Feyisayo Anjorin is a well-rounded creative. Professionally trained as a broadcaster at Damelin College and as a filmmaker at AFDA, The School for the Creative Economy, Feyisayo has garnered experience in film as an actor, screenwriter, and trainer. He has starred in film and TV series such as Tinsel and Jacob’s Cross, has screenwriting credits in films like What Happened at Saint James and I Want Out and is the author of five works of fiction including Kasali’s Africa, and The Stuff of Love Songs.
As a creative professional, Feyisayo has worked in the creative industries of South Africa, Nigeria, and the UK. In this chat with The Moveee, he shares insight into the making of a creative professional, and the challenges of the creative industry.
TOPE AKINTAYO: When did you decide you wanted to pursue this creative path and what has been the highlight of your creative journey?
FEYISAYO ANJORIN: I’ve been obsessed with creativity and the arts from childhood. For example, I would memorize the dialogue of scenes of TV drama and perform it, word for word, in my spare time. Those were days when TV stations opened at 4 pm and there was always this one TV drama on primetime that the entire city would be watching. My leisure activity then includes writing fiction and reading. Over time I began to see a future for myself in the field. I remember the first time I got paid for a project. By then I was still a student at AFDA Johannesburg. I was in a car, going to set with actors like Fana Mokoena and Hlomla Dandala; I was on a set and Hakeem Kae Kazim was across the table, chatting with me. I had to pinch myself.
After training as a filmmaker, take us through the process of breaking into the industry, having appeared in such high profile shows as Tinsel and Scandal.
I didn’t wait till I got through my studies at AFDA. Before leaving for Johannesburg, I had a plan. It had researched the top agents in South Africa and was determined to flaunt my school’s reputation to get to them. So, in my second year at AFDA, which was the busiest year, I approached the nation’s top acting agency and was rejected. I called the second agency on my list and a pleasant lady, fascinated by my diction, called me for an audition. I did a scripted monologue and recorded an improv scene with the agent. A few days later I was called to the office to sign a contract. From then I would just be dispatched to auditions by the agency. They had in-house information on every product in the industry and have personal relationships with lots of producers and production houses.
As a creative who has garnered experience in Nigeria, South Africa and the UK, what can you say about the cultural differences in these places and what has been the effect of these differences on your work?
The UK and South Africa have better structures for the arts and better labour laws that protect the creative. And then your work gets more scrutiny and reviews in the UK and South Africa. For example, if I write a script for a Nigerian production, I could just get the first draft to them and I get full payment. In a well-structured industry, you get paid when you are commissioned for a project; but there is no way you are getting full payment for a first draft. First drafts are hardly ever good enough.
The UK has lesser opportunities for black actors, even apart from the accent, so most of my work in the UK has been screenwriting work; in South Africa, I love the fact that they use their other official languages (aside from English, there are 10 others) for dialogue. Thanks to my agent, I have more experience as an actor in South Africa, so far, I’ve got most of the screenwriting opportunities from the UK, and a few of writing and acting in Nigeria. I work harder and compete with more competent people in these structured industries.
What do you do to keep your creative juice flowing? And what does your typical creative process look like, from ideation to launch and beyond?
I read. I listen to music. I climb hills. I’m more creative when I’m alone in some kind of lush green jungle, or at a natural height. On a typical creative day, I wake up early, usually around 4:30, pray, do some aerobics with songs playing in my ears (via my headphones), do vocal exercises, and then do the day’s project.
What are some of the things, both internal and external, that have facilitated your growth as a creative professional?
A creative person asks questions; you have to be able to detach yourself from the common and popular opinions in order to probe things; you have to be able to note your prejudice, your bias, and the impact of your experience on the way you view things. It would help you to sometimes see from other people’s perspectives. Reading has helped me a lot. The amount of money I’ve spent on books would be able to buy me a luxury car. Working with the best people in the field also helped. Watching people like Akin Omotoso, Fabian Lojede, Hakeem Kae Kazim, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, and Andrew Oseyemi at work, early in my career, was a great boost.
What skills (hard and soft) would you say are essential to your job?
Excellent use of language, speech and written, the ability to look beyond yourself in order to focus on a project, so that you will be able to work well in a team, even if someone you hate with a passion is part of that team. The ability to multitask and keep calm under pressure, discipline, the ability to imagine, and the ability to build believable reality from the little provided by other creatives.
What would you say are the major challenges in your industry and how have you been able to navigate them?
The major challenge in the literary field is the lack of structures, hence most of our best writers are abroad, where the opportunities are. Our reading culture is poor too. Who would want to buy a book worth 8500 when the minimum wage is 30,00 Naira? The major challenge of the film industry is the obsession with money. Indeed, profits are a major factor; but remember it was profits that made Hollywood believe that stories with blacks as lead characters would not make money. Recent productions have ended that myth. In Nigeria, for example, you see the same faces in all the major productions, hence there is no diversity because producers would rather not take a risk with new talented faces. As a creative person, what I have done so far is milk every platform that I’ve had for the next level. The way forward in this industry is to plan, collaborate with like minds, and refuse to be stuck in the idea that, “It’s not done that way!”. It is creativity, not medicine and surgery.
What piece of advice would you give the 13-year-old you, with dreams of getting into the creative world, highlighting some of the things you wish you knew earlier?
Research the creative journey of successful creatives, as many as you can. Learn from their journey, start from where you are and know that there is no fixed way of getting into the industry. Don’t be a spectator or analyst, start from where you are and focus on growth rather than fame. I wish I knew earlier that responses to the arts are subjective; when I knew not to take what people say to heart as if their opinions could decide whether I was a creative or not, that was when I became free indeed,
What has been the impact of community on your creative journey and how do you cultivate community?
Personally, I learned humility from the famous actors I worked with earlier in my career, so I try to be friendly. I try not to push things, I would rather have creative relationships grow in an organic way. It is important. When I was writing “One Week In The Life of A Hypocrite”, I gave a draft to Biola Olatunde (The producer of the UNICEF drama series, “I Need To Know”), and she gave me some insight that helped in my writing another draft and the second draft. I cultivate community by appreciating excellence in other people and letting them know that I value their work. If you are threatened by other people’s greatness you will not be able to cultivate community.
Who and what are your biggest creative influences?
Alice Munro, Chinua Achebe, Ebenezer Obey, Jonathan Franzen, David Oyelowo, Justin Strydom, and Sefi Atta.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? Does it allow for a good work/life balance?
I enjoy movie premieres, wearing bow-ties and taking pictures with stars while sipping wine, I love meeting with editors, directors, and producers to talk about stories, characters and other creative jargon. I hate the fact that sometimes I find it difficult to know how to go on with a writing project after spending the commissioning fee; I hate the fact that characters are talking in my head while other people are having fun, sometimes they even talk in my head while I sleep. As for work/life balance, I value relationships with the people dear to me more than the work. I listened to too many love songs in my teens, so love is the most important thing to me.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I’m working on a script for a UK production house, based on three characters who unwittingly fell in love outside their race, and the resulting controversy in their lives and family. I had to research Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the subculture of Asians in the UK for the project. It made me see (once more time) the power of a storyteller who knows his story quite well.
Recommend some amazing things you’ve discovered recently. Books. Movies. Music. Podcast. Anything.
Tobe Nwigwe! I love him, he’s got hundreds of videos on YouTube. He is a lyrical genius! I discovered the “Boss Baby” series on Netflix. I love it; and the anthology movie “Juju Stories”, I saw it at the cinemas, but I’m sure it is coming soon to a streaming service; that was the first time I left a cinema with excitement about a Nigerian film.