THE MTV Staying Alive Foundation (SAF) in partnership with the World Health Organisation, United Nations and other stakeholders have supported a 65 part mini-series of MTV Shuga to raise awareness in the fight to flatten the Covid-19 curve – ‘MTV Shuga Alone Together’
Produced remotely, MTV Shuga Alone Together is a self-shot series, written and directed by MetFilm School Berlin graduate and acclaimed Nigerian actress and screenwriter, Tunde Aladese and is available on YouTube for streaming.
Voice Online caught up with Tunde to get an insight into the enormity of the task, how her career started and, how she got this epic gig.
Tunde told us: “My love for writing started with prose, making sorry imitations of any book I enjoyed in order to somehow prolong the experience that the book had given me.
“Cinemas weren’t much of a thing in Nigeria at the time when I was growing up, but VCR was big business and watching movies was a big family pastime.
“There was The Sound of Music, which my siblings and I could quote in its entirety. Also, a lot of the glam mini-series type content, usually centred around a woman who succeeded against all odds.
“I guess primary school drama club was my first proper sense of trying to create a narrative out of thin air and get other people to help bring it to life. But’ I can say that I fell in love with the film business, this idea of actors and directors and storytellers on screen after reading the biographies of some old Hollywood movie stars in my early teens.
“I think that was when I began to understand the process of how all that came to the screen. The possibility of anything like that being a tangible and viable career plan, came much later.”
Tunde studied English Literature at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and her first job after graduating led to an introduction between her boss and a producer who was about to make a radio drama series for the BBC in Nigeria.
She said: “Success was not immediate but over the next couple of years, enough opportunities came my way that when an international cable company became interested in producing a Nigerian series, I actually had a little experience under my belt and could pitch myself for some writing opportunities.”
After almost 10 years working professionally as a screenwriter, mostly in television, Tunde wanted new challenges. She said: “I thought learning formally about all aspects of film production would help me with that. Choosing the BA Practical Filmmaking degree at MetFilm School was a combination of timing, location (Berlin had been popping up a lot in my timeline in the months preceding), language and investigating their alumni and the things those graduates had gone on to do since leaving the School.
“It’s a great way to study the European arthouse film aesthetic, which I was very interested in, without having to take the time to learn a whole new language.”
Set in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Cote D’Ivoire during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak, Tunde’s new show depicts every aspect of life during the pandemic over several months.
“I had worked on two previous seasons of the Shuga series, including one season as Head Writer and had therefore had some contact with some members of the team.
“They [the Shuga team] reached out within the first couple of weeks of lockdown in Germany and told me about this idea they were throwing around, and asked whether it was something I would be interested in coming on board for.
“I’d been sitting home for two weeks, reading about everything going on all around the world, from news headlines to social media posts sharing people’s emotions, so I knew as soon as they asked that there was potential here. I didn’t imagine at the time that it would be 65 episodes! We’re recording 41-50 this week and then my co-head takes over again for the next batch.
“I’m not going to deny that it is a challenge. I just take it one block at a time, and fortunately I don’t have to do it all on my own. There’s a co-head writer and co-director who alternates blocks with me and of course, the SAF team.”
The stories are told through video calls between MTV Shuga characters, reflecting how social media has become the new form of socialising during this era of lockdown, and reflects the changes in our lives as lockdown changes across the months.
MTV Shuga Alone Together educates viewers across the world about how practicing hygienic habits, social distancing and self-isolation are critical to fighting the spread of the coronavirus.
From tackling Covid-19 myths and stifling the spread of fake news, to keeping a close eye on mental health while staying home, the pan-African production, shot entirely by the actors during lockdown, is a window into the real-life effects of the pandemic.
Along with the critical public health messaging, MTV Shuga Alone Together portrays other real-life threats that people across the world are facing during their national lockdowns; such as the heightened dangers of domestic violence or mental health challenges. It also examines the increased risks faced by people who may be HIV+ and not managing their viral load, and those who have TB.
Tunde added: “Reactions and feedback from the first few episodes were quite exciting. It’s been challenging trying to find ways to maintain and increase the momentum and interest. But I did say I was looking for challenges, right?
“I’m almost done with this season of Shuga and there are a couple of things lined up for me to switch over to from next month. But nothing that I am at liberty to talk about right now.”
Link to Youtube episode one here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXLqM_HxIw8
Tunde’s advice for those considering a career in the film industry
“Read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies. Figure out what you like, what excites and moves you and why. And then try to put it into your own work.
“Write, write, write. Even when you hate it, keep at it.
“I had a period of about six years from secondary school into university where, everything I wrote, I hated soon after. But that made me question why I hated it and what I needed to do differently.
“The trick is to keep writing so that when an opportunity comes your way, you have something to show of your ability that will make them at least consider you.
“Don’t wait for someone to find you and make you a writer. And then of course, seek out those opportunities. I know this is a bit glib, and won’t work out for everyone, but it will for some.
“Oh, and I should mention this magic trick. The first time I went to a writers’ workshop, everyone there introduced themselves as a writer except me. I didn’t think I had the right to claim that about my hobby. The people present in the room made me say it: ‘I’m a writer’.
“When I returned to my life, I started introducing myself that way. And people remembered. And the calls started coming.”