Young Nigerian filmmaker, Judith Audu is passionate about filmmaking. She started out as an actress, starring in movies like Meet the Inlaws, Tinsel, Emerald and One love. Eager to take on new challenges, Judith proceeded to join the league of women producers in Nollywood.
Judith’s “Just Not Married” was one of the selections for the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016. The film received good reviews before it was selected for the festival and Judith was just one of the fairly known producers to arrive TIFF in that year. For many, it was a story of hope and resilience – that it shouldn’t take many produced features to be recognized by such an international jury.
Fast forward to 2018 and Judith does not only have a striking portfolio to show for her contribution to film, but she has bagged extra knowledge from the London Film Academy, where she enrolled to learn directing. Judith’s debut “Mirabel” will be shown all around the country, in mid-2018.
Nollywood Observer recently chatted with Judith and she tells us about her career and what it takes to succeed in Nollywood.
What draws you to a story and how do you find these stories you want to tell?
JUDITH: The story is the foundation for a great film, if the story is weak, no matter how hard you try or how fantastic the actors are, it will be filling water into a basket. I always make sure I take my time to go through as many scripts as possible till I get the one that speaks to me and that I am convinced is relatable. I source for stories most of the time. I have some writers I have come to love their style and they also understand my kind of stories. I love dialogue driven, fast-paced stories that leave no room for the audience to blink. When I get a script from the first 3 pages I will know if I would love to produce it. The storyline, the plot, the character development, the pace, the dialogue, the rawness, and the story are some of the things that draw me to a story.
How do you choose the directors you work with and what impact has your past selection had on your past productions?
JUDITH: The office of the director is one that you don’t just jump into. It’s one of the reasons I took my time over the years to take on various roles in the industry, understudying directors I respect in the industry and then when the time was right I went to the London Film Academy to study Directing properly.
A director is believed to be the brain behind a Film, its why it’s usually called a Director’s Film. The impact of a Director in a film cannot be overemphasized.
The director is a god who creates and gives life to a story, how it is done depends on the vision and choices made. They can make or break a film, Picking the right director is very crucial in film production if you get a director that doesn’t see the bigger picture or isn’t committed and dedicated to the project, the tendency of the film not coming out well is high. You need a director that is not taking the job because he is being paid for it but because he loves the story and is as excited as you are to bring it to life. One that is going to give all it takes to make it come out way better than planned, and not do a fast in and out, ‘action and cut’ alone job.
I have been lucky to find a director that was a friend and we grew together in the industry because we were both hungry for growth and passionate about filmmaking. When I shot my first film, “Not Right,” I had options of who I wanted to direct it, (I need to state that I love an ‘Actors’ Director. Directors that can communicate to actors clearly, make them get it). I spoke to some directors and they came up with excuses and I spoke to Uduak-Obong Patrick, sent him the script and the only reply he gave was ‘when are we going to shoot’, he trusted I knew what I was doing and was ready to jump in the boat with me. This immediately made me respect him and made me want to work with him more, ‘Not Right’ came out way better than planned and went on to get over 6 best Short Film Nominations and opened bigger doors for us, we went on to also do “Just Not Married” together which was his first Feature length directorial effort and my First Produced Feature, but I trusted him to deliver again. The rest of the story is history in Nollywood and the world at large, but it was mainly because we understood each other, we trust each other and don’t need to look over our shoulders checking on ourselves, we had same vision, he worked magic with the actors, and so I love to have him as my Director because he is an Awesome Director.
When reading a script, I can tell who I would like to direct the script, I believe some directors are strong with the different genres like action, drama, comedy, rom-com, etc. but there are some that can direct every genre, one just need to hear how they talk about a script after reading it, you can tell immediately if they are into the story.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while shooting Mirabel and Flipped, as a Director? How did each of these challenges differ and how did you manage them?
JUDITH: Shooting Mirabel and Flipped were both new terrains for me as both were my first features as a director. Mirabel being the first attempt was a short film, screenplay written by me which gave me an opportunity to plot and block at the same time. I also produced it so I got to get my crew and cast, made sure they were people I believed will bring my vision to life. I worked with very young filmmakers as my crew members because a lot of them looked up to me and it was an opportunity to involve them in a project, I was glad about. I can say Mirabel didn’t have particular ‘Challenges’, as anything that came up wasn’t major and we fixed it on the spot so it was a very smooth shoot, we all loved the story and you can see the joy in everyone’s face, to give their all and to make sure it comes out way more than planned.
Flipped on the other hand was my first directed feature film and I was a hired director on the project. The producer Lilian Emehelu made a lot of decisions, she trusted me so much that she believed I was the best for the film and approached me even when I had not expressed my move into directing. This came as a surprise to me and also a challenge that someone that didn’t know me will trust me with such a big task, the shoot was in Abuja, it was the first time I was shooting in Abuja, was the first time working with all the crew but the lead actors were people I am very familiar with.
Omowunmi Dada who was also the lead actress in my short film Mirabel and Kelechi Udegbe who I worked with in Stormy Hearts, they made work extremely easy for me and the Director of Photography, Edosa Osawe was beyond awesome, he made everything look so smooth and whenever we had a challenge we put heads together and came up with a solution, it was really challenging and tough, but we made sure we made it work and we had a very great shoot. Did I mention I also acted as the supporting actress? Oh yes! So, I was directing and also acting a very strong role, it was very challenging but it was an amazing learning curve, I learned so much and I was very grateful the producer and writer of flipped, Lilian Emehelu trusted me. I am looking forward to more directing jobs.
How do you decide the films you will release at the cinema and the ones to share online?
JUDITH: Cinema films are usually shot in a cinematic way so you actually shoot with the intention of showing it on the big screen. A lot of technicalities and shooting style is meant to be different from films going straight to TV and online, but somehow, we don’t do that here due to financial constraint. Every time I get an opportunity to make a film, I make sure they are made so well and able to do well on any platform but not all films are meant for the big screen. For me, its more than budget issues, how far I want to push a particular film determines what I want to do with it, so from conceptualization to pre-production to production to post-production and full-blown publicity, planning for a cinema film is totally different. It takes a lot! It requires a lot in terms of commitments, both financially, time-wise and physically, if the producer doesn’t have these things there is no point in trying to put a film in the cinema. Personally, it involves and requires a lot.
Do you think the cinema business is such a lucrative one for filmmakers without sponsors?
JUDITH: The cinema business requires a LOT!!! If a filmmaker doesn’t have sponsors to fall back to on the massive risk it’s not an easy road, unless the film is a collaborative effort with a lot of production companies involved. Even at that you still need sponsors as you will need a lot of funds and goodwill for the publicity. It is best achieved with sponsors, it’s lucrative and better for the filmmaker to have sponsors when going to cinemas, but the more cinemas we have, the better for us. As our viewing screens increase the business becomes more and more lucrative and gives more opportunity for the filmmaker to recover investments made.
Have you noticed that female filmmakers in Nollywood tend to tell more love stories? With that in mind, what type of stories will Judith be telling as Director?
JUDITH: Oh Really? This question made me think of all the female directors I know…I think women love strong stories… Judith is not going to be doing a lot of love stories o!!! I love very strong, powerful, raw, real, relatable narratives, I am a sucker for realism. I will be telling a lot of raw realistic stories that we will all be able to relate to.
If you were to direct a film with a huge budget to spend, which actors will feature and why will you choose them.
JUDITH: I can’t say blindly the actors I will feature in a futuristic film as I can only cast after reading the script and getting the perfect cast for it. I have a very long list of actors both local and foreign that I have always dreamt of working with, purely because of the depth they have as actors and how they do the work to bring characters to live in the most believable way possible, I love actors that take their job seriously, professionals that strive to always be better than their last job
Fun Questions with Judith
What is the best Film you have seen in the last two years?
JUDITH: Answer: Bahubali 1 & 2
What film do you watch and feel like, I would have loved to direct that?
JUDITH: Bahubali a film like that is way more than a film, its art and will forever be talked about for its greatness just like the Godfather and all the legendary films used to teach film students different styles and techniques.