There are short films that are made to entertain. Then there are films that are made which leave long and lasting introspection. And then there’s Wilson, a rarity in both. John Ogunmuyiwa’s debut short film was created in conjunction with ICA and Channel 4’s Random Acts scheme: an artist and narrative focused platform at Channel 4 that pushes filmmakers to make the outrageous and deviate from regular programming - all in under 4 minutes we might add. Wilson is a short that manages to combine the fast but ultimate angst of being a man in this constrained and overstimulated society. Caged from elaborating on their everyday turmoil and assigned to play the familiar role of docile, but “strong” male. In many ways, it was always going to be a no brainer that John’s film would manage to cut through so many familiar feelings of discontent and resonate with a huge portion of people that have seen it. What’s even more impressive though is his film form manages to elevate the story in unexpected ways, the more you watch it. Just look at the way the split-screen is entwined in the story to reinforce the main character’s mind state. Not easily done!
Our relationship with John began last October. After a back and forth for weeks on getting the film to stream on the app, John was at the forefront of our minds to showcase the film at only our second film screening event. The growing pains of putting the event together meant that at that stage, I can confidently say that we were unsure if he was going to turn up. Not only did he turn up, but he brought with him in the Q&A the quiet confidence, candidness and humour that shows up in his work.
We asked John to kick off this new Minute chapter for us and have free reign in giving us the real when writing. What you’re about to read is exactly that. Articles are nice when written biographically, but we thought it could be a learning moment to have knowledge and story come directly from the source. Let’s pass the mic.
Read John’s journey below.
“Looking back, I think I’ve always liked the idea of a world that’s slightly exaggerated. As in sometimes real life can be boring and very matter of fact.”
When the guys at Minute App asked me to write this article, to be honest I was and as I write still pretty stumped. We can all chat the chat, but at the end of the day: what are you really trying to say though?! But that in itself feels like something important, and something that I feel can be overlooked at times. I’m still quite new to this whole film business. Every time I go to an event in my head I’m singing “A whole new world” in my head, shout outs to man like Aladdin (top ten classic, dont @ me!) But from the few events I have been to and the people I’ve had chats with, this thought of; “what are you saying?” has been ingrained in the back of my mind.
It’s written somewhere on the page already, but in case you don’t know - my name is John Ogunmuyiwa and last year I released my first short film “Wilson”. It’s been a bit a of a rollercoaster. People have liked the film way more than I thought they would, which is always a nice surprise. It came about through a funding program with the ICA & C4 Random Acts, called Stop Play Record. Which basically gave people from ages of 16-24 the opportunity to pitch an idea and if they liked it, they’d give a little cash and some guidance on getting it made. What was really cool about it was the fact it was for everyone, people who had made films before and for those who hadn’t. From really young people and those like me scraping the barrel of youth being just about 24 at the time.
I was born in Nigeria, but have grown up in south London since I was a very very young boy. I was always interested in photography and being from a Nigerian household meant as soon you can do one thing, that then becomes your job. Whether it’s hoovering, ironing or in my case all of the above as well as taking family photos. That grew into a passion for portraiture and photojournalism, which then moved into a love for stories, film and moving images. Like many others, being a young black boy in South London - Dragon Ball Z spoke to me in ways that I could never have been ready for. This well known cartoon from Japan also opened me up to anime and the world of manga. I’ve always had a love for sci fi, superheroes, comics and martial arts films. Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon changed my life. Looking back, I think I’ve always liked the idea of a world that’s slightly exaggerated. As in sometimes real life can be boring and very matter of fact. My youthful imagination, couldn't and still can’t accept that this is all there is to life. I love the added dimension that those elements bring to the world. Whether it’s superheroes or spies there’s gotta be more going on, there just has to be. I remember secretly and now openly, hoping for the one day that my superpowers would kick in. But to be honest if I had powers, I probably wouldn’t fight crime - that's a lot of time and effort to spend. I probably think of doing things that are everyday and more practical; like charging my phone and teleport to bed after a night out.
“My philosophy at the moment is that directing is like being a conductor in an orchestra. You definitely don’t need to know how to play every instrument… but you need to be able to speak the language to get what you need and create a visual melody.”
One of the really good things that I remember about being young is that you and all of your friends don’t have anything important to do. Which meant for me I had loads of extras for the ideas I wanted to try out. I started by trying to recreate techniques and effects that I’d seen from films and music videos. Like a kung fu inspired film set in croydon or a weird movement inspired something ala The Pharcyde “Drop” music video. I always had the impression that those films weren’t about anything and meant nothing, but in hindsight they were all test ideas that could probably still blown up at some point in my career.
I’ve done a couple hood music videos, which i think is a right of passage. But those will stay hidden in the dark recess of youtube. Not because they’re hood but because they’re not that good #barz. But it’s all a learning curve and funnily enough the last film I made (before Wilson) was a music video that I’m still pretty proud of. I made it with a friend (shoutout EUN) under our moniker OG.LIE - Sumo Chiefs 1of1 Dvo Remix. We did it all: filmed, directed, edited, graded and came up with the idea. Which was a lot, but good in a weird way. I feel that by starting off by trying to do everything yourself, you then get a greater understanding of the process as a whole. I can’t remember if this coming from me or not but my philosophy at the moment is that directing is like being a conductor in an orchestra. You definitely don’t need to know how to play every instrument. But I’ve found that having an understanding can give you confidence in being able to speak the language to get what you need and create a visual melody.
I’m not a full time director just yet, soon come. One day. Hopefully. I currently work full time at an advertising agency as a creative. As far as jobs go, if I didn't have the passion for film it would actually be the one. It’s got everything I like; writing, ideas, art direction and sometimes free flights. But it can be very demanding. The hours are from 9 to 5 or 9 to job-done-whenever-that may-be. I know I know, I hear you asking in my head how do I do it? Again, if I’m being I honest - I don’t. I’m forever tired. In a strange way it could be a little masochistic. I hate being tired, but I love why I’m tired, because I love stories. I don’t mind being tired now (literally and figuratively), because hopefully I can chill later. Then again, some say tomorrow never comes.
To be honest there's not enough time in the day. Yes I said it, and I’m ready to fly-kick those who say we’ve all got the same 24 hours. My friend, it’s a myth. But having said that and looking at the people I respect. It’s possible to make it work where you can. A little bit of sacrifice for creative expression. Anyway, since doing Wilson I’ve been trying to capitalise on as many opportunities as possible. It’s been a very humbling and surreal experience. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that something in my head to made it into the real world (some things shouldn't). I’ve just been trying to ride the wave. For the longest time you feel as if you’re on the outside looking in and just shouting for an opportunity to make good on what you know you can do. Then something comes along and you can’t help put everything you can into it. It’s been interesting getting in the film scene. I used to hate the idea, as maybe people in these groups thought they were too cool. But over the last few years I really love it. There's pockets of things happening, vibes are being exchanged and its happening everywhere. It’s nice meeting cool and like minded people who just want to create, and when you deep it; this will probably turn out to be the future of the industry. Getting gassed thinking about it now.
So far, most people seem to share the same mentality of if I’m on then you’re on. Bring-ins are welcome. That brings me back to the thought ‘What are you really saying?’. The people I respect the most have their voice coming through in their work. It’s not just trends and It’s hard to put into words, but it feels as if they're trying to say something in a way only they can. Because not every idea/story is original but the way we express them can be unique to us.
Everyone has a voice and can channel it into their own weapon of choice. It’s not everyday woke but sometimes it’s more than pretty picture. What's the reason, why? If it’s about nothing make it all about nothing. Whether I’m in the mirror, thinking about ideas or chatting rubbish: I’ll ask you, what I ask myself. What are you really saying though?!
*You can share this article and ‘Wilson’ is available to stream and download on the app using the links below and at the bottom of the page*