Nigeria Was ‘My Ticket out of Going to College’: Broadcast Prof. David Zeoil
How did you get started in mass media?
“It’s an interesting story actually. I grew up around media and I came from a family of media producers actually. My father owned a youth and religious film company that created, produced, and distributed media across North America and actually all over the world. So I actually grew up on sets.”
“My first job was to – I remember the soundman didn’t show up that day. They needed some warm body and they literally threw this machine in my lap – I was 11 years old – and put headphones on me and said, ‘If you hear an airplane, put your hand in the air.’ That was the basic thing, like if there’s some horrible noise, put your hand in the air. I got hooked, you know.”
“So for the next several summers, I did everything I could to show up on those sets and do every job that I could do. I really did get hooked on that. It was kinda a round trip for me to get back to media because my first love was really music. I was a guitar player, a singer/songwriter, I was in several bands, played keyboards, and that kinda thing. So when I was first out of high school, I was in a bunch of bands. I’ll take you on a little road trip here. So something interesting happened though because I was in this family where all these people would come to our house and see dad and ask him, ‘Hey, can we have films, can we make films in our country?’”
“So it was a really interesting childhood to grow up and have people from all over the world, at any moment could show up at your dinner table because they would talk to dad, ‘Hey can we have one of your projectors, get some of your films?’”
“There was one person that really I had a very close relationship with and he kinda took me under his wing. He was Uncle Mac to me. His name was Mac Nwulu. He was a Nigerian. He would always say to me from eight years old ‘You will come to my village one day, you will come to Nigeria.’ And I was like, ‘I’m not gonna go to Nigeria.’ But he was such a great guy and so I went out of high school and went to the community college and I just wasn’t ready. He showed up about two weeks in and I was just not doing well at all. And he said again to my dad, ‘Hey can I take David to Nigeria with me?’ And I was like, ‘This is my ticket out of going to college.’”
“So, yeah I went to Nigeria for the next four months. But something strange happened there. So I was with Mac, this is in the late 80s, and we go to a local TV station because he is trying to put an advertisement on something he’s doing. He’s a preacher. We’re there and he makes his deal. We’re sitting outside in the lobby and I say to him, ‘How much does it cost to buy television time here?’ He’s like, ‘Oh, it’s very expensive. It’s outrageously ridiculous.’ And I’m like, ‘Well how much?’ And he’s like, ‘It’s $800 for an hour.’ And I said, ‘Well how many people does this station reach?’ ‘Oh about 25 million.’ ‘Well how many at a time?’ ‘It’s only on 6 times a day during primetime and they say about 4 to 6 million people.’ And I’m thinking 800 dollars for 4 to 6 million people. ‘Well how many other stations are there?’ ‘Well there aren’t any other stations.’”
“This is pre-cable, pre everything. This is a government run TV station selling an hour long block. Even at 19 years old I knew this was a ridiculous deal. So I started my first film festival that was aired on television at 19. I came back, I raised the money, it was 25 grand and we did a 6 week long film festival that kinda looked at social issues. So he [Mac] would obviously do his religious thing at the end of it but we were able to reach out to people.”
“So that’s how I got started way back when. I came back from that and my friends and I started a studio. We were complete morons; by that I mean we had no idea what we were getting into. We spent way too much money on this facility; we’re just like, 19 year old, 20 year old kids. Well the long on the short of it was from that launching point, I had a lot of clients at the studio, who then hired me to do events. That was my first business: DZP Events Management. Eventually my partner bought me out from the studio, I did the events thing and then we’re into the 90s and video blows up. Now all of a sudden I’m back in producing video for these live events.”
“Eventually, what drew me back to film was the fact that so many of the people I knew in Nigeria were dying from HIV and AIDS. I thought the son of Mac Nwulu had become a close friend of mine. We were both in our late 20s by now, so what if we used media to actually help people? So that was another decade of my life spending time on that.”
“I went back full time into media and turned DZP Events into DZ Productions. I spent the next 20 years running around the world doing all kinds of media for all kinds of people. The things that were most near dear to my heart were being able to help people with media. We couldn’t provide blankets, we couldn’t provide medicine but we could provide information through a powerful medium. We made a difference. It was a pleasure to be able to shoot on five continents and more than 20 languages and 30 countries over that long haul.”
What do you think has been the biggest change in the media from the 80s to now?
“I think to me, though we had so many fundamental shifts in the personal computer, the big data, the internet, the cell phone, all of these things really did change us along the way. For me, there was a fundamental shift in how we communicated as individuals and human beings when the smartphone came along.”
“That literally changed how people communicated, how people talked to one another, how they buy things, how they are able to have any job or commerce. The entire world has changed. To kinda break that down into how it’s changed, I think that from an interpersonal level, I can see always a double edged sword. What I mean by that is we have this incredible connectivity that we’ve never had before.”
“We have this incredible efficiency in speed in things that we do. We’ve also been separated from one another, in ways that we never anticipated. Now we’re dealing with a generation who always have had wifi, always have had this connection. My kids who are nine, ten years old, these kids look at connectivity like you and I look at power. You know that feeling when the power goes out? Like, ‘Oh my gosh, the world has just stopped.’ This is how they act if there is none of that; it’s normal, it’s the new normal.”
“This idea of having that connectivity and also having that double edged sword where we lose some of that interpersonal connection with one another is one area where I think of concern for me. Obviously the genie is out of the bottle, we’re not going back. I think things like media literacy and studying communication can help us to understand how to get the most out of these changes and how to minimize those things we might of lost along the way, and how to maybe recapture some of those things.”
How do you think technology has changed the media?
“It’s funny because I was just writing a long treatise about technology and how it’s changed us. One of the things, and I don’t want this to be a dystopian thing, that really does alarm me is I think when we are not face-to-face that the rules change for human interaction. Why do we have such division among people today? There are lots of reasons for that and one of them is that we don’t have to look at each other face-to-face. With that separation comes a freedom to act a fool.”
“I think that we lost some of our commutative accountability. I don’t feel like we’re accountable to each other with our communication today. Technology has made everything so simple for us. It also has created some real challenges with accountability with our other. Whether our other is our other gender, our other race, our other sexual orientation, but just our other human being. We don’t treat each other the same when we know we don’t have to look them in the eye. I think that’s something that scares me.”
“I also think sometimes we forget with the efficiency of technology comes more responsibility. I was writing about this the other night. We were promised all this ease and freedom because now we have all these things that are so much easier to do at work. Well what that really has done is allowed for more work to be done. With that efficiency comes the ability for our task master to say, ‘Oh well you have this time so here’s more work.’ There really isn’t a net gain in terms of human conditions. There’s just more output.”
“It was Niel Postman who said, ‘Technology always has foreseen consequences. It is not always clear at the beginning what and who will win and who or what we might lose.’ We’re caught up right now in this moment where we think ‘Wow, we have arrived.’ Next thing you know, we’ll be waking up in the morning and our robots will bring us our breakfast and we’ll have all these incredible things we won’t have to do. Between the internet of things, between robotics, between A.I, between all of these things, we have to wonder what they’re going to do again to how we communicate with one another. That’s where my concern lies. I know we’re going to go there. My question is how can we minimize what we would lose?”
What are your thoughts on the future of mass media?
“That’s a tough question because we see media convergence taking over everything. What I think is really interesting is there was kinda this, almost generational fight of media: traditional media versus new media. It’s kinda now become all one thing. There used to be this idea whether legacy media was television, and if you accessed it through digital it was new media. TV was for old people and digital was for young people. Well, of course that’s all kinda flattened out with the portal.”
“It’s all flattened out with things like Amazon, Disney and HBOMax. Now, I go to my television and work on my computer files. Now I go to my smartphone and watch television.”
“So what I think we see is this convergence of everything becoming available everywhere. Now it comes down to big screen, small screen, in my opinion. So where is that gonna land? You got me. I think where we’re gonna end up is that we have that ability to kinda move freely between all these devices and all these screens.”
“I don’t think we’ll see the same idea of division between the idea of legacy media and new digital media. Those are gonna reform as media again. We may call it integrated media, we may call it new media. We’ll come up with some name for it. Eventually, you’re gonna live in a time where it’s just called media again because there isn’t gonna be a super fast change that occurred over just 15 years, that all of a sudden disrupted the entire market.”