The pipeline from wanting to be every character to imagining and writing about them is all too familiar for film lovers and producers alike. For Fatimah Binta Gimsay, storytelling is the channel through which she can create and become who she wants to be. Although film production came first for her, she inadvertently fell in love with writing and has not looked back.
In this week’s #MCNWorkLife, we sat down with Fatimah Binta Gimsay, a screenwriter and TV producer, to talk about her passion, ideas, challenges in the film industry, and her strong belief in doing what people say is not for you.
Tell us, who is Fatimah Binta?
I’m a storyteller as a person. I love stories, and I find stories in food, music, cultures, languages, and everywhere. Professionally, I’m a screenwriter and producer.
What was your childhood dream job, and how did it translate to your current work?
I had many childhood dreams. I wanted to be a paediatrician, I wanted to be a diplomat, I wanted to be a bilingual secretary, I briefly wanted to be an actress, and I also wanted to be a model. There are so many dreams, and it makes sense now that I create characters for a living.
How did you discover your love for the film industry?
It was simply the one thing I loved talking about all the time—films and TV shows.
What came first for you between writing, directing, and producing?
Producing came first. I was a production assistant in 2016 and was on probation as a production coordinator. That’s when I realised I’d prefer writing as a job. From writing, I decided to attempt directing as well.
Tell us about your writing process and what inspires you.
There’s no specific process. I honestly go with the flow and also what works at the time of each project. I’m heavily inspired by other stories I have watched or heard, and the lives of people around me inspire me. A lot of stories come from questions that scare me.
As a screenwriter, you have worked on creating and developing popular TV shows like Ndani TV’s Game On, MTV Shuga 5, the 260-episode series Covenant, and most recently, African Magic’s Slum King. Can you tell us what inspired your passion for screenwriting and how you found your way into television writing?
My passion for screenwriting grew with the more writing I did. It started as a curiosity before passion. I’m always curious about things I like and keep tabs on the shows I watch. I’m huge on shooting my shots and being direct, so I eventually reached out to Victor Sanchez Aghahowa, asking to intern and see what it’s like to work on a production. I wasn’t aired, and the rest is history. Ten television shows later, here I am.
Your profile highlights your role as a TV producer and director. Tell us about your journey into these roles from being a screenwriter.
As I stated earlier, I started as a producer before becoming a screenwriter. I wasn’t sure how the industry worked, and it took me a while to understand that it was a proper job. I just wanted to make things or be a part of something beautiful because I watched beautiful things. So, I started as a production assistant on a TV film and briefly worked as a production coordinator on a 260-episode Telenovela. As a director, I have only directed my short films and am open to gaining more knowledge of that craft.
Tell us about your role at Midas Radio as the creator and host of the Sceneful Sundays Podcast.
I applied for a job before realising I could pitch to them. It’s a funny story, but the summary was that I had applied for a role there and already had the Sceneful Sundays treatment with me. I realised I could pitch the show to them, and they liked the idea, so we had a podcast. My job was to work with the excellent production team, invite my amazing guests, and talk about their journeys in Nollywood. It’s still something I’m very open to continuing if given the opportunity.
How do you balance your roles as a screenwriter, director, and producer?
It’s been easy to balance (thankfully) because I’m primarily a writer.
What would you say has been the most significant motivating factor in your career so far?
Different things motivate me for various projects. I entered this industry by flinging myself in, and I’ve been steady in not letting myself down with how far I have come. Sometimes, money is the only thing keeping me going, and other times, I’m actually moved by the passion to tell beautiful stories. So, it is a different motivation for a different day.
As a woman in the film industry, what do you think is the most prominent challenge women in your profession face when advancing their careers?
I cannot speak for all women because we have different points of view. As a female writer and producer, my challenges haven’t been gender influenced. Being a writer alone is already a challenge. More women should put themselves out there seeking roles they have written off. So, don’t shy away from learning cinematography or post-production. Throw yourself into the ring.
What initiatives have you participated in to promote gender equality and support other women throughout your career?
The easiest way to support people in the industry is to call their names in rooms simply because they’re qualified to be in. Thankfully, I know many capable women, and that’s how I show my support. I love showing up for the girlies, and I’ll keep cheering for them.
Tell us about the biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how you dealt with it.
The biggest challenge was deciding this was what I wanted to do and sticking by it. My adult life has been spent as a filmmaker, and I don’t know any other career path or life. Making this decision was tough because I never guessed I’d be a part of the Nollywood I grew up watching. It felt like I was flinging myself into a void, and I’m glad I bravely made that decision. I dealt with it by telling myself it’s okay to fall flat on my face, stand up, and continue.
Tell us about a work accomplishment you’re proud of and how you made this a reality.
There are so many, so I’ll pick a recent one. I made a television film, and it’s centred around Eid, love, and family. It was a massive moment for me because it came to reality. After all, I had done little projects. So basically, my short films built up to this one moment, and it was a pinch-me moment. I can’t share more than I already have, but that’s a recent accomplishment I’m proud of.
Moving on to more personal questions, how would you describe a day in your life?
Super chill. I can be spontaneous or lazy; it depends on my mood, but it always ends up being super chill.
What brings you the most joy in life?
I don’t do absolutes, so I find joy in many things. I cherish my music. I love cooking for my loved ones. I love sharing a meal that I didn’t cook with loved ones. I love chilling or even sleeping off at a quiet beach. Sometimes, I love to watch cartoons. It’s a long list because I seek joy in every corner available to me.
How do you prioritise your physical and mental well-being?
I simply stop. I’m not even joking, and I stop whenever I’m tired. If I’m sleeping off as I write, I stop and nap. If I’m stressed, I stop and maybe listen to music and scroll through TikTok. This year tested me with taking on more than I can handle simultaneously, but we need to remember that if you pass out in the middle of a project, it will continue without you. You cannot correctly create from a tired space, so please stretch, drink water, and care for yourself. Work will always continue.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
There’s something so magical about talking about characters, writing them, and finally watching talented people bring them to life. It’s always so exciting. I love the finished products; it makes it all worth it.
Out of curiosity, have you ever had a fan pester you for details about the end of a film?
Let’s start with my family! They always want spoilers.
What would you change if you were to do things differently in your career?
Nothing. I wish I had more money, but otherwise, my journey is exactly right for me. Actually, I’d learn how to validate myself earlier on in my journey so I don’t seek it in the wrong places.
What advice would you give someone looking to start a career in film?
Shoot your professional shotsShoot your professional shots, making sure you have value to give. People will ghost and air you, but that’s not the majority; don’t let it stop you. READ SCRIPTS. Don’t get lost in the sauce or be easily swayed. We will never stop learning. Take care of yourself. Be a natural person, not who you think a filmmaker should be.
Can you give us a tip you swear by for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
I say this as a lifelong insomniac, and it works – take a nap. A solid nap clears your system for some reason. I love naps. Also, learn to say no. It’s tough, but you need to discipline yourself to learn how to say no.