In this exclusive interview with Bside, Orire, Josh and Roberta discuss the process of making the show, how their relationship with the cast and crew helped to tell a fantastic…
For decades now, filmmakers have collaborated to create several milestones that have greatly contributed to the history of cinema. Filmmaking is inherently collaborative, at least most of the time, but the focus here is on creators living up to the TEAM definition – Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM), putting aside their egos and personal interests, and leaning on each other to achieve a collective goal. This spirit of togetherness and collaboration is what the producer-director-writer trio of Josh Olaoluwa, Lucky ‘Orire’ Nwani, and Roberta Orioma are championing as they go on to premiere their collaborative project; Grind, a Prime Video exclusive set for release on the 20th of January.
As a trio, their journey into the film industry has been an exhilarating one as they have gone on to collaborate on several projects together and individually while still supporting each other in different capacities. Their collaborative projects in the past include a collection of short films that have gone on to screen at several film festivals both locally and internationally . Their most recent project Grind is created by Roberta Orioma and it follows the life of an average girl turned stripper, Tarela, as she navigates the hardship of pursuing her dreams while working in a Lagos nightclub.
The 10-episode series directed by Orire Nwani who recently won the prize for best director at the New York Tri-State International film festival not only follows the rise of Tarela but also that of her family, the friends she makes at the club, and the lives of these friends. This is a story of survival, tenacity, family, friendships, and chasing dreams.
While in a Zoom conversation with me about what makes them function as a team, Nwani, the director expressed that; “It is very important to work with the people that you love because everybody in this film was ready to put their cards on the table. If we were to pay for the value people brought in the making of Grind, we probably wouldn’t have been able to make the film”.
Olaoluwa also spoke about how they were able to stay authentic to the story and showcase the reality of people’s lives by casting the right people for the role; ‘’For many of the girls in the club, it was their first time acting. The story world was very unique, and we felt the need to cast real strippers who can reflect a lot of the nuances required for the verisimilitude of the show.
In this exclusive interview with Bside, Orire, Josh and Roberta discuss the process of making the show, how their relationship with the cast and crew helped to tell a fantastic story and of course how distributing their film on Prime Video shows that Nollywood is gradually creating rooms for young filmmakers to tell amazing stories.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity
BSIDE: Can you tell me how Grind came about? What was the concept behind the project in general?
ORIOMA: You know when you hear about exotic dancers. There’s this perception and judgment almost like they are not humans. So I always thought about it, what is it like for these people? They are humans and I always tell people, you never can tell, if my life had gone in a different direction, I’d have probably ended up a dancer. If I was born in certain circumstances and you know life happens to people, you have plans and all and then things just go south. I wanted to humanize dancers, that these are people with family, they have people who love them, and they fight and strive to be somebody. So that was basically the idea behind the story.
What was the production process for this project like?
OLAOLUWA: I cannot say for sure if I remember the exact date, I just remember her [Roberta Orima] sharing the synopsis with me and I really liked it. And even though at the time, I didn’t think we could pull it out I just told her, I love this. I remember that after she told me about this idea, I didn’t sleep that night. I worked on this mock treatment then I sent it to her, and that was the first time we saw that this is possible.
So between late 2020, and when we did several drafts, then there was the whole funding phase, Roberta dealt with that, trying to pitch to investors; you know we had not really done anything and nobody knew us and that was the first big risk we were taking. Roberta did a lot in trying to get funds, and about four days before the shoot,we thought that we were going to cancel because I didn’t think we could pull it off.
The first major breakthrough we had was having the strip dancers actually commit to appearing in the film because we wanted it to be as authentic as possible. It was important to have people who would not be ashamed wearing lingerie and all the costumes. On the first day of the shoot, I was so scared they were not going to show up because they are not actors but thankfully they showed up and were very cooperative, and because they showed up, Roberta and other cast members who have also been going for dance classes, could easily work with them.
BSIDE: What was the distribution process that led you to secure a deal with Prime Video?
ORIOMA: We wrapped production on the 10th of July 2021 and then we were on that journey till late last year. For the marketing, we went to AFFRIF, that was in 2021 November and there was this panel with prime video and after the panel, I remember people going down to talk to people from Prime Video and all and we were like let’s us go to and see and basically that’s how we started the conversation that got us the deal.
BSIDE: As the director for the project, what were the specific things that were important to enable you to tell this story?
NWANI: I think for me, it would be holding onto the authenticity of the script. So there’s usually a bias where after the script is written, the final product, the film, looks far from what the script looks like. And we’ve had situations where writers find it difficult to identify for themselves films that they wrote. I like to believe there are three major people involved in making a film, the writer, the director and then the editor. But truthfully, going into production for Grind, what was contant was the need to hold on to the authenticity because the script was written in such a way that it could be anybody. A story of any average Nigerian youth who has a goal and they want to pursue it by all means. Now we just did it from the point of a stripper. It could be my story from the point of view of a filmmaker. The idea is a story of a young Nigerian adult who wants to make sure they survive and achieve their goals and they have to turn to dancing as a form of survival.
We had to make sure we held that authenticity through the film and we also ensured that we got our casting right. So it’s a peculiar kind of film right where the actress has to be comfortable in their own skin. We had scenes where they had to dance and interact with other actors in clothes covering close to nothing. So casting was major for us going into the project and ensuring we had the best people to interpret it in the way that best fits. The characters were very important, we couldn’t afford to get them wrong.
Beyond the dancers, beyond the girls, down to the men, I can tell you categorically that up to half of the people you see in the series are the people who we got from auditions and most of them were first-time actors across the board. So we knew going into the project, we needed a fresh perspective and we didn’t want to be boxed in a situation where we have actors coming to set with the baggage of experience on how it’s been done and it’s now difficult to collaborate on what this particular story or character needs.
BSIDE: What was the director and actor relationship like? In this case, the lead character is also the creator of the film, who also has to oversee the overall production of the project.
NWANI: Sometimes it’s very tricky to work with writer-actors but one of the things that we as a team share is that collaboration is 99% of the work. Film is one profession I don’t think anybody can do as a solo artist. There is a need to relate, exchange ideas and get to a place where everybody’s idea is heard, even up until now, we had to collectively make a decision on things we are rolling out as a team. So I think it’s super important that collaboration is at the forefront.
It is very important to work with the people that you love because everybody in this film was ready to put their cards on the table. If we were to pay for the value people brought in the making of Grind, we probably wouldn’t have been able to make the film. From the director of photography , to production designer to makeup, everybody had their full collaborative cap on, they brought their 101% on
BSIDE: For Roberta specifically, it’s exciting to see that you are the creator, lead actor and co-producer on this project. When people watch this project, what is the one message you’d like to pass across and you’d just want people to take home from the film?
ORIOMA: So as the creator, I think it’s really great to see my idea out there because the truth is I had a delayed reaction. When it was clear that it was going to be on Prime Video, I did not process as fast as Josh was processing. It took me a while and thinking about it now, it’s amazing and a dream come true. It really just re-affirms that whatever you put your mind to you can achieve as long as you keep putting in the work.
BSIDE: As a producer of a project that is coming up on a major platform like Prime Video, how do you feel about telling a story for a global audience and what do you think about the future of young filmmakers like yourself that are telling stories that would be for a wide range of audience?
OLAOLUWA: This question is quite tricky because on the team, I am like the most dramatic. So at the early stage of production, I was always nervous and anxious. I’d just pick my phone and call Roberta saying that we’ve not got a reply, is everything going to be fine? And they were all chilled saying it is going to be fine. It was a long process, it took alot for us to get here. So in the middle of all of this working hard, it feels very rewarding seeing how it’s become.
Also, for the future of the industry, I think it’s a great thing. The more barriers we are able to break, the better it is for African storytelling. I remember on set, it wasn’t about the role, who the producer was and all, it was just mostly about the collective effort. Now seeing this product that we’ve made, I remember the day it was confirmed that we were going to be on prime video, I remember texting in the group chat saying “guys, this is not me, this is not Lucky, this is not Roberta, this is for all of us.” For everyone trying to create something and don’t know how to go about it. It just goes to show the power of collaboration. So yeah, I feel really great about it, I feel more and more is going to happen and I just feel that even for us and for me, this is the start of something bigger.