Content is king on television, and to attract eyeballs, it should have world-class quality, not to mention, a searing subject.
When they set out with a drama series project for the African market three years ago, creators BB Sasore and Derin Adeyokunnu knew that only too well. They picked a concept very close to home, delving into the life of the average young unmarried Nigerian female, her aspiration to get hitched before the age of 30 and how this view is further reinforced by society.
As founding partners of Nemsia Studios, a Lagos-based marketing agency, the TV series was a prelude to the company’s production arm, Nemsia Films. Their mission: to produce a world-class, yet intrinsically African production, with an uncompromising emphasis on quality.
The series, titled Before 30, explores the dating scene, the cultural contexts, pressures and perceptions around marriage through the lives of four young Nigerian women from diverse backgrounds. In 2012, open casting calls for the show saw over 300 actors audition for the roles.
“If I think back to where we were both at, it wasn’t daunting at all in the beginning. At the time, we thought this is a genius idea because the realities the Nigerian woman faces are so different from [those faced by] her Western counterparts. She can be all she wants to be – successful, beautiful, driven, accomplished but in this society, without her wedding ring, she is not fully celebrated as a woman.
“We wanted to tell this story. When we started to shoot the pilot however, it became clear it was not going to be an easy task. We were shocked by the very lax response of potential investors to the project at that stage,” says Sasore, the series’ writer and director.
With surplus content everywhere the challenge then was to be unique, benchmarking themselves against the more established frameworks of the western world, while at the same time keeping costs down.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t compromise on quality. This becomes dicey while trying to keep costs at a minimal level,” says the series’ producer Morin Akinnola.
“For the detail we aimed for, we leveraged a lot on relationships and made it a point to pitch a vivid picture to a lot of the resources that eventually encouraged and supported the production.”
Akinnola hopes the audience is able to perceive the effort gone into the making of the series. The quest for perfection was relentless from start to finish – from the script, visuals, casting, and fashion to music.
Keen on pushing the envelope, the Before 30 team hopes to showcase the wealth of talent on the African continent. The talented cast and crew, African designers and the eclectic African music in the series, attest to this.
Achieving it was a huge challenge though, as the television industry is fraught with bottlenecks.
“Because of the size of the market and lack of funds, we are a bit restricted in terms of the kinds of stories we can tell. Once a great story has been developed, raising funds to bring it to life is the next necessity. We are honored and humbled to have received a lot of encouragement as we proceeded in this regard. Location, cast, crew amongst others also come to the forefront – these are the realities the industry faces. Monetizing the content is always at the pith of any production’s expectations and with the series, we aim to give good reason for this,” says executive producer Adeyokunnu.
With support from key sponsors, a total of $300,000 went into producing the series. Before 30 premiered in March and will air on seven local, pan-African and international networks.
“We are definitely trying to raise the bar in African television by telling compelling stories that are visually appealing and on par with world standards. The world is ready to be exposed to diverse cultures, trends and perceptions. It is an opportunity to share with the world our incredible creative industry and through this medium and the right infrastructure, we will achieve it,” chorus the Nemsia team.
For now, when the lights come on and the camera rolls, the Nigerian woman awaits her turn to steal the spotlight.