Theo Ogunyode talks about ‘The Donut Shop’ and indie filmmaking

Theo Ogunyode
Photo courtesy of Theo Ogunyode

For filmmaker Theo Ogunyode, the path to realizing his dream started in an unexpected place. Before he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in cinema, Ogunyode believed his future lay in dentistry.

“I finished high school but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he explains. “When I was in high school, I took a dentistry course. So my first year in college, I was studying to be a dentist! But the chemistry was over my head and I decided to pursue something else.”

That “something else” came in the form of theater.

“I talked to the theater professor who was there at the time … and I asked if he could recommend any African American playwrights,” Ogunyode recalls. “And he said ‘August Wilson.’ I threw myself into Wilson and started reading him. The dialogue, the staging the characters — they spoke how I spoke. From that point on, I dove in. I was a sponge, soaking up everything I could learn about theater.”

After completing undergrad studies at North Carolina A&T, the burgeoning filmmaker landed a scholarship for graduate school at CalArts and headed for the West Coast. He was inspired to write and direct his own project after getting frustrated with constantly waiting for his agent to call with work. After growing impatient, he got an idea for a script called The Donut Shop.

“The original idea came from me having worked as a supervisor at a casino,” he explains. “I’m an actor living in L.A. and I got tired of waiting for my agent to call me for an audition. A co worker owned a donut shop across from the casino. He was willing to let me shoot, so once I got the okay from him. I started to develop the script and the idea, I based it on my personal life and what I was going through at the time.

“We just pulled people together and made it happen,” he continues. “I got the location for free so my expenses were mostly equipment and feeding everyone. The total budget was under $10,000 to do it.
The hardest thing is having the capital to do it. Even with that $10K, I had to ask a lot of favors! If you have money, you can pay people for their expertise in certain fields. I had to wear a lot of hats. With a huge budget, you can just sit back and focus on one particular job.”

Indie filmmaking is hard work, but Ogunyode relishes the chance to realize his dream and watch projects come to life.

“I love the grind. I love making it happen,” he says. “I love the fact that I can call people that I’ve worked with in the past and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a gig for you.’ I love the fact that I can hire people. You can’t expect everything to be correct. It’s how you deal with the problems. Once we started shooting, I was in heaven. People were enjoying themselves, and having a good time. We have a professional set and I enjoy that. I’m a performer, so I cater to performer s and make sure they’re comfortable, but I also take care of the crew. It was good to see everyone thriving on-set.”

The Donut Shop would be released online and go on to win awards at the San Diego Black Film Festival (“Best Comedy”) and San Francisco Film Festival (“Audience Choice”). It’s all motivated Ogunyode to turn the project into a feature and he’s raised his profile among indie film enthusiasts.

And he loves being an example of creative entrepreneurship to his family.

“My wife is an actress, my twin sons are in the short film and the webseries,” he shares. “I’m not saying that I want them to become filmmakers, but I want them to see their dad in a professional environment and illustrate to them how things can be run effectively.  And every time we pass a donut shop, they yell, ‘Donut shop!’”

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