Writing for Nollywood

Darlington Chukwunyere, founder of Viddawood

UbuntuFM talked to Darlington Chukwunyere - founder of Viddawood - an online marketplace that connects screenwriters with movie producers; on issues relating to Nollywood, reasons for establishing Viddawood, the challenges of writing for the screen.

The name ‘Viddawood’ has been popping up lately within industry circles. So tell us, what is Viddawood, and what services does it have on offer?

Viddawood is a community of screenwriters who believe in making a positive impact on humanity through film. Our community is driven by a shared, collective responsibility and experience sharing. 

Every writer in Viddawood is gifted. The majority of Viddawood writers are professional filmmakers, we all work under the Viddawood platform for a common goal, which is to better the world through our creative writing. 

Viddawood is open to any aspiring writer who is looking for a platform to showcase raw talent; we have veterans who mentor aspiring writers, we offer consultancy to aspiring producers seeking professional counseling/answers pertaining to “The Script”. 

Viddawood also offers services such as helping a client develop his/her original story/idea into a full plot, as well as the screenplay. Ultimately, all we do in Viddawood is writing and selling very affordable and very good movies. We write for Nollywood, we write for Hollywood, and of course, we have Hollywood-set screenplays as well. We aim at expanding to other parts of the world as we grow our network.

What actually led to the conception of Viddawood?

Film has proven to be a strong factor of influence on humanity, and as such, movies do not just serve as mirrors to the society, but a strong, influential voice that is respected and regarded, either advertently or inadvertently. For this reason, I chose to embark on my own mission to make the world a better place by creating, designing, and painting better prototypes using screenplays. But I couldn’t possibly change the world all on my own, so I decided to find and network with people of like-minded vision. The Viddawood platform came about as a gateway. Secondly, I feel a responsibility to give voice to as many unknown talents as I could.

Does Viddawood gain knowledge of every script they represent?

All our scripts are well researched to avoid misinformation which of course will automatically deviate from our mission to positively impact the world. So, the answer is ‘yes’.

Are there particular genres or specifications which Viddawood looks out for?

Viddawood is a community of writers from diverse ethnic, religious, social, and philosophical backgrounds. Therefore, it would be biased to focus on specific genres. The writers are allowed to flow as far as their ingenuity goes. So, for any potential customer out there, as long as what you seek is of positive moral implications, you are welcome to do business with us, at any time.

The bitter truth is that 50% of Nigerian producers do not regard the script as a priority in production budgeting, yet they want to shoot with the best scripts.

The scripts on offer at the Viddawood online store are quite appealing. But the tagged prices are unbelievably low. Going by that, are there actually chances that one could live off screenwriting in Nigeria? or elsewhere for that matter?

They seem to feel that maybe, they’re doing the writers a big favor by shooting their work, and this is certainly an irresistible luxury for 'up-coming' or ‘aspiring’ writers whose bright future virtually depends on how many big movies they have written in the past. 

You know, the more of your screenplays or specs that get shot, kind of builds your profile and subsequently reflects on the amount you would be charging in due course. 

A Nollywood producer once told me that “budgeting for script in Nigerian totally depends on who you are writing for and who you are”. Sometimes a script might accrue high financial value, and at times it might be minimal, but most times, for rookies, there’s no financial value attached; the works are literally free of charge. 

But the good news is this: the other 50% of producers in Nollywood are professionals who know the value of good scripts. It is all a matter of time and then every producer in Nigeria will respect and value the script, and screenwriters, as they should.

Hmmm … our tag prices. Well, as the African saying goes “every new chicken stands with one leg upon arrival”. I’m not actually saying we are chickens, quality-wise, but being new in the industry requires some incentives, and the low costs are one of them. To sum up your central question, writers can survive in Nigeria, at least with the patronage of the 50% who appreciate quality and professional scripts.

Quite a sizeable number of the local film audience are of the opinion that Nollywood misrepresents African culture. How do you perceive such an opinion? And could this be entirely blamed on the screenwriter?

I strongly disagree with this notion because I see such an opinion as being ungrateful for a rare gift. Yes, Nollywood is a gift to Nigeria and indeed Africa. Our industry should serve as an inspiration to our people rather than otherwise. 

Imagine having to survive in such a hard economic condition, and yet making so much impact in such a short period of existence? Tracing the birth of Nollywood as far back as Kenneth Nnebue and co’s Living in Bondage of 1992 to the subsequent titles, Nollywood has always represented Africa well. 

The industry tries to 'right the wrongs' of society by creating images that effectively mirror society. The producers then were not just after making a profit, they were after changing people’s lives through their contents, as well. 

However, in most recent times, following the high rise of piracy and the urgent need to secure the unsteady economy, producers have to devise means of generating huge sales by dishing out controversial contents so as to make tremendous sales within a short period of time, probably before their products get into the hands of pirates and bootleggers. This has inspired a lot of despicable and unprofessional content. 

On the part of the writers, such producers tend to dictate what, and who they want on their scripts, and the writer(s) are left with no other option than to accept or go hungry. Like I said earlier, this is not a generic image. This ugly practice, however, has to stop, and that is one of the reasons why Viddawood was born. That’s where we come in. We are here to link great content to great producers.

Nollywood has grown at an astonishing rate, judging by the time frame it took to stand on the ranking next to Bollywood. Do you agree with the assertion that the potential of the industry is still far from being fully tapped into? How do you consider that the industry could be brought close to as full potential as possible?

I have a dream, that one day Nollywood will be unified with the federal government, and also included in Government budgetary considerations. If Nollywood could have come this far, without government grants, imagine what could happen when there is government or corporate sponsorships? Certainly, no producer would want to insist or mandate the director to create roles for certain individuals without giving an opportunity to up-coming artists when orders come from above. I’m not saying that the private producers should be totally displaced, rather I’m suggesting a collaborative output. 

Can you imagine what could happen when every state in Nigeria has a vast portion of land designated for use as a film village? Well, this might serve as a business window for any investor out there. Go get some massive hectares of land, develop it, build a film village, you are in for gold mining. 

I’m just saying we need film villages in the country, to start with. This would save producers a lot of trouble, and given set designers a chance to turn the industry around for good. It is the only government that can provide such massive assets. However, communities seeking rapid development could also tap into the opportunity and volunteer locations. All the same, governments come and go, as well as government policies. Therefore, I’d advise the offers come from the government, and not individuals. 

On the other hand, filmmaking professional bodies, guilds, and association like SONTA, DGN, AGN, etcetera, should step up their game beyond seeking personal interests. Imagine that as a Theatre Arts student in Nigeria, I have witnessed countless times of leadership controversies in AGN, which is, of course, a central figure that should assert positive example to others. They have done a great job so far by giving and maintaining the name ‘Nollywood’. But I think there’s more work to be done.

Amongst the scripts on offer on the Viddawood online store, is there any which you personally feel strongly about in terms of content quality, commercial appeal, and social relevance?

Hmm, very huge a question. It’s like when you ask a fruit seller which of the fruits is sweetest. Of course, you’d already know the answer… she wouldn’t want to return home with her wares. Well, removing sentiments, all our products are great in terms of content quality, commercial appeal, and social relevance. I mean, this is the reason for our existence in the first place. 

Viddawood was founded to produce scripts that possess the above-mentioned qualities. However, if you ask me based on personal interest and preference. I love science fiction, I love Action movies, and I’m sure 'The Manimal' qualifies to top my lists; not because I wrote it but because of what it addresses. It is an eye-opener for the Nigerian political terrain, embedded with elements of social reconstruction, and deconstruction of ethnic and political sentiments. Judging by the not-too-good state of the country politically, I feel it would surely serve Nigerians and indeed the world, well. 

And of course, we have very engaging scripts written by Ikenna Okeh. He has a flair for African epic stories written with historical and cultural backdrops. What makes his style outstanding is his power of dialogue, the humor, action, suspense, and the fast-paced action he sustains all through the duration of the story. ‘The Quick and The Dead’ and ‘Far From Home’ are some of his scripts on offer. And then there is a contemporary piece, ‘Wild Creatures’ which I personally find socially relevant. 

What is a film producer likely to look out for when scouting for a movie script?

The budget should be the number one priority of any producer when scouting for a movie script. So, the cast, props, sets, and setting of a movie script should be surveyed during budget consideration. I also think every producer should also strive to consider artistic and technical qualities like what messages are involved, what issues are being addressed, the relevance of the script’s objects and subjects to society. 

A good movie script regardless of the genre must not just make the audience smile, laugh, cry or gasp. It should be able to make someone stop, take a moment or two to ponder over certain things, and not just skipping to the next movie or two. Generally, I believe every producer should consider posterity at all times. 

Do you think the screenwriter should be more focused on artistic delivery than on commercial appeal?

Being a professional writer entails following professional standards and these standards include adherence to ethics and business agreements. Thus, there should be a marriage between including the producer’s “professional” preferences alongside painting breathtaking pictures borne out of ingenuity or inspiration. These very factors are indispensable and therefore should not be displaced or misplaced. 

Let me ask you, assuming you are a caterer, how would you feel when you cook for an occasion and no one eats your food? Every movie script should address the demands of the target audience well enough to assure reasonable returns on investments, else we send producers back to their villages and as well follow them behind. Because once they run out of business, we also are worse off.

What advice would you give to people who hope to break into the field of writing for the screen?

What are you waiting for? Grab your pen and paper, grab your tablet, PC, whatever, start writing. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you must hit the big break with your first write. No, no. Remember you’re the one painting and creating the world of fantasy for viewers, would you rather live in the same world, knowing fully well that such worlds only exist in our minds? 

You may or may not hit it big with your very first script. But only exceptional writers do, and that’s why we created Viddawood to offer a platform to exceptional writers. You are always welcome to join, free of charge if you are that exceptional writer.

It has been an insightful moment with you, Darlington. Thank you for your time. We look forward to great stories coming from Viddawood to the many big screens.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you. And yes, Viddawood will not fail to deliver great stories to the world of movie lovers and producers.

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