From Drama Script to Film Medium: A Hypothetical Conversion of Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun into Motion Picture
Dept of Theatre and Media Arts
Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Nigeria
A drama script or a play text is not the same thing as a drama that is acted either through the audio or audio-visual medium. In other words, a drama script that is meant to be staged is not yet a performance until it is actually produced on stage or performed using any of the media outlets of Radio, Television or Film/Video. This paper examines how the drama script which is usually written for stage production can equally be aesthetically re-produced through the audio-visual medium better known as the screen or movie. The paper also postulates on how most Nigerian playwrights/dramatists, who are based in the academia, have refused over the years to embrace the film medium or attempted to transform their works into the film format. The film or screen format has the comparative advantage of garnering greater publicity and profitability in favour of these dramatists, but their apathy and disrespect for the motion picture industry in Nigeria have ironically undermined their own gains and opportunities as creative writers. This paper notes particularly the dramatic and aesthetic qualities in Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun, which, if creatively and technically transformed into the film format, have the capacity of raising a huge popular audience. The paper also notes the playwright’s treatment of issues of social-cultural and historical significance; one of which is symbolised by the protagonist, Titubi; whose personal and selfless sacrifice eventually prevents her (African) Yoruba race from external invasion. While dwelling on the theory of heroism and the myth of individual commitment to societal course, the paper concludes that Morountodun remains a cultural product that if well projected and popularised through the film medium, can further transform and preserve certain positive aspects of culture among majority of the Nigerian (African) people.
Keywords: Drama Script, Film Medium, Performance, Cultural Product and Popular Audience
The Nigerian theatrical scene has over the years been dominated by playwrights and dramatists who are primarily based at the ivory tower. Many of these dramatists first cut their teeth in scholarship before venturing into creative writing with subsequent experimentation of their works using drama students and facilities on the campuses. Ultimately, these scholar-dramatists end up publishing their works and expectedly expose them to the larger society for people’s enjoyment or critical appraisal.
While a sizeable number of these works have attracted laurels in the past; many have not; not because they are lacking in dramatic quality as literary texts, but largely because they have not been produced for the audience to watch or appreciate. Nevertheless, quite a good number of Nigerian playwrights/dramatists- right from the ‘first’, ‘second’ and now what can be termed ‘third’ generation- have recorded successes in producing quality and world acclaimed drama scripts. Among these prominent writers/dramatists are Wole Soyinka, John Pepper Clark, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chukwuemeka Ike, Ola Rotimi, Zulu Sofola, Wale Ogunyemi, Femi Osofisan, Bode Sowande, Bode Osanyin, Olu Obafemi, Niyi Osundare, Ben Tomoloju, Ahmed Yerima, Comish Ekiye, Rasaki Ojo Bakare, Barclays Ayakoroma, among many others. Although majority of these writers have produced their works on stage to the delight of the audience, it is common knowledge that only few of the works have been adapted into film or reproduced as screen works that can garner a more popular and diversified audience. In the process, only a handful of the works of our great scholar-writers in institutions of higher learning have been transformed from the traditional script/stage medium into the film/television/video format.
Drama Script versus Film Script/Performance
A drama script is a written text that remains lifeless until it is properly interpreted by a director and performed by his/her cast via the stage, screen or radio medium. While it could be argued that a drama script can be enjoyed or studied by people who read it as text, the fact remains that a drama script is better enjoyed and understood when it is creatively performed for people to watch. This paper is however concerned about the need for the scholar-writers to embrace the motion picture industry as a possible avenue to make their works popular and more profitable.
But how does the creative writer or playwright transform into a filmmaker? Perhaps the first answer is for the playwright/dramatist to learn the rudiments of screenwriting. The second of course is the probability of initiating collaboration with a screenwriter who can turn the original play script into screen script. In the words of Segun Oyekunle, screenwriting is a totally different skill and all the conventional playwright needs is to ‘transit from being great terrific authors to being word technicians’ (Oyekunle 15). In other words, the playwright/creative writer needs to take a few courses or participate in workshops to master the skill/process of writing. In the same way, it is possible for prospective screenwriters to learn from the masters who have written great screenplays that have been successfully produced in the past. The future screenwriter can also search for training opportunities via the internet.
Screenplay as Goldmine for the Filmmaker/Writer
Of what benefit is it for the playwright to venture into filmmaking?. Entertainment lovers across the globe usually prefer the film/motion picture medium to other mediums of communication. This is because people love and are willing to pay to watch and experience the magical possibilities of the film medium which is otherwise referred to as the ‘big theatre screen.’ An example of a modern highbrow cinema is the Silverbird Cinema located at Silverbird Galleria in Central Area, Abuja which boasts of 450 seats and which screens films four times a day in each of its mini theatres. The cinema charges one thousand naira per film from Monday to Thursday, while it charges one thousand, five hundred naira per film from Friday to Sunday. If calculated on the basis of the number of seats, the popular cinema house is able to raise well over five million naira in a year. If Nigeria has similar cinemas located in at least all major cities/state capitals around the country; and block buster films are shown throughout the year, it is evident that filmmakers and operators of cinema houses would never be out of business.
Meanwhile, at the level of production, the Nigerian creative artist is believed to have passed through four basic stages to emerge as filmmaker/video producer. First, he or she started as Egungun Alarinjo (masked travelling player) before moving on into Alarinjo trouper, celluloid filmmaker and now Video filmmaker (Ogunleye 49). This metamorphosis, according to Ogunleye, has provided the filmmakers, ample opportunities to produce low-budget films that are accessible to even the lowest economic stratum of society. To buttress this view, Hyginus Ekwuazi, foremost film/media scholar and former General Manager of the Nigeria Film Corporation (NFC) also disclosed that the Nigerian video film industry, otherwise called Nollywood, has generated, out of an average of one thousand films a year, over three hundred thousand jobs yearly aside turning well over N5billion on a yearly basis as noted by Ekwuazi (page).
This success story of motion picture is equally replicated in most parts of Africa, where video films now serve as cultural dairies of the African people. In most cases, these video films showcase the cultures of the environments where they originate from. According to Ogunleye:
Nigeria celebrates its cultural pluralism through the films, utilising materials from Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo cultures.... The films can be described as video diaries, documenting and reflecting Nigerian life, and revealing the frustrations, yearning, hopes and aspirations of a people (Ogunleye 50).
In the same way, Ogunleye noted that the Nigerian video film has become a vehicle, not just of entertainment, but of many other things, including education, information, politics and conscientization.
Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun as Cultural Product and Potential Screenplay
A play published by Femi Osofisan in 1982, Morountodun (Osofisan,1982) recounts the story of the post-independence struggle by people of the south western Nigeria for political emancipation. It reminds Nigerians (nay Africans) on the need for them to reject oppression in view of the draconian rules of the bourgeoisie over the proletariats. Osofisan creates a heroine (Titubi) from the upper class of the society who willingly submits herself to fight the cause of the lower class. In his characteristic Marxian mode, the playwright re-enacts the story of the aftermath of Nigeria’s political independence to chronicle the confrontation between the farmers/peasants and the new government. He recounts the plight of the proletariats under the obnoxious rules of the exploitative rulers in the then Western region, stating clearly how the Nigerian ruling class turned out to be enemies of the people they rule.
In the play, the government send troops to impose harsh rules on the people, using tax officers and sanitary inspectors as primary agents. But the people rebuff this by attacking government forces and public facilities, fighting in unity until traitors emerge from their midst. The battle is almost lost until Titubi’s decision to shelve her toga of affluence in defence of the hapless poor who have ironically contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region.
The cultural and aesthetic significance of the play become evident in the way Osofisan recreates and redefines the myth of Moremi in Yorubaland. Like many myths found in Yoruba cultural history, Moremi who had the reputation of saving her Yoruba race from the oppression of the Igbo warriors becomes the guiding spirit of Titubi. And so, the playwright succeeds in recreating a modern Moremi who, rather than fight to defend her own rich and influential class, chooses radically and instructively, to fight in support of the suffering masses.
Of particular significance is how the playwright uses the character of Titubi to celebrate certain heroic (feminist) qualities such as uncommon courage and vigour even in the midst of adversity. So, unlike most playwrights who portray women as playing second fiddle to men in social and political matters, Osofisan uses Morountodun and the lead character Titubi to x-ray;
a feminine world view that contrasts the contemporary ‘domesticated’ and the legendary heroic in a battle of self-actualisation thereby giving the woman an opportunity to synthesize her abilities in liberalizing the poor (whom) she is socially and economically pitched against (Uwadinma-Idemudia 382).
If viewed as a cultural product and screenplay, Morountodun has the capacity to enlighten and educate the audience both socially and politically. The play itself provides a veritable platform for audiences to learn about the Africans’ way of life in addition to reawakening them about the need to change their perception of their heroes and heroines for collective good. In his assessment of Osofisan’s contribution to African drama and theatre, Olu Obafemi posits:
Femi Osofisan’s ability to redefine history, myth and legend is one of his major contributions to the development of African theatre. Osofisan experiments with techniques and, of course, a thorough knowledge of the culture and mores of his community. He uses art as a popular weapon for the enlightenment and the illumination of the ‘mass political’ audience which he advocates to be brought to an awareness of the purpose of their collective action which can achieve a revolutionary change in society (Obafemi 95).
In the above comment, Obafemi describes Osofisan as an advocate of change who uses total theatre as a weapon and carrier of message. And if the purpose of drama is to reach a popular audience with messages on a popular cause, then a play like Morountodun easily provides the best platform to achieve this. Again if the mission of social change would be effectively achieved by reaching a popular audience, it becomes necessary to expand the scope of the radical vision of the playwright beyond the confines of written stage drama. The next platform should then be the motion picture format which may come either in the form of the celluloid film or video film as we now have it in Nigeria.
Another major factor that qualifies Morountodun as a screenplay is the playwright’s experimentation with such dramatic techniques as multiple or episodic scenery, occasional flashbacks, several plays-within-a play, alternate actions, creative use of spotlights and audience participation in the stage drama. Since film relies heavily on camera language, using alternate shots, series of montage and frequent cuts, many of the scenes and episodes in Morountodun can be creatively achieved if the script is turned into a screenplay altogether. One good example of a possible cinematographic transition is when the playwright juxtaposes the Moremi myth with Titubi’s vision when the latter is being held in prison by Salami, the Deputy Superintendent of Police. The other is the celebration that ensues when Marshal decides to rename Titubi as Morountodun Eja Oson, as a symbolic reward for her exploits in saving the peasants from the claws of the State (Osofisan 78).
Popular Films that Emerged from Novels and Drama Scripts
While citing the examples of drama texts or novels which have been adapted or produced into the best films across the world, Oyekunle lists such titles as the James Bond’s series, God Father series, Star Wars and the popular Harry Porter series; which has been the most successful in modern times. Other popular films, which were originally written in prose or drama texts are Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Avatar, The Avengers, Malcolm X, and Apocalypse Now; which is actually Francis Coppola’s adaptation of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Oyekunle 5).
Other notable films that originated from prose or drama traditions include Gone With the Wind (an epic), The Schindler’s List, The Lion King, Transformers, Dances with Wolves, Black Stallion and The Last of the Mohicans. There is also the adaptation of Beloved by Akosua Busua from Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison’s novel, produced by Sony Pictures. Morrison was said to have made more money by selling the novel to Oprah Winfrey and in the process, she succeeded in earning more revenue from one book than she ever made from all her other books put together.
Upon realising the big fortune that came her way through just one of her works, she went on to sell her Tar Baby and other works for another film production by Winfrey. And all these happened before she won the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. The beauty of this novel-to-film venture was that it produced great films that equally yielded huge financial gains in favour of the original authors (Oyekunle 6).
Lessons for Nigeria’s Nollywood and Creative Writers
There have been several attempts by Nigerian filmmakers to turn novels or drama texts into film, but the number has been quite inadequate compared to the number of creative writers and the numerous works which they have been able to produce. Shortly after the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70), Wole Soyinka’s popular play, Kongi’s Harvest was shot into film, thus heralding the era of filmmaking by indigenous writers in the country. Following this was the celluloid culture which featured the works of theatre practitioners and filmmakers such as Ola Balogun, Hubert Ogunde, Ade Afolayan, Jab Adu, Moses Olaiya, Eddie Ugbomah, among others. But while the filmmakers kept producing works which attracted audiences to the cinema, the writers in the academia were only concerned about the stage; writing and producing stage drama in their institutions of higher learning or wait till when sponsors such as banks, private organisations or governments commission their works for stage production.
Meanwhile, the television era boomed in the 1980s and 1990s with the works of Lola Fani-Kayode, Peter Igho and a few others, who fed the Nigerian audience with timely miniseries and soap operas. The TV eventually led to what became the country’s motion picture revolution otherwise known as Nollywood. The latter itself commenced with Kenneth Nnebue’s dramatic release of Living in Bondage 1 in 1992 at Onitsha, Anambra State. With this outstanding release which was embraced by the audience and other producers, Nnebue was said to have become the catalyst of the Nollywood revolution.
According to Barclays Ayakoroma,
The emergent film industry became an avenue through which Nigerian television producers/directors could readily direct their energies to and call the bluff of the NTA. This underpins the position that the video-format, which ushered in Nollywood, rode on the back of the successes of local television drama productions. In other words, the positive impact of the early video films in Nigeria was as a result of the way the Nigerian public had received local soap operas (Ayakoroma 51).
The above statement shows clearly that the soap operas, which were more like television dramas (such as For Better, for Worse, Play of the Week, etc.) were produced into video formats mainly for home viewing. And so, the coming of Living in Bondage at the time, heralded a new, peculiar film language which itself popularised the get-rich-quick syndrome of most Nigerians at the time. The film dramatised people’s predilection for affluence and ostentatious living aside showcasing widespread belief in ritual practices as an inducement to gain wealth and fame.
While it can be stressed that Nollywood started as an experimental business venture, it is regrettable that years after noticing its success and potentialities, the Nigerian playwrights and dramatists in the academia failed to utilize the Nollywood medium for their own advantage. They virtually refused to offer their creative works for experimentation through the new medium which can creditably and massively promote their works aside earning them financial fortunes. As a solution however, Adeoti has argued that a collaboration between the literary writers and filmmakers is inevitable to address the myriad of (mainly technical) inadequacies being spotted against Nollywood films today. According to him:
There is a need for collaboration between experts in higher institutions in the areas of literary studies, theatre and media arts as well as practitioners in the industry in order to address the identified problems and also to raise the quality of Nigerian films (Adeoti 52).
Meanwhile, there have been efforts by some Nigerian filmmakers to turn existing literary texts in prose or drama forms into film. Aside Kongi’s Harvest, which was produced into film by Calpenny; another of Wole Soyinka’s work; Ake, is being shot into film by Dapo Adeniyi. In the same manner, Wale Ogunyemi’s Langbodo, which itself is an adaptation of D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, was produced into TV drama in the 1980s by the defunct Television Service of Oyo State (TSOS). Also Chinua Achebe’s popular novel, Things Fall Apart, has been produced by NTA as a TV drama but the film version of the novel under the title, And the Man Cried, by Samuel Goldwin Jr., a Hollywood director in America, was not quite successful owing to failure of the scriptwriter to understand and reflect the true culture of Nigerians (Igbos) as Achebe originally conceived it.
Other examples of prose works that were turned into film format include Femi Fasheru’s book, Married but Living Single, (which starred popular Nollywood actresses, Joke Silva and Funke Akindele); Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun; Dogs of War, a 1981 film on the late Odumegwu Ojukwu/Biafra war and Jagua Nana’s Daughter by Cyprian Ekwenzi. But when compared to the long list of prose and drama works by Nigerian writers, the ones that have been reproduced into film or video films are quite very few. The situation expectedly puts limitation on the popularity and profitability of the creative works which seem to have remained in paper form for many years, but are daily begging for conversion into the motion picture format.
The assertion that Nollywood has captured or is ruling Africa is evident in the number of its products being consumed daily on M-Net/Africa Magic on DSTV. Today, Nollywood’s films are watched all across Africa and beyond, while the stars themselves are quite popular and well respected across the globe. Many of these stars have acquired wealth and fame and they are equally being studied the world over. In the same vein, Nollywood has, over the years, created employment for thousands of Nigerian youths who work in both artistic and technical areas. The industry has also been rated second largest producer of video films in the world, after Bollywood. This is aside the huge financial turnover on a yearly basis.
As a confirmation of the social, economic, political and cultural importance of film, Oyekunle explained:
Film is the most economically encompassing industry in the world. Shooting a film touches more areas than most economic activities – it touches agriculture and horticulture, water resources and delivery, oil, gas and power, transportation on land, sea and in the air, textile industry, pulp and paper industry, technology hardware and software, woodwork and carpentry...above all, it builds human capacity and empowerment, thus generating employment both on quasi-temporary and permanent basis (Oyekunle 12).
The Nigerian Film Industry has come to stay, having contributed immensely to the growth and development of the nation’s economy in diverse ways. The sector has significantly put the country on world’s map in terms of entertainment and human empowerment. It is rather unfortunate that many of the country’s leading playwrights and novelists who belong to the group of scholar-writers are yet to embrace the sector. The example of Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun in this paper points directly to the gains accruable to the writers if they have a change of heart by exploring the film/video medium to project their creative works.
A major issue in realising this objective, however, is the need for the creative writers to acquire training in screenwriting. A crash programme, self-education by learning from established screenwriters or an online training in this area would further help prospective writers make fortunes through the film medium. This training is necessary because screenwriting is a unique skill that requires special talent and training. Another possible avenue is for the writers to enter into collaborations with filmmakers/video film producers on the need to rewrite the scripts and explore diverse opportunities offered by the motion picture industry to promote and market literary texts such as plays, poetry collections and novels.
Above all, there is need for scholars-writers and researchers in the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education to embrace Nollywood and its activities They should assist the sector by designing training programmes for writers, producers and technicians who are needed in the motion picture industry. If well articulated and executed, the foregoing steps stand the chance of reshaping the future of filmmaking business in the country, aside repositioning the industry to serve its practitioners and consumers better.
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See page 15 of keynote paper At a recent