“I’d like to be for cinema what Shakespeare was for theatre,Marx for politics & Freud for psychology.”
Every filmmaker is influenced by some other filmmaker in diverse forms, whether that’s by picking up a style of dialogue, an approach to art direction, pacing, cinematography or music. And usually, this subtle transference is usually obvious enough to make some form of connection.
With several short films and a feature film in post, Damilola Orimogunje is mastering his own style, drawing heavily from his favourite filmmakers. Constantly referencing Asian auteurs, Orimogunje’s handle on the visual language of cinema shines through with projects like Mo and Losing My Religion. Not to limit his abilities to his visual brilliance, Orimogunje’s writing is also impressively distinct, unlike his peers, writing simple stories with serious themes, unburdened by the need to subscribe to the romantic comedy staple of Nollywood.
Film Kaku sat down with Dami Orimogunje to discuss his style, visually and thematically.
FK: Let’s start from the beginning. Why and how did you get into filmmaking?
Dami Orimogunje: Imagining and telling stories have always been a thing for me since childhood, especially days my cousin would come around and narrate an entire Nollywood film to me and other kids. So, after years of writing random stuff leisurely, I stumbled on writing a sample radio drama script that everyone liked upon reading and encouraged me to pursue. I did and got more interested in the entire process – writing and directing for TV and film.
FK: How exactly did you prepare for a career in film?
Dami Orimogunje: My first training was in the university. I studied Mass Communication and had access to a post-production studio that, thankfully, had someone very ready to teach us how to go about using the variety of equipment. The exposure was priceless as I had to cover all forms of events and slowly came to terms with thr language of pictures and more. Yes, the cameras were old and the editing suites stale, but the intial familiarization would later help me. Also, on the side, I was also building personally by watching lots of films and YouTube videos. However, a significant portion of growth comes from learning on the job.
FK: I noticed you worked with a lot of big name actors on all your short films, what is the secret?
Dami Orimogunje: Well, I was a TV producer for a while and also interned in radio. As a TV producer in Royal Roots TV, I formed relationships with actors. It was during this period I met Paul Utomi and after talking for a bit, he said he liked the way I think. Later, when I had the idea to make Family, I called him and that was it. Funlola Aofiyebi I met at a film festival in Ghana and when I came back to Nigeria, I told her about my project anda collaboration later happened. Most times, it’s the subject matter in my stories and the style of execution that appeal to them, so much they even come into the projects for free or very low fees. Ultimately, it’s about building relationships.
FK: Let’s talk about “For Maria,” your upcoming feature
Dami Orimogunje: Okay, so after making MO, I started writing scripts for my first feature but, sadly, they all require big budgets to be executed appropriately. So I had to write a story I could execute on a low budget without compromising on my style. My research took me to post-partum depression and that was how the film was birthed. I had watched Amour, by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, and really liked the brilliance of a simple story well told. This provided extra confidence to go for a small story.
FK: Your films hold a visceral interest in very dark themes. Let’s talk about that affinity and, of course, genre preferences.
Dami Orimogunje: My genre has always been drama. And, yes, a lot of people have spoken about the darkness in my work. To be honest, I just find myself gravitating towards themes around death, family, and most regularly, betrayal. I have once been asked why betrayal is a constant theme in all my films. While thinking up a response, I arrived at the gradual realization that we tell stories that resonate with our experiences from childhood. And for me, I grew up with a lot of disappointment and a lingering feeling and acceptance that the world can be meaningless, some times. What’s funny is that I didn’t even channel these themes deliberately into my work, it just happened.
FK: I’ve seen Mo and bits of Losing my Religion and I’ve noticed a consistent visual style in your work. How do you achieve this?
Dami Orimogunje: When I started loving films, one thing I was always interested in was the visual aspect. Apart from just telling a good story story, good visuals and music have always been important to me. And there’s Wong Kai Wai who I’m a big fan of. He has a distinctly beautiful visual style that appears to have rubbed off on me. When I’m working on my films, I’m in constant communication with my production designer. We are talking colour, location and the dynamics of their relationships. The camera isn’t the primary factor of excellence it’s regularly thought to be. What matters to me is the arrangement and integrity of a scene and how it’s intended to communicate a mood. How to use the foreground, background and the immediate environment is what I think about.
FK: What is it about Wong Kai Wai?
Dami Orimogunje: Wong Kai Wai paints, it’s that simple. Every frame in a Wong Kai Wai is a painting and layered with not one but several meanings. This has informed my orientation as well with my approach to images. Every frame, even without dialogue, has to matter. There’s so much emotion that can be communicated in unimaginably raw forms with frames layered with meanings. It’s important to note that I don’t set out to copy Wong Kai Wai but he’s a big influence and that relationship isn’t peculiar to just me. Really, Nigerian filmmakers must make it a habit to widen the scope of content they consume. I can personally vouch for the brilliance of Asian cinema. They have had a big impact on many directors we all have come to revere like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and so on. Another director that I love and is also influenced by Wong Kai Wai’s magic is Andrew Dosunmu. And this influence translates to his films, in the paintings and the frames. His film, Mother of George, is simply beautiful.
FK: What is your story development process like?
Dami Orimogunje: I am constantly thinking about ideas. When I see a film or I’m talking to a friend, I start thinking of narrative possibilities and begin the process of separating the chaff from the wheat. I do this in a notebook retained for this very purpose and this is where story development begins. And it could go on for weeks or months. A natural identification with the story and the visualization of both the opening and closing scenes are what matter to me in development. Then I move on to prepare breakdowns and the eventual screenplay but, to be frank, I’ve never been one to limit myself to the mechanical approaches to story development and writing. Most times I just proceed as it comes to me.
FK: You worked with Nike Campbell-Fatoki on the adaptation of her short story ” Losing My Religion” into a short film, how did that happen?
Dami Orimogunje: Nike Campbell-Fatoki actually wrote the first draft of the script but she’s not exactly a screenwriter so what she turned in was very much like a short story. So what I did was to rewrite the script, especially from a visual perspective, and ended up with a script that only retained 60% of the initial material. It was a very collaborative effort that involved a lot of exchanging of drafts but I think we can both be proud of the final product. I probably prefer writing with someone. For Maria is co-written with Tunray Femi, a good friend who’s also a writer, and she brought in a much needed perspective on what is a female focused story.
FK: When are we seeing For Maria?
Dami Orimogunje: For Maria is like a baby project I’m really itching to share with the world. A lot of people don’t know about Post-partum depression so it’s first a story we want everyone to connect with. We’re hoping to get selected at some big festivals around the world and then a limited release at the cinemas before coming to the VODs.
FK: What advice do you have for young filmmakers looking to progress with their craft?
Dami Orimogunje: I think young filmmakers should look beyond Hollywood for their choice of films to study. There are a lot of masterpieces in Asian cinema, for example, that I feel we all can learn from. Watch wide and deep for a variety of languages and experiences and you may just be on your way to mastering the craft of storytelling for film.