After watching Curtis Fields perform the song Opposites Attract at the BET Awards last weekend, strumming a guitar on a smartphone in front of a live audience , I thought I’d seen everything. Then I came across Oluseyi Asurf of Asurf Films – the man who learned everything he knows about filmmaking from watching YouTube tutorials at night.
Could you introduce us to Oluseyi and tell us about the journey that led you into film?
My name is Amuwa Oluseyi Asurf, a native of Ondo State in Nigeria. I was born in the ancient city of Zaria at Kaduna State but before I could even learn the language and culture of northern Nigeria I was whisked away to the “centre of excellence” Lagos. After finishing school I tried my hand at Microbiology at the University of Lagos but due to lack of finance I had to think of another career path I could major in using the little resources I had around me. I ended up acting. I entered for a Yoruba TV hunt titled “Yoruba Movie Star” put together by then “Yotomi TV” and luckily after the audition I was cast for a role as a hunter. I was so excited that I got myself a camcorder so I could document my adventure on location.
Unfortunately for me I ended up being intimidated by the experienced actors that I was paired with. After a few trials in front of the camera I realized acting was just not my calling so I opted out and chose to start putting my camera into use by recording activities on set so I’d have something to show at home.
According to web reports, you learned the basics of your craft from YouTube. What are the pros and cons of taking this route of skill development?
I realized I needed to take a course in filmmaking but I didn’t have the capacity to fund the programme. A friend introduced me to the Internet I came across this AMAZING TOOL called “Google”! I could type anything on it and get a response. My first assignment was to learn how to use a computer and some Microsoft office applications. This proved to be quite challenging and expensive because I had to pay N100 (One hundred naira) to have access for 1 hour but I weighed it against how much I’d pay if I were to enroll in a computer school and in this way Google became my school. To afford this I would scout for money at church, targeting people by singing songs of praise and begging them for N20 each so I could raise N100 for an hour access at the café. Sometimes I’d go to the café at night because its quite cheaper at N300 for browsing from 11pm – 6 am. I did this for a period of time learning about how to use the computer and after a few weeks, I got a job as a computer operator in my community. This meant I now had all access to the Internet! I started learning about my camcorder and getting free tutorials from people with different ideas all the while using YouTube as another resource. Now the challenging part was the buffering – loading a five-minute clip for hours due to low Internet speed.
After breaking into the industry did you take up any other means to better your craft i.e enrolling in short courses, internship opportunities
Yes, because I had a job now I was able to raise some money and enrolled myself at The Polytechnic Ibadan for a part time program majoring in Computer Science. I was the best student in class because I already knew most of what was in the hand-out because of my online learning. I also did a short course in Editing at Pencil Film and Television Academy in Lagos but my experience at the film school wasn’t good so I came back to YouTube to learn how to edit video. I’ve being so addicted to YouTube ever since because it keeps giving answers to my questions and I can learn anything.
In one interview you’re quoted saying, “I discovered I could learn everything I needed to know online…’ Do you think this is where education is leading to?
I’ll say yes. Many Nigerian students face a lot of difficulties getting a degree and passing through the higher institution phase due to a lack of infrastructure, bad teaching environments, expensive tuition, and the yearly unpaid salaries strike. Imagine if we had working interactive online-based schools across Nigeria where students could cut down on their yearly fees and daily transportation – it would broaden their minds towards research. Although some high school/university students have Internet they lack training in online researching and information exchange. Using Internet for education is critical if students are to succeed in school and ultimately the global workforce.
Our Social Media Week 2014’s theme is ‘A Connected Africa is the Future’; 55 countries, millions of people, post-war meltdowns… Do you believe that this could be possible through the power of social media and internet technology?
Oh yes I believe this could be possible through the power of social media. After meeting with lot of young people around me trying to come for mentorship, I realized that many of them lack information. It;s so painful because most of what they need to know is there freely available online. Today almost everybody has access to the internet through their mobiles and almost every mobile phone has different social network application accounts like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube to mention a few. Most of the young people around Africa are connected one way or the other through these social networks. I believe these are possible tools we could use to reach many young Africans and teach them that the internet can be utilized for more than just posting pictures and changing status. Many people don’t watch TV anymore so I believe if we are looking at connecting Africans for the future, we could start with social media because that’s where most of us go when we need to be connected.
How do you choose which projects to take on at Asurf Films?
At Asurf Films every project is very important. First we always welcome everyone that calls and shares their project with us because they believe in our ability and we respect that. With that said, most times we do look at the creative aspect of the project and do our in-house production costs which are later compared to the clients budget. If the budget is not in tune with the project, we refer them to an external crew. We do consider some projects irrespective of the budget if we see potential. At Asurf Films,it’s not all about money, we strongly believe in long term working relationships which is why almost every one we’ve worked with are now our friends.
Tell us more about your involvement in the Africa Connected campaign.
I’m currently the in-house video producer for Google Nigeria, and during my interview on my first job with them – knowing fully well that I learnt 70% of my filmmaking skills online, – Google said that my story was inspiring and asked if they could use me as a case study to inspire young Africans on the campaign.
Back to Africa, how, in your experience, can we use the ‘net and social media platforms to tackle youth unemployment issues. To inspire the next generation to go after their dreams?
I’m a living testimony, you need to know how difficult life was after secondary school and today I’m not just a company owner, I’m also an employer because I used the internet and I’m using the internet and social networks to build my brand. I would like to say to all young Africans out there, here is a BIG opportunity for us because the digital ecosystem in Africa is still untapped which is a good spot to be in. Think about peoples’ problems and think about a solution to this problem and then create it and monetize it. Don’t stop learning – I still learn everyday and have my own YouTube channel where I upload some of my jobs and use my social networks to promote those jobs for people to see, from Facebook, to Twitter, Instagram.
Don’t be discouraged by your environment, I got my first international job which was a documentary I did for the US Government in collaboration with Rava Films in USA through my LinkedIn profile page, that’s how powerful these social networks can be! I’ve directed concerts in UK from Wizkid’s UK Tour to Aylive and also the Afrobeats Festival in London. All these were possible because I built my network and I keep connecting. If I can do this and survive my conditions in Lagos, you can as well do better.
If fashion is your passion, don’t wait till someone gives you capital before activating your dreams, use your mobile phone as your camera, take pictures of your designs, create a blog or Google+ page, post your designs and share with your Facebook and Twitter networks and let the world see. Build your own community and trust me someone might just give you that call you’ve being dying for. When that time comes you wont need to be telling them what you can do because they’ve seen your abilities on your page. Don’t wait too long because most of these tools are free online; start today…Go Social or Go Home!
Catch Oluseyi’s new projects here and follow him on twitter @asurf100 for more update about his work.
Noluvuyo Bacela is a Cape Town based creative. As a freelancer Noley, as she is known, writes about entertainment, media, trends and everything in between. You can find Noley on Twitter chatting all things social.