When we think motion pictures, we often imagine the red carpet, lights, camera and glitterati of the glamorous industry, but its not often we get to meet the creative minds behind the outstanding performances we see on the silver screen.
Films offer us escapism, closure, educate, stimulate our imagination but most importantly offer us the much needed entertainment though the vicissitude of our lives.
Catering to these diverse functions are what award winning Filmmaker Tosin Coker is tasked with when working on a film project.
OnoBello.com caught up with a rare gem in the movie industry. Coker is a Nigerian-American filmmaker based out of Hollywood and the CEO of Skylar Pictures. He has over with 10+ years experience in Film Directing and Media Arts.
Born in San Francisco, California, Coker now 32 years old is from Abeokuta in Ogun State, Nigeria. He did his elementary school in Nigeria before leaving for the United States at the Age of 14 in 1996. He was educated at the Art Institute of California in Los Angeles for Bachelors Degree and attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for his Masters Degree.
He started his career in computer animation. His first experience with directing came when he had the opportunity to direct a music video- a move that led changing the path of his entire career and brought about his passion in filmmaking- a path that had been previously threaded by his father.
Many years down the line, he has Produced, Directed and Edited music videos for international talents, documentaries, silent narratives and short films.
He has featured many talented and award winning actors in his projects including Emmy Award Winner Diahnna Nicole Baxter (“Scandal” and “True Blood”) and Elimu Nelson (“House of Lies”, “Things Never Said” and “Private Practice”) in his short film ‘Doorways’.
As a filmmaker with a remarkable record, what part of Nigeria entertainment industry is drawing your professional attention?
The Nigerian New Wave cinema movement is paving the way for creative expressionism amongst many young filmmakers. This has definitely peaked my interest seeing that cinema is now a culturally accepted form of art in Africa.Tosin Coker
How do you feel whenever you handle a camera?
When I am behind the camera, I feel most in control as to how I tell a story and I feel a sense of service to the audience as well as to telling a story they can appreciate and connect with.Tosin Coker
How fun was your childhood?
Growing up, I lived for fun and often got in trouble for having way too much of it. The 90’s weren’t as technologically dominated as the present iPad generation so fun was limited to how far our imaginations could stretch. I have memories of role-playing my favourite cartoon characters with my friends and siblings. We would watch cartoons such as transformers or Power rangers, after which we set up our version of the story and act it out.Tosin Coker
Do you have more fun memories of growing up in Nigeria or in the US?
The fun memories I have fall under both faucets, as a child, my fun memories are synonymous with Nigeria but I would say in the journey of finding myself through my teenage years offered its own fun memories, which I appreciate as well.Tosin Coker
Now to your movies, what inspired your film ‘Doorways’?
Women. The strength and the characters of women who rose above reprehensible situations to open doors that were shut by violence. ‘Doorways’ is the story of many women I have come across and known over the years, who for one reason or the other and partly due to circumstances and pure fate, had to shelve their personal dreams and goals in order to provide for themselves or their loved ones. I wanted to pay particular attention to the emotional aspect of these stories as I believe there is a strength of character and selflessness that goes with putting someone’s else’s need above your own. Building on that, I also wanted to tackled the issue of violence as many of these women, especially African American women, have s story to tell about how violence – emotional, physical or mental took away part or all of their dreams.Tosin Coker
How did the ‘Doorways’ come to be?
‘Doorways’ came into existence during a screening of the film “Lady Sings the Blues” starring Diana Ross; a referral from a classmate. I felt I could make a movie with similar themes and feel to the Motown classic for my graduate thesis project thus I began to put together a treatment for the ‘Doorways’. I wrote several drafts of the treatment until I felt I had something satisfactory. I wasn’t a screenwriter so I commenced a search for the right person to pen the screenplay. I met Elimu Nelson in Los Angeles through a scheduled meeting by my office at the time for a different project. We discussed my idea for ‘Doorways’ and I asked him to pen out a draft of the screenplay. Elimu wrote the first draft over a two-week period. I was indeed moved by the characters’ struggles and the world surrounding Tanya Marks. We had a final draft within a month and realized we needed an experienced talent to play the lead role. Elimu suggested Diahnna, a friend and colleague of his, we met with her and after a brief discussion of the role, I knew this was our Tanya Marks. Matisha Baldwin, who played Layla Johns, a talented veteran of the theatre met with me over dinner in Los Angeles, we discussed the role and she gave great suggestions concerning the character. We casted the rest of the character by holding a two day audition in San Francisco where I believe we got the some of the most talented actors in the city 3 weeks prior to principle photography.Tosin Coker
What was it like working with an experienced cast and an Emmy Award winner on your student film project?
Working with the talent was honestly frightening at first. I had knots in my stomach upon the first production meeting because I had no idea what I was doing. I felt I was in way over my head. Here I was, a student director on a project my school advisory committee felt was over ambitious for me and to make matters worse, could potentially embarrass myself before people who had way more experience than I did. I had only 3 weeks of pre-production and prep work due to the extreme demands of my day job and we hadn’t rehearsed any of the scenes in detail. I chose to listen to my actors and production team to hear out suggestions, conjuring up all the lessons in script analysis and directing I could remember but in all, it was the resourcefulness and professionalism of everyone that brought the picture to life and I owe it all to God’s divine doing.Tosin Coker
What was the budget and schedule like on the shoot?
The budget for Doorways was upwards of $20,000 but we were fortunate to have an educational institution, which really believed in the project and went to bat for us. We were given over a million dollars worth of equipment and many faculty members lent a hand in donating resources, calling on favors and even donating their time in the postproduction process of making the film.Tosin Coker
Tell us about your film ‘Finding Neptune’, How did the project come to be?
Finding Neptune was a project that came to my attention after a chance meeting with the producer of the film for another project. The original director of Finding Neptune had dropped out to continue with the project in producer capacity so they were looking for directors, it would through this meeting I was told about the project, which truly sparked my interest due to the controversial plot and theme explored. I accepted pretty much on the spot and had only two weeks to prep for the film, that included finding the location, hiring some of the crew and getting familiar with the material. I can say its all fun when I look at the whole experience in hindsight but back then it was a crunch time hustle for all the people involved. I was blessed to have wonderful collaborators on this piece and it really paid off in the end.Tosin Coker
What was the budget and schedule like on the shoot?
Finding Neptune was produced and shot for about $6,500 most of the savings on the project came fortunately from the fact that we owned most of our equipment and gear, which cut down cost drastically, the schedule was really crazy, we had absolutely no time, I remember having a discussion with my Assistant director on having to cut down a few shot set ups and even some scenes because had the bright idea to try and constrain 3 days of shooting into two and that really affected me, it was a difficult decision I had to make which in the end didn’t really pay off so I and my producing partner decided to tap into our own personal resources in order to get two more days of shooting in order to tell the story the way we felt the characters would have wanted their story told. This was the trend for Neptune, because we didn’t really have the initial funds to make the film all the way through post production, we had to tap into our own personal bank accounts, while making compromises in our personal life in favor of getting a film we can be proud of.Tosin Coker
Now to something more personal, what is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is not being able to make my moviesTosin Coker
What are your views about marriage and are you married? If yes, to
who and what does she do?
Marriage is like an exotic supercar, which needs to be pampered regularly. It needs scheduled tune-ups and sometimes some custom modifications, you just can’t drive it without taking care of it or it would break down.
It is undoubtedly the most interesting and exciting school you will ever attend and a real pleasure if you are married to the right person. I am married and it is to the love of my life and best friend. She is a Project Manager and an excellent homemaker by talent.Tosin Coker
What is your greatest motivation when you are working or about to start work?
My passion to tell untold stories and share my depiction of life with the world.Tosin Coker
Which movie director in the world has influenced your career and why?
I admire the work of David Fincher whose dark and stylish non-traditional story telling and symbolism put him in a league I someday aspire to be affiliated with. There is an incredible sense of attention to detail in his films, which you can’t help but feel every frame is deliberate.Tosin Coker
How long do you intend to stay in Nigeria?
I am usually in and out of Nigeria contingent on the duration of projects that bring me down. My trips range a few weeks to sometimes a couple of monthsTosin Coker
Tell us a bit about your personal style?
Haha! My personal style has gone through many changes over the years but I must say I’m getting to a point where my style is more defined. I’m somewhere in between a hipster and trendy fashion senseTosin Coker
What are your future plans? Like where you see yourself in five or ten years?
I am currently developing a motion picture project, which highlights the African diaspora struggle in the UK against the world of professional football.
A few years down the line, I intend to continue creating culturally diverse independent pictures, which dictate new standards in the motion picture industry by touching on subjects that bring awareness to both personal and psychological human struggles.Tosin Coker
Watch Trailer to ‘Finding Neptune’
Watch Trailer to ‘Doorways’
For more information on Tosin Coker and Skylar Pictures, please visit: Website:www.skylarpictures.com | Facebook Pages:Skylar Pictures LLC | Doorways – The Movie | Tosin Coker | Twitter: @cokertosin| Tosin Cokers IMDB
For more information on ‘Doorways’:IMDB