Taiwo Egunjobi – Creating In Ibadan

The following material is an excerpt from In Ibadan film book, A Guide On Making “In Ibadan ” The book contains essays, stories, frames and the screenplay.

Here’s a loose overview of the steps that led to the birth of a miracle:

As of 2018, I had directed a slew of short films and generally knew my way around the no-budget process. I made too many short films and sketches with friends. Isaac Ayodeji wrote or edited the stories while myself and Kunle Martini Akande shot, edited, and managed the production process. We knew we had the practical skills but we had no real film set experience. Even though we had read horror stories about Nollywood, we wanted to make a film and find out ourselves. So, I outlined a strategy to work with my friend and business partner Isaac to write a no-budget drama and send it to film festivals.
We started workshopping ideas that were conducive to our no-budget approach. The ideas ranged from a black-and-white spoof of The Wedding Party to a single-location thriller set in a bar in the 60s to a sharp-witted Hitchcockian thriller. It was an endless process that was filled with multiple studies of budget classics like The Clerks, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Following, Kidulthood, Napoleon Dynamite, and many other YouTube/Vimeo shorts. We discussed many ideas but nothing stuck emotionally with me.
Until something did eventually.
It started as a dream I had circa 2018. Some over-the-top breakup saga that was quite simple. It was basically me learning that my girlfriend was pregnant for some dude and forgiveness was being sought and I was struggling with that. Simple right? But for some reason, I woke up feeling exactly like I did in the dream. It was raw and visceral, and I couldn’t shake it off.

I was intrigued about the nature of this grief that refused to leave and discussed it with Isaac. He was interested too and that’s usually a good thing so we decided to flesh up this breakup story and really decide what the themes were going to be. Our process is quite simple: write a synopsis, develop the characters and if they work, get into treatment level. This was exciting as it meant we had something I was really interested in and wasn’t going to lose interest in. I’d already had a few false starts on my own in the past writing films and then getting stuck or losing interest, so I was careful this time not to burn too quickly but methodically. But there was a quiet confidence that I would complete the process this time around. This idea felt different; it had a shape, it had emotion, and it had context.


We got to the treatment level a month later and we were still excited about the idea. At some point before that, I had just seen Pawel Pawlikoski’s Ida and fell in love with it totally. Its bold photography and accomplished acting were huge positives, but what stood out was the personal touch of Pawel as the film revisits his roots. So, I immediately wanted to shoot in black in white as both a visual tool and also a budgetary necessity. If you must know anything about no-budget films, it’s that black and white have healing properties for ailing sets.

We blundered upon a few other films that became helpful references for building out the story. Isaac discovered a little-known Mark Duplass’ film called Blue Jay, another black and white film that shared emotional beats with In Ibadan. We also happened to refer a lot to Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by The Sea as regards the complex emotional landscape that was constructed via smart plotting, character design, and acting. I should also add that it became a performance reference for Temi as part of his role interpretation.

I was so excited about the treatment and shared it with Debola Ogunshina, an older film director buddy who appreciated our readiness to make something. His positive reception was all the encouragement we needed to go ahead with scripting. He also advised me to speak with Temi Fosudo, another writer friend of ours who was interested in making a film too. Coincidentally, we had him in mind for the lead role so everything was falling into place. We met Temi shortly after at a Film Rats Meeting in New Culture Studios and immediately connected on the story. He liked the story, the characters, and the directorial idea I wanted to deploy. Temi had a couple of thoughts too and wanted to join in, not just as an actor but as a production partner. It was an easy partnership; there was no need to sign anything. We just shook hands like the old-school gents we were and moved on.
One great note Temi made was that he didn’t think Black and White was a good visual interpretation of the story. He wanted a much more expressive colour palette to show off the commonly disregarded city of Ibadan and felt the characters could be represented via colour codes for thematic intentions. This was a reasonable point. Colour was more functional for us than it wasn’t.
Isaac started writing after a few more conversations while me, Temi and, Martini started putting together a team of collaborators, listing resources and pulling favours from old friends. Initially, I was going to shoot the film myself with my Panasonic GH4 but again my co-producer made a timely intervention by insisting that we find someone a bit more assured and talented with the camera. He called in Okwong Fadamana who had experience shooting some interesting short films within our artistic community and wasn’t fazed by shooting on small cameras like the Panasonic GH4 or an average lighting kit. For the all-important Assistant Director role, we were lucky to have the vastly experienced Gbenga Ojerinde who I had befriended a couple of years before. Martini was going to have to be the Production Manager, File Manager, and Editor all in one. We asked Isaac to learn how to slate, even if that didn’t work out smoothly. I was happy to be the art director and production designer as it’s an aspect of the process I enjoy thoroughly. We filled up the rest of the crew with friends. All we were able to provide for them was two meals a day and a place to sleep. To these lovely people, I am eternally grateful.
We knew we wanted the cast to be as strong as possible and were pretty confident of attracting some amazing talent who would be willing to work for nothing. That meant Temi and Goodness Emmanuel, thorough thespians in the lead roles. They were going to be supported by Similolu Olatunji, an amazing model, and actor I had worked with on a couple of short films, Chris Anyanya another friend of ours, and the legendary Professor Sola Fosudo, who Temi managed to convince to be on our film. Till this moment, I don’t know how he did it.

The script had undergone multiple revisions and polishing but we understood the value of having extra eyes on the script, so we decided to have a test read with a couple of filmmaker friends like Demilade Meduoye and Martin Chukwu. Thanks to their sharp observations, we came to realize that we had a snag in the 3rd act. It was a decision on how our characters were going to end; whether as victims of a gunfight, voodoo, or live happily ever after. There were compelling arguments from all sides. Everyone agreed that completing the arcs of the characters was pivotal to telling a satisfactory story. A final decision on the ending came during postproduction.

On Preparing the Look
While we revised the scripts, we decided to start building our visual bible and we quickly realized we’d committed a sin no-budget films shouldn’t even think of committing. Naivety in writing saw us sprinkle too many scenes around several locations and that meant we were going to be traveling a lot. Don’t do it.
We spent about three days actively driving around Ibadan, discovering locations and backdrops for our story world and developing a visual shorthand between myself and the DOP Fadamana. Everyone pitched with locations. The main house was Temi’s residence at the time, the palm processing factory belonged to Martini and family, and so on. As we scouted these locations, conversations about lenses, colour, frame sizes, compositions, and movement (or a lack of it) were had based on mood boards and references I had shared earlier.
Those mood boards were largely reliant on stills from Ida, the entirety of Yasujuro Ozu’s filmography, Blue Jay, Nebraska, and Mother of George. These were films I had seen obsessively for months before we started shooting. I think the biggest call I made with the cinematography was the limited camera movement and the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio. I usually joke about having deep philosophical reasons for those two decisions but the truth is that it just felt right and smart for the story and our resources. Watching Ida especially reinforced this decision.
This also meant that we had to be very specific about the backdrops and the architecture of the spaces in the film. We extensively photographed every scene in the film during location scouting and premeditated our frame choices. This process naturally introduced me to details that opened up the script in new ways in terms of mini-themes and motifs. Many scenes in In Ibadan were revised to take advantage of the locations we found and I think that worked out nicely for us. And this is why it’s tricky for writers and directors to be too precious about their stories and kill off the possibilities of evolution.
Stories require evolution and the currency for evolution is time. Do you have time?


What did I learn? Many things but I’ll discuss three:
Keep The Team Small but Prioritize Experience
On a low-budget film, you can pay key cast and crew but on a no-budget film, you can’t pay anyone. While it wasn’t too difficult to crew up with friends and interns working for nothing, it was key to find one or two experienced heads who had been part of productions of all types.
A few weeks to shooting In Ibadan, as we were putting the crew list together, Martini insisted on having someone with real experience on set to bring some professionalism to proceedings on set. Every one we could get for nothing was busy until I reached out to assistant director Gbenga Ojerinde who luckily had a break and didn’t mind spending a week with us. Being the most experienced figure on a very young set, he was firm when we needed it, offered important counsel and put out many fires before they became infernos. He did it all with a smile, all for the love of cinema. We don’t call him legendary for jokes.

It Can Work on Paper but Fail on Screen
I think this was the biggest lesson for me. On the page, any scene can read like gold if the writing is strong enough, but gold can quickly turn to plastic as a scene’s functionality is different when it’s acted and when it’s in the edit.
In Ibadan is about a guy who doesn’t recover well from an old breakup, his struggles to reintegrate into society and how he deals with a surprise return of the same lover. This is what it really was about.
While we filmed however, we discovered several scenes that actually delayed or distracted the core demands of this story and ended up deleting a bunch of these scenes in post. Did these scenes work on paper, in the read? Yes. Did the actors in those scenes perform wonderfully? Yes. Yet it suddenly didn’t fit in the edit. They either felt flat, static or unnecessary. We had to cut these scenes in a desperate attempt to save our story. Film buffs say you discover your film in the edit. The big budget productions can reshoot to plug newly exposed gaps but for us, there was no reshooting. We were stuck with heaps of footages and solutions had to be found on the spot.
The lesson here for me was to thoroughly understand that story themes do change or develop while filming and editing, and that even character motivations become much more apparent. I learnt to listen more when directing a take and constantly question the functionality of every scene.

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