A conversation with Seyi (Part 2)

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Seyi Odusanya is a London based screenwriter as well as OBV alumnus with experience in helping to develop and write programmes for the BBC in animation and live-action television. Having worked as a screenwriter in the production of JoJo and Gran Gran, we decided to sit down with Seyi and learn more about his experience working on the show, in the industry and about his goals and aspirations moving forward as well as any advice he had for other emerging black creatives.

So Seyi on to you, you've been working as a screenwriter for how long now?

About 4 years or so. I took an MA in Screenwriting from 2014-2015 at London College of Communication - University of the Arts. My journey from there began when I submitted a script to one of the BBC'S annual submission programmes via the writer’s room so that’s how I got my foot in the door. I was brought onto help develop a new animation that the BBC was working on at the time which is still in development now

M: From as far back as then?

S: Yeah. Animation will generally have a much longer development time. It’s because of how it’s been acted. You have to animate the show itself and join what they’re seeing to digital text at all times. I’d written an episode for that show and for live-action television. I had voiced for a show set in Scotland called Molly and Mack. I’d also been doing some short plays, getting together with fellow writers from my University course and we put on productions whether they’re short stuff and little plays. It’s essentially been my way of keeping my brain working and its how I’ve made sure all my ideas don’t dry up so to speak…

Despite his work as a screenwriter, the theatre still plays an active role for Seyi in the creative process

At the moment though it’s something I’ve been doing part-time because when you’re a writer or any kind of ‘talent’ essentially you usually have an agent or some representation putting your name around at production houses and competitions but I’ve been working without an agent so most of my contacts are from the BBC or people I’ve met through the BBC. It’s got its pros and cons – yes they’ll have your name around a lot of other places but on the other hand, they take about 50% of your commission... I haven’t got around to getting one yet, but it’s still on my To-do list.

A crucial point: Seyi’s path into screenwriting brought him through the London College of Communication - University of the Arts

I guess the natural thing to ask next is, as someone in that field, in terms of the level of opportunities, how is it? The stress too, In terms of the management? Is it difficult to work in?

Yeah so this is partly related to my point about agents but it’s a bit more complex than that. There are some writers that don’t have agents but I’ve been quite fortunate as I got my contacts from the writers I met through the BBC and I managed to develop quite a few important relationships which are how I managed to get onto JoJo and Gran-Gran in the first place. But it can be quite difficult in getting your foot through the door.

I will say as a positive though that working on children’s television, the people are very friendly because obviously as a kids TV show there’s not really much time for egos. People who work there (children’s television) work there because they want to work there. They are a lot more friendly and cooperative. I’ve heard stories of people who work on productions for television geared toward adult or teenage audiences where it’s a lot more, not corporate but it can be a lot more high stress especially with prestige or high drama programmes. You’re dealing with much bigger personalities.

M: So we started with you and it's only right that we finish with you:

What you've done in being a part of this is really great. Following on from here what does the future hold for you? Is it more screenwriting, maybe translating your talents to another area of media, what is it for you from here?

Well for me screenwriting was pretty much all I wanted and what I had planned to do from my studies. Back in University during my undergraduate, I studied a lot of film so I guess that is an area I’d consider working in, but working in children’s television is still great. Obviously, the pandemic has put a pause on most things at the moment, but hopefully, afterward, I’ll be able to start going again, finally get an agent and start getting more work. But one of the things which I've experienced, and working with OBV kind of informed this is the need to make sure the black British experience is not seen as ‘other’ but is seen as normal. You might have felt the same way before but when people talk about black identity it’s always as something separate from British identity because British identity is still predominately white, so seeing a show like JoJo and Gran-Gran where black identity is not at odds with British identity but was really heart-warming for me.

For me personally just making sure that I do more projects and maybe my own individual ideas would be something that I’d like to do because as a writer you always just want to bring your own original ideas to life but at the moment I’m happy with what I’ve done so far and I just want to keep doing more of it.

Finally, for any young black creatives trying to make their way into the industry what is some big advice which you'd give them?

I guess the best advice I could give would be a twofold actually.

Firstly only do it because you want to do it. Not because you’re going to get rich or for you think you’re going to get lots of money but at the end of the day it’s an art form; it’s a business but it’s still an art form so you have to make sure you have a passion to do it and submit to what you do because you want to do it.

Secondly, I’d say don’t be afraid to be yourself because writing is something that is very personal and the whole thing with JoJo and Gran-Gran was it wasn’t forced, it was based on Laura’s experience with her own Grandmother as she wished to express to those audiences so writing is a very personal thing so if you’re a black writer, don’t be afraid of your own blackness especially as we have a very particular image of what blackness is in British media and in Western media in general so if that’s not you don’t be afraid to bring your own identity that's inherently yours. That will prove much more real and much more sincere. I love the fact that we have more black characters and leads on shows. I always feel that even though there’s diversity you’ll often see black characters being stereotyped as ‘stereotypical black characters’ if you know what I mean. So it’s important that people bring black identity into their work but when doing so they make sure it’s something that’s yours. It’s something that you’re proud of as you should be - it’s part of us.

M: I get the impression that moving forward is going to form part of your MO

S: Yeah. I actually learned a lot from Simon, Merlene, and Ashok at Operation Black Vote and one of the things I was really inspired by was the drive to strike out on your own, it’s kind of a risky thing to do. The motto is power is never given and I couldn’t understand it but in a way it’s true you have to fight for your right to be respected, that right which we all kind of take for granted so it’s a struggle. You have to have a certain will and integrity in order to see it through but I guess it’s that drive that OBV helped give me back, that drive to just strive for success and to just be bold as well.

Seyi reflects on his time at OBV with Ashok Viswanathan, Simon Wolley and Merlene Carrington

M: Seyi, it's been a pleasure, I really appreciate it.

S: No, I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for talking.

JoJo and Gran Gran is a Cbeebies animated production scheduled on weekdays at 17:30. It is also available on BBC IPlayer

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