Just before the end of 2016, Tope Oshin released a definitive and career defining documentary with the title Amaka’s Kin. Dedicated to the memory of pace-setting Amaka Igwe, the one whom Tope refers to as “my film mum,” the 30-minute film is celebratory on two levels.
First, possibly never ever going to get over late Mrs. Igwe’s impact on her career, Ms. Oshin’s documentary is aimed at highlighting some of Igwe’s achievement as a filmmaker and moulder of destinies. On the second level, it sets out to celebrate the women who have chosen to follow in the steps that Amaka treaded, in spite of all the odds that Nigeria presents.
Here is how Tope explains her motivation in an interview with True Nollywood Stories: “Amaka’s Kin carries the voices of Nigeria’s working female directors, their backgrounds and individual journeys to becoming directors of Film/TV, a very male-dominated empire. They talk about how they overcome, and indeed ignore the challenges, rising above them to deliver beautiful stories to their audience and setting a pace for others to follow. Amaka’s Kin is dedicated to Amaka Igwe, and we discover exactly how big an impact she left on Nollywood in general, and the strength she gave to female directors in Nigeria practising today, and those to come.”
Concerning those to come, Tope Oshin makes another point in the same interview: “Apart from celebrating Amaka Igwe, and the current female directors of Nollywood, it’s my strong aim to encourage and embolden younger women, or even already mature ones who are afraid to start, who are still questioning themselves based on their gender, that it can be done! They can seek and chase and achieve their dreams by taking a first step, by realising that there are women in Nigeria, young and mature, in the director’s chair, calling the shots, telling their stories, disregarding cultural and traditional norms or gender set boundaries. Amaka’s Kin sets out to breed new and bolder generations of brilliant female directors in Nigeria, in Africa, to the world.”
The truth is that such passion, a compelling desire to collaborate and show the way for others, is what Tope Oshin is all about. It is seen in all her works and her words. This may be traceable to her upbringing but also definitely from an early career acquaintance with the venerable Amaka Igwe.
Tope knew from her very early years that she would end up in the creative industry. And very early means at a time when a lot of her peers still worried about Christmas clothing. As a child, she spent every spare second trying her little fingers on anything from drawing to making up stories, role-playing with siblings and cousins, acting, singing, dancing or designing clothes. She just had a knack for the artistic and could do a variety of things such that almost everyone was certain that she would end up in one creative endeavour or the other. On her part, she gave herself to all the tendencies that presented, and rest assured that life would eventually direct her toward the best of them all. And it did!
After elementary and secondary education had flung her between Lagos and Ogun State, Tope found her expectation of life coming to pass when fate directed her to Lagos State University (LASU), where she bagged a degree in Theatre Arts, TV and Film Production.
Of course, this course did not teach film directing; all the directing you learn in theatre school would mostly be stage and nothing that usually takes you out of the four walls of your institution. Directing, whether on stage or film was, therefore, not on Tope’s plate at that time. But again, life has its own devices as the ultimate administrator of destinies. Out of school, Tope had chosen to be an actor and as the film industry was beginning to blossom, it seemed like the place to be. The quest for roles led Tope to the Ikeja studios of Amaka Igwe where every now and then, she would get roles. She was beginning to gather some steam as an actor until the day Amaka suggested that the young lady could become a good film director. The event was a script/ story workshop.
Apparently from watching Tope over time and perhaps from specific interventions at that particular workshop, the older lady thought Tope’s sensibilities and instincts were better suited to those of a director. She encouraged her to consider pursuing a career on that front.
It was a fleeting comment alright but the seed of what was to come was already planted. A few years down the line, Tope became fully persuaded of a calling in directing and subsequently found the courage to pick up the gauntlet as one of the pioneering directors of the television drama, Tinsel. A decade later, there has been no looking back.
Within this period, she has acquired a reputation as a dependable director, producer and film consultant with over 7000 hours of directing time on film and TV. She was the frontline director on the set of Tinsel, arguably Africa’s biggest daily drama where she logged at least 350 episodes. Ms. Oshin is credited with over 96 episodes on the popular African tele-novella, Hotel Majestic. Tope Oshin has evinced what seems to be a special affinity for short films through which she has found a vehicle for engaging with social issues including drug addiction, love, hope and abuse of women. Her production credits include New Horizon, The Young Smoker, Till Death Do Us Part, Crush, To Love and Covet and Ireti. There have also been commercials and television movies including Love and War, Conversations at Dinner, Evol and Ever After In 2014, she made Journey to Self, a feature and social commentary for cinema, a tally which she has increased with the shooting of In-Line due out in September 2017 as well as Dear Mummy and We don’t live here anymore both scheduled for release in 2018.
This is in addition to roles as Casting Director, Supervising Producer, Production Consultant and Script Consultant. She produced the theatrical feature Fifty and led the casting for MTV’s drama series Shuga 3, 4 & 6 amongst others. She was also Consulting Producer/Consultant on Nigeria’s biggest blockbuster movie, The Wedding Party.
It is also noteworthy that Tope works with young filmmakers to develop their movies from concept to final cut. A sought-after facilitator, Ms. Oshin is always happy to help build the capacity of young ones at workshops and training programmes.
Having herself benefitted from the large heart of a mentor, Tope believes that filmmakers of her generation should encourage, mentor, guide, and empower aspiring filmmakers. Giving back is a big deal to her!
Speaking up for the vulnerable, especially the female gender is also big on her agenda. And that is an obvious lesson she seems to have imbibed from other female directors that have made significant impacts on her.
One of them is Ava Duvernay, an American director who is a big inspiration for Tope Oshin. While Tope Oshin started out in her late 20s for instance, Duvernay, who became the first black female director to bag a Best Picture Academy Award nomination for her movie Selma, did not start directing until she was 33.
But in 12 years, she has through her organisation, ARRAY formerly known as AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) accentuated the issues of diversity and the minorities in Hollywood. She has also continued to serve as a voice for the voiceless when it comes to making films in America.
Tope Oshin loves the older lady’s selflessness and would, like her, want to continue to do big and selfless things that go beyond personal benefit!
This is at the core of her thematic preoccupation as a filmmaker. If it were possible to create a personal genre to be totally directed at telling great stories about humanity, stories that connect with the core of the human condition, Tope would quickly sign up for that and stay forever associated with it.
But even now, whether it be a thriller (which she is heavily inclined towards) or drama, (which comes close to thrillers in her preference) or comedy (which she now loves to experiment with), what is important is that these stories shine a light on our common humanity.
Tope Oshin shares the view that directing is a divine call, something through which the creative ability of God manifests in mortals. The director, for her, is like a miracle worker who lays hands on a story and creates situations that bring the story to life through the cocktail of characters and other elements, all working toward evoking emotions that may turn the lives of men around. Being a director, to her, conveys an awesome sensation that keeps you going no matter what.
With such passion for her own job and determination to impact on others, Ms. Oshin is under no illusion to the importance of constantly developing her capacity to deliver on all fronts. So, every two years or thereabout, she signs up for and attends filmmaking workshops and classes as refreshers. In addition to that, she consumes a lot of filmmaking information online and in newsletters to stay abreast of new technologies and developments in filmmaking.
These steps are not only going to see to it that Ms. Oshin stays on top of her skills, they will also steer her towards that ultimate goal of having an audience that identifies the authentic Tope while propelling her to attaining the best of Tope Oshin.
Her firm conviction is that each filmmaker is different in her style, sensibilities and message and intends to keep developing herself, her style and sensibilities, towards sharpening her focus and “making my message clearer and stories more poignant. That is all the success of a filmmaker, when your audience gets you, hears you, and sees you loud and clear.”
Little wonder Tope Oshin has stayed on the frontline after close to one decade of plying the trade. Even though she had a few examples to look up to when she took the plunge she, without doubt, is one of those forerunners whose successes has encouraged a lot of younger ones who are now doing great things in the creative arts. Like all who dare to tread the path not often taken, she had her own share of unfriendly fire from practitioners, who were too struck down by their prejudices about a woman calling the shots.
Hence, at the outset, there was considerable chauvinism as patriarchy reared its ugly head. There were days when a crew member would hear an instruction and stare back with a blank expression as if convinced his ears were playing tricks on him. Sometimes, after recovering from such a self-imposed trance and ego trip, a cameraman could choose to ignore the direction, or execute it with palpable reluctance.
There were days when she could see the derisive looks on the faces of cast and crew members as she was introduced as the director for a new project. But Tope always steeled herself to ignore and ward off these sentiments until they gradually wore off and totally became history. She earned her respect! Those early experiences taught her to respect every element, process and part of a production. Although she believes that the pre-production stage is super critical, being the stage at which you must plan for production and post-production, it remains that none of the other parts can be taken for granted. Where there has been a plan for instance, it must be kept to and when there is need for adjustments, it must be dealt with promptly. That is the easiest way to ensure that a production delivers on the promises it makes to all stakeholders. And that is why, Tope Oshin will not pay more attention to one element of production to the detriment of the other. As far as she is concerned, the story and the treatment it gets is as important as the actor that embodies the emotions and message that the story will convey. Just the same way in which the camera, costume and make up must align with the ultimate purpose. To her, a director just has to be on top of her game and ensure that all aspects of production work together for the good of the product.
Tope Oshin is a firm believer in the primacy of effective communication. Unlike many directors, Ms Oshin is not a shouting or short fused director. She thinks effective communication, a lot of communication and communication with clarity can forestall all kinds of upsets that may provoke tension on a movie set. Fortunately for her, she had communications skills as part of her foundation training as a director. Being clear and concise about objectives is, therefore, for her, always an easy task.
When it comes to coping with the long hours and other intensive demands that attend the job of a director, Tope Oshin says the need would always make a way. “If there’s a schedule to be achieved and breaking up the day will affect the flow of the performance or setup, we keep going. As concerns juggling being a mother with being a filmmaker, I say we always find a way to attend to all that is important to us. Do we have problems breathing from our nose because we need to eat with our mouth? No. I don’t believe any truly important aspect of our lives should suffer for the other. We find a way to balance all.” She also believes that getting things that need to be done, done at the time they should be, is an essential skill of a director
Born into what she calls the conservative home of Dr. Olayiwola and Rev. Dr (Mrs) Olabisi Oshin in the late 1970s, Tope Oshin had her basic and secondary education at the Niger Pre-Age International Home School, Ipaja, Lagos State and at Iganmode Grammar School Ota, Ogun State, respectively.
After her degree at the Lagos State University, she attended the Colorado Film School, USA and has taken several workshops in Film Techniques, MultiCamera Directing, Directing, Filmmaking, and Documentary Filmmaking at different times and places including Berlinale Talent Campus, Durban Talents.
Tope has won a plethora of awards in virtually all the creative roles that she plays. Some of the recognition she has received include: Best International Female Director for Ireti at the Women’s Entertainment Film Festival, 2016; Best International Short Film at the Women’s Only Entertainment Film Festival, 2016 also for Ireti; Best Documentary at the Best of Nollywood Awards, 2016 for Amaka’s Kin; Best Programme Director at the Nigerian Broadcast Media Awards 2016; African Woman In Film Award, 2015 at the African Women Development Fund; Golden Short Award at the Golden Movies Awards, 2015 for New Horizons and the Special Jury Award at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, 2014 for New Horizons.
And given all her own experiences, here is what she has to say to upcoming female directors: “Move in the direction of your dreams. Learn, read, study, research about your passion, then get up and do something about it. Find and attach yourself to a mentor, a professional you can talk to about your dreams and learn from their past mistakes and watch how they work to learn from them. It’s easier to launch from the shoulders of giants than from the ground on your own.
Tope Oshin – Actress, Writer, Producer, Director, Consultan
|Tinsel||Journey To Self|
|Hotel Majestic||In- Line|
|Evol||We Don’t Live Here Anymore|
|Conversations at Dinner||Up North|
Culled from Ladies Calling The Shots by Niran Adedokun