Nigerian actress Olajumoke Bello Aruwajoye had an "out-of-body" experience when she arrived in Hollywood.
“It’s surreal, it’s amazing, it’s exciting for me because I never thought I would be here,” she said.
Aruwajoye is one of a small handful of entertainment professionals from Africa who got a chance to come to Los Angeles for three weeks to visit movie studios and learn from those who are working in the Hollywood film industry.
It was made possible by a partnership with the African Technology Foundation, Relativity Education and the U.S. State Department.
Through its Hollywood in Focus program, Relativity Education hosts entertainment industry professionals from around the world. They are trained in the latest technologies and practices used in Hollywood.
“A lot of individuals coming over are working in burgeoning markets that are just starting to get their legs. They come to us to see how it’s done in Hollywood where we’ve had a bit of practice," said Emma Greer, Director of Workshops for Relativity Education.
Bringing Africa to Hollywood
Six groups of creative professionals from Africa have taken part in Hollywood in Focus, totaling 67 people from throughout Africa over a 14-month period. They apply for the program and are picked through a competitive selection process. Many of the program’s participants receive scholarships and discounts to travel to Los Angeles and attend Relativity Education’s workshops. The tailored workshops touch on the various aspects of film production and give hands-on experience to the participants.
“It’s been very practical. You can see these things. You don’t just hear about them. You see them. You know how they work,” said Nigerian cinematographer Egim Fortune Kezi.
The workshops also train film industry professionals to think of themselves as entrepreneurs.
"It’s not a model anymore where you’re waiting for the phone to ring to get hired into a gig. We’re shifting, this space is shifting from a gig economy to an entrepreneurial space and a space where companies can be born, innovations can happen and content can be distributed from independent voices,” said President of Relativity Education Glenn Kalison.
This shift is happening because of the Internet and changes in technology.
“What you’re finding is there are a lot of self-driven content creators. It’s a lot of the user generated content. On the consumption side, with the growth of mobile technologies across Africa, a lot of this content can now be consumed for much less than it ever was, so the democratization of this process through digital media has empowered a whole new generation of content creators,” said Stephen Ozoigbo, Relativity Education’s International Advisor.
Cleopatra Koheirwe is an actress from Uganda who hesitated when asked whether she thought of herself as an entrepreneur.
“I see myself as an entrepreneur. The only glitch to that was I had no idea exactly how to sell my brand 'cause along the way you kind of sell yourself short sometimes because of the opportunities or because of the lack of the jobs. The film industry is still small back home so I see myself as an entrepreneur.”
Bringing Hollywood to Africa
Ozoigbo also is spearheading an effort to bring the latest equipment used in Hollywood to Africa.
“When you bring in a professional here and he’s training with state of the art equipment he goes back home and if that equipment is not with him, you just suffered a brain drain,” said Ozoigbo.
He has been working with a number of equipment manufacturers, distributors, rental shops and e-commerce sites to get Hollywood grade equipment to Africa.
“So now you have African professionals who can have their purchases made in country with local currency, and you have U.S. manufacturers who are willing to take equipment down there and open up distribution centers and it’s all win win,” said Ozoigbo.
Enriching careers and beyond
Many of the attendees of Hollywood in Focus said what they’ve learned will not only enrich their careers, but also elevate the African film industry on the global stage.
“To kind of get that experience here and put that in my own country and in my own scope just so we can be up to speed with what’s happening around the world and give ourselves opportunities to be able to tell our own stories the way we want to,” said Nigerian actor OC Ukeje.
After their three-week experience, many of the attendees said upon their return home, they hope to collaborate on projects with others in their Hollywood in Focus group and the program’s alumni.