Ololade: The Making Of A Netflix Original By TNC Africa
Ololade, a Netflix original by TNC Africa is now streaming. Here’s how the series came together through the perspectives of showrunner, Olawale Adetula and director, Adeniyi Joseph ‘TAJ’ Omobulejo.
Olawale Adetula grew up in a traditional Yoruba household with an intricate family culture that filled his childhood and life with many fascinating stories. It makes sense that he now runs a production company, TNC Africa and that the latest Netflix original, helmed by his company, is inspired by the stories he saw growing up.
With Ololade, Adetula and his team sought to explore money — all that people in a particular socioeconomic group do to get it and how they approach spending it. The idea first came to him in 2015 when the Yoruba Nollywood meme culture began to find its place on social media but it was not until 2020 that proper development started.
The Yoruba-language series was executive produced by Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi and Daniel Aideyan, and tells the story of two friends, Shina and Lateef, who both come into money in an unexplained way. The series stars Frank Donga, Femi Adebayo, Mercy Aigbe, Mide Martins, Liz Da-Silva, Jaiye Kuti, Damilola Oni, Adebowale Adedayo (aka Mr. Macaroni), Oluwatobi Olubiyi (aka Oli Ekun), Debby Felix, and Ayanwale Olanrewaju.
Filmmaker Adeniyi Joseph ‘TAJ’ Omobulejo was brought on to direct the project based on his extensive experience in directing indigenous language films and experimental films. TAJ instantly fell in love with the story when he first got the script and immediately appreciated the world Adetula and his writing team, led by Lani Asida, created.
In this interview, Adetula and TAJ speak with In Nollywood about the project’s journey to being a Netflix original.
IN: How did this showrunner-director collaboration happen?
TAJ: I had a very huge impression of the TNC brand. It looked very big and intentional. These guys know what they are doing. So, when I received the call to be on the project, I pretended like I was not amazed, muted the call for a bit and screamed “what?” in excitement. Then I unmuted and continued talking like nothing happened.
When I got the script, I liked it immediately. I read it, liked it and felt so connected with it. I instantly understood the characters and wanted to get to work as soon as possible.
Adetula: Maybe I have told TAJ this but I am very big on relationships, especially in our industry which is really small. So, when we were looking for a director for this project, we needed to go to our community first. We put word out and asked if people knew anyone doing interesting work, especially someone who could properly direct an indigenous language film. We spoke with people like Adeleye Fabusoro. One thing led to another and we were introduced to TAJ.
And when we spoke with him, the energy was right and he has also followed our work which was a good step for us. Everything felt natural and it all felt easy from there.
IN: TNC is big on story. Where did the story for Ololade come from?
Adetula: So, I came up with the idea for this story probably sometime around 2015. It was around the time that Odunlade Adekola started trending on social media. The memes and all were interesting to me. I grew up in a traditional Yoruba family and my father is big on extended family and I have tons of stories from growing up.
I also have a group of friends who can relate with these kinds of stories. So, I thought that it’d be interesting to share some of these stories, especially the themes that have kind of faded out of the mainstream. We wanted to pay homage to Nollywood classics.
We started working on the outline of what the story could be around 2020. I knew I was going to have one or two key leads and I really, really wanted two key figures within the Yoruba Nollywood sector.
At this time, we had done Little Black Book (LBB) and Our Best Friend’s Wedding (OBFW), and I had a good relationship with Lani (Asida). I didn’t want to write the story because I was too close to the material so I put a writers room together.
One of Lani’s superpowers is to pull together talented people and manage that team really well. I reached out, shared the idea and he was blown away. He absolutely loved it and started throwing out different ideas. A lot went into the story process and we kept refining and refining as we developed the final draft.
The complexity was that we had to write in English even though it’s a Yoruba film. We all speak Yoruba but had no idea how to write it so we had to bring someone like Fabusoro as the consulting producer.
So we had two writing phases. We did the English writing and the Yoruba writing where we had to make sure that all the nuances were represented. It was a very tricky but interesting process.
IN: How did we move from story to filming?
TAJ: When the script was ready, it was time to ensure that the interpretation matched the vision. Wale knew the story and all the characters so we’d have conversations about all the elements of the story and he had answers.
We needed to ensure that the right elements we liked in the story were not missed during filming. I had to break the story into scenes and highlight the more complicated scenes. Again like I said, the big assignment was really the interpretation. How do we ensure that whatever it is that we liked in this story is not missed by the time that it’s filmed and that the intent of the story is not lost? That was the question.
There are certain things about the story that jump at you. The story is about everybody and the presentation on how we are telling that story was really important to us. We paid attention to it as best as we could at the time.
Adetula: If I can quickly jump in, one thing that happened during my first conversation with TAJ was that he asked me a lot of questions about the characters. He wanted to know them in detail, especially from my perspective.
Ololade was the first time we were filming on the Lagos mainland and it was because we wanted the locations to be true to the characters and the world we were building. We made that very clear to the art department.
We had to consider what the decor in the homes of the characters would look like, the cars they would drive and specifically, the definition of massive money in that income bracket. What’s massive money to someone in Ikoyi is not the same to someone in Ikorodu. Context was important to us in this project and the way it has come out is really brilliant for me to see as the showrunner and producer.
IN: You created these characters Wale so you were familiar with them but what characters first jumped at you, TAJ?
TAJ: The Risi character is very interesting because of her naivety. She is blinded by love and does not quite catch on that the man is playing her. I like this character and the way the actor interpreted it.
I also love the characters of Shina and Lateef, especially with Frank Donga and Femi Adebayo playing them.
(Director, Adeniyi Joseph ‘TAJ’ Omobulejo. Credit: LinkedIn)
IN: How did casting for this project go?
Adetula: Casting is always interesting for us because we have a three-level casting process. We start with a long list and then do a series of reads. We look at performance and how people feed off other people’s energies. We also have specific requirements for different projects and try to always spotlight new voices.
Casting for this project was tricky because it was just after the lockdown and schedules were clashing and some people had to drop off the project. We had to do a couple of recasts and make sure they worked well with the rest of the cast members.
IN: What was the journey to Netflix?
Adetula: When we started off as a business, we had a very clear plan of the journey we wanted to go on. We started with building a community on YouTube that is assured of the quality of our work, gathered lots of data and fine tuned our processes.
The funny thing is that Ololade was not primarily created for Netflix and when we got on the table with them, it was first about a licensing deal but they were very impressed by the work and the conversation to have it as a Netflix original started.
Netflix making it an original is validating for us and means that they can see the work we put in. It shows that they see the quality of the work and spurs us on to do more. We are on a mission to tell original African stories and we have a pipeline of projects up till 2026.
TAJ: Wow. I remember when I used to reach out to Wale about the project and he would always say not to worry that everything was going to be worth it in the end. So, when he told me it was going to be a Netflix original, I was lost for words.
In terms of what it means for me, only the future can tell. I hope that it brings good tidings. I hope that it opens the door for people to —
Adetula: — It must o! By fire, by force.
TAJ: I want to enjoy this moment without letting the moment get into my head because this is the least that we can do. There’s so much more. You know when we did this, we didn’t do this with the intention of it going on Netflix but we just wanted to tell a good story.
When you then give us the resources and other things we need, it empowers us to do better and it’s only upwards from here.
IN: What should we expect from TNC in the near future?
Adetula: We are getting closer and closer to the big leagues where we really want to play so we are more deliberate in earning our space within that. Very few production companies have been given the responsibility of doing a Netflix original series in Africa. This is a massive opportunity and we do not take it for granted.
We have two productions happening next year and we have been working on them for over a year. We are also building the capacity of our team and really want to partner with any distribution platforms that give access to more Africans to consume content that they love.
(Showrunner and producer, Olawale Adetula. Credit: Instagram)
IN: How has the Netflix collaboration been?
Adetula: It has been a life changing experience for not just me, but for the entire team having to work with a global organisation with that global level of standard. I mean even though it might not seem that way with some of the work that comes out of Nollywood but the standard that these guys hold are super, super high.
I think that’s added responsibility for us as an industry to do what we can to meet those standards. I mean we are so far away right now but it’s attainable.
It is attainable and something that every single production company should strive towards.
IN: Let’s talk about the casting of Frank Donga as a lead in the film.
Adetula: You know, it’s funny that Frank was one of the late castings that we did. It’s interesting because we had already cast someone else in that role but for some strange reason, we weren’t sort of settled in that decision, right? We cast the person because the person had a good reading and chemistry with Femi Adebayo but we weren’t quite settled on the choice.
We were having a casting meeting when Frank Donga’s name came up and I remember asking “does he speak Yoruba?” I didn’t know if he did and when they confirmed, the team reached out to him to set up a reading.
During our first conversation, he kept asking questions about the character and I also got to ask him about his life and how he grew up. By the time we finished the conversation, it felt like we’d known each other for years and I can say that there are very few people in the industry with his level of professionalism.
TAJ: Everything Wale said is true. My experience with him was amazing. He understands production and was the least problematic person on set. He was very invested in the character, would read lines, have conversations and ask questions as to whatever. It was amazing because I love to have characterisation conversations as extensively as possible.
The audience will enjoy his performance. He was very subtle and carried on a new energy different from the comedic roles he is known for.
IN: TNC says it tells original African stories. What are original African stories?
Adetula: A lot of people ask me this question and it’s literally simple. There are stories you can tell in so many different ways and it’s not the reality of the people who identify with that particular group.
So, for instance, what we say about original African stories is any story that anybody who identifies as African or from African descent can relate with. It feels authentic and original to them. It is not strange or farfetched.
It’s like writing a story about drugs in Nigeria and using cocaine when the possibilities of a random person here getting it is hard. It does not mean that stories about hard drugs in Nigeria are unoriginal but when you just look at it from a scale perspective, there are probably two, three, five, six more stories that are more original than doing that story. So, that’s a simple way of explaining it.
(This interview has been condensed for clarity)
Join the Ololade conversation by setting a reminder for a townhall with the cast and crew happening tomorrow. Saturday, Nov. 25. Save a set here.
Post script: In 2022, we first teased Ololade in this article where Adetula detailed TNC Africa’s vision and investment in content. Catch up on it here.