I always thought that being a creative will feel like being in La La land, actually, I didn’t just think, I knew it because I started my career in some fantasy world.
I was maybe eight when I realized that I loved telling stories, I would go to the backyard and with small sticks, as characters, I would act out my stories; digging holes as I moved the sticks around to school, parties, visitations and what not. Those brittle sticks did everything – they travelled the world, met the Queen, became Presidents and Prime Ministers, until my dad zapped me back to reality; like a bad movie.
My dad was going through a financial crisis at the time and boy did he think everything was diabolical; a bird would cry and he would spring right into prayers; don’t cough at odd hours of the day, that could be bad luck, virtually everything and everyone was a suspect and we weren't left out.
When my dad saw those holes in the ground, he said they brought bad luck. He made it clear that he didn't want to see them again and he didn't have a budget for the many problems and health hazards that came with playing with sticks. I wondered for days what those could have been, perhaps if I accidentally swallowed a stick? But that was the end of my first fantasy world, I said goodbye to Hannah, Joey, Chinwe, and as many stick characters as I could. High school was over before it began, but I was not deterred.
As a child, I spent most of my time by myself, and I guess that’s why I fell in love with storytelling. I imagined a different world than I existed in and lived in my mind half the time – it was pure fantasy, but it was better than reality. When I could no longer play out the stories in my head with my sticks, I sought other means to bring my characters to life, and then came the magical duo; the pen and paper – Oh the wonder! I could write! I could write all my thoughts out and read them over again, I could create my universe and make a potato the president if I wished, I could do anything!
And so it began, that I started creating paper fantasies, reading them over and over again. I was the lead character in all my stories, and I lived out all my fantasies! Like those brittle sticks, I did everything I ever wished I could do but couldn’t; I travelled the world, got married to a prince, came top in my class (well, I always did this in real life 😊), you know, virtually everything!
But that was when I was eight and it’s been a while now.
As a teenager, I wasn’t any different from my peers. I grew up like every other teenager, I was no longer obsessed with my fantasies (obviously), I still wrote from time to time but I had a new obsession and it was with motion picture. Every time I watched a movie that stood out for me, I would pause to think of the ‘how’, I was genuinely fanatical; I would watch screen credits roll to the end, I would listen to every word, every beat, watch every action – I maxed out my debit card and paid attention in full!.
By sixteen, I had started writing screenplays, the plotlines weren’t well thought out, the format was wrong, they all needed fixing, but I had something way better than all those errors – Passion and a Story; and I was determined to tell it.
All through my University days, I worked as a freelance scriptwriter earning peanuts and ‘exposure’ for my writing. I was also unfortunate because I met a lot of lunatics who took advantage of me; some stole my work, never giving me credit or money; some paid half the fee and absconded with the finished screenplay; some took my treatments and produced three parts! Three parts of a movie! Three! (I’m yelling in my Nigerian voice), and some paid in full but never produced my work (the audacity!). I think there’s a lot that young creatives do not know about getting into the creative industry, I also think that there are lots of stories that haven’t been told by these naive young creatives.
For someone who spent ALL her University days working hard, through sleepless nights, trying to finish off projects after projects, I am happy to announce that I graduated from the University without a penny to my name; okay, maybe I did have a little over a penny? What’s the exchange rate? But I was hopeful, ready for the future, I felt like my worse days were behind me, like graduating Uni was all I needed to start that bright future, the World will go blind when I walk into a room, I will be cashing out – did I hear ‘Ka-Ching’?
And then, just like my Dad did when I was eight, the world zapped me back to reality; like a bad movie.
Life after Uni was nothing like I anticipated. If anyone was going blind, it was me! From malnutrition and staring long hours at my screen for even shittier pay. Writers were like vultures, everyone fought for the bottom of food chain pay, we all earned so little and worked so hard; it was dishonourable, to say the least! Producers had options, a fleece of poor and hungry writers waiting for one to say no, so they could say yes. Did one have an option you may ask? Yes! Say yes or starve – it was pretty straight forward.
There were those writers so earned good money for their work, they were way high up on the food chain. We sat at their masterclasses and listened to them talk about being honourable with their craft and learning to say ‘no’, we were all so inspired when they bragged about how much they earned on their last job and the calibre of people they worked with. Was that it? I would always think to myself, is that what they all had in common? Working for the big guys? But of course, that wasn’t all they had in common, they all had the same sound of laughter; slightly condescending and almost laced with contempt. Or maybe it was me, maybe I felt so small around them, maybe I felt it was easier said than done, maybe I was envious, angry and still in awe all at once. Maybe I was silly.
I always left those masterclasses thinking about what could be. I spent days and night daydreaming about my big break; I wrote multiple speeches before the mirror, I walked down several aisles to get my award plaque, and best of all, I got paid in six zeros - did I mention I was daydreaming? I spent the little hours left of my daydreaming days stalking those facilitators - the big shots. I bombarded them with emails and pilots and treatments and synopsis and loglines until the silent voice of rejection and shame begged me to stop.
Write as a full-time lifer miserable was – Life as a full-time Writer was miserable. Some had it good, I wasn’t some, I was others and others had it, well, Bad!
I was at the edge of misery about sinking into the bottomless ocean of nothingness, you know those ‘where did they go and whatever happened to them folks’? I was banging at their doors, begging to be let in! I knew I needed change.
I was tired of those masterclasses, I didn’t want to hear another word about honourable pay and saying no, I didn’t want to hear another word about the dignity of a creative or doing it for the Art, or exposure! Guess what? I couldn’t pay anyone with exposure, and I didn’t even have enough exposure to pay myself! Oh! I was sick of it! Of all the slangs, all the gatherings, all the lingos, of Final Draft, Celtx, Ms-Word; of prose, of screenplays, of articles; I was sick of everything that one could and couldn’t be sick of! I wanted a change and I wanted it two years back.
It was then I knew and agreed that I needed the Creative’s worst nightmare; a job; no, not just any job, a 9 -5 job.