Fatimah Binta Gimsay is a fast-rising Nigerian screenwriter notable for Africa Magic primetime telenovelas: Hush, Unbroken, Battleground, Enakhe and Riona. Alternatively, Fatimah gives a bold nod to film producing and directing. She considers this a buffer to her thriving career in filmmaking.
In a chat with Filmkaku, Fatimah works us through her screenwriting journey and the experience of producing her first short film: Why am I angry?
Filmkaku: You’re welcome to Filmkaku.
Fatimah Binta Gimsay: Thank you for having me.
FK: Your name isn’t exactly a stranger to our screens but for formality’s sake, kindly introduce yourself.
FBG: My full name is Fatimah Binta Gimsay and I’m a TV writer. I write for web series and telenovelas.
FK: And how did you position yourself to start writing for TV?
FBG: It started by being a fan of TV. I fancied watching TV series, particularly Nollywood’s. When I was done with school, I decided to ‘shoot my shot’ and approached the makers of Hush (The Africa Magic Telenovela). I opted to intern for free with the intent to learn. At the time, I wasn’t even mentally prepared to be a full-time writer; I just wanted to do something in TV: producing, writing, anything. Luckily, I was admitted as an intern and slowly, it started for me. It’s been over 2 years now.
FK: What’s your film education like? Did you study film or writing?
FBG: I studied Public Relations and Advertising. I’d love to say I’ve been writing since I was young but not this kind of writing. While interning, I realised that screenwriting was a completely different thing. When I saw a screenplay for the first time, I was confused. Again, I was lucky to be working with someone, Victor Sanchez Aghaowa, who loves to give out knowledge. He gave me actor sides to take home and read as I couldn’t take scripts from the sets home. I also started to read stuff online and lift formats I was open to, all to help my writing.
FK: Wow, you did all this within two years?
FBG: Professionally, it’s been two years but I started writing generically in 2016. Altogether, it’s been four years.
FK: Interesting. With your experience writing for TV, how is it different to writing other kinds of content?
FBG: I’ll say that it’s tasking and it’s also very draining as everyone wants to make the best show around. One thing that has stuck with me is the fact that if you don’t like it you won’t enjoy it. And if you’re not equally hardworking, it will be frustrating.
FK: Why did you decide to produce a film?
FBG: I just wanted to try something different outside the box of TV writing and put myself out as a producer and writer.
FK: Your film, Why am I angry, stars Teniola Aladese. When was it shot?
FBG: Right after the ease of the lockdown.
FK: So you developed the idea during the lockdown?
FBG: Not really. I already had the story idea and the plan was to make it a feature. Due to budget constraints, I had to squeeze the story into what we made. Interestingly, during the lockdown, I saw a few monologue renditions online and nicked in the idea to make the film. So I wrote the story to fit the lockdown restraints on large gatherings.
FK: This confirms the lockdown theme infused into the film. It had this monologue driven, quasi documentary style that I found really appealing. What inspired the focus on three angry women?
FBG: *a shy chuckle*… I’ve always been drawn to stories, even TV shows, about unhinged women.
FK: Examples of such films/TV shows?
FBG: Okay, there’s Gone girl (a 2014 thriller starring Rosamund Pike), Why women kill (a dramedy starring Ginifer Goodwin and Lucy Liu). Then there’s Killing Eve ( a drama series starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer). Generally, shows about crazy women who do not, by default, set out to be crazy, just women who merely respond to triggers and are forced to adapt appropriately.
FK: Interesting. You spoke about sourcing the film idea from the monologues you saw and then redesigning after new inspiration. But 31 minutes for a short film, in Nigeria? Were you fazed at all about the critical reception coming your way?
FBG: Oh yes, I was. Truth is, when I wrote the script, my friend, who also acted in it, read it and laughed, we both laughed at the length of it. She was kinder with her words and assured me the actors will read the script and embody the characters. When we tried cutting out scenes, it didn’t feel authentic given the heavy yet pertinent opening monologue of the film. We eventually reached an agreement over the script and proceeded the way it was.
FK: What was your casting process like? Did you scour for particular actors?
FBG: I’m lucky to be friends with all the actresses involved. I’d always wanted to work with them.
FK: Was there anything particular you wanted them to bring on the project?
FBG: Yes. I had seen them in roles similar to the characters in the film, I just needed them to bring on the same energy. I avoided casting anyone alien to the idea.
FK: What was the fun discovery directing a film without prior experience?
FBG: In terms of pace, I discovered film is slower than TV. In TV, the heat of deadlines puts everyone under pressure to turn in episodes quickly. For my film, I didn’t have anyone to report to, I took my time developing the idea and scripting.
FK: So you learnt that the writing for film is way more relaxed than TV?
FBG: Way more relaxed.
FK: Work us through the pre-production process of your film.
FBG: I have experience with production so it was sailing in familiar waters for me. Nothing strange or new.
FK: Did the project overburden your pockets? Or was it just you eager to put out the content in spite of it all?
FBG: Yes. I was ready to go all out, spend my money. So yes, I was that eager. I got tired of stalling and pushed my team to make the film, regardless.
FK: Hmmm, quite daunting, albeit commendable.
FBG: Thank you.
FK: How long did the shoot last for?
FBG: We had several takes. The actors filmed with their own phones. We only had to retake the faulty shots, plus we also edited ourselves as we couldn’t afford the costly, expert hands. We went simple and I’m glad we did.
FK: Quite amazing that you shot this movie with phones. Why did you choose that mode and what brand of phones did you use particularly?
FBG: We filmed with phones because the lockdown was just easing at the time and I didn’t want to gather a crew. I just asked the actors to do it from their ends. One of the actresses, Teniola, does her own monologues on her Instagram page. I had seen some of those videos and I really liked them and suggested the actors film themselves. We used her work as reference for other actors. They all used Samsung phones. Teniola shot using a NOTE 8 and used the same phone to edit.
FK: Interesting! I was stunned seeing Teniola as editor. This explains it. Taking a cue from that, what does this suggest about the future and possibilities of mobile phone filmmaking?
FBG: I think it will make things easier and more affordable. Also give people like me fewer excuses to baulk at the thought of actually making a film. You don’t need a 100-man crew to make a film anymore. You, your script and your phone, that’s all you need.
FK: Do you think you can pull off a feature using the same method?
FBG: I’m not sure. I can’t answer that. But I think it’s possible.
FK: “Why am I angry?” was more of resource filmmaking; shoot the film and edit using phones. Is there a plan to create buzz about the film? Film festival entries, maybe?
FBG: I’ve been trying to get into some. Actually, the plan was using this as a CV boost, capturing my abilities as a writer, producer and director to nudge at job opportunities. By the side, I have a blog, a six-part series aiming to teach screenwriting in Nollywood for beginners.
FK: Interesting. We would love to partner with you on that content.
FBG: I don’t mind.
FK: We’re rounding up now. What do you think Nollywood should do better? Including the TV industry where you’re situated.
FBG: I would say, personally, more value for writers, in terms of pay and recognition.
FK: What do you think of the writing quality of Nigerian writers?
FBG: I think we should stop cringing at the audience and trying to dumb things down, in attempt to please them. And I’m guilty of this too. But it shouldn’t be. Instead, we should be looking to expose our audience to varied experiences. I like to think that the audience don’t know what they like until they watch it.
FK: Are there examples of these of shows where you think writers try to do too much for the audience?
FBG: I would use examples of shows I’ve written on. We have the luxury of a one-year runtime to change character motives and sometimes, if not most of the time, the audience are befuddled by our decisions.
FK: Very understandable I must say. Finally, for your film, what’s the reception been like?
FBG: Kind, very kind. I’ve not had any instance of brash reviews or unnecessary hate.
FK: Thank you very much Fatimah for your time.
FBG: My pleasure