Micheal ‘AMA Psalmist’ Akinrogunde first burst onto the scene after emerging as one of the winners of the 2017 Accelerate Filmmaker’s Project with his short film, Penance. A stunning win as the best short film at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards was quickly followed by a Film Gala award win organized by Filmhouse cinemas in collaboration with Moet and Chandon. The rest, they say, is history. Michael’s story is an example for young, aspiring filmmakers in Nigeria to look to for encouragement and inspiration . Festivals, awards, training platforms and labs are viable pathways to fame and relevance. The young filmmaker must look to exploit opportunities as they continue to show up.
Filmkaku got a chance to chat with Michael after a bit of ‘hounding’, thanks to his busy schedule. Do read the conversation:
Filmkaku: Can you share how and why you got into filmmaking?
Micheal AMA Psalmist: I got into filmmaking mostly from a huge interest in films and dramas from a very young age. I didn’t know that I would make a single film or that filmmaking could be a career till my third year in the University and since then, I have slowly worked through the process till now.
FK: What’s your film education like? And what should young and aspiring filmmakers do to encourage craft improvement?
MAP: A huge percentage of my film education is from YouTube, books, and experiences on set. The formal training I’ve had are from The Accelerate Filmmaker Project, Delyork Creative Academy, and a couple of masterclasses on directing and writing.
To improve in film, it’s really important to keep making films. Shoot something, learn from it, do it again, but do it better.
FK: Can you tell us about your most recent film and TV projects?
MAP: I have about four TV films made last year that should, hopefully, come out later this year. I also am in the process of developing two TV series I am not allowed to talk about in detail just yet. There’ll also be at least one cinema film this year. All these were projects conceived last year.
FK: What are you working on right now?
MAP: Personally, I’m working on two feature film projects, two short films, and a documentary film. They’re all on topics that overly excite me and I can’t wait to share them.
FK: Any ideas on what the future of film could be?
MAP: The future of film, I would say, will be a game of relevance. The world is exploring new, diversified narratives and that’s simply beautiful to witness. Film, I always say, is such a powerful tool for change and awareness. I’m excited that this evolution is only going to get bigger and better.
FK: What are your artistic influences and Philosophy?
MAP: I find that the films I have been mostly inspired by have really strong social narratives or support strong social causes. After about two years in my filmmaking career, reflecting on my body of work revealed that a lot of my works have resonated similar themes. Strong artistic influences for me have been films like Queen of Katwe, Beasts of No Nation, Selma, When They See Us, Mandela:Long walk to Freedom, VAYA and similar films.
FK: What’s your surefire strategy for getting ideas and developing stories?
MAP: I’d say CONVERSATIONS AND SIGHTSEEING. They remain my go to approaches while developing a story. Engaging in a lot of conversations or just listening to people talk works well for me. I also get a lot of ideas from just visiting new locations. I sit down somewhere comfortable and imagine a million scenarios and how they play out. Reading wide and training on story development also help too. Then there’s the place of praying and sleeping. I have had dreams that I wake up from and quickly write down that later become story ideas.
FK: How would you describe your directorial approach visually and thematically?
MAP: My directorial approach has changed over time. I used to be very interested in the artistic, cinematic movements. But I have since refocussed my attention to understanding that the story is king and performance is queen. I believe those are the top two things a Director must have: the ability to interpret a story and bring it alive in the most dynamic way. For me, it’s really about making the audience feel, so I’m particular about every detail in the frame that makes this happen.
FK: What fundraising tips do you have for young filmmakers?
MAP: Fundraising is a global struggle for the indie filmmaker. Even for big production houses, it remains tedious. Fundraising, in my opinion, is easier when people trust you and the quality of your work. If you believe that the film HAS TO BE MADE, and have enough potential human and financial resources around you to make it happen then, by all means, ask. The worst thing is GETTING A NO. You won’t die.
FK: What should an aspiring filmmaker do when broke?
MAP: I think the aspiring filmmaker should find out how he/she can add value, not just make money. People don’t like handouts. So, you’re more inclined to earn when you’re fixing an issue/adding value. Most importantly, have multiple streams of income.
FK: What advice do you have for young/first time filmmakers?
MAP: That’s pretty simple. Be a filmmaker not a film TALKER. Enough talk, shoot something.
FK: Care to share interesting experiences while shooting?
MAP: There’s been a couple. Shooting in Lagos amidst the mortal threat of Agberos has been the highlight. From getting crude death threats, to stabbing my crew, to breaking the crew bus, to kidnapping actors. Filming in Lagos is a jungle experience.
FK: Who are your favourite directors?
MAP: In no particular order, Kemi Adetiba, Tolulope Ajayi, Akin Omotoso, Ava Duvernay, Jordan Peele.
FK: Your five favourite films?
MAP: Again in no particular order – Queen of Katwe, Beasts of No Nation, King of Boys, Living in Bondage, La Casa De Papel (Series)
FK: What are your views on Film Festivals
MAP: I LOVE THEM. I think they are and will always be a huge part of film worldwide. I feel like we need more to accommodate all types of filmmakers but I also wish filmmakers wouldn’t be so fixated on seeking validation from them.
FK: What are your views on film criticism?
MAP: Everyone criticizes a film. My only reservation is I really feel like there are respectful ways to express displeasure. I also believe the onus is on us as filmmakers and artists not to insult audiences with shoddy work. Criticism, anyway, is absolutely important because if done right, it is a great catalyst for growth.