What’s Wrong with African Script-writing?

nana yaw reading script 

One of the very big challenges I find with films in Ghana and Africa in general is the stories.  Most of the stories lack originality.  It’s a photocopy of some Hollywood movie or characters placed in time and space with no real story.  I personally do not consider myself a script writer, but I am forced to attempt writing my own scripts because I can’t find stories that I like – simple, original folkloric stories. Ghana and for that matter Africa, is full of stories.  What happened to our ancient story telling qualities? Our elders used to tell stories by the fire side, beautiful folkloric stories.

Folklore involves those things we love to hear, sing, say, and do with our God-given senses and talents when we are at home with our own people. It is those things in which we find commonality, truly giving us the joyous feeling of being at home among our own people.  For me, these should form the foundations of our story telling. If you’re looking for stories outside yourself, then there is a problem.  All of us come from a nucleus family, village, community, desire a girl, a girl desires us, we fight with friends , that person dies another is born, etc. We come from stories.

When you begin to isolate yourself as a filmmaker from the rest of society, when cinema is alienated, it dies.  Cinema is always revitalized by films that come from social context. From the village, community, family, etc.  As Africans, the stories are under our nose, it’s daily.  What do we build in Africa?  We buy cars, television, and other things produced in other countries, we don’t produce anything and we can’t even tell our own stories?  What a shame.  Our daily lives are full of stories, what resonates with you often is your story.

It’s so common to find young African film makers making films completely about things there have no idea about. The African continent has so many stories; history, culture and daily modern day stories that the world will love to watch.  Not because it will impress someone, but because someone will be impressed more if the story makes sense to you.  Scriptwriters ought to be passionate about their characters, even the bad one. You have to like them because they are your babies.  Don’t just make the good guy, bad guy moves.  Make sure your characters are multi dimensionally developed.

In script writing, first it’s an idea.  An Idea in your head is weightless.  It’s like a blank canvas, the only time you can quantify the Idea is when you write it down.  Let’s say I get an idea and I write it down, one week gone, two months passes. The idea in my head and the one on the paper are different. You know why? Because your head, your brain, in spite of you continues the process of creative writing, so the story develops more in your head because even when you are not conscious, in your subconscious level, when you are eating or sleeping, dancing or partying your brain is transforming the idea. And a lot of people don’t know how to take the idea they wrote down in paper, this is the biggest problem in script writing. The doctrine of script, when they doctor a script, they forget their brain in much more space transforms the story. Most of them don’t know how to bring the reality they wrote and the new creation from their brain to write a script.

When you write scripts, draft one, draft two and doctor and so on.  Most of us don’t know how to negotiate the brain that works in spite of you, without your permission your brain works, ideas in our heads are always transformed and then what we wrote before almost becomes absolute when we come to the new draft and most people don’t know how to integrate this.  Sometimes you write out of sequence, you don’t know the end or the beginning but your brain actually really knows the sequence. Your brain knows the movie from beginning to end. That is why when someone asks you what’s your movie about, you go like  you are able to tell them, it’s about this man who, blah.. blah.. blah. Your story starts to grow as you tell a person. When you’re telling your story, you improvise like a jazz musician.

In a script, arranging the beginning, middle and ending is the easy part; the hardest part is to give birth to the real authentic theme to the story.  Sometimes as script writers you write scenes that you have no idea where they came from, but most times images from your past engraved in your mind comes alive from the ancient tunnel of your mind, from your genomics. How can you tap into this God giving gift when you are full of formula, full of cliché.  A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.  Clichés can be both good and bad. Sometimes they’re used simply because they are easy. Sometimes they are used because they work. But the key word in that definition is overused. This is what is killing African cinema.

Induce the action to write, don’t force the writing.


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