|By Nehru Odeh
Writing screenplays comes naturally to acclaimed Nigerian screenwriter and actress Tunde Aladese. The graduate of the Metfilm School has once again showcased her immense artistic talents via her latest project, Transatlantic, the forthcoming show from Anna Winger, the creator of the eight-time Emmy nominated limited series Unorthodox.
Still, the remarkable thing about Aladese’s new project is that working on the new TV series has opened up many new and exciting opportunities for her. Her new project has given her the chance to not only write but go on set.
“I was invited by Anna Winger, who I’d met in 2020, to join the writer’s room, and was assigned one episode. Later in the year, she reached out saying they needed someone on the writing team to step in as the ‘writer on set’, present in Marseille for the entirety of the production. She didn’t need to ask twice.
“I was ecstatic at the opportunity. So, basically, I wrote one episode, and then spent five months on set under the official title of ‘story editor’, available as a resource to directors, actors, and other members of the crew to help make sure all the choices made during filming were synonymous with the vision of the showrunner and the writers’ room,” Aladese said.
Aladese, who also studied English at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, has tried her hand at various craft areas, but it is writing which remains for her ‘top priority.’ During the lockdown occasioned by the covid-19 pandemic, She wrote a 65 episode MTV series called MTV Shuga Alone Together.
However, having spent more time for Transatlantic, Aladese realized she enjoyed the process.
“It was exciting being there every day, watching the entire team work together to bring the stories we’d imagined to life, adding all these extra layers that we didn’t necessarily imagine, but which made it all so much richer.
“The entire experience of the shoot was quite moving in a way that I think added something extra to what we were making. The locations were great – some of those were places connected to the stories that inspired the series. The Hotel Splendide is now a school, but we were able to construct our own version of the hotel in some of the rooms.
“We saw so many beautiful places in the South of France – beaches, mountains, old villas. The wardrobe was amazing, the extras… Anna makes what she calls ‘artisanal television’, which is somewhere between typical studio type productions and more ‘auteur-driven’ storytelling. It leaves room for there to be a whole secret story behind, for example, a ukulele player in the background of one scene, with no lines,” Aladese explained.
Over the last couple of years Aladese has worked with writing teams from various countries, all with a different style of working.
“As part of the team you have to try and fit in with the head writer’s style in a way that helps make their job easier.
“The biggest thing from the past couple of years, for me, is widening the range of people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. With every job, you learn new things. I try to go into every new project with a balance of openness to learning a new process and offering up everything I have learned from previous experiences, so that by the end of the project, I have even more cards in my deck.”
Anna Winger’s company, Airlift Productions, is based in Berlin where Tunde studied. Although she doesn’t believe in creativity being tied to a particular space or place.
“I do think those things often come from finding your people, and maybe it’s easier to find those people in a city that isn’t as huge or commercialised as LA or London.
“Compared to other famous cities that creatives congregate to, trying to find themselves or their voice, Berlin is still somewhat wild, undefined and open. This makes it possibly more challenging if there’s a language barrier, but it also means that it isn’t quite as constrained by some of the industry roles or informal structures. It isn’t quite as cutthroat, or as mainstream.”
After graduation, Aladese tried to figure out ways to meet other filmmakers. She found Facebook groups for screenwriters, for women filmmakers, for black filmmakers.
“Sure, some of the people you meet will be dabblers, but if you’re lucky, you also meet some people who you connect with, stay in touch with, and then go on to create with.”
Also, when she could afford the time and cost Aladese would go to festivals and this was where she met Anna Winger.
“I introduced myself to Anna at a Berlinale panel event on series, after having first been mentioned to her by a friend I met on a Facebook group for women filmmakers.”
Reflecting on the previous year, Aladese said she loved being on set every day as she always understood what was happening.
“Studying the shot list, watching the director and DOP set up their frames, figuring out how much coverage we needed… Having tried all these steps before made it so much easier to anticipate problems.
Any plans for the future? Sure. Aladese would like to be at a more involved level of production.
“Maybe some directing, with specific projects. For now, though, writing remains the first priority; the first love,” she maintained.