We need to create our own stories: Remi Vaughan-Richards

As part of our continuing quest to grow the Nigerian Creative Sector by providing creative entrepreneurs with the opportunity to meet, interact and learn from creative entrepreneurs from other parts of the world, we sent Nigerian Filmmaker Remi Vaughan-Richards to the Birds Eye View International Film Festival that held in London in April.

Birds Eye View runs an international film festival that takes place in London every April, year round film training, monthly screenings and special events. According to information on the festival website, Birds Eye View Film Festival was the vision of Rachel Millward and Pinny Grylls as a response to the industry numbers indicating that men directed 92% of films on general release.  They set out to create a festival that celebrated female filmmakers. Starting out as a short film festival BEV has grown to become one of the most respected platforms for showcasing female film talent.

Remi Vaughan-Richards has previously worked in Hollywood productions and is doing her bit to grow the Nigerian film sector. We hoped that she would garner more connections and knowledge that she will bring back to boost the film industry in Nigeria.

She responded to questions about her trip upon her return to Nigeria.

British Council Arts: Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Remi Vaughan-Richards: I was born in Nigeria, went to boarding school age 12 and would come back for holidays until college. Then I really didn't venture back for any length of time until nine years ago. My career has always been in film, I know nothing else. My journey in film however has been an interesting one. I started out in the costume department making sculptural costumes for sci-fi fantasy and period films then worked my way into the art department on films such as the original Judge Dredd, with Sylvester Stallone and Eyes Wide Shut then I became a production designer and storyboard artist. In 2000 my career as a director began and I have not looked back. The training in UK has been invaluable for me in Nigeria.

BCArts: The British Council has for years engaged with the Nigerian creative community, with the intent of developing the industry to meet current world challenges, what do you know about the work of the British council in Nigeria and do you see a future partnership?

Remi: I think the workshops and seminars with international delegates that the British Council have been doing over the years is a great way of nurturing talent, the recent Birds Eye View film festival I was invited to through the British Council is a good example of opportunities created by the British Council for networking and for homing one’s skills. A productive experience. It gave me an opportunity to recharge the creative batteries. Future partnership would be great in terms of attending more such events, also promotion of content. I can also give talks on my experiences in the film world in the UK and Nigeria and forging new ways of enhancing our relationship.

BCArts: You’ve been involved in a couple of high profile Hollywood projects. Looking at the Nigerian movie scene and the recent success being recorded by Biyi Bandele’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, would you say that the time has come for you to more actively engage with the Nigerian Movie industry?

Remi: For sure. The industry here is becoming a force to be reckoned with. The standards are getting higher the only challenge for me is raising funds. It is not like the UK where there are pools of available funds and there is a structure in place. Half a Yellow Sun is a slightly different model, and potentially good model to follow in that the main producer is from the UK who then got Nigerian backing.

BCArts: On a lighter note, what was it like working with international stars such as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman?

Remi: Both of them were great people. When I initially started working in Eyes Wide Shut I was told we could not look Tome Cruise in the eye…one day I was walking down the corridor in my own world when I heard a voice greeting me, I looked up and it was him. Both he and Nicole were very polite on set.

BCArts: With your experience in story boarding, would you say this is an area that the Nigerian creative sector should channel energy into, especially where it involves discovering and nurturing talents?

Remi: Storyboarding is a great tool for complex sequences or for potentially showing a sequence for funding purposes. It is already a tool here in the advertising world.

BCArts: There is a great movement that looks to shot bigger budget movies of international quality within the Nigerian movie industry—the New Nollywood, as some term it—largely led by film makers of Nigerian origin who are based or were trained abroad. What are your thoughts on this, is it something you’ve considered? 

Remi: The industry is moving that way for sure. I think it is a great thing. One thing I hope we don't forget when we do our films is to create OUR OWN stories with international standard quality so that we can compete with the best of world cinema and not try to always emulate the 'Hollywood' stories. I think what returnees can bring to the table is the discipline of the film world which can be applied. Also partnering with other productions can be a challenge because of the general fear of being ripped off. As I mentioned earlier, funding and distribution are challenges here. I currently create more documentaries but drama is very much in my blood, the films I create are for clients who want to use the entertainment medium to educate so essentially they are dramas but there is an underlying message which I create without being 'preachy'.