The film industry is rapidly evolving and women all around the world are taking part in this growth. Strong women like Genevieve Nnaji, the director of Lionheart, Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle in Time, 13-year-old Marsai Martin who is said to be the youngest person in Hollywood to ever produce a movie and more notable women, are making the film industry ‘not only a man’s world.’
With this growing development, our own corner of the world – the Niger-Delta – is no different. Akwa-Ibom is home to a rising star with a mission and a drive for the ever-evolving and creative industry.
Jemima Damina, Co-founder of Neptune3 Studios and the Director of the YouTube-housed show ‘Best Friends in the World’ is a woman to be celebrated. Her mission along with the other founders of the studio is to create wholesome content that makes a difference one view at a time.
The star-director made her debut in July 2018, after the release of her short film ‘New Girl, which gained a million views by August 2018. The short film then transitioned into the show ‘Best Friends in The World’ whose episodes stand at having an average of 100k viewers.
We had an interesting and motivating interview with Jemima as she shared with us her growth, challenges and the values that brought her to our recent success.
What inspired you to start directing and producing television productions?
I’ve been an avid film watcher right from a young age. I remember going on holiday with my family and coming back with 15-20 DVDs that had just been released. We were always up to date on most theatrical releases and shows. Although Tom and Jerry till this day remain undefeated. As I grew and finished high school, I remember one time in my class – everyone talking about what they wanted to be or do after graduation. At that time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t too great at anything relating to science, I mean I was just okay, but it wasn’t something I enjoyed doing. I also knew that whatever I wanted to do would be my passion and dream. Then I remembered picturing myself being on stage or winning Oscars. But because everyone kept mentioning serious degrees and professions, I felt mine wasn’t valid or worth anything, as every time I mentioned that is what I wanted to do, I’d get laughed at and mocked saying “entertainment isn’t a real profession, isn’t a real job, etc.” So I went along with what I figured was a “real profession” and wasn’t too hard – International Relations. I chose to be a future ambassador because it had to do with traveling and seemed like some sort of fun. I thought, whatever else it entails, at least I get to travel. Looking back now, I laugh at my silly self. I was so bent on letting others validate my dreams, giving them unnecessary power and letting them decide what was real or not. I stayed on the ambassador path until the time came to actually decide. However, in my spare time, I would take our home camcorder, camera phone, basically anything that could record video and audio and have my sisters dance, or recite things or sometimes just shoot documentary-style videos of my house and the people in it. Then I would edit it and play on the big tv for everyone to watch. It was like my mini premiere moment and just the smile and joy on their faces brought me so much fulfillment. Suffice to say, I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life. Make movies. Make moving pictures that gave a different meaning to life and stirred up life-changing emotions.
How long have you been the industry? When do you believe your first step into directing and producing started?
I’ve been a filmmaker since 2015 but I officially debuted in the industry in July 2018. My first step into directing and producing actually began a year I’d finished high school. I knew filmmaking was my passion and dream. So I went to film school in India. It was a 6-month course on editing. I didn’t want to stay home looking for the perfect school. I knew I just wanted to start something. During that time, I kept looking for a school that really centered on filmmaking. What you would say my “dream” school. Because like my mom always said and still says, wherever you find yourself, start something. Do something with what you have around. Make use of what’s around you. Look hard. Surely the bigger ones will come, but it’s how you handle the small unimportant stuff that makes the big ones come faster. Finishing the small tasks also give you the strength, skill, and wisdom to manage the huge ones. And that advice has stuck with me till today. Sometimes I forget and start complaining about how I’m not this and that but then once that feeling subsides, I remember to be thankful for what I do have. You know, sometimes it’s easy to forget your accomplishments and long for other things because you try to measure yourself to society’s standards or work at someone else’s speed. But every now and then, I look back and see what I’ve accomplished in the small time I began and I get overwhelmed. Gratefulness is everything.
Establishing a studio isn’t an easy thing, so how has it been starting Neptune 3 Studios?
Have there been any challenges, and how have you overcome them?- Neptune3 Studios was a vision born from my dream and that of my sisters as well. There’s a whole meaning to the name, Neptune3. We wanted something that’s out of this earth (because our ideas are not of this earth- haha) and that would also represent who we are, hence the name, Neptune. The 3 stands for the 3 of us, Jemima, Jesimiel and Jeiel (3 girls, yes). And then, the Studios, which basically summarize all we do. Starting Neptune3 was not easy. It has been and is still challenging. Being the first company, there are so many things I realize had to be done. (Btw, it definitely made me realize I’m a proper adult now, haha). Neptune3 is made up of 6 people (what?? Crazy right?) my sisters and I and some other amazing people. So it’s been an uphill task, trying to manage the other roles needed to make each content we produce better than the ones before it. We face problems like under-staffing, funding (major problem), occasional conflict among co-workers, network problems, overwhelming demand for content, one writer (because yes, there is such a thing as a burnt out creative). Loads of challenges I can’t list here because it goes on. But amidst all these, one thing keeps us going- the audience who support us and the vision we are pursuing, to create wholesome entertaining content that makes a difference one view at a time.
What strengths have made you and Neptune 3 studios succeed over others in the industry? On your Youtube Channel, you have over 80,000 subscribers with one of your episodes having 2 million views. What has fostered that success?
I’ve learned a lot of things in my journey so far, but one that stands out is, you go further with family support. Then, readiness to admit your mistakes, remember that you learn every day and willing to accept that anyone can teach you something new. You don’t know everything no matter how many degrees you have. We are just a bunch of people working together from different backgrounds, and despite that, we have one vision. And from the responses we’ve been getting, our vision is something the majority of our audiences out there have been looking for.
What was the inspiration behind your show “Best Friend’s in the World” and how has the journey been so far?
Best friends in the world actually didn’t start out that way. The first official project I put out on YouTube was a short film that was then titled, “New Girl”. This was right after my second degree. I was tired of just waiting around hoping my dream job would fall into my laps. I had gone out and gotten equipped but taking that first step was a fight. I remember thinking it had to be done the conventional way. I sent out my fresh resume to studios and directors in Nigeria asking them to let me shadow them, to let me intern with them. When I didn’t get feedback from any of them it was such a blow to my confidence, because I felt I wasn’t good enough. Maybe not aggressive enough as well. All I know is after sitting for months in Uyo with nothing to show, I got super frustrated and considered going back to schools to study more. Right then, my parents stepped in. My mom, being the wise sage that she is, told me no matter how many books I read and degrees I bag, they become useless once I don’t apply them. And I quote, “Mima, you’ve gotten two degrees now, plus other certifications. What more are you going to learn that you don’t already know? Darling, look around you. Start from here. Make your mistakes here where you are safe, criticized by those who love you, so that when you go out into the harsh world, there’s no criticism that will break you down.” Right after she said that I calmed down and thought to myself that night. The next morning, I woke my sister up, we talked about it and got to work. New Girl was released on YouTube in July 2018 as a short film because we figured we’d test the waters and see what people would say about our content. We decided 500, 1000 maybe 5,000 views would be impressive, and that was our goal. Imagine our surprise as it kept growing. Once we got to 500,000 views we got scared. We couldn’t understand why and how it was growing so fast! In one month, which was August 2018, we hit one million. I was in shock. I didn’t know if to cry or laugh or faint. Till this day I get goosebumps when I think about it. It was and is still unreal, the response we’ve gotten. After New girl debuted and several requests were made to turn it into a show, Best Friends in the World was conceived, and the second episode, jumping off New Girl which had now become episode one, was released in October 2018. The journey so far has been life changing. I’m definitely not the same person I was before New Girl debuted. I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a CEO. I’ve learned to manage my emotions, working with others, managing conflict. I’ve learnt a lot all around. And I just have to say, I’m blessed.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
My motivation comes from the success stories I read and see every day. Not necessarily relating to entertainment but just seeing people winning in life. Little, to grand successes. That gives me the push to keep going. Rich people still looking for ways to be richer. Why should I slow down when I’ve barely pinched the surface? (Haha). I also have the help of my parents and close friends. They really help me stay in check and not slack.
What are your success habits?
To me, success isn’t something you achieve one time and relax. It’s a continuous event. Like breathing. I start by creating little goals for myself and making sure I achieve them. They range from increasing the number of times I workout every week, to the number of times I say please and thank you with positivity, to the number of times I help with work around the house. It covers my personal life and spills into my work environment. I endeavour at all times to keep everything around me positive. My perspective comes from knowing that no matter what, I can never fail. It’s not in my DNA.
What values would you say shaped you into the woman you are today?
The values that have shaped me into the woman I am today are the words from my parents and the Bible. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the Bible is a sure-fire instruction manual. From everyday living, to how to handle situations. Apart from having parents who are pastors, I make it a habit to cultivate my personal relationship with God, to know Him for myself. I’m not a religious person. God and I have a one on one relationship so just always being in tune with Him gets me through many situations. If anyone needs life advice that’s where to go. Proverbs is the truth (haha). But seriously, my parents have molded me on strong positive values – relating with others the way you expect to be treated, being honest and true in your words and actions, love yourself, there is always room to make mistakes, learn and grow from them, when caught in a lie- rectify it right away and apologize. Now, these may seem like tips for kids but I am a true testament that those little tips go a long way into making very strong life values in the long run. And loving yourself is the strongest of them all. If you don’t love yourself as God made you, then you’ll always doubt yourself, be susceptible to negative influences and end up living a mediocre life, because that will lead to bad choices you’ll end up regretting in the long run. I have been there and I know what I am talking about. Never hate or compare yourself to anyone. You are as unique as you were created. You are the best version of you.
How did mentors influence you, and are you open to mentoring others?
I have a few people I look up to, emulate their strengths and try to avoid their pitfalls, and yes, I try to be a positive example to others. I will use this time to say my sister Jesi inspires me a lot. She’s strong, passionate, and confident, I admire her for those and more. I love her a lot. My last sister, Jeiel also inspires me. She’s the only one of her kind. Forever original (haha) They’re both strong and beautiful ladies, inside and out.
We can see that you are also involved in the music industry with Triple J plus. How did that journey start? Is music something you see yourself doing for a long time?
Triple J Plus was born way before Neptune3 and it’s something we’ve always loved doing. Singing together. It started from little music competitions to full-scale album productions and events. Triple J Plus is Jemima, Jesimiel
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, and what’s your plan to reach there?
In 5 years I see myself with an Oscar in hand, widely recognized as a leading filmmaker in my field, one of Forbes most influential people, Neptune3 Studios being named one of the biggest entertainment companies in Nigeria, and lots more. I have a thousand plans already swinging into motion but I’m patient, and just following along steadily. For the record, I’m not a “one success at a time” kind of person. I’m a “success falling like rain” kind of person.
What is one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past 2 years?
I’ll say it is having more women in the industry, being recognized for the work they put into making entertainment what it is. We see more and more women stepping out and taking control of a majorly male populated industry. That’s something I applaud because it means we as individuals are embracing change. It may seem slow paced but it’s surely happening and I am happy about that.
As a woman, do you feel there are any obstructions in the industry because of your gender?
If you asked this question a couple of years ago it would be a resounding yes as an answer, with a list of reasons why female filmmakers are not easily recognized and why it’s so hard to be in this industry. But with the times changing, although the prejudice is still present, it’s not as pronounced as it was before. Yes, there are still challenges faced as a woman in the entertainment industry, but now, more women are speaking up and taking roles that were deemed too hard/unsuitable. There is basically no role in the film industry that a woman cannot do. And I’m not talking about feminism here. In relation to filmmaking, the roles available to men are all spots a woman can fill as well. So women as well, should not sell themselves short of opportunities especially if they have the desire and interest for those certain roles.
What will you like to say to the young creatives and woman venturing into the film industry?
To the young creatives, the ones already in the industry and the ones still trying to decide, you can do it. There’s no “right” way to starting off an amazing filmmaking career. Filmmaking is all about being creative and finding your style. What works for you and what moves you. Filmmaking is art, and you will capture those your art speaks to, all you have to do is let it out. The worst that can happen is hater comments and the best is positive criticism (yes that’s a thing), which will only help build and make you stronger. Worst case, you try again and again till you find what works for you. To my female filmmakers as well, just do you. Don’t try to fit in or do it the way others are doing. Filmmaking is not where we come to see how well you followed the rules but more of what you did with the rules, how you made it work and owned it. Filmmaking is not for the faint-hearted because there will be times when you’re too tired to stay awake, but then you remember the goal you have and the reaction from the audiences. That will always get you going if it’s something you’re passionate about. Filmmaking isn’t just about you, it’s about your audience. Find what works for you then, maximize it, build on it and watch it blossom.
Should your fans expect a second season for Best Friends in the World?
Yes, there will be more episodes for Best Friends in the World. It’s not over yet. We are working on them to make sure they are entertaining, different and positive. Our team is still growing, so bear with us.
What do you know for sure? What are you certain about? What is your concrete belief?
I know for sure we are all born with dreams and the capacity for greatness. We are made for a purpose. I am certain we are all gifted and can achieve whatever we set our minds to. My concrete belief is that Jesus loves us and offered up himself for us so we may enjoy everlasting salvation through and in Him. I am certain that God’s love is the greatest. And I believe that once we stop undermining ourselves and our abilities, we begin to function the way we were meant to. Our strengths begin to show in ways we could only dream of.