Drawing from the African heritage: Anthony Abuah

Never mind your own preconceptions of what you’re capable of,
because you will learn, we learn everyday
Anthony Abuah

Barely two weeks ago, Tambay Amadi Obenson, creator of Shadow and Act– a blog that discusses film and film makers of the African Diaspora, asked people- creative artists, film enthusiasts, and anyone in between, to share their stories of triumph, tragedy, lessons learned, and regrets.

Sharing one’s personal and/ or professional experience is not an easy feat. As Tambay rightly says on his blog, ‘it takes a certain amount of courage to be able to be vulnerable and share one’s plight’. But its also an opportunity to learn from internal reflection, as well as teach others something valuable and inspire them to be strong through their own struggles.

One of such stories shared with Tambay is from Anthony Abuah.

Anthony Abuah was born in Kenya to a Rwandan mother and Nigerian father. Having lived in more than seven countries worldwide, he learned to adapt to different people and lose himself in his own imagination. His early passions included art, football and then story telling. Anthony soon realized his passion to be a writer and began writing and developing scripts for both the theatre and film. He wrote his first play ‘Another Biafra’, which was critically acclaimed and won him an Ogeyinka Merit Award in 2010. He also  launched Tales From The Motherland Productions in 2010, to highlight his passion for the continent of Africa and is devoted to telling stories about the continent that would otherwise be ignored.

But before getting to this successful point, his story is one of a clear vision and perseverance.

Although its a bit long, there’s a lot to learn from Anthony.

Here is his story, verbatim, as shared with Tambay.

Name: Anthony Abuah

Fiercely Independent!

After years of pursuing an acting career in London, I decided to revisit an old pastime of mine which I had done since I was a kid, telling stories. I am heavily political and have lived in over 7/8 countries around the world so had a different outlook on life I wished to inform people about. I decided to write my first play “Another Biafra” in 2009, which focuses on the ongoing Niger-Delta oil crisis in Nigeria. I formed my own production company (Tales From The Motherland) and independently put the play in a West End theatre where it sold out every night and won an award.

I immediately shot my first ‘proper’ short film, (again financed by myself) called “Cyirima” about a Rwandese Tutsi woman living in London who is forced to come to terms with her daughter’s love of a Hutu boy. I learnt to use Final Cut Pro with that film and screened that at a small cinema in London.

I temporarily quit my job in the hope that my play will be super successful after a longer run. I put all my effort and money into it, but my fatigue and lack of resources meant we struggled to get big audiences. I got into huge debt and mild depression but God was my rock. I contemplated doing a simple 9-5 job and had all sorts of family issues going on too. This was my first major failure in the business. I pulled out an old feature script from my drawer and began to work it. I felt my failed play was like Spike Lee’s experience with “The Messenger” and this project was to be my “She’s Gotta Have It”. But it stunk! I wasn’t in the emotional state to handle it properly and in hindsight, I was too inexperienced to handle such a big, complex story. I typed up a 10 page budget proposal but didn’t get any funding.

I managed to get my old job back and began reading up a lot on the early lives of indie filmmakers’ (I own 4/5 books on Spike Lee, Melvin Van Peebles, etc). I could relate to them because I was experiencing the same things they were. My woman encouraged me to go to a church retreat ‘Encounter’ which cheered me up a bit. There, I met an African Oscar winner who was working for the Royal Commonwealth Society in London. They were running a film competition to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012. He strongly encouraged me to make a short on the theme, which I did in a day and edited in a weekend. It was called the “Unlucky Mother” (Youtube it). My film came second of more than 100 entries from all over the world. I got some press and some much needed confidence back.

I pulled out a script called “Flash 419” I had written in ’08 about Nigerian 419 scammers in London, essentially a crime film, totally in ‘pidgin english’ with english subtitles. I renamed it “Woolwich Boys” and set a shoot start date of 12 October 2011 (to work around the time off I had from work). I didn’t know where I was going to get the money and had planned to use a small crew and shoot with a couple of Canons. But God again came through again. I got some initial funding and amassed a ‘slightly’ larger crew than I expected. We even managed to get a bargain deal from a friend-of-a-friend at Shepperton Studios for a Red camera. The company, ironically is located on David Lean Drive (One of my favourite filmmakers).

We had an excellent cast, crew and shoot but of course, problems with post production and so on came about but I have faith I will get the money to complete my film. We even had a small festival screen our film. We had a great audience turnout and Q&A despite the festival being in Middle England and the film about London-based Nigerian criminals. The film will be ready in March 2012 and we will begin submitting to major festivals around the world.

My book Another Biafra is also now being self published and will be out on Amazon in early April. As a Commonwealth Award winner, my film was also screened for the Queen in Perth, Australia. I have even been invited to Westminster Abbey to meet her and other dignitaries at The Royal Observance Day. Woolwich Boys is also likely to be distributed theatrically this year, and other festivals have asked us to screen it there too.

I guess the moral to my story is being an independent can be an incredibly arduous and humbling task. It is also very rewarding once you succeed on your own terms. I am not there yet but I am now beginning to see the fruits of my labour slowly but surely. In January, my production company was hired to do a concert. Our first paid client. I even got a renowned concert pianist to score my film. These things would not have happened had I not continued to push through and produce despite the problems. What helped me was the fact that I am an independent, which meant I didn’t need people to OKAY everything before I went ahead and did it. I allowed myself to make huge MISTAKES which enabled me to LEARN a lot about the craft and how to make those important DECISIONS.

My advise to independent-minded people is that you put in 100% and actually go out and do stuff. Never mind your own preconceptions of what you’re capable of, because you will learn, we learn everyday. Why not strive for knowledge in the field that you love, too. I learnt to edit, sound mix, do posters and write off google, and through diligent practice. When production companies sent my script back because it was crap, when I stood in the freezing cold  handing out flyers to promote my play, or when I accidentally deleted my entire edit of my film, I was not deterred. I kept going. You keep going too! Obstacles are bound to come your way, but you must continue to go forward else, you may lose your passion entirely.

Stay up! God Bless!

Fanpage: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Woolwich-Boys-The-Movie/259725637391180
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2215773/
Blog: http://www.talesfromthemotherland.com/blog
Press: http://www.screenafrica.com/page/news/africa/1025080-African-short-wins-UK-award
Site: www.talefromthemotherland.com

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