The Ebony Life and Times of Waltbanger, the Award Winning Screenwriter and Director
EbonyLife TV congratulates you on winning the award for “Best Short Film” at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards with your film The Wages. A big well done!
After having a night or two to recover from all the excitement we would appreciate if you would allow us to access the creative mind of Waltbanger
First of all, where did you get the name “Waltbanger ”from?
Long story… basically, the name was given to me by my colleagues at an office party – It’s a play on words from the cocktail drink Harvey Wallbanger.
You won an award which means you’re a ‘big shot’ now…What does the award mean to you?
Big shots are in Forbes magazines and I doubt they have time to fill out questionnaires either. I’d say it means a bit more creative freedom. I guess I’m now in a better position to be trusted to deliver on whatever lofty ideas I may now have.
Where can we watch The Wages?
Currently on the Dobox online/mobile platform. Send ‘dobox’ to 131 from your MTN line to download the app and then type in ‘The Wages’. We’re still looking at other means of making it more accessible to the public.
You wrote the script for “Married to the Game” which is aired on Ebonylife TV channel 165 every Saturday at 7pm with your cousin, correct? How did you get the inspiration to write the script? How long did it take?
I happen to have read a lot of hardboiled American crime stories and watched a heck of a lot of the classic film noir while in university. So these were heavy influences much like the earlier works of the filmmakers I admire – Tony Scott, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Coen Brothers and Michael Mann.
The idea actually came from a feature film script I’d been working on for a while. The feature film was to be composed of three separate short films, involving the lead characters in each stumbling upon the same 2miilion dollars cash haul.
The Newlywed’s tale in MTTG was just one of those three stories. I decided to flesh out the story and eventually adapted it into a 13 part TV series. Mo Abudu really liked what she read and commissioned the first season. The writing took the best part of two months, I wrote the first few episodes. My cousin, Wale Davies – popularly know as the rap artiste Tec from the group SDC, wrote the remaining episodes and I edited them as we went along.
Why do most directors like to be involved in the scripting process?
I’m not sure they do like to. It’s just part and parcel of the job. For better understanding of the material they are working with. Some may prefer to be involved from the start – I usually prefer to have some input early on simply because I have a screenwriting background and old habits die-hard. Others will happily wait until drafts are written before making their notes and suggestions. Ultimately it’s the Director’s interpretation that we see on the screen not the writers, so they have to be completely comfortable with the source material. I guess it’s like they say ‘you can make a bad film from a good script but you can’t make a good film from a bad script’ and directors may also be conscious of that.
In one word, what is “Married to the Game” about?
Hmm, one word… ‘Loveconquersall’ …that’s one word, right?
Which was the most difficult character to cast in “Married to the Game”?
Nurse Kemi… I can’t really say much more without giving too much away. Ask me after episode 6 has aired.
I hear there were some funny anecdotes, please share.
Oh yes, The cupcakes scene – There is a scene in Episode four where Vincent, Alexx Ekubo’s character gets slapped, after sarcastically referring to two million dollars as ‘Two million cupcakes’ The entire scene needed to be shot in one continuous take (no pick-ups) as we didn’t want to lose the intensity of the performances. And so as not to have the scene look fake in anyway, Alex sportingly agreed that he needed to be slapped very hard too. Take 1, smack… Alex was slapped so hard that he actually forgot his next line and we had to do another take.. Take 2, smack! A car horns mid-take and we have to cut and go again. Take 3, smack…cut! It took a total of five takes to finally nail the scene. By which time Alexx had been almost smacked senseless. Fast-forward one month later, we’re in post-production in the process of backing up the main hard drive when it crashes and the cupcake scene is one of the three scenes we’re unable to recover. And I now call Alexx and tell him we need to reshoot. He jokes ‘sure, as long as it’s not the slapping scene’ and I’m like ‘erm… funny you should say that.’ It took another 5 takes on the reshoot but we got it done. And even after he’d been slapped senseless for the second time, all Alexx said at the end was ‘Banger how was it? Are you really happy with the scene?’ thinking that I might have settled for an okay performance to spare him further slaps. Both his performance and the other actors (won’t reveal who yet) was even better than the original scene. In fact it was one of the three best scene performances in the entire series. The Lord works in mysterious ways as they say.
After you were done casting how did you go about your rehearsal process?
I’m not a big fan of long rehearsal sessions to be honest, and as we really didn’t have the time due to a tight schedule it all sort of worked in my favour. – I just needed them to learn their lines. The more rehearsal the more acting feels like acting I think. I tried my best to let it all seem as natural as possible – that was my top priority with the cast. My technique was basically to create the environment I felt was needed to achieve this.
I like to give the actors a few footnotes and then let them go rehearse by themselves with little or no further involvement from myself. Most of the key direction is usually indicated in the script via narrative. What isn’t there is what the actors have to decide for themselves as paid and talented professionals. I tend to stress that whatever they do can never be wrong once they really understand the character and the scene they are playing. Before we shoot the scene I will then have them do a few dry runs, where we fine tune the performances… and then ACTION. On a few occasions through out the scripts I’d lie about it being a dry run and have our cameras rolling. We managed to capture some great moments that way too. There were also times we deliberately withheld the scripts for future episodes from the cast, so their performances in those earlier episodes wouldn’t be influenced or give anything away to the audience about what was to come. It was also a great way of testing if certain things we were doing were predictable or not. And when the cast and crew finally got the script episodes and were genuinely surprised at a turn in the plot we knew it would work.
How long did it take to shoot “Married to the Game”? How long did it take to edit?
We were scheduled to shoot for 30 days but we ended up wrapping in 26 days. And with the extra day for reshoot, a total of 27 days. Post-production took the best part of three months to get the look, feel and unique style we wanted. We have a lot of great music scoring and foley sounds, which most people won’t really notice – which as they say is a good sign of a job well done.
Fill in the blank. I wish I had more _______ to shoot this thriller drama series
What are the challenges in the film industry in Africa, how do you overcome it?
Funding and also the diverse taste of our African audiences that we try to satisfy. If I knew the answer I’d have my own cable channel by now.
There are film students out there aspiring to be feature film directors. If you could give aspiring directors three pieces of advice, or three areas to focus their energies on what would they be?
Personally, I’d say master your craft with short films first – less risk and they allow you to be free to express yourself more creatively. There are too many variables and financial implications involved with making a feature film to attempt if you are not completely ready. If you can make a few good short films, then the experience will carry you through to making successful features.
Stick to what you know and do best – don’t try to follow a trend just because it seems popular. You can’t excel in what you don’t fully understand.
Be brave and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – learn from them. There is no film in the world that doesn’t have mistakes – Experienced filmmakers are just better at concealing them.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
What’s the last thing you ate?
What’s your pet peeve?
The time it takes for the decoder to rescan
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
What’s your biggest regret?
Apart from the fact that I can’t time travel or teleport?
Tell us something about you that not even your closest friend knows.
I really can teleport.
What has been your greatest achievement in terms of personal growth so far?
Having a film script I wrote optioned and made into a film ‘GET LUCKY’ and distributed by Universal – Not many writers based in Hollywood are fortunate enough to have a script option talk less of having it funded, turned into a film and then put out on general release, internationally.
The whole process took about five years from start to finish, with over 100 re-writes. I learned so much on how and why certain things are done in a specific way. How certain scenes or locations did not make financial sense being in a script. How they could be adapted to save the production money. Every time a new director or producer was attached to the project they would have new notes on changes to improve the script. You quickly learn not to be a slave to your art and focus on the big picture – I was also an associate producer on the project. Ultimately the experience instilled in me the mindset that there’s always room for improvement – and that there are always better choices to be made and better outcomes to be gotten.
It’s important for human beings to work hard and play hard, so what’s next? A holiday? Another big venture?
Work most def – Have a few projects at various stages of production – But most probably a follow up short film first.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, we’ll allow you to go back and kiss your award. We wish you the very best for the future and look forward to seeing more of your work on our screens.