One very important habit young film makers should learn is to ask questions. Our African society generally does not encourage the habit of questioning. It is considered disrespectful to ask questions, even when it is crucial to your understanding of issues. As a filmmaker, do you question your film? Do you ask the ESSENTIAL question – “What is my film about?” For me, this is a very different question moreso than asking what happens in a film. When I ask myself the ESSENTIAL question, I am not asking for the catalogue of incidents that comprise my film. Nor am I simply asking about the film’s thematics. I’m asking about ALL of it. What am I exploring? What am I challenging? What experience(s) am I trying to create? Why does my film need to exist? What is the core, uncompromisable essence of my film? These are important questions no matter what kind of film you are making. The answers will guide you through the phalanx of creative and practical problems that emerge during the creation of the film. Answering them will help ensure that when the dust settles on your filmmaking process you will not only have exactly the film you wanted to make, but also a film no other could create.
What is that special element that sets your film apart from others? Is it found in or nurtured in a character, scene or dialogue? Consider your film as your unique voice, out of all the millions of people on earth, your voice in film should be as unique as your DNA. Finding that unique voice can be difficult, but I believe asking some questions will help bring it into focus. Each film is a mysterious journey that should involve asking questions. If you know the most important questions to ask of your film and address them, you will make a great film.
Who are you as a filmmaker? What makes you and/or your film different from the thousands of others out in the world? Every year in Ghana and the rest of Africa, hundreds if not thousands of films get made. Audiences are flooded with them. Every morning on my way to work, when I drive pass the Shangri- la overhead in Accra, I see a new poster of a film that has just been realized onto the market. Most of them, sadly, are not very good for many reasons. Often because over-eager filmmakers (count me among them) have not taken the time to learn their craft and explore the true potential of cinema. But even the solidly made ones often suffer from a lack of vision and originality. Many times it happens because filmmakers want to make something that is familiar to audiences and to please those who can advance their careers. They want to prove that they can also make film and thus deserve to join the ranks of the egotistical list of film makers. Big mistake!
First of all, making films for purely careerist reasons more times than not will harm you. I think most Ghanaian and African movie-goers and lovers of film are desperately hungry on both a conscious and unconscious level for something new and different. Yet, they are also confused by alternative ways of telling stories because they are not used to them. In a sense, they need an orientation – or, actually, a re-orientation to story-telling that falls outside the bounds of the dominant story-telling paradigm. I feel that Ghanaian audiences are far too sophisticated to be sold the regurgitation of Hollywood films we repackage as Ghanaian films. But even more importantly, exploring your unique selves cinematically helps you grow as a creative being.
Why are you making films? Are you making films just to prove that you can also be as mediocre as some of the filmmakers who have come before us? Hopefully not, I encourage young filmmakers to make films from deep inside of them. Even if it feels like no one will like it, stay honest and authentic. Be yourself, make your own movie, and let the world come to you. Stories don’t have to be complex. Simple stories: color, time and space. You will be surprised to know that when a film is done from deep inside, you will always find people who will love it and you will thank yourself for making that choice. Believe in your story and the world will come to you. Good films are made from a deep place; just tell the story. When it’s honest from your heart, it finds people.
When we are young, this is the time to make mistakes. Don’t worry about making mistakes that is how you learn to be a better filmmaker. We can gamble and have very little to lose. Knowledge comes from humans extending themselves, trying to do new things. In the local tribal village, when a man tries to get a fruit from the tree and the thorn pricks him, he says “ouch!”… then language is created, experience is created and food is created. Every time man extends himself he creates knowledge. The physical manifestation in the end is knowledge. Knowledge is learnt by the physical manifestation. When you reach out, you learn more about yourself, when you make a movie, you learn and transformation takes place and leaves you better. We call that the creative process.
Don’t set out to make perfect films, just make your film no matter how imperfect it is. Believe in your film, you are a vessel of a communal world, a communal memory. Personal stories finally become someone else’s story also. If you lose your community, you lose your film. You win your community, the world embraces you. You share the stories of your life – your film. The particular is universal. Filmmakers don’t invent themes; the new thing is not the theme but your unique voice in the theme. It’s your voice and it lives only once in the planet. When you become in touch with your voice, no one can ever duplicate this voice. The story about LOVE is not new, what is unique about it is your voice, your aura, your spirit. That is new. Not the theme. You can never be replaced. If you’ve never sung a song, it will never be sung, it will be someone else singing with a new voice. Develop that voice.