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Tosin Otudeko: “‘Over the Bridge’ Tells Story of Complex, But Double-Led Life”

Magic was made from the cauldron of Nollywood in this inspirational and distinctive, narrative-styled, long-running psychological thriller that boasts of an impressive line-up.
February 19, 2024
7:42 am
Tosin Otudeko

Ingenious screenwriter Tosin Otudeko; legendary director Tolu Ajayi; exceptional producer Bose Oshin; outstanding actors Ozzy Agu and Segilola Ogidan; firebrand cinematographer K.C. Obiajulu, and many more, all came together to deliver an ‘arguably’ great work of art, titled Over the Bridge.


That is right – great – given who these people are. Seeing the movie’s promotional poster online, I was impressed with emotions I could not place but knew were pulling me towards the movie. Strongest of all was a curiosity about the title.


What could this ever allude to? I kept asking myself. I was certain I had to do a preview and, in planning for that, I chose to reach out to Tolu Ajayi, hopefully for a satisfying, behind-the-scenes viewpoint. And it turned out to be that, and much more!


Exclusive bits, deep conversations, one-on-one with the minds behind the project, Tolu and Tosin, themselves – just a fun time all around, on our Zoom meeting. Sit back, and I hope you will enjoy reading this interview as much as I loved speaking to them and writing this.


What was the point of origin of Over the Bridge? What planted its seed?


Tosin: Hmm. That is a particularly good question. It was not exactly a thing that inspired me, more like a scenario. So, I was driving across the Third Mainland Bridge one day – returning from my grandaunt’s funeral – and I started to imagine a man who, due to some events in his life, was living an alternate life on the other side of the bridge from where he lived. That is what sparked the idea ‘over the bridge’.


I thought further on that: what could have taken him there? What would have been his backstory? Is he a married man? And what would his life be like? This was quite a while ago (laughs) – it has been several years, but over that time, it took a series of event to flesh the story out and develop it.


I knew it was going to be called Over the Bridge from that moment. The “Big Question” is, what is happening on the other side of the bridge? And I knew it was going to deal with mental health and marital issues. The man’s picture started forming in my head. Usually, when I start to write a script, I try to know who the characters are, and it is funny but, the plot furls itself around them: the characters’ journeys. So, more questions popped up about this man. Why would he go somewhere far from home? Was he running away? From what or whom? What was going on in his mind? Et cetera.


Tolu Ajayi

Tolu, did you have the same idea as well, when Tosin approached you with the story? What was your motivation for getting on-board? Did you feel a nudging to bring the story alive?


Tolu: Over the Bridge plays with a lot of interesting ideas. A great part of the story deals with understanding who you really are, as a person. It is about displacement within oneself. The lead character Folarin, although a resolute ambitious person, feels lost within himself…so he is, like, in two places at once. And he is trying to resolve these facts and come into himself. OTB explores his emotions and identity – as a person and as a man – in a deeply psychological way. That is why you can say I feel drawn to telling the story: it is relatable. As it will be for many other men who will be watching. The different people we are, and the roles we play. In our relationships, work or national duty in times of war. Some days, we are more vulnerable than not, and even if this story is set in a corporate world, the feelings are homogeneous (for us).


So, Over the Bridge is a narration inviting you to take a step across the bridge. To find out what a bridge really means. You know, the Third Mainland Bridge connects the Island and the Mainland: it is an exploration of two communities and the relationship they share with each other. The lead character’s job is also bridge-making, as well as investment-banking. People reach out to him, or he to them, and get them to trust him enough to give their monies to him for conducting projects. That is him getting bridges built in both literal and non-literal manner.


I get it. The title’s certainly creative in a literal sense, and I cannot wait to see all the other ways the concept is portrayed. So, Tosin, based on this story, would you say you lean more towards plot-writing or character-writing?


Tosin: Character-writing. I like to go from who the character is, and what their journey is.


And how would you place OTB next to the other genres you have written in? You co-wrote The Wedding Party, a romantic comedy; Heartbeat the Musical, which is about interpersonal and social issues and, of course, music, as well as a couple of poems. How was it like switching over to a psychological thriller? Is it a first?


Tosin: Yes, I would say it is my first time, but still within my inclination. Psychological thrillers intrigue me the most. Sure, I can write in the romance or comedy genres when I’m briefed: in fact, I find them quite freeing to write in and enjoy it, but one that tugs at my heart is the serious, heady, investigative, and emotional stuff which can command my attention, time, and resources for days.


I know Tolu is not new to managing heavy subjects as his litany of short films have shown. From war to PTSD, depression, and terrorism. How different would you say OTB is in comparison to your previous works such as The Encounter or Oga John, Tolu?


Tolu: Well, my works do tend to have a thematic similarity, and that is because my primary interest in filmmaking is on the human condition. I am very curious about it and aim to find how the strands of reality connect. The whos, the whys, the wheres, and the hows. I like to know what makes people tick, and that translates into the characters I conjure. That is what make them come alive. I like to know what drives their inner mechanisms, and while these themes you have mentioned are evident in my works, either as a symbolism or message, they all boil down to the people in them – all too often with the ‘heavy’, emotive, dramatic outcomes.


Over the bridge

So, did OTB pose any peculiar challenges to you both while trying to bring it to life? Or was it stimulating in any way?


Tosin: Very much so. I found it mentally challenging. Once I had the first draft which contained the main idea of the story, I approached a script mentor, who has been involved in the story’s progression ever since, and even became one of its executive producers. He gave me a thorough training and guided me on how to make a script come together.


I wrote a couple of first drafts which he reviewed, and then left the story for a while because I was working on other projects. So, before COVID-19 happened, I approached a director, which is Tolu, about it. He was extremely interested in it, too, and we continued working on the draft. I produced the second draft, he reviewed it, and on we went until the time of shooting.


I truly consider the draft-editing stage sacrosanct to the story’s development. Tolu was always reviewing the script with his vision for it in mind, and I would go back to rewrite it in a way that seamlessly incorporates both of our dreams and goals for the story.


We did hit some snags, as it is common with filmmaking: this, in the sense of where you wanted it to go. I had the character’s journey laid out, and Tolu offered the suggestion on a location change, for the third act – which was great, as it turned out to tie into the symbolism of the story. The suggestion was also practical because you may find out that where you wanted to go with a story sometimes in your head was not feasible.


So, I cherish our work relationship, and the effort and energy we put into nurturing the story while retaining its original intent.


Tolu: As I said, I am interested in people and I like to know the paths they take in life to bring them to where they are, or to some place they are going. I apply the same mindset to characters, too. So, when I get a pitch from a writer, I sort of counter-pitch them in turn, seeing the potential for trajectories. Especially as it relates to characterisation, because it is what drives a story. I do not care much for plot; that will unfailingly happen.


The initial works are often good, but I am eager for that deep dive into them, to see how further we can go. I get in this process with the writers of my feature films, even the short ones. ‘This is a fantastic character. What if they are like this?‘ And that is why I research a lot – I did on Ojukwu for The Encounter, and I people-watch avidly. Young people for instance. I try to know the ‘zeitgeist’, that is the spirit of their time, and to figure out how they differ in thinking to my generation’s, since I am not privy to that experience [no more]. Aside that, contrary to what we would prefer to think, many of us fit into boxes because we are individuals. We conform to conventional behaviors. This is the basis for making a character relatable: what are their wants? Motivations? Fears? What informs their worldview? How do they speak? Are they especial? Do they put up a façade?


I brainstormed many of these questions and more with Tolu, and it is reflected in the quality of the movie. It was a drawn, but worthwhile journey. It was altogether tasking to produce the story’s arc and themes, a didactic purpose I consider important [just] as well as its entertainment and aesthetic values. Another difficulty we faced has to do with deciding on scenes to shoot. We had to settle on ones with more importance eventually, as time equals money on a production set (Laughs).


How much of a role or “main character” does water play in this story? Aside the pointers in the movie’s poster – its title; an indistinct bridge; a canoe being paddled – Tolu’s previous works play with the element of water. Did you approach him specifically because of this directorial signature, Tosin?


Tosin: (Laughs) Totally. Yes, totally. Water certainly plays a significant role in the movie: literally and figuratively. And you are right, Tolu does love exploring water and its associated themes strongly. If there was going to be anybody who would go on that route with you, it was him. Even though we did not delve into the water as much as we would love to due to some restrictions, we made the best use of it in the way we could.


Tolu: What can I say? (Laughs) You’re spot on. You know the Fela’s song water no get enemy points to the versatility of water, and so I try to look for new ways to interpret water. It speaks. That may sound weird, but I think it does, and beside relating with it through scuba diving, which is a full-time, pastime of mine, I use it [water] in my previous works. I film underwater, although not in OTB, but I applied it in various other ways which you would see. That is all I am allowed to give out, but you would see it – how I infused water both as a tangible and conceptual phenomenon into the storyline.


Deyemi Okolawon

Now to the lead character Folarin Marinho: it is a most unique name. Does it bear any ties to his background? Pardon my ignorance, but it is not a surname I have heard of for a Lagosian, typically.


Tosin: The name was a natural progression out of the mental picture of the character in my head, and yes, it takes root from his old Lagos (Island) heritage. As I have mentioned, any work of art for me begins with the character. Once they pop up in my subconscious, I start off on a page knowing them, instinctively, and so I can see on my mental screen basic details about them: skin color, height, ethnicity. The more time I spend with them, the firmer their profile gets: name, career, familial background.


I do not think about who will be cast for the role later. I just do my thing and continue the mental exercise visualising the character as a real, living being to the satisfaction of my writer’s urge. So, I knew this was how this character was going to be like; I knew this was where he was from, and I knew he was a Folarin Marinho. Although much of the flashback scenes expatiating on this origin did not make it into the movie’s decisions about the most important scenes to shoot. We had to settle on more important angles (presently) of the story. Perhaps if we choose to convert the movie into a series, we may shed light on Folarin Marinho. But these are all still tentative thoughts.


Thank you for the response bit on Lagos’ old surname styles. It put things in perspective. Speaking of Lagos, I noticed in your works, Tolu, that this hyper realistic, urban mood tend to permeate them. Early morning rush hour traffic, radio shows, street living, rowdy Danfo buses and buzzing houseflies. Can we expect these to feature in OTB as well?


Tolu: Firstly, I appreciate the observation. Truly, these are details I place in my scenes and there is a technical reason for that. It dates to the time when I was an agency producer. I also doubled as a sound engineer, and so I used to edit sounds. I worked for an ad company, making radio commercials, and I buzzed with ideas of how a scene should feel like. Sound is one of the ways to do that. To immerse your audience in your story or message, and I would spend hours looking for sound effects to that effect. It is a concept called “theatre of light” in sound production.


Sound surrounds us, every day. I am in my study, and I can hear people across the street, cars going by, and that for me is a part of our lives. Nigeria, Lagos is a noisy community. So, the ability to depict this in my movies is what gives them their realness.


Aside its auditory purpose, I also employ the radio, visually, as a narrative device. In some of my works, when you pay attention to them, you would find the radio telling you about the story. Other details I include in them are living spaces and areas, dressing, accent. All of these can tell you more about a character, and yes, they will feature in OTB. Definitely.



How does OTB address the rising mental health conversation in the country? To what extent does it focus on men’s issues?


Tosin: Well, as with movies, you may not always could proffer solution to issues; what you can hope for is to capture at best a phenomenon, while the conclusions and analyses and parallels to be drawn are left to the judgement of your audience. So, we cannot control that. We just help point the needle to the direction of questions to be asked or answers to be had. But, of course, OTB does touch on the topic of mental health. It is a major theme, and we have told an authentic story of a man going through stuff. As resonating as possible, as is our job; it is our desire. Especially for me – as one who makes art.


I am enthusiastic about mental health, and I address it to varying degrees in my writings, which my hope for, is that people find light, solace, counsel or whatever they seek in. And, for the film to go on to contribute to public discourse about the subject because it is important. It is a silent-killing pandemic, more so amongst men who do not have the luxury of openness.


Tolu: OTB focuses on mental health issues, as Tosin had intended, but to what extent it will go in influencing social perception is what I cannot say. When people see the movie and talk about it, it may catch on, becoming some sort of ‘conflagration’ and taking centre stage in the heart of our conversations.


OTB focuses on mental health by treating some precepts as sub-themes: perseverance in relationships; loving people through thick and thin; commitment to marital vows; redemption; leadership; taking principled stances [in speech and in act]; having a just conscience; healthy living, and a great work-life balance including a strong community.


When I was in corporate, I have seen many a man, with no observable health issue, collapse under stress. This is not often talked about, online and with the previous generation.


What was a most or least favourite scene(s) for you two to shoot?


Tosin: Hmmm…I enjoyed all the scenes we shot because each location was different – fresh, wild, and exciting. All the actors brought their A-game, and it was fantastic to watch. I will only say I was a little bit terrified of the times where we had to shoot on the water. I had my heart in my mouth all through.


Tolu: I cannot pick a specific one as well, really. It was great working with the cast and crew members. From Lala to Darasimi, a bright kid with impressive acting potential whom we met in one of the villages we shot at. The lead actors Ozzy and Segilola were creatively excellent in executing their roles even though they were directed.


And Tosin…I admire her dogged spirit and boundless investment in the project. We share a familial kind of relationship, and it is my prayer that she recoups all she is put into making her dream a reality. I mean, it is begun already. We had Beyond Nollywood, Dark Matter and Picturehouse Cinemas in the UK coming onboard for the project because they believed in our vision. They are helping with the distribution and marketing and all that.


If I really were to pick, though, the beach scenes were my favourite.



What are your expectations about the movie’s reception?


Tosin: I hope it will achieve a social impact, as we have spoken about. It is a wonderful thing to make a movie that is appreciated for both its artistic and moral qualities. Beyond the movie gaining widespread acceptance is my love for it to reach its own audience. That would be a mark of success to me.


Tolu: I want the movie to be understood – that is my expectation for it. My heart was in it, and I hope it will inspire conversations, just like we are having now.


Any works we should expect from you in the future? Collaborations?


Tosin: I have a few series for the musical in development. It is going to be reboot. I have an upcoming dance project as well as another on mental health. Tolu and I will most certainly be working again, but the details of that will remain to be seen.


Tolu: For me, I have finished principal photography for my next work – Princess on A Heel. It is a ten-episode TV series and should be getting released in February 2024. I have a couple of series and documentaries in the works. Hopefully, another feature film as well. OTB, while not my first feature, is my first theatrical that will be going to the cinemas. I believe in genuinely telling a story, and one that matters, hence why it took me this long to direct one.


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