GABORONE, BOTSWANA – Renowned pan-African creative consultant and creative director Allison Triegaardt has been involved in some of Africa’s most celebrated TV shows as a story consultant since 2009, including includes Mzansi Magic’s critically-acclaimed TV drama Isibaya, as well as Nigerian smash hit TV soap opera Tinsel.
Her most recent role is as an industry expert leading the MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) Masterclass in Storytelling, which will be held in Botswana and Namibia from 4 to 8 February. The Masterclass forms part of a continental training programme aimed at developing the technical skills of established and developing African creatives in cinematography, audio and storytelling. MTF spoke to her about the art of African storytelling, and the importance of creating well-rounded characters.
MTF: Why is important to get storytelling right in Africa?
AT: It’s important to get storytelling right in Africa because if we don’t, others will tell our stories for us.
MTF: Are there any new trends in the art of storytelling?
AT: Yes, several. Firstly there are shifts in how television audiences are consuming stories and in turn, this has shifted how we are telling them. For example, appointment viewing is shifting to a trend in binge watching. And part of the knock on effect of binge watching is shorter series arcs and fewer episodes in a series. There is a definite move towards more female–led stories which is great to see, I think in part due to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. From the West there is an increase in science fiction and dystopian worlds (like Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror, Stranger Things).
MTF: What makes audiences binge watch an entire series until their eyes are sore?
AT: A good story, a solid structure, an unusual premise, style – all have their respective roles to play in the principles of screenwriting. But [it is] the characters that make viewers keep coming back for more. It is no longer enough to make characters dimensional with incredible arcs, interesting backstories and sharp dialogue—you need to craft the nuanced dynamics between characters to ensure that viewers relate and empathise with them, and are intrigued enough to want to find out what happens to them next.
MTF: Would you say the script is what attracts audiences and keeps them tuned in?
AT: The highly collaborative nature of television-making makes this a more complex process. The script is the blueprint but it is a combination of different elements like marketing, social media, scheduling, an interesting premise, popular actors and personal genre preferences that actually attract audiences. However, I believe that it is the audience’s (parasocial) relationship with fictional characters that actually keeps them tuning in.
MTF: What insights or advice can you give to storytellers in Botswana and Namibia respectively?
AT: You have a wonderful voice, an opinion that counts, a unique point of view. Use it! Surround yourselves with people who are more passionate, skilled and knowledgeable than yourself so that you challenge yourself to improve. Stay open to learning and new ideas.