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Courage Obayuwana: A Versatile Talent Who is Mastering Filmmaking With His Debut Directorial Feature, “Kill Boro”

Courage Obayuwana: A Versatile Talent Who is Mastering Filmmaking With His Debut Directorial Feature, “Kill Boro”

Courage Obayuwana: A Versatile Talent Who is Mastering Filmmaking With His Debut Directorial Feature, “Kill Boro”| Afrocritik

“I hope to tell more beautiful stories. I’m a storyteller, and I want to keep doing that.” – Courage Obayuwana. 

By Seyi Lasisi

Childhood is a fleeting yet impressionable moment of life, and children learn to instinctively absorb their environment — whether through their parents, siblings, or society. The director of Kill Boro, Courage Obayuwana’s, childhood story isn’t any different. For Obayuwana, his earliest memories and relationship with cinema started with his parents. From his father’s collection, with a leaning towards Hollywood titles, young Obayuwana watched J. Lee Thompson‘s King Solomon’s Mines (1985), Joseph Zito’s Missing in Action (1984), and Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans (2010). From his mother,  a fan of Nollywood movies, he was exposed to Nollywood productions. Watching these diverse film selections at a young age, he began to spot the differences in production quality, and it made him curious. When he was around 13, Obayuwana was introduced to an Arabic movie channel called MBC 2, where he had access to Hollywood productions. This channel also featured the behind-the-scenes of these productions which further spurred his interest in films. It is no surprise why Obayuwana wanted to be a Hollywood filmmaker. 

As an undergraduate studying Computer Science at the University of Benin, he joined the Christian Fellowship International (CFI), a campus fellowship, where he enrolled in their media unit. Upon joining this unit, his passion for shooting videos waxed stronger. In 2018, in an attempt to test all he had learnt, Obayuwana directed Fejiro, his debut short film. It was after this production that he became certain of becoming a filmmaker.

For Afrocritik, I spoke with Obayuwana about Kill Boro, his directorial debut feature film. He also discusses the importance of First Feature Project by Steve Gukas and Dotun Olakunri, a new initiative that is introducing, training, and mentoring filmmakers in Nollywood, an industry long known for its do-it-yourself resourcefulness. Obayuwana also spoke about working with child actors in these productions, while opening up about what is next for him as a filmmaker. 

(The interview has been edited for length and clarity). 

Congratulations on your debut feature film, Kill Boro. Now that the film is out and there are positive responses to it, how does it make you feel? Did you anticipate this level of response?

I feel amazing knowing that my hard work paid off. Honestly, the success of a movie can be hard to predict sometimes. I know we did something great with the level of commitment everyone brought on board and how hard I pushed myself to make a very impressive entry into the industry. But it still came as a bit of a surprise. I made the movie for myself, and I’m glad there are so many people out there who enjoyed it.

What is the story behind Kill Boro? Walk us through the pre-production, production and post-production phases of the film. What are pivotal moments that stood out? And what are the unique challenges you remember? 

Kill Boro has been in the pipeline since 2021 when I was paired with the writer, Depriye Diri. Since then, we’ve been working on perfecting the story. In 2023, we got Kester, a Port Harcourt-based writer, on board. With Kester, Steve Gukas, Dotun Olakunri, and myself, we were finally able to get the story to a point where we believed it was ready to be made.

For pre-production, planning was key — intensive planning, to be precise. I’m a very detail-oriented person, so I made sure no stone was left unturned. I created a complete shot list for the entire movie and storyboarded most of the scenes. I understand the importance of blocking to make a scene feel appropriate for the screen, so it was a major focus during my pre-production process. We then moved on to casting and meeting the crew I would work with and  I made sure we were all on the same page before flying to Port Harcourt for production.

During production, it was interesting to meet the actors in person again after the auditions. We had a table read and then started filming. Filming Kill Boro was an amazing experience, especially as a first-time director who initially thought I wouldn’t be fully accepted by veterans, but the reverse was true. Having the creative freedom to dream and watching it unfold on set was truly remarkable for me.

Post-production started while filming. It was done simultaneously, a method I strongly advise to filmmakers because it shows you right away what’s working and what’s not. The highlight for me was coming to the editing room and seeing my executive producers smile after watching a rough cut of some scenes. This further boosted their confidence in me, and we could already predict that we were making a great film.

After principal photography wrapped, I and my best friend/editor, Precious Okoemu, continued with the editing. Okoemu edited my short film Fejiro, and since then, we have been in sync. The first cut of Kill Boro had a runtime of about four hours, and it needed to be trimmed down. It was very tough deciding what made the cut and what didn’t, to ensure that what was taken out didn’t affect much of the storytelling. We may feature some scenes on social media that didn’t make the cut, just for fun. After editing, the project was taken to South Africa for colour grading and sound design.

Courage Obayuwana: A Versatile Talent Who is Mastering Filmmaking With  His Debut Directorial Feature, “Kill Boro”| Afrocritik
Courage Obayuwana

While watching Kill Boro, one cannot noticeably tell that it’s your feature-length directorial debut. There’s a level of preparedness that is evident in the film. Can you inform us of your creative vision for the film and how you were able to direct both veteran and budding actors? 

Thank you. I have always wanted to make films, so I’ve exposed myself to a lot of knowledge on filmmaking and watched many great movies to understand the difference between what’s good and what’s bad, and how to make a film work properly.  Preparation is everything. You make your film before stepping onto a movie set. This involves script analysis, breakdowns, shot lists, storyboards, etc., and even creating your treatment as a director. 

After reading Kill Boro, I knew immediately that it had to be told through the perspectives of Elijah and the audience, meaning the audience would know something Elijah doesn’t know and vice versa. This influenced some of the editing styles I knew I’d employ in post-production. For the visuals, I wanted it to feel as real as possible, almost like a documentary. I wanted it to be dark and unfriendly, just like the world, which is why we had so many silhouette shots. 

As a director, your relationship with your actors is key because actors are like the pillars of the film; their performance can make or break the production. I knew having a good relationship with the cast for Kill Boro was important. I see actors as collaborators, so the first thing I did was jump on a call with each of them to discuss their character and have a conversation. This way, when we met on set, we wouldn’t meet as strangers but as colleagues. This approach worked and meeting on set was smooth and seamless. On set, I had to make the actors trust me and know that they were in good hands. If they trust you, they’ll listen to your directions. 

Kill Boro is part of the First Feature Projects headed by Steve Gukas and Dotun Olakunri. Can you speak about the initiative and its importance to you as an emerging filmmaker? 

The importance of this programme cannot be overemphasised. Filmmakers will always need a platform, and they are creating this platform.

One of what Gukas and Olalunri’s initiatives are addressing is the absence of a learning structure and system for young Nigerian filmmakers. In Nollywood where most filmmakers are self-trained, can you speak to the cultural and structural relevance of the First Feature Projects?

As a self-taught filmmaker, growing up, I wished I had access to mentors who could help me focus. I did qualify for such a program; I had made a short film prior to this, but I still had no recognition from high-end producers until this initiative came along. It’s been a blessing to the 12 amazing filmmakers, and I hope more producers will take note and create more platforms like this where you don’t just teach them, you empower them to apply what they’ve learned.

Structure is very important, especially the right one. Being self-trained is nice, but structure points you in the right direction and saves you time. I know this firsthand, having learned a lot about my craft from YouTube. I believe this initiative is the right path to training students the right way. I believe if such a model is emulated by other production houses, it will make the Nollywood industry great. 

Aside from being a director, you colour grade, edit, and shoot. How did all these different skills come in handy when directing Kill Boro?

As a director, it’s very important for you to know a bit about every department. This helps you communicate better with the HODs. From pre-production, I already knew the look and feel of the movie and how the cinematography was going to be. I can’t really explain it, but it made my preparation process very hands-on because I knew a lot about what I wanted from Kill Boro as a Director of Photography (DP) and as a colourist.

One of the closing scenes is one of my favourite scenes in Kill Boro. In the scene,  Mama Fanta and other neighbours stood up in opposition to Jaguar. This scene underscores the place of society clamping down on violent acts in communities. What is your opinion on this subject?

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A child is raised by the family and the community. Therefore, it is very important for me to show how community influence can be powerful when channelled to the right cause, just like it was portrayed in the film. Communities play a crucial role in shaping the behaviour and values of their members, especially young people. When a community collectively decides to address and reduce violence, it can have a significant and positive impact.

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A still from Kill Boro

Kill Boro had pivotal scenes where colour grading and lighting are important to enhance the actors’ performances. For an emotional film, how important were the colour grading choices? 

Colours evoke certain emotions, so choosing when to use them in a scene is key. Colour grading starts from production, not just during post-production. From the wardrobe to the set design, they all influence what the final grade will look like. I knew from the start that these colour choices would help enhance the story. One of the major colour decisions was to avoid white walls. The interiors were always colourful to reflect the somewhat lack of quality interior design typically found in the lower class. This helped make the world more believable and, hence, enhanced the performances.

Fejiro is one of your short films and it revolves around child actors. Can you walk us through that experience and how different it is from Kill Boro? 

Fejiro was a passion project I shot to prove that I have a voice in this industry that needs to be heard. It was a very revealing and challenging experience for me because I had to figure out how to raise the funds for it. I couldn’t afford to hire a writer, so I learned how to write and scripted it myself. I’ve always heard that directing child actors is difficult, but I find it relatively easy because kids easily take notes and believe you know better. Or maybe I’ve just been fortunate to work with incredible child actors. 

I was also the DP on Fejiro, which added to my experience as a cinematographer in general and gave me a confidence boost. Fejiro is completely different from Kill Boro. In Kill Boro, I only wore the hat of a director, while in Fejiro, I was the director, writer, and DP. Kill Boro also had more experienced actors compared to Fejiro, where we just used friends, relatives, and bystanders on the road. 

Watching Kill Boro reminded me of how Nollywood has remarkable child actors whose talents aren’t fully harnessed.  What do you think is the reason for this and how can it be corrected? 

I would say one of the major reasons would be relevance. They think people expect a kid to be a kid and permit bad acting. They don’t take child actors seriously and believe they can just throw any available kid in front of the camera. For the Elijah character, we had multiple online auditions and physical auditions in Port Harcourt before we found potential actors who came in for a table read in Lagos, where Kosi Ogboruche was selected. Yes, it was a rigorous search because he is the lead, but I believe such energy should also be channelled into finding casts who are kids. We used that same energy in finding Beloved Osagie, who played Orabere. So I believe producers should take child actors seriously and treat them as they would regular actors.

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Kosi Ogbruche as Elijah and Beloved Osagie as Orabere in Kill Boro

In hindsight,  Fejiro feels partly autobiographical in that it’s a sort of prophecy about you returning to make more stories without restraint. How valid is this interpretation? 

Yeah, it’s very valid. The inspiration for Fejiro was my personal story, and in the ending scene of the film, her friend said, “Don’t worry, next time we will do better and we will win an award.” I have indeed grown and made a better film, and hopefully, I’ll gain some award recognition as well.

Kill Boro has been commended for its stellar storyline. What is next for you as a director? 

I hope to tell more beautiful stories. I’m a storyteller, and I want to keep doing that. I look forward to collaborating with like-minded producers who prioritise storytelling above all else. In the end, the audience remembers the story. Hopefully, we’ll get to have this conversation again on another project in the future. 

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian creative with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how they align with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex. Email: seyi.lasisi@afrocritik.com. 

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