45 days ago I received an email notification on my phone from a writers platform known as Medium. Medium gave me an opportunity to build an audience for the blog, while also developing my writing skills by reading the work of others on the site. “Before 30” was the new follower of my personal page and they expressed an interest in one of my posts titled Her Experiences discussing my views of the show “An African City”. Although “Before 30” was the handle, I was conversing with none other than the Executive Producer, Derin Adeyokunnu. He read my short post on An African City and encouraged me to watch their series “Before 30”.
A week after my first conversation with Derin, I found some time to watch the series over that weekend. Immediately, the use of Lagos City landscape jumped out to me, including the market area to add to the richness of the culture. Fashion was integrated throughout the series, which added more color to the characters. My biggest applause was the scoring done throughout the series. It evoked the right emotion at the appropriate moments and there were several strong scenes that I believe will resonate to a wider audience.
“Before 30” is a Nigerian drama series following the lives of four young and upwardly mobile women in Lagos facing the pressures from society and culture to get married before the age of 30. After watching the show I had questions not only about the show but I also wanted to gain an understanding of what it takes to create a show such as “Before 30” in the Nigeria from the creators perspectives. I reached out to the team to set up an interview to flush out these questions and obtain answers to place the series in its proper context.
FA: How did you find your way into the visual arts?
Derin - I’m a self-taught designer with a deep appreciation of the arts and artists. Never showed much promise in art in my early years so I never really pursued it in the traditional sense. I consider myself a frustrated artist and I’ve instead chosen to function as a facilitator and producer and work with artists across mediums. For instance, I was part of a band out of college, played bass, put out an album and performed locally. But I couldn’t even play now if you asked me. Now, I’m working on Film & TV. I just figure out where I can be of value and plug myself in.
BB (Director & Writer): Not sure if I have ever or do have an interest in visual arts. For me it is simply a compliment to the real passion of storytelling. That passion is not new, as I have always been a performer. I was on the debate team in primary school; I headed that and the drama club in high school. Through college, I didn’t really push anything creative; instead I focused on Biochemistry, with mistaken dreams of becoming a surgeon. After college, I went to NYFA for a year and discovered what would be my most important passion – filmmaking.
FA: How did you fund the project?
Derin: We first shot a pilot for the show in 2013 using our own savings. The pilot was ultimately an exercise to help us refine our story making process, and it was strong enough to convince lenders of our ability to deliver. The show ended up being financed through personal savings and a loan from a few individuals who believed in our talents. Product integration and sponsorship was part of our strategy from the beginning, so we were able to drum up some interest from some brands with the pilot, which gave us enough confidence to self finance the production of Season One. Once we wrapped up production, we created a package that consisted of the highlight reel, beauty shots and marketing integrations specific to the brands we targeted. FirstBank, and Airtel came on board.
FA: How has the relationship with television networks and sponsorship grown since the series launch?
Derin: Nigeria is in pretty bad shape right now. We’ve received partnership and co-production offers from both inside and outside Nigeria. EbonyLife licensed Season One of the show, so it was just a standard licensing deal. EbonyLife has been very supportive, and have an open door policy with us. We do want to work with them in the future, but there’s nothing imminent.
FA: Is the story personal?
BB: The lead character (Temi) and her boyfriend (Akin) were inspired by [my own personal relationship]. At the time, she wanted to get married and I was not ready. All the other characters were just created over time, discussing as a team, talking with friends, and writing the script.
FA: How did you decide on the scoring for the series?
BB: We had a really good music supervisor - Enyi Omeruah. For the most part, he would find different songs, many of them I hadn’t even heard of before the show, and we will both have musical sessions to decide what to use.
FA: Did the divorce scene impact the cast and crew during shooting?
BB: Honestly not particularly certain why we decided on this narrative anymore. I know we wanted to throw in a pretty big obstacle in an almost perfect relationship between Temi and Akin, and we wanted it to be something that wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular. The mood on the set was unreal. Zainab Balogun, who was the least experienced actor in the scene, really carried it. When we were done with her close up, Omorinsojo the producer had to excuse herself because she was crying. Yes, it was an emotional scene for everyone.
FA: What was the purpose of addressing sexuality during the trip to Brazil?
BB: We didn’t think we could justify the edginess of the sex if they weren’t out of the country. The tension really came from her thinking she was participating in something one time in her life, so far away from home, a bucket list of sorts, and he wanting it to be a part of their daily lives.
FA: How can the changing role of women reconcile with the traditional views of marriage in Nigeria?
BB: I think the reconciliation comes from culture not from the young women trying to get married. Much like many men dream of being successful young, many women will always want to find the perfect relationship and settle down in their twenties and early thirties. The issue comes from the pressure they face from culture to meet that goal even if it jeopardizes other things or is unattainable for some, and that is changing slowly.
FA: Do you see a movement towards television series over the traditional Nollywood films?
Derin: There aren’t that many TV shows considering the output of Nollywood. There is definitely an increase in the number of TV series being produced. African Magic and Ebony Life are investing in more episodic content, particularly in Soap Operas in the case of African magic. TV is harder to monetize than Films as most TV shows rely on sponsorship and advertising revenue, and there aren’t that many brands that have the budgets needed to produce quality TV. Films will continue to dominate the market, until TV shows find more avenues to monetize.
People are moving towards the online platform for entertainment, the only thing holding it back is the cost and quality of internet access, speed and bandwidth. Smartphone penetration is already double household TV penetration. With your smart-phone and high-speed access you get to watch what you want, when you want.
FA: How did fashion impact the direction of the series?
Derin: Fashion and entertainment have historically benefited from each other. It is a natural and obvious pairing. So, great production and fashion we see on actors, the bigger the brands and designers behind them will be. However, the visual arts industry does need more support and representation. I don’t think we value our artists. Their benefits and rightful place in our society aren’t as evident to the average Nigerian. I mean, we are a society that loves football, and don’t invest enough in our talent, and the industry needed to support them. So, a visual artist and painter like Laolu that featured on Beyonce’s Lemonade is still a tough sell. But the greater the impact of the show, the greater its impact towards influencing the other industries associated with it.
FA: How did you position Nemsia Studios in the industry and what impact do you want it to have on culture?
Derin: We wanted to affect culture and be part of the dialogue, instead of just being spectators. We love film and entertainment. We know, it’s incredibly difficult to convince people to spare a few minutes, let alone an hour or two of their time to hear and see what you have to say. We believe we are capable of telling great stories, and see it as a personal challenge to inspire a group of people. Art is powerful. Media can greatly influence society. Our society needs improvement, and great, well-told stories can serve as inspiration.
Many young and old will enjoy the show, but I think it will resonate deeply with those in their mid-twenties to early thirties, as this is when the majority start to witness his or her own and others relationships transition into marriages. The creators of the show have managed to highlight the perspective of different women mostly in a believable way with the exception of Ama who I felt could lacked the depth the other characters were afforded. The character with the most depth was Aisha, as she is battling not only her patriarchal home but also, the pressure of being the only married woman among her single friends. Of the three single friends, Nkem was the strongest on camera and played her role superbly as the carefree and confident woman. It would have added another layer of discourse if the creators had given more time to the men in the lives of these women. I found many of their characters to be transient and not strong enough for me to truly connect to their characters while watching the series.
Following the interview, I started to reflect on the challenges of pursuing a vision in a country like Nigeria. The creators of the show relocated to Nigeria after completing their professional education and quit their jobs to pursue entrepreneurship, which ultimately culminated to the creation of Nemsia Studios. Many shy away from doing business in Nigeria due to the inefficiencies in the economy, however, the creators have demonstrated that there are opportunities in Nigeria to pursue one’s vision. The red carpet was not laid out for the creators to complete the show. They came out of pocket for the shooting of the pilot in 2013, while also obtaining a loan from individuals who believed in their vision. Through their marketing plan, the creators were able to gain sponsorship from major corporate staples in the economy such as FirstBank and Airtel. The future for Nemsia Studios is promising with a comedic film project in the works along with a stronger Season 2 of “Before 30”.
Thank you to the creators of the show for their time and support in completing the interview – Bodunrin Sasore, Morin Akinola and Derin Adeyokunnu.