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In Conversation With Breakthrough Brit Kayode Ewumi

28 November 2016
Event:  Breakthrough Brits Photoshoot 2016Date: 8 October 2016Venue:  BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly

From producing Vines to a YouTube mockumentary, acquiring a BBC commission and becoming a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit all in just over a year. Kayode Ewumi shares his impressive 18 months with BAFTA’s Mariayah Kaderbhai.

Kayode Ewumi’s YouTube sensation Hood Documentary captured the zeitgeist and launched his career to heights that he, as I found out, believes were predestined. Born and raised in Elephant and Castle, Ewumi had his sights set on an acting career from a young age. Performing at the Young Vic Theatre as a teenager, his talent was noticed early on by an agent in the audience and he was signed shortly after. During his final year studying Theatre at Coventry University he started making Vines. Shortly after he finished his degree, along with his writing partner Tyrell Williams, he created the character Roll Safe, aka R.S. When asked how the character was created, he said it came about naturally. Ewumi was in a car and Tyrell suggested he stall it. He replied, “Roll safe” and the character was born. Already wearing a black jacket, “I took my top off and was wearing my Africa chain. A lisp came out and we shot a scene, started laughing, shot another. He didn’t have a name yet, just ’leather jacket man.’” They uploaded it to Vine, and its popularity took off. 

When he went to parties and people began to recognise him they realised that they should develop something in longer form. So during the summer of 2015, Williams and Ewumi set about creating Hood Documentary, a satirical mockdoc parodying what the term ‘hood’ means to London, with Reece Simpson (aka ‘R.S’, aka ‘Roll Safe’) as the central character - an affectionate young black man trying to be something he’s not and attempting to carve his own path in London.

What Ewumi and Williams created with Hood Documentary was an instantly unforgettable character in Roll Safe and a portrayal of London that was immediately familiar (for those who know it). The joke of the piece is that no one in it is really ‘hood’ and the term had been bandied around so much that their creation was more an exploration of growing up in the capital and finding yourself in an urban London that has so many times been misrepresented on screen. 

Ewumi, Williams and their DoP Ray Maunz went about writing and filming their opus over the summer of 2015. They honed in and perfected their 22 minute mockumentary and only when they felt it was crafted to perfection did they upload it. In terms of platforms, it was not even an option for Ewumi to put it anywhere other than YouTube. “I wanted it to reach as many people as possible”, and with the character already having a profile on Vine it seemed like the only thing to do. What happened next, no one could have predicted. Hood Documentary notched up over 100,000 views in just one week and now a year later boasts over 2.5 million hits.  “In my wildest dreams (and by the grace of God),” Ewumi told me, “I never thought the Hood Documentary would do what it did.”

Its burgeoning popularity led to the pair creating a second part, and then Ewumi was also asked to make an appearance as Roll Safe on BBC One Extra’s Fire in the Booth, which has received over 6.5 million YouTube hits. Staggering figures from what essentially began as a summer project, albeit an expertly crafted endeavour.

Ewumi’s agent decided to send a copy of Hood Documentary to the BBC and they loved it, quickly resulting in a BBC3 commission. Ewumi wanted to it be broadcast post-10pm and with the guarantee of that slot, he agreed, and the six five-minute #HoodDocumentary shorts were broadcast in June 2016.

On asking if they still had creative control in the same way, Ewumi told me, “T and myself… wrote the whole thing, but when it came to editing and stuff, sometimes when your broadcaster is going to have to have a say, that’s just the way it is, that’s just the way life is.”

Euwmi’s relationship with the BBC developed, and after a successful audition he was cast as Mr. Conway in the broadcaster’s 2016 reboot of Are You Being Served. At the mere age of 23, Ewumi had never seen the original, but as I learned, he can adapt his craft to almost anything.

So what’s next for Ewumi? Having just created his own production company, he is going back to his roots and creating another piece for YouTube. I asked him if he thought the online platform was genre specific and if it is only comedy that pulls large audiences -  “Maybe - call me ignorant or naïve but my belief is that if its good it’s good, and people will watch it regardless if it’s a comedy, drama.”

Ewumi is a man driven by faith and this has resulted in an extraordinary outlook to his work: “Be fearless. The one thing that I used lack is courage but there is a difference between confidence and courage. To have courage you have to do something that you are afraid of and one thing I think I lacked was being just fearless. For Ewumi, it’s what motivates you that really matters, “I think we have to be careful about our intentions, if you’re putting it out because you want to be famous or rich then you’re going to be really disheartened by the views… you need to orchestrate something that you want to do.”

Kayode Ewumi was named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit earlier this year.  To find out more about the initiative, visit here, and to hear from Kayode on what being a BAFTA Breakthrough means to him, visit here.