Blood Vessel’s Musa Jeffery David is Scripting His Way into the Upper Echelons of the Nigerian Film Industry – Behind The Screen

Jan 22, 2024

Musa Jeffery David is an enigma, and in the course of putting together this interview, it becomes evident that his mysterious aura is no accident. To the casual moviegoer, Musa’s name might not be a household one yet, but for those in the know, he’s the creative force behind some of Nollywood’s recent gems.

As the Head Writer for Showmax’s Wura, a telenovela that has swiftly captured the hearts of viewers, and the genius behind projects like Lockdown (2021), Domitilla: The Sequel (2023), Kanaani (2023), and the thrilling Blood Vessel (2023), Musa Jeffery David is scripting his way into the echelons of the industry. His project choices are meticulous, focusing on cultural impact and relevance to a broad audience.

In the conversation that follows, we delve into the mind of this prolific screenwriter, unraveling the layers of mystery that shroud his persona. With each project, Musa propels himself closer to becoming a household name, and this interview is a glimpse into the workings of the man behind the words that come to life on our screens.

In an industry where every contributor deserves their moment in the sun, Musa’s time is now. Join us on this exciting journey as we uncover the essence of Musa Jeffery David, offering insights into his creative process and, hopefully, answering some of the burning questions you’ve had since encountering his work, like the adrenaline-pumping Blood Vessel (2023) on Netflix. Enjoy the ride!

Note: Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.

 

Behind The Screen with Musa Jeffery David

Musa Jeffery David

 

“Blood Vessel” is Play Network Studios’ first foray into a relatively original story. As the screenwriter, how did you approach crafting a narrative that stands apart from the studio’s previous remakes? What inspired the unique storyline?

The EP [Charles Okpaleke] had a story that was the nucleus of what became Blood Vessel. I still had to do a lot of work in terms of research and development in building the world of the story and crafting the characters that would populate this world. When I set out to write the script for Blood Vessel, I knew I wanted to tell the story of a minority tribe and I also wanted the characters to feel authentic. I had conversations with Ijaw natives. Blood Vessel was my way of giving voice to the Niger Delta struggle.

 

The movie introduces Boma & Degbe, Abbey & Oyin, and Tekena & Olotu, six characters brought together by chance. How did you go about developing the dynamics between them, and what were some of the specific considerations you had in mind while creating these diverse pairs?

Knowing that the plot was going to be a survival story helped a lot in shaping the character dynamics and relationships. Abbey and Oyin are lovers. Tekena and Olotu are brothers. Boma and Degbe are best friends – How would these dynamics fare against a sadistic character like Igor? I felt those dynamics upped the stakes and made the audience empathetic towards the characters which wouldn’t have been the case if they were strangers who met on a boat.

 

“Blood Vessel” is set against the backdrop of chaos in Nigeria’s oil regions. How did you use the setting to enhance the storytelling and create an atmosphere that complements the film’s themes?

There was a message I wanted to pass with Blood Vessel but painfully, it didn’t come across on the big screen. There’s a scene in the third act that didn’t make the final cut. In it, Abbey addresses his kinsmen with Pere present and tells them how he stared hatred in the eyes and that you can’t kill it with a fist or with a knife or a gun. That the only way to fight such wickedness was with love and that we stood no chance against such hatred if we did not love one another. This was the character drawing from his ostracization as a half-breed to teach the message of acceptance which I felt was a timely message given how deeply tribalism has eaten deep into the national psyche. Tribalism is a small evil. But there’s an even greater evil out there, and we do not stand a chance against it if we do not first defeat this small evil. This was the character coming to terms with his transformation.

 

Blood Vessel's main characters | Netflix

Blood Vessel’s main characters | Netflix

 

How did you approach the research process to ensure the authenticity of the story being told, particularly those involving the Ijaw people and the ship setting?

There was not a lot I could gather from Google because of our poor habit of documenting our experiences. I had to rely heavily on oral interview sessions with Ijaw natives which brought a lot of insights about the culture of the Nembe people. It also helped that the associate producer of the film was from the Niger Delta.

 

I thought the actors cast to play the six main characters were thoughtfully selected. Did you have any of the actors in mind while scripting? And, did you have any say whatsoever in the casting process before the commencement of filming?

I didn’t have any actors in mind while writing the screenplay, mainly because production intended to cast new faces in the lead roles. I wasn’t exactly a part of the casting process but in the end, I think they got it right with casting. Everyone brought their A-game and gave worthy performances.

 

Do you think the film industry needs to evolve to a point where screenwriters should be involved in casting?

I believe that the entire filmmaking process should be collaborative. The screenwriter can have ideas for actors who he/she believes are a perfect fit for the characters they have crafted but, in the end, I believe the ultimate decision should rest with the producers and the casting directors.

 

As a screenwriter, how do you navigate the balance between creating compelling scenarios and delivering resolutions that satisfy the audience? On the other hand, how do you handle feedback when the audience isn’t receptive to a scene/project you put so much effort into crafting?

I think a lot of the work in crafting compelling scenarios and delivering resolutions that satisfy the audience boils down to the work you put into character construction as the screenwriter. Essentially, the entire idea of the picture is to follow a character’s journey from the beginning to the end. If the groundwork in creating your characters is solid, it’s easy for the audience to resonate emotionally with the characters and when they become invested, the transformation at the end of that journey can be deeply rewarding.

Criticism is a crucial part of the process. Not everyone is going to like your creation and it’s okay. I always say that Nollywood is still a very young industry and we’re going to make a lot of mistakes as we grow. I read all the reviews – the good, the bad, even the scathing ones and I pick important lessons from them because I aspire to do better, to be better.

Behind The Screen with Musa Jeffery David

Musa Jeffery David

 

Towards the concluding parts of the movie, Abbey transforms into a somewhat superpowered figure to take down Igor. How did you approach developing his character arc to this point, and were there specific narrative elements some viewers missed that you intended to justify his transformation?

This is a very tricky question. There are elements of the storytelling that didn’t make it to the big screen—especially the supernatural arc of the story. Abbey for example is a character with an identity crisis. He is referred to as a half-breed by his peers and as such doesn’t see himself as an Ijaw man. Oyin tells him that there are two spirits at war inside him and they need to become one. She uses this line of dialogue – as water is a force for good, it can also be a force for destruction. To fight Igor who is the living embodiment of hate, Abbey must come to accept his heritage and for the first time, pray to the gods.

In the final fight scene between Abbey and Igor, the spirits of the slaves that choose the sea join Abbey to fight Igor. This sequence was supposed to bring the Igbo landing scene full circle. There are several scenes, especially in the third act that didn’t make it to the big screen, scenes that would have been integral in accentuating the theme of the story, but I guess this is a story for another day.

 

Looking ahead, what lessons from your experience with “Blood Vessel” do you carry into future projects? Are there specific genres or themes you aspire to explore in your future screenwriting endeavors?

I want to tell stories about minority tribes. Earlier in the year, one of the projects I was co-writer on, Kanaani, made it to the big screen. Kanaani explores some aspects of the Benin culture and tells a timely story of migration, prostitution, and two lovers who risk it all to find each other. I’m currently working on a horror story that explores aspects of the Igbo culture. I hope that with this story, I take all the lessons from Blood Vessel and tell a truly captivating story that keeps the audience invested throughout.

 

What advice do you offer aspiring writers looking to break into the industry?

Do not be afraid to fail. You are allowed to feel bad or even cry when the feedback on your work isn’t great, but what you’re not allowed to do is wallow in misery and give up. Take the lessons from your failure and use them as fuel to become better. Most importantly, never believe the hype.

 

Blood Vessel is streaming on Netflix.

Want to write like Musa Jeffery David? Check out The Scriptwriter on the Albantsho Suite. It’s currently free.

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