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Filming and producing a feature on Sierra Leone's biggest rapper

My shoots are planned to the very last detail. From; the story’s shooting script to; interviewees; interview questions; filming dates; locations; transportation; risk assessments; type of filming equipment and the angles for setting them up; and much more. And yet when we actually arrive and start filming, what happens in front of the camera is always far beyond my control— and this is what I depend on most. Shoots have taught me that the best thing that can happen, is when the story tells itself. That’s when you get the real truth of the matter, the part that will resonate most with your audiences. 

Features are important to me because we can either veer into the slippery slope of tokenism and hero-worship, or we can really just tell a human story that other humans can draw from. Others can draw inspiration, information, pride and a sense of identity, validation, and many other things from watching someone (anyone) tell their story.

That was what this shoot taught me. I interviewed a celebrity who I happen to be a huge fan of. Someone who’s work I followed for years. I was humbled and surprised to find he had no ego, and no complexes. He got camera shy, spoke about his childhood vulnerabilities and the pressure he feels to give his community art that represents them. He laughed at my awkward microphone handling and my inability to carry a light. He mocked me for breathing down the cameraman’s FS7 not knowing what button was for what— and he bought me snacks from street hawkers passing by, in between shoots. He became my friend. I told him my story too— and it happened to be similar to his. Creatives who came from families that wanted us to have traditional professions. 

When it was time to put together the rough cut, every SOT was important to me. I couldn’t pick one story line to follow. He gave me more than I had asked for. He gave me more than my interview questions. He gave me all of him. And I realised, so does everyone else that I interview. When you plan the logistics of your shoot, while leaving the space open to your contributor to be who they are— the story finds breath. The story comes to life and lives in front of your camera, rather than being performed for interview questions. The story tells itself.  

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