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. Quote: 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. Mysterious mission to reclaim glory of a race By Anote Ajeluorou When the prophecy for the retrieval of a mysterious flute that disappeared some 500 years ago is about to manifest, certain unseen forces create fresh hurdles that nearly make the task of reclaiming the lost glory impossible. Odili Ujubuonu’s novel, Pride of the Spider Clan (Jalaa Writers’ Collective; Lagos; 2011), the concluding part of a sequel, is one of the works to come out of the initiative of some nine writers to take their publishing destiny in their own hands in the wake of failings by so-called established publishers to make a difference in writers’ lives. It’s a work that takes the readers through the dark mazes of a quest to reclaim the lost totem of a race, and by so doing, restore its diminished pride. Odidika is a child born in mysterious circumstances. His father and mother had been killed in mysterious circumstances because the village head and usurper wanted to bury the truth. The unborn child held the key to opening the vault of ancient secrets of the Aro people, about their lost heritage in the form of a flute that went missing many years ago. However, the child, delivered just before the mother died, survives and is whisked away by his aunt who did not believe in the innocence of her sister in a crime she did not commit. Thus, Odidika escapes his first enemies at birth to live in a community of osu, or slaves, though a freeborn. From then on, his life becomes one of near mishaps until adolescence when he goes under the tutelage of Ikedike, a wealthy farmer and wine producer. Then Odidika finally escapes Unegbu’s murderous hands for messing with his daughter and gets shipped off to Kirike, a coastal town in the Niger Delta. Meanwhile, Odidika’s fate is tied to that of a family through whose roots the missing flute would be recovered. There was the Nweke’s royal family, the true custodian of the lost flute, whose history is a tortuous one. Their destiny and survival are tied to the recovery of the flute. Indeed, Odidika is the Nwa Aro, the instrument through which the flute would be recovered. But this vital knowledge is hidden even from the wise men of Aro clan and Nweke’s family of which Isikamdi becomes the inheritor of an ancient burden to regenerate his race. What they have are mere conjectures and vague indications; yet their belief in the certainty of the prophecy and its fulfillment is unshakable even when they do not know how it would come to fulfillment. When Isikamdi comes of age and his uncle, Kambite, who is regent in his stead, confides the secret of their endangered clan on him and entrusts him with the charge to seek out solutions, he hesitates. But when the time comes, Isikamdi knows he has no choice in the matter. Indeed, while Odidika plays his ominous part in the unfolding drama of the flute recovery in Kirike and eventually returns to Mbaosu and finally to Akantu in Mbaozo, a land of freeborn, Isikamdi’s Odyssey is just beginning. He is to follow the long trail of the flute that had changed hands over times (500 years) and in the opposite direction from which Odidika had travelled, the unwilling custodian of the much sought-after flute. Like Odidika, Isikamdi embarks on a perilous journey from which he almost gets drowned in the treacherous creeks; gets rescued by Piriye, the malevolent princess of Kirike, who has her own sinister designs on the fated flute, and transforms Isikamdi into an ogre, and sends him on yet another perilous trip to fetch the flute from the Aro witch doctor, Fiberesima, who is also on a mission to retrieve the flute. Defeated, Isikamdi returns empty-handed. But so the prophecy is fulfilled, Fiberesima sends Odidika a gift of a spear that contains the flute of destiny… UJUBUONU’s Pride of the Spider Clan is a quintessential study in mythical, magical writing. It is a convoluted quest with many twists and turns with tragedy as a handmaiden as well. Apart from tracing the convoluted route of a lost flute, Ujubuonu’s Pride of the Spider Clan is an allegorical journey into self-discovery and the intertwining destinies that can link the lives of different individuals together for a common purpose. Ujubuonu’s novel needs to be read in its true depth of narration to be understood. The assemblage of so many characters and the knitting together of many twisting sub-plots portray him as a writer of immense potentials. However, the author strains too hard in many instances in order to embellish his language; thus, it appears forced. Beyond this flaw, Pride of the Spider Clan offers an interesting literary engagement.