Wednesday, September 13, 2006

From the vault: August 2, 2006 - “I’m a artist… and I’m sensitive about my s#!t” © Erykah Badu (Part One)


The three producers of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN sit on the balcony with Yinka Davies – the erstwhile “Erykah Badu of Nigeria” – drinking sodas and looking over the late-evening Lagos bustle.

Yinka looks at the producers and smiles. Denis smiles. Koko smiles. Nana sports an especially wide and goofy grin as he tries not to stare at the soul diva’s ample breasts.

(He fails.)

YINKA: So… Everybody is smiling. But why are we here?

Six expectant eyes turn to Nana, who takes a sip of his drink and clears his throat.

NANA: Well, I… um, I’ve been thinking about you since 5 o’clock this morning. I was lying on the floor this morning, all by myself in the dark, just watching TV… And you appeared onscreen and it… it was like you were speaking to me, telling me that I… I just had to find you. It was like a vision, you know? At 5 o’clock in the morning, I just knew that I had to see you tonight.


Koko’s eyes are closed; he rubs his temples in exasperation. Denis and Yinka still smile, but somewhat uncomfortably.

YINKA: Okaaayyyy…

DENIS (to Nana): Could you say that again… but make it sound a little less stalkerish this time?


Remember that time in “Entourage” when cocky, eccentric genius director Billy Walsh freaked out before the first screening of Queen’s Boulevard?

Then he hijacks the film, locks himself up with it in a hotel room, obsessively edits it over and over and issues the Zen-like proclamation that he doesn’t care if it’s ever released or if anybody ever sees it as long as he knows in his soul that he has created something perfect.

That’s kinda where I’m at right now. Kinda. I ain’t hacked off my hair, though.

I can’t sleep at night. I can’t eat in the daytime. I go to the bathroom like 50 times a day. I’m moody, sullen and withdrawn (at this point, one or two of my exes hiss “What else is new?”). I take long walks before anybody else wakes up. I compulsively listen to 1960s girl-group records like “Jimmy Mack,” “Out in the Streets,” “Leader of the Pack” and “I’d Much Rather Be With the Girls.” I watch and re-watch the 13 hours of footage we’ve shot so far like it were the effing Zapruder film. At this point, I’m pretty sure Denis and Koko wouldn’t mind making TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN a posthumous release for me.

We’ve shot some good stuff; I know this intuitively, and pretty much all of the innocent bystanders I have abducted and forced to view the footage confirm that it looks great. But when I look at the screen all I see is the compromises, the faux pas, the fuckups. Every frame taunts me with its imperfection.

It’s ridiculous to try to judge the final quality of a film from about half of the raw footage but I can’t help it… I can’t reconcile myself to the fact that what I see on the screen is not an exact realization of what I saw in my head when I wrote it.

But I know that’s kinda silly, too… Unless you’re Hitchcock or maybe the Coen Brothers, chances are that what you end up shooting will never be exactly what you planned. Film is a collaborative art… There’s way too many other people contributing their input for your vision to remain that pure.

Still, there’s at least two major scenes that I think are complete garbage. Mind you, these are scenes that we were all incredibly proud of three weeks ago… Every time we watched them, we hi-fived each other, basking in the certainty that we were creating something very special… Something great. Today, I announce that I want to shitcan them.

Koko doesn’t say anything for a long time; he just stares at me for a long, long time with that gimlet-like gaze of his. And I can see the SCUD missiles being primed in those eyes. Then, finally:

“So… Will it make you happy to reshoot those scenes from scratch?”

“Why do you ask? Are you gonna let me reshoot them?”

“Shit, if you want to,” he says. “It’s your movie.”

I recoil from those three words like an acid-coated bitchslap.

My movie?”

On the real, I haven’t necessarily thought of it as my movie for a long time. I kinda gave up on that notion since the sign incident on the first day of shooting.* Since then, if anything, I think of it more of as our movie.

And now this dude wants to dump this mess in my lap?

But it's true, though... It's my name that everybody associates with this thing... and if it sucks, then I suck.

Damn... I wanna hack off all my hair right now.

So I'm lying on the floor at 5 o'clock this morning, watching music videos. Nigerian music vids have gotten pretty good of late... Back in the day, most videos had a budget of like 17 bucks and the production values of the average bar mitzvah video. But since the introduction of MTV Base Africa and the resultant opportunity for local acts to gain unprecendented international attention, cats have stepped their game up considerably on some Hype Williams shit.

Maybe I can get into the music video game if I flop as a movie director... Become the Nigerian Michel Gondry or something...

These are the thoughts I am thinking when Yinka Davies' video comes on at 5 o'clock. The song has some long-ass Yoruba title that I can't spell or pronounce, but it features her wearing a white gown, floating through the urban jungle of Lagos like Mama Yemanja with her healing waters.

Suddenly, I feel like everything's gonna be alright.

(to be continued)
*Ah yes… "The sign incident," he says, as if you should know what the hell that even means. I’ll post up the “First Sign of Trouble” entry later. I wanted to incorporate it into this post, but this shit is long enough already

Why Does This Blog Kinda Suck?

Gold stars for all of you who answered “Because you ain’t write in it, fool!”

That’s actually been a pretty big disappointment to me… When I started this blog, I truly wanted to it to be an honest, no-holds-barred, real-time chronicle of what it’s like to make a movie under these particular conditions, but shit… There’s hardly anything up on here that tells you the actual story of the making of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN.

Thing is (as I’ve said before) it’s not that I didn’t write it all down… I just didn’t post most of what I wrote because I often didn’t have the time (or, in some cases, the money) to go to a cybercafe.

Also, I think I deliberately censored myself quite a bit because… Well, I suppose I never completely got a handle on exactly what I wanted this blog to be. Was it a personal journal, a promotional tool, or something in between?

As a result, I opted not to post some of my more navel-gazing thoughts like, say, my unhappiness with my inexplicable rapid weight gain and acne breakouts during this production (which, by the way, served as an endless source of punchlines for my two compadres).

Then there were the entries about my so-called love life… I thought they were just gratuitous and kinda silly (Let’s not even talk about that one T.M.I. post about hemorrhoids).

Hell, I even held back from posting on a lot of purely professional subjects, like the numerous dickheads and assholes we had to deal with on the daily. Y’see, unlike Denis who has stated repeatedly that he cannot wait to publicly skewer all the jerks who have pissed him off, I’m still a bit reluctant to badmouth people… Partially because I’m trying to build a career here and I’m not trynna be burning bridges just yet, but also because… *shrug* I dunno, probably (as Koko is wont to berate me) I’m just too nice to take pleasure in slagging people off that way.

Likewise, I wasn’t sure if I should air out some of the internal squabbles we’ve had even within our own crew. But y’know, despite our similar interests, we’re all different personalities and hence, there is bound to be conflict. Actually, I’m pretty surprised at how relatively few conflicts there were and how quickly they always blew over. At the end of the day, it’s all love between us and this experience has definitely bonded us in a way you rarely see outside of war veterans and boarding school peers.

In addition, I was always wary of being too candid because while I mostly didn’t tell the cast and crew about the blog’s existence, I always worried that they might just Google “Comb & Razor” or “TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN,” find this page and discover that, oh, we had no money to pay them, for instance.

I know I was definitely a bit ashamed to expose our collective ass by discussing some of the boneheaded mistakes we made, too. I mean, we had some bad stuff happen that threw us way off course… Unforeseen Acts of God and the like. But then there was a whole bunch of shit that went wrong because of our own inexperience and poor judgment. We really made some bad calls… And I mean decisions that would make you look at us with genuine concern and ask “Ummm… So how long exactly have you suffered from this brain damage?”

(It’s particularly embarrassing because some of these problems my friend Mildred cautioned me about in advance and we still walked straight into them like dummies. Sometimes you just gotta experience it firsthand, I guess. Kinda like when someone warns you that they just laid a really stinky fart… Rather than just taking their word for it and immediately vacating the area, you first go take a sniff of it yourself to personally confirm the degree of rancidness, don’t you?)

More than anything, the conflict between my dueling desires to be an honest diarist and an effective salesman made me very hesitant to post about my own personal struggles with the actual quality of the footage we were shooting. I guess I thought it might be a bit discouraging to some of y’all who have been so supportive of us from jump… And hey, if this blog is supposed to be a form of advertisement to make you want to see the movie, isn’t it a bit counterproductive for me to admit that I’m a bit dissatisfied with it myself (even though it’s nowhere close to done)?

Mainly I feared that it might be read as preemptive pleading, y’know? Pro-facto apologizing just in case the movie ended up sucking.

(It is totally not gonna suck, by the way)

But, y’know, that oftentimes sharp dichotomy between artistic intent and final product is a regular part of the creative process so it’s only fair that you get some glimpse of it.

As I start working on editing almost 30 hours of footage into some form of coherent narrative, I’ll be keeping you all up to date on my progress (hopefully sharing some footage with you too) and also putting up “flashback” journal entries – WITH COMB & RAZOR: THE LOST EPISODES.

Hopefully you will find them to be readable and entertaining. Maybe they will comfort and inspire some other fledgling artists who struggle with the hurdles inherent to manifesting their dreams in the material plane.

At the very least, you can read them and laugh at what a moody, self-flagellating, passive-aggressive bitch boy I can be sometimes.

So yeah… I’ll start with that tomorrow. I’m here all week, folks.

As always, thanks for being here, too.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

All Things Must Come to an End


Three teenagers, KOKO (19), NANA (18) and UDEME (18) stroll down the street past Paradise City Hotel, a few blocks from Nana's house.

KOKO: Whatever happened to that screenplay you wrote back in school? “Trouble In Paradise”… It was pretty funny.

NANA: It’s still there. I’ve written a couple more since then, though.

UDEME: Do you think you're ever going to actually make these movies you write?

NANA: I don't know... I never really thought about it too seriously. I just write them for fun.

KOKO: We could make a movie.

UDEME: If you want to make a movie, you should probably go do it in Abuja. That city is looking really pretty these days.

KOKO: Who cares how pretty it looks? Why can’t we make a movie right here in Calabar? About our lives in this town and stuff?

NANA: Yeah, we can shoot “Trouble in Paradise” right here in Cal… Shoot it in this hotel right here and call it “Trouble in Paradise City”!



In front of a student compound a few feet up the road from Paradise City, an old blue Peugeot van is parked. Nicknamed “The Magic Bus,” it is the official production vehicle of TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN. Inside the bus, NANA (33) and KOKO (34) recline in the front seats as they wait for their ingénue, Emma, to get dressed.

NANA: So… Back then did you ever think we would really do this?

KOKO: Yup.

NANA: Did you ever think it would be this fucked up?


NANA: I love this, though… I feel like I was meant to do this. The idea of going back to the States and working another 9 to 5... It's just kinda repulsive to me, you know? I mean, if we were to fail with this - If the movie flops or we never even get to finish it at all - could you go back to that? Wearing a tie, sitting in a cubicle and shit?

KOKO: Do I have a choice? I got mouths to feed.

NANA: Yeah.


NANA: But... Would you try again?

KOKO: Are you asking me would I drop everything and jump aboard if you called me to come out and play again?

NANA: Yeah… I guess so.

Long silence.

KOKO: The terms would have to be different.


NANA: Yeah.


So… After a grueling two months, we finally ended production on TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN this past Tuesday.

The more observant reader will notice that I said that we “ended” production, not that we “finished” it – At this time, the film remains incomplete. There’s still about six or eight scenes we never got around to shooting, and there are at least two scenes that I insist we must re-shoot (much to the annoyance of my co-producers). Still, I decided that for now, we must stop.

This production has been like the Neverending Story, especially when viewed in light of the Nigerian film industry where a lot of movies are shot in like, ten days or so. In fact, we’ve become something of a joke in the community. People see us shooting and they’re like “Oh, you’re still here? I thought you guys had gone back to South Africa.”*

“Nope… We’re still here. Still working.”

“So are you shooting another movie?”

“Nope… Same one.”

“What? You’re still working on that same one? This has got to be part two or part three, right? Ha ha ha.”

Ha mudderfuggin’ ha.

Not that I’m bothered by the ridicule at all. I actually take pride in investing the time and energy into producing a piece of work that I can be moderately proud of rather than knocking out some quick, hacky bullshit just because that’s what everybody else is doing. But the fact remains: this shit is taking too long.

For a number of reasons, the remaining scenes were not materializing at the speed or in the form that they should have and we were spending day after day not really getting much done and all the while paying racking up bills by the day for equipment, crew, talent and lodging. Something had to give. I for one felt that a malaise was dragging down the cast and crew and it was showing up onscreen in the form of increasingly half-ass scenes.

I actually suffered a nervous breakdown of sorts after a particularly trying all-night shoot and fled barefoot and screaming into dawn’s early light. Here’s some pics of me being escorted back to the set after Koko found me wandering through the remote Ikot Ishie area of Calabar.

Check out the awkward looks on the faces of the cast and crew as El Director (pictured in doorway) returns to the set. Nobody says a word and nobody looks him in the eye (probably because they're worried that insanity might be transmissible by direct eye contact).

Needless to say, the speculation already started circulating about the nature of the drug abuse that triggered my psychotic episode. (Of course, I love that… Let my legend grow!)

But the truth is, I was just tired, man. Not just physically tired… That shit don’t matter to me. I was tired of having to compromise my vision because despite all the time we’ve spent, we’ve never really had the time or money to make this movie the way we wanted to.

So yeah, I’m like “Let’s stop. Let’s take some time to step back, re-evaluate how to whip this thing into shape and then come back in a few weeks or months or whatever and finish it off.”**

So that’s what we’re doing. Or what I’m doing, anyway. I kinda fear that from this point on, TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN might be more or less a solo affair for me.

Denis has been in Nigeria for almost four months now and it’s about time for him to go home. In fact, he should be on the way to catch flight back to Congo even as I type this.

Koko has been away from his family for a long time too, and he’s had to return to Lagos to resume his role of husband and father. I think he might be too occupied dealing with issues like paying the kids’ school fees to jump back into the wonderful world of movie production right now.

Me, at the moment I am back in the family digs at Aba. Another reason I had to call things to a halt was because I sensed my dad was growing really impatient with my continued assurances of “I’ll be back home after we wrap production next week. Next week, I promise!”

Originally, I was supposed to be in Nigeria for just under three months. The assumption was that this would be more than enough time for me to finish this picture, spend time with my family, party in three or four cities and still get back to the States with time to spare.

My plane ticket says that I was supposed to return to the States on August 29th. Two weeks ago, I called the airline to postpone my return indefinitely. That’s not just because I need to stay and finish TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN… The fact is that returning to America is an idea that has very little appeal to me right now. I’ve more or less committed myself to trying to make some kind of living in the Nigerian film world.

My dad does not approve of this decision (“Why not just go back to America and get a job?”) and neither do Koko and Denis (“So after all this, what you really want is to stay here and become the next Fred Amata? It’s a waste, you hear me? A fucking WASTE!”), but I just feel it’s something I need to do.

So I’ll be here in Aba (and Port Harcourt) for about a week or so, and then I jet off for Lagos to get started on my next job: writing and directing a pilot for the massive trans-African M-NET cable network.

I kinda worry whether or not taking this gig might be a mistake: Part of my head tells me that it’s probably better to be completely done with one thing before starting another… But opportunities like this don’t present themselves every day, and part of the reason for making TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN in the first place was to create further opportunities. Hopefully, doing stuff like this will get me in a stronger position to get the support I need to finish the movie.

To be honest, I’m a little bit scared: I really have no idea how I’m gonna complete TOO MUCH BEAUTIFUL WOMAN by myself in the midst of all this, but goddamn it, I’m gonna do it somehow. We’ve all worked too hard to not finish this shit now.

I’ll keep you all posted, I promise.


* For some reason, there has been this persistent and widespread belief in the local movie community that Koko, Denis and I are from South Africa. Where this idea came from, I do not know.

** Besides, Frank really had to go since production was resuming on "One Love," the soap opera/sitcom he stars in and we didn’t get to finish all his scenes (not to my satisfaction anyway)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Damn... It's been that long?

I can't believe almost a whole month has passed since I last posted anything here... My apologies; it's been mega-hectic and this is the first time I've even gotten a chance to check my email since August 15th.

In any case, today is pretty much our last day of production... It feels weird, I tell ya. Kinda sad and at the same time relieved. The good thing is that from tomorrow I'll have a lot more time to post on this page regularly as I promised I would. And boy, do I have some juicy stories for y'all!

So... See you tomorrow, like; I got some heavy drinking to do right now.