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Theo-Ziny Joel Interview

Theo-Ziny Joel was shortlisted in the Student Filmmaker Fiction category for his film Read My Body. The short film tells the story of a young boy asking his father if he can join him when he goes to war. The concept arose during a class at The National Film Institute in Nigeria when Theo-Ziny and his fellow classmates were asked to write a script inspired by a song. We speak to Theo-Ziny to discover what drew him to filmmaking, his creative influences, and his feature-length film The Carpenter’s Son. 

Theo-Ziny Joel at the red carpet at the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards
Theo-Ziny Joel at the red carpet at the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards

How did you get into filmmaking?

I’ve always had a passion for storytelling. At 13, I'd write stories in a book – my readers were my siblings and parents. The only way my siblings were allowed to read my stories was if they paid me. My sister would give me her portion of her meal just to read. She has always been my number one fan. 

My passion for writing grew although my works didn't get the desired audience and attention I needed and this made me unsatisfied. I took a break from writing and immersed myself in movies made by Nigerian filmmaker Tunde Kelani, including Saworoide, Maami, Koseegbe and Thunderbolt: Magun. These films influenced me to look at another form of storytelling and so I wrote and directed a stage play for the church I worship at and the reception was massive. 

I wrote and directed three more stage plays with my siblings as the actors. This built my interest in theatre and cinema. I admired how people gathered to watch projected Christian films, how it made them laugh and cry, and how it changed people’s perceptions. ‘All of this from watching a film?’ I thought to myself – this is what I had envisioned for my writing. I dreamt of a time when people would sit together to see my film, I am now living that dream. 

I knew to develop I needed to learn filmmaking. This shift to filmmaking was easy for me because I knew the kind of story I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell it. I learned went ahead to study filmmaking at The National Film Institute, in Jos, Nigeria, to better my craft. 

Poster for The Carpenter's Son, Theo-Ziny Joel's first feature-length film
Poster for The Carpenter's Son, Theo-Ziny Joel's first feature-length film

How have the last six months or so been for your filmmaking career? Tell us what you’ve been up to and what you have coming up in the near future since visiting the Sony Pictures Studios for the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards. 

It's been awe-inspiring. I've been giving more attention to build my creativity and relationships with filmmakers at home and abroad. I've had producers reach out for collaborations. The exposure through the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards has made this possible. 

I've just wrapped up a short film called La Pomme - A Day with Asmodeus, which I wrote and directed. The film is produced by Ruth Jambu and executive produced by Joseph Sunday, Baron Dickson and myself. I'm also working on my debut feature-length film The Carpenter Son. It's about a father who shuns the African culture from his son. He likes his son to call him dad rather than baba. This is as a result of his past.

Production is scheduled for the first quarter of 2024. And I'll be doing this in partnership with JOJO FILMS, which is owned by Joseph Sunday with Mr Mautin as the Creative Producer / Executive Producer. He is an award-winning Executive Producer of Mami Water, which was nominated for two awards in Sundance Film Festival. 


Theo-Ziny Joel on set for Read My Body
Theo-Ziny Joel on set for Read My Body

Your film Read My Body was shortlisted in the Student Filmmaker, Fiction category in the 2023 Awards. The story centers around a father and son. Can you tell us about how the relationship unfolds during your film?  

The son in my short film Read My Body is a curious child who wants to become a warrior like his father. He sees his father always going to war while he goes to school. On his way back from school one day, he sees two boys, who are his age, fighting. This makes him tell his father that he wants to become a warrior like him so that he can defend himself when the time to fight comes. His father dismisses the idea. He promises him that there will be no more war when he becomes old like him because he is going to fight the last battle. And he is a warrior not because he wants to, but because he wants a better future for his son. 

Tell us the thinking behind the concept of your film. How did you come up with the narrative?

The idea came to me during a scriptwriting class when the lecturer Mr Jovi Okpodu asked us to adapt a song by The Ojay's Year 2000. The song asked a lot of unanswered questions. This inspired Read My Body. 

There is a point early on in the film when the father speaks directly to the camera. Can you tell us about the thinking behind this particular shot?

I decided to break the fourth wall as I wanted the audience to be as close as possible to what was happening on screen. 

Clapperboard for Theo-Ziny Joel's shortlisted film Read My Body
Clapperboard for Theo-Ziny Joel's shortlisted film Read My Body

What were some of the challenges you overcame during this shoot?

It rained heavily when we were supposed to shoot. It almost felt like the filming wasn't going to happen, and I rented the film kit for just one day. An extra day meant another payment, something I wasn't ready for. The rain eventually subsided, but that was the most challenging. I appreciate my partner on the project, Destiny Marshall, for believing in the project at its pre-production stage and funding it too. I’d also like to thank every cast and crew member for making the project less challenging. 

Theo-Ziny Joel at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California
Theo-Ziny Joel at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California

What stood out to you during your time at Sony Pictures Studios for the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards?

Everything stood out! From the email explaining the good news to meeting the other shortlisted candidates from across the globe in LA to the workshop programs, tour around Sony Pictures Studio, and the overwhelming love shown by the team. All of these experiences are still very much alive as it has taken me to places I never thought I'd be in, or at least not this early in my film career. 

Is there anything you’ve learned about your filmmaking since your experience last February?

I’ve learned a lot. Filmmaking is a serious business. My film pitching has elevated. All of what I was taught I have put to use. It is playing out well for me so far. 

Theo-Ziny Joel headshot

About Theo-Ziny Joel

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Taiwo Oluwatosin (known by his pseudonym Theo-Ziny) Joel is an award-winning creative writer and director, with a passion for and vast knowledge of filmmaking. He studied Film Production at the National Film Institute in Jos, Nigeria, and graduated in 2022. His short film Read My Body won the Viewer's Choice Award at the Indie View Festival 2022 and received an Honorable Mention Award at the Student World Impact Film Festival 2022. It was also nominated at the Africa International Film Festival 2022.

His script Clicks was shortlisted at the Sharks Award 2021 in Brighton and Kinsale. Theo-Ziny is known for his African style of storytelling and his belief in using film as a tool to address societal issues and create a positive impact. His films have been officially selected for screening at numerous film festivals both in Nigeria and internationally, and he is currently a Film Judge at the Student World Impact Film Festival.

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