’It’s Been A Fulfilling Journey’ - Daniel Orubo On Making Hanky Panky
Daniel Orubo is a storyteller and content nerd. In this interview, he shares his filmmaking journey and the road to Hanky Panky's semi-finalist position in the New York Animation Awards.
Daniel Orubo lives and breathes storytelling. After devoting years of his career to content marketing and creative writing, he has begun a career in filmmaking, a lifelong dream of his.
Although his debut film was not what he initially thought he would do, Daniel launched into the deep for his first directorial feat and came out with Hanky Panky, the Wuruwuru media-produced animated short film. He called this process a baptism of fire which would earn his first film a semi-finalist position in the New York Animation Film Awards.
In this interview, Daniel talks about his love for storytelling, the process of making Hanky Panky, his dream to attend film school, and his creative purpose to tell queer stories.
Congratulations on Hanky Panky’s selection as a semi-finalist for the best animated short at the New York Animation Film Awards. That's a big deal for a debut film. How do you feel about it?
I'm very proud. It’s crazy. I never thought I'd be so excited about not making it to the finals of a competition but when we heard back from the festival, they said that hundreds of animations were sent in from around the world, and ours made it to the top 20. It was insane to me.
That was not the only festival we submitted to. We had gotten eight rejections already, so I began to worry that maybe the film was not that good. Then when we got recognised by the biggest one we submitted to. It felt so nice.
When did you first know that you wanted to make films?
Since I was a kid. I'm an only child and stories were my escape, they kept me company. If I was not watching a movie, I was watching a TV show or reading a book. I just really loved stories. And from pretty early on, I knew that this was something I wanted to do in some capacity.
The plan was to go to film school right after university, but it was very expensive, and I didn’t want to ask my parents to pay for it. They had done more than enough for me already. So I decided to try and raise the money myself. That is why I got into content strategy. Then I kind of fell in love with that, too, and forgot about my dream for a bit. Honestly, I’m still not sure if it was a true love of content or a crippling fear of failure.
Anyway, in 2020, I decided to get over myself and finally make a film. I had a lot of unfinished scripts just sitting in my drafts. The original plan was complete one of them and make it into a live-action short, but then Hanky Panky fell into my lap. Opemipo Aikomo, my ambitious producer and co-director, pretty much tricked me into working on his passion project, and it’s still the most fulfilling decision I’ve made in years.
This is your directorial debut. Would you do it again?
Definitely. I want to direct again, but I don’t know if I can make another animated film anytime soon, especially not an independent one. It was quite expensive for Opemipo and a little draining for us all. I think right now, if I'm going to create something, I'm going to be very money-minded.
There’s an idea I have for another short that’s inspired by something odd that happened to my mother on Christmas Eve in 2008. It’s going to be entirely dialogue-driven — another phone conversation. That would be cheaper to do.
I think the story is good enough to be the driving force, so I can shoot something cheap but still effective.
What was the most exhilarating part of making Hanky Panky for you?
That would be getting to direct an actor. I think acting is so powerful, and with a great actor, you can sell even a shitty story. When a talented actor is plugged in, you feel their emotions. My favourite part of making this film was being in that recording studio and directing Oshuwa Tunde-Imoyo, the brilliant voice actress who played both characters — Osas and her aunty.
She was so receptive and easy to work with. I was obsessed with the entire process, and it made me want to direct live-action even more. Voice acting is an insane feat, don’t get me wrong, but I would love to direct a live-action performance, where you get to see all the nuances on the actor’s face. That’s what I dream of doing. But in the process of making Hanky Panky, directing an actress as talented as Oshuwa was a highlight.
The other highlight was the music. I had a very specific sound in my head, but I struggled with explaining it clearly. The first draft didn’t quite work, and I was a little scared to push back at first. Thankfully, Tosin Amire, our composer, was patient with us and open to honest feedback. Opemipo and I shared some stronger examples, and he came back with something excellent. I’m still so proud of the final version.
What was the most challenging aspect of the film production?
The most challenging aspect was all the time it took. We all came into this thinking it would take a few months at most. That was not the case at all. We wanted the animation to be strong and the earlier drafts didn’t feel fluid or expressive enough. Then Opemipo brought in Joshua Adeoye, a talented Abuja animator, to work with our Lagos crew and that’s when it all started taking shape.
The scene that took the longest for us to settle on was the dance sequence. That was because I had a very specific vision in my head and needed it to go exactly as planned. I wanted it to feel surreal, like it was happening in a different universe. There was some back and forth, but it helped that we were working with so many talented people. I eventually got exactly what I wanted.
What about animation as a storytelling medium right now fascinates you the most?
One of my favourite TV shows ever is Bojack Horseman. It's an animated series with a messy, complex character that just happens to have a horse head. I find the characters in Bojack Horseman more human than any of the characters I've seen on film, and I think the fact that it’s animated is a major reason why the it works so well.
Animation as a medium gives you more room to play and break the rules of traditional storytelling. If Hanky Panky was a live-action short, it wouldn’t have made sense to include the dance sequence — not in the way I wanted anyway — and I think that really ties the story together. Animation allowed us to make it more fluid.
I think animation is just such a beautiful, impressive medium. Every time I rewatch my favourite film from last year, Across the Spider-Verse, I have my jaw on the floor. For every frame, you can just tell they put in so much work. I am obsessed with the medium.
As you were talking, I remembered this video I saw very recently. I think it was young Steven Spielberg who was talking about how animation is like this huge detailed world and he thinks every director should be an animator first. What do you think about that?
Making Hanky Panky felt like a baptism by fire. It was like being thrown into the deep end. I had to watch a ton of YouTube videos to feel even remotelty prepared. I remember how silly I felt when I first googled “How to direct an animated film,” but I was ready to learn.
I had a lot of self-doubt, but thank God for Opemipo. He encouraged me to just do it. It meant a lot to me because I was once offered a writing gig for a TV show, and I turned it down because I was afraid. I felt like I had to first go to film school to earn the privilege to work on a show. Although the person insisted, saying they had seen my work and thought I had an interesting voice, my fear got in my way. So I didn't take the opportunity.
However, with Hanky Panky, when the fear was creeping up, I made up my mind to fight. I decided that it was better to fail than to not try at all.
How did you decide on casting for the voices for Hanky Panky?
Oshuwa Imoyo is a friend of ours. Opemipo was insistent on working with our friends on this project, and Oshuwa used to always do this really impressive thing where she would copy everybody's voice in the room. It used to make us laugh all the time.
I initially only considered Oshuwa for the role of Osas, but Opemipo was convinced that she could play both Osas and her aunty. And he was right. She nailed it. Watching her go in the recording studio was like magic.
The film is relatable. There are obvious themes in it but the elements are relatable in carrying the themes; from the location to the setting, even the music. Why was that so important, making it so relatable?
That is something I learned from working at Zikoko and creating series like Sex Life and Love Life. I used to think people would only care about an interview if it was with a popular person, but Zikoko taught me that as long as you can find what makes your subject human, people are going to connect with it.
It is also very important to have a perspective that feels honest. You cannot create for everybody. This is important to remember, especially when you are trying to create for a certain demographic. There’s always a fear that you are not representing everybody, but you don't need to represent every single person. You need to just tell the truth as you see it.
Then being very intentional about adding familiar elements like the sound of Lagos traffic, an Odunsi song we all loved, and Falomo bridge, a place me and my friends constantly drive by, really helped making it feel even more relatable.
How do you see the industry moving forward in terms of spotlighting stories about queer people?
For me, it's very important that the people who are telling queer stories care about queer people. I remember how awful and bigoted the first queer Nollywood film I saw was. I don't remember the name, but it followed a queer man raping and “converting” his straight friend. It was so awful. I can’t imagine how that would have shaped me if it was my first introduction to queerness.
I am happy that filmmakers like Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim, who made Ife, exist to tell these stories with care and compassion. There is already so much hate and bigotry in the world, and filmmakers should not be adding to that.
To be clear, I’m not asking for stories with perfect, faultless queer characters — that’s not realistic — but if you want to tell a queer story, show us as fully dimensional humans. That's the kind of representation we need, and I'm happy that we have talented filmmakers who are telling stories like that.
As for me, I am currently only interested in telling queer stories. That’s why I worked on Feel Good, an anthology of joyful queer short stories written by eight gifted Nigerian writers. I was Editor-in-Chief of that project and produced it with Opemipo too. It was just something positive I wanted to put out into the world. I adore all the stories and would love to turn one of them into a short..
Are there projects in the works and are there filmmakers you would like to work with in the future, or looking forward to working with?
Yes. There's a friend of mine, Chiemeka Osuagwu. He has a short film called Samaria. We met at Covenant University, and he's so brilliant. I love talking to him, and I feel like we have very similar inclinations toward storytelling and just obsessing about film. There is also Seun Opabisi, who is a literal genius. That man is going to win an Oscar someday.
As for future projects, I like to surprise myself. With the way my brain is set up, I like doing different things. Even for PiggyVest, we worked on a comic series called Grown Ups, and the reviews for that have been very, very positive. I'm always trying to flex my creative muscles and attempt something I’ve never done before.
Please watch Hanky Panky on Youtube