Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The world is thirsting for stories from Africa, says Gozzard

By Anote Ajeluorou

IT’s been said by many on so many occasions, but coming from a Hollywood insider and a big name like Michael Gozzard, screenwriter of award-winning American film, Pride, the statement assumes an iconic character: “the world is thirsting for stories from Africa.”   
  And the over 30 young workers  in the Nigerian film industry, largely scriptwriters, listened with rapt attention as they grabbed every word from the master script writer, who is also professor of Film from Arcadia University, Pennsylvania, U.S.
  Gozzard made this revelation in Lagos on Tuesday at the start of a five-day workshop organised by iREPRESENT International Documentary Film Forum in collaboration with the Public Affairs Section (PAS) of the United States Consulate, Lagos.
  The training programme, which ends today, is designed to empower filmmakers with relevant skills on how to tell stories better using the film medium. Content development through proper scriptwriting unarguably, is one of Nollywood’s major headaches. Basically, the workshop is intended to address such lapse.
  Gozzard told the participants, “The world is waiting for you to give them wonderful stories. Even America is finished; they have no new stories to tell; it’s a dead end. America is looking to Africa to give them something new and exciting. What they have over there is dead. This is true. That was why Slumdog Millionaire became a big thing, and won an Oscar. It was so exotic and nothing like what Americans knew, the sites from Mumbai.
  “Yes, the film wasn’t exactly an Indian story but the locale and feel were Indian, which made it different from a typical Hollywood film. But don’t allow foreigners to come and tell your own story; you won’t have control of it any more. Form collaboration here and do it better; you can do it”.
  These were some of the words of admonition from Gozzard to the participants while urging them to take their script writing craft seriously. He stated this while reviewing with the students the assignments he gave them on the opening session of the workshop on Story Telling, Scripting and Content Management at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
  During the interactive session of the workshop, some participants’ scripts were tested out to enable him use them as examples to point out weak points, where most scriptwriters are usually susceptible. So, from such experienced practitioners such as Yinka Akanbi to other relatively unknown ones, Gozzard and each writer acted out the small scenes they had created while the other followed with keen interest.
   In each case and in pointing to the direction in which Hollywood scriptwriting system worked, which was the goal of the workshop, Gozzard underscored brevity of dialogue, minimal directorial instructions for the director, and clarity of materials presented. Particularly, however, Gozzard stressed on good grammar and charged them to learn the rules of language so as to be able to use it well in their script. A badly written script, he told them, would certainly put off any serious investor on a film project.
  In a down-to-earth manner of presentation where participants were made to be actively involved in the teaching and learning process, he informed that he had made similar mistakes before in his scriptwriting career and that there is no shame in it. He noted, however, that the important thing is for them to start afresh using the model he was teaching them.
  The scriptwriting model he taught the participants, which was based on Hollywood Screen Writing System comprised of Story Crafting and Screen Architecture, The Three Act Structure (Act One: Initiating Incident; Act Two: Confrontation and Act Three: Resolution - Climax), and The Three Main Questions (One: What is the Central ‘Main’ Question? Two: What is the Exposition? Three: What is the Subtext?), and Screenplay Format.
  On how to source materials for a screen script, Gozzard advised that there are enough raw materials around writers that they needn’t always go too far to get them.
HOWEVER, on why Nollywood was yet to begin sourcing materials from the huge archive of literary texts available, the Hollywood producer cautioned that getting such materials could be tedious, especially securing the rights of authors.
  He advised, instead, that writers should chose true stories as they were very important and usually rang true with viewers. Other sources to look at, according to him, include classical materials communally-owned, mythology, and cultural history, which the screenwriter must employ his imagination to recreate in such a way that they struck a chord with modern times and tastes.
  Gozzard, a man with an African heart, could not hide his passion for the opportunity of coming to Nigeria to impact a young audience of filmmakers with requisite skills to give Hollywood a run for its money.
  He expressed excitement at the freshness of ideas that were yet to be tapped in Africa and how these could be harnessed to bring the continent up to speed with the rest of the world. What is lacking, he noted, is how to use Hollywood techniques of filmmaking to tell fresh, unique stories, which he believed were in abundance and for which the world was also waiting.
  His next movie, he said, would focus on Liberia and how it became a returnee home for freed slaves in America.

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