Teniola Olatoni Ojigbede is the CEO and Creative Head of Sourmash Stories Production.
“The New Normal” will screen at the 2020 American Black Film Festival, which takes place August 21-30.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
TOO: Picture arriving at your BFF’s wedding anniversary dinner and greeting everyone excitedly only to be met with pointed stares, awkward shrugs, and mumbled replies. “The New Normal” kicks off there and evolves around the loves and lives of four couples dealing with their unique problems while trying their darnedest to keep up the blissful, too-happy-for-this-world façade.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
TOO: I live in a society where appearances are so important that we often lose sight of what “normal” is and [that standard has become] unachievable. The struggle is so real! People are dealing with so much and unable to speak out or even seek solutions for fear of judgement. Even little issues become monsters when you cannot freely address them.
I felt compelled to highlight some of the issues we face – addiction, mental health challenges, infertility, nepotism, judgmental and unkind behavior, the African mindset, etc.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
TOO: “Normal” is only ever what the majority say it is. Embrace your challenges, seek solutions, speak out – the sky isn’t going to fall. Be kind to yourself and others, look beyond the façade and see how your actions, or inaction, wounds others, then self-correct and finally navigate your way to your own new normal.
Las las every every go dey alright! This is Nigerian speak meaning that when all is said and done, at the end of the day, every situation will resolve one way or another.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
TOO: As a first time director as well as being the producer and so actively involved with the story, the initial challenge was making sure the story is told and seen by my audience in its true essence and its message is delivered. The script, the locations, the characters, finance, everything had to be done better than well!
By far the most challenging has been distribution – still is! It feels like a deep, crazy web shrouded in secrecy and designed to frustrate!
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
TOO: I essentially financed my film with my savings, soft loans, and support from family, and a healthy dose of goodwill from my network of family and friends.
My advice is to plan. Plan so hard to succeed because your mindset matters. Tap first into your network. Take a closer look at your family, friends, associates, even frenemies! What can they offer? What can you offer in return?
For costumes, does anyone have a giant closet full of accessories? A clothing line? Can you give film credit in exchange for their support?
For locations, does anyone have a house, office, or school that fits in your story? I saved a ton because I viewed everyone’s house as a potential set.
For soft loans, be willing to pay some interest but perhaps at a lower rate and with more flexibility than you would get with a bank. Be honest and upfront about what you require and can afford. This is super important!
Also, be sure to research grants you may qualify for.
Make a budget and try to stick to it. Make it realistic.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
TOO: Storytelling – whether it be in film, TV, or theater — gives you a voice. For me, it is a 20-plus year deferred dream and I am so thankful to finally be able to tell stories that entertain with teachable moments. All the years as a teenager having to literally pin my eyes open at 3 a.m. in my time zone to watch the Oscars must count for something!
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
TOO: Best advice: Do unto others as you want to be done by. I never ever do something deliberately to another that I would hate done to me, and guess what? It has brought me nothing but goodwill!
Worst advice: Change your movie title because it won’t draw an audience. Ha! I am so glad I totally resisted that because here we are, and it’s all about “The New Normal”! And thank you ABFF for further validating it. We are a selection, y’all!
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
TOO: Be you –- the world will adjust! You are and have a unique gift, so don’t be afraid to use it. Tell that story from your unique perspective. Be thankful for the no’s — they clear your path to the yeses. Leave the door open for the next woman.
So, my fellow directors, head up, shoulders back, heels on point, and get strutting because you absolutely can!
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
TOO: Ah! This is a tough one without an answer. I applaud everyone because I know how hard it is to make a film. A big shout-out to some of my favorites: Tope Oshin’s “Journey to Self” and the films of Kasi Lemmons, Ava DuVernay, and Gina Prince-Bythewood. These awesome women just tell stories that touch in a truly fabulous way!
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
TOO: I have learned to be even more thankful – for life, for health, and for rest. I’ve been doing a lot of research and putting down ideas for a new series, doing some writing, catching up on movies and books, and spending time with family — and using them as sounding boards for my crazy ideas.
W&H: Recent protests in the U.S. and abroad have highlighted racism and anti-Black police brutality. The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
TOO: Despite many years of great accomplishments in every area of filmmaking, we are still grossly underrepresented – shame on it all! It’s very heartbreaking.
We have to DIY better – tell our own stories unapologetically and dispel the negative stereotypes. We must take control of our own resources — our talent and our money — and leverage it all and create our own tables.
We have all it takes; we just need to harness it better. Hold the door open for the next person, and share your knowledge and pitfalls. We will arrive faster and better as a collective.
I am an African female filmmaker whose work has been recognized far from home. I now feel it is even more urgent and imperative that I do something to encourage another filmmaker – to hold the door open.