Balancing the Creative Life of Obinna Onyeri

Artists have to eat. Balancing a schedule which is composed of projects that offer artistic freedom and commercials which offer guaranteed monetary compensation with perhaps a less degree of expression; this is the yin/yang for the vast majority of modern directors like Obinna Onyeri. Even during the global pandemic and an industry-wide lockdown, Onyeri is one of the privileged whom has always found his schedule busy. Short films, commercials, and major studio productions like The Woman King featuring Oscar Winner Viola Davis (Obinna has been a key component of the post production process of this film which is soon to be released), this spectrum is something that Obinna considers a beneficial part of testing one’s self and finding new means of expression. Adamant that the collaborative process is something he enjoys deeply, Mr. Onyeri has cultivated quite a reputation for himself as an international filmmaker to be immensely respected.

New Rules is a comedy/drama Obinna directed in 2018. Three women (Kizina Jean-Louis as Eva, Iman Karram as Rosaline, and Isabell Schanll as Chloe) are at the center of a romance gone wrong. The film has a pronounced chemistry between these three and it was something that the director strongly felt was essential to telling the story from a vantage of female authenticity. He imparts, “I allowed my actors to try new things and approaches they felt will best serve their characters personality. Comedy has to flexable to work. There’s a fight scene in the bathroom that needed to be both funny and believable, these women did not like each other. From the early chemistry reads for casting through the stunt choreography, it was important to balance structure with moments of improv.” This trust is essential between actors as well as with the actors to the director.

(Obinna reviewing a script)

2020’s Pendulum exhibits a vastly different tone from this filmmaker. The film explores how racism and the white savior complex can effect different family members. Onyeri’s All I Know (2022) presented different types of secrets than Pendulum but offered the same thrills which he’s obviously mastered as a filmmaker. Delroy Norman and Chimezie Imo star in Pendulum as two friends whose decision to conceal parts of their lives have put in them both in serious danger. Obinna used the challenges of night shoots and directed this to heighten the performances by the actors. He notes, “It was tough shooting it where we shot it due to the subject matter of the movie but I had a great producer and reliable actors and crew that helped push the film to the finish line. I will say working with actors, I’m an actor’s director and felt very fortunate to have found the actors whom I worked with on this project because they took a chance on the script and gave their all to the story. I left the project a better director. Shout out to all the actors on this film, especially Chimezie and Delroy for their time, talent, and willingness to collaborate on it with me.”

(Obinna discussing ideas on the set of All I Know)

Working on commercial projects such as the Konga E-Commerce Company and the QuickBucks app Store may not allow this director’s personal statements to be made but they do exhibit Obinna’s impeccable eye in manifesting something unique in each production he takes on. He communicates, “Yes, I deeply enjoy the process of filmmaking. When directing a film, my goal is to tell a story. On the other hand, when working on a commercial, my goal is to sell a product. Every opportunity is one in which I can learn something new.”

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Kelly King

An LA based writer with more than a decade as a staff writer for NYC based Drumhead magazine, Kelly is also a contributor to a number of outlets.