Going on a Treasure Hunt: The Filming of the Naija Diamonds Series.
A Story by Ijeoma Agukoronye Throughout a six-week period, Nigeria’s rich, diverse landscape unfolded before our eyes. We passed through lush rainforest, vast grasslands and rocky landscapes, all in a bid to meet the special people whose stories we wanted to document.
Getting around, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Imagine the planning and logistics involved in coordinating a crew of twelve people along with luggage and filming equipment across the length and breadth of Nigeria. I cannot forget the 7-hour drive from Minna to a small fishing village on the River Niger. We miraculously managed to cram the crew and equipment into two vehicles. The driver of the vehicle I was in drove with the resolve of a Formula 1 Driver, despite the pot-hole-ridden road we were on. He reached speeds that even Lewis Hamilton would have marveled at. Tears still come to my eyes every-time I think about it. When we finally reached the riverbank, we had to wait over an hour before boarding our vehicles onto the ferry that would carry us to the other side. The old ferry left much to be desired in terms of speed. A few canoes even overtook us while crossing the river. When we eventually reached the other side of the river, our journey continued for another three hours by road. That shows you the lengths we are willing to go to locate these rare diamonds.
We made quite a number of plane trips while shooting “Naija Diamonds”. Though most of our flights went hitch-free, we did encounter the inevitable “circumstance beyond our control” at Uyo. When we landed at the airport, we discovered that some of our luggage was missing. Well, it wasn’t actually missing. There was excess luggage on our flight and the airline decided to “distribute” the load on another aircraft. That plane was not expected to land until the next day. We had an interview to shoot that same day, yet we had to make do without some of our lighting equipment. It took the ingenuity of our lighting technician and director of photography to make those shots work. As they say, the show must go on.
Fortunately for us, the show did go on. We endured traffic jams, excess luggage and long, dusty stretches of bumpy roads to meet people whose genuine sincerity and warmth made it worth the journey. I cannot forget the warm, home-cooked meal Bridget Agochi in Jos and the Igwe Twins in Lagos gave us. Emmanuel Sofa, who is also an air traffic controller, received us at Uyo airport and had a vehicle to take us into the city. document eighteen heart-warming stories.
You can watch these stories from the comfort of your living room or on your smartphone. Don’t miss “Naija Diamonds” only on EbonyLife TV DStv channel 165.
How to Survive a Shooting
I had the privilege of working on “Naija Diamonds: Season3”. A documentary series is a special project that has its own challenges and peculiarities. I have provided a few lessons and tips that I learned that helped me get through the grueling six-week shooting process.
A lot of time and effort goes into shooting each episode. We shot several interviews for each Diamond story. For each interview location we had to set up for lights, camera and sound and makeup before the “action” part. Depending on the location, set up can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. The interviews themselves lasted from 10 minutes to one hour. In a day where you have up to seven interviews in different locations, the time definitely adds up. Just have it at the back of your mind that 3 days of shooting can result in one interesting 10-minute story.
Over the course of shooting “Naija Diamonds” we have had to change our travel itinerary, reschedule interviews, cancel interviews and re-work shoots. I cannot forget one pleasant, sunny afternoon in Abuja. We found a lovely spot overlooking the city and decided that would be a great place to shoot a few presenter links. As we were shooting, dark clouds rolled in from nowhere and the wind blew fiercely. That shoot was immediately cut to an end and we quickly packed up our equipment for shelter. We eventually came up with a way of getting the shots we needed in order to make the show work.
Try Not to Get Lost
While shooting in Katsina, we had to split the team to enable us get all the footage we needed for that day. I went with a camera operator to one location while the rest of the crew went to an interview location. When we had finished shooting the footage that we needed, the camera operator and I decided to join the rest of the crew. For those who don’t know, Katsina has an abundance of tricycles, making them the most readily available means of transportation. We chartered a tricycle and described, to the best of our ability, where we wanted to go. The meaning obviously got lost in translation, because we found ourselves being transported to the city gates like criminals being escorted to the border. Realizing that we were going in the wrong direction, we asked the driver to take us back to where he picked us up. Another driver eventually helped reunite us with the rest of the crew.
Expand Your Palate
If your assignment takes you to unfamiliar cities, you cannot afford to be a finicky eater. When you have been on the road for 4 hours and the only decent eatery nearby is an obscure “mama put”, that is not the time to compare the soup to the one your grandmother used to cook when growing up. Such assignments give you the opportunity to expand your palate and explore different cuisine. Even familiar dishes get revived when you taste them in a new environment. I enjoyed broad flavor options while on the road such as ram suya with masa in Jos and boli with fish in Port Harcourt. Being too choosy could result in a constant diet of rice and stew or plain bread and soft drink, that’s no way to live. It helps to be an adventurous eater.
Get Ready to be Surprised
Working on a documentary series opened me up to things I never thought I would see. The most interesting discovery was a thriving beer and pepper soup joint a stone throw away from a mosque in one of the conservative Muslim states. That was definitely a shocker.
On the road to Abuja, we saw the ethereal “eyes” of Zuma Rock. While heading to Jos, we came across the highest point on the Nigerian Railway Line. These little discoveries were among the interesting highlights of the project that are embedded in my memory.
Do Some Team Building
For six weeks, I was stuck with 11 other people, working with them morning into night. We had to work as a team throughout the time. When you’re working on a tight schedule with a strict budget, every member of the team has to get along with each other in order to give their best. No matter how much the crew can disagree (and that was often), for the sake of the project we found a way to resolve our differences and try to keep the team united. I’ve found that fresh pepper soup works wonders in resolving disputes.
We had many outdoor shoots on this project. Unless you are going for that super-baked look or you don’t want people to recognize you when you return to your base, sunscreen is VERY important.
Forget What You Thought You Knew
Documentaries are about uncovering facts and revealing unknowns. What made “Naija Diamonds” special was the abundant wisdom and insight we gleaned from each of the diamonds and the people they impacted. From Simeon Ononobi’s practical wisdom, to Onyinye Amadi’s optimistic outlook to Dorothy Njemanze’s thirst for justice, each diamond planted a special seed in us. Beyond the planning, shooting and editing, a documentary is a learning experience, an exploration into the lives of people who have a special story to tell. I was assigned to help document those stories. The valuable life lessons I learned were just the icing on a wonderful cake.
The stories of unsung Nigerian heroes are being told on “Naija Diamonds” only on EbonyLife TV DStv channel 165.