this would be a web series, it is a series for Television. So, we pushed it as such. I had to pay people from my paycheck because I still had a day Job. I paid everyone on the project over the course of one year, a lens got broken and I had to pay for it, we would shoot for 18 hours straight because I had just 5 days to shoot; the actors were tired and burnt out but they still supported me, for some reason.
When we were going to cast for the roles, I spoke to Okey Uzoechi because he’s such a fantastic actor to work with. He spoke to great actress but she wasn’t available and she agreed to work with me, even with the fact that I was paying peanuts. He then introduced me to Bisola and it just clicked in my mind. My Intuition just told me: if you don’t have Bisola on your series, you don’t have a series.
Immediately after 5 days of shooting, I had to rush back to my day job and I still had to edit.
God has been our source; everybody loved it when it came out on TV, we have had massive ratings in all the stations its been aired. The actors are doing greater things after the show. The Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University in September 2016 reviewed the show in a bid to analyse the African Community. We created a short film from it and sent it out to festivals and we got nominations for AMAA awards. We won short film awards for Best Actor, Best Story, Best Director and we are working on our next season. We don’t have a lot of money but we have loads of support and I’ve learnt to start with what I have.
We may have gone through major challenges, in spite of that, we are working on season two. By the time, we put it on Youtube, I started getting calls fro m Canada, the US and around the world. The short film version got us attention with the Distributor we are using now.
The show has gotten me attention and opportunities to speak on panels , talking about Nollywood and about film making. Its gotten me jobs. I started from working in an office and begging people to hire me to telling people that I’m booked for the rest of the year and the first quarter of next year, all to the Glory of God.
Tell us one fun fact about you.
I love 90s sitcoms!
Watch clips of the Life of a Nigerian Couple show here
Adeola is also passionate about women in film and lent her voice to the Women in film documentary, Amaka’s Kin directed by Tope Oshin. See Trailer below.
Interview conducted by Ayodotun Rotimi-Akinfenwa.