Sara Putt in conversation with Sophie Cunningham, Hugh Davies, Poppy Begum, Adam Brown, Adjani Salmon, Nida Manzoor and Nathan Bryon
Intro: Hello, hello everyone. Hi welcome to BAFTA 195. Uh, welcome to our very special Emerging Talent Sessions. I am just going to do a couple of quick housekeeping notes for you, so if you could please all take the time now to have a quick look at your phones, make sure they are on silent please. Thank you. And please note that we are recording this session, so throughout if you can just make sure you do not record anything and don't use any flash photography, that really helps us out that would be great.
And if you do need to pop to the toilet at any point during the session, feel free to do so but if you could please use one of our VT packages so when something plays on the screen that would be great, just so we don't block any of the view from the cameras. That would be awesome. And your nearest emergency exits, you have one up there, one up there and one to the side. And should anything happen, please know that us at 195 we will look after you, do not worry. And so with that I would really like to welcome to the stage our host for this evening, Sara Putt, who is the chair of the TV committee at BAFTA.
Sara Putt: And I'm only the warm up act! Hi good evening lovely to see you all here. Welcome to this BAFTA Television Session on Emerging Talent. So today is part of a series of events celebrating some of the nominees and the nominated programme teams from this year's Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and the British Academy Craft Awards. These television sessions are part of BAFTA’s Learning, Inclusion and Talent programme, which help to creatively inspire and engage the industry, budding talent and fans alike.
Tonight we're going to be joined by exciting emerging talent working across both factual and fiction in writing, directing and producing. They're going to be sharing the craft behind bringing their vision to the screen and offering you the audience a chance to ask some questions. And we'll be opening up for questions in the last fifteen minutes of the session, so please have those questions ready.
So without further ado, we're going to start off with the first session with Factual. I would like to welcome to the stage Sophie Cunningham, director, producer of Look Away.
Hugh Davies, the producer of Football's Darkest Secret: The End of Silence
Poppy Begum, the director of Queens of Rap.
I love this enthusiasm! Adam Brown, director of Into the Storm: Surfing to Survive.
Welcome, welcome. Thank you all for taking time out of your busy lives to join us all here this evening. So kind of let's just get started with a bit of a general question really to kick off, these are all very profound in some cases not easy watches; character driven stories. What do you as documentary film makers look for? What starts you off on the journey of? ‘I want to tell this story’? Sophie?
Sophie Cunningham: I, I think for me is especially with the film Look Away, but in general I just love making films that give a voice to people who don't normally have a voice, who've been silenced, and I think it's like a great gift and pleasure and kind of quite exciting to find those stories and to kind of unearth something that hasn't really been out there before and it's kind of quite a privilege to be able to do that.
Hugh Davies: Yeah, I think I'm sort of drawn to stories that feel like perhaps they haven't been heard before. And similarly to Sophie, I guess, sort of thinking about Football's Darkest Secret. It felt like this was a group of survivors of male macho men who perhaps we hadn't heard so much from. But I think generally you know it's about trying to say something new with our work and try and find, you know, novel takes on things that can sort of raise awareness about different human experiences.
SP: Right, so untold stories, different approaches. Poppy?
Poppy Begum: Everything those guys said. No, I'm joking, but I am not joking. Also I suppose I am interested in stories that are uncommissionable stories where commissioners are like ‘Nah, that's too niche’ or ‘we've already seen that’ and then they steal it and make it two years later. You're just gonna get the truth from me sorry! So when we made Queens of Rap, we had so many contributors say ‘it is absolutely offensive this is forty-seven minutes. Why isn't this a series?’ And that kind of got us all quite rallied up, like why isn't this a series. Like hip hop, the contribution of women in hip hop is huge. It's a huge like, that white exec’s eight year old is probably listening to Justin Bieber who's borrowed, you know, who's heavily influenced by hip hop and R&B so I think for me it's the idea of--we all do the spiel, don't we: untold stories, untold stories… well Commission it and then we'll make a series from it.
So we kind of went in there with a bit of a chip on our shoulder and we were like ‘we're going to smash this’. We didn't get access--
SP: Threw the potato at them!
PB: Yeah we didn't get access to Megan and Cardi, but like hey ho we still made it work.
SP: Brilliant, thanks Poppy. And Adam.
Adam Brown: Yeah, so going back to what you were saying about characters I mean, I think finding a unique character at a unique moment in their life is always fascinating. It was slightly different 'cause was when I was filming in Peru and my story is about a teenage boy, but I was originally sort of filming a group of kids who all sort of had a similar dream, but Johnny was the one that always stood out to me like his drive and his passion to make it at all costs were just above and beyond everyone else there and you know that really stood out. And then when you sort of dug into his life a bit and you realize how hard his upbringing was and where he was living and the problems of faking his in his personal life, you just couldn't help but be drawn to that story. And then the more it evolved, you know, the more layers there were to it. You just you just had to tell that story.
SP: Brilliant and before we sort of hone down into each of your individual films, I guess I'd also like to know whether, for the budding filmmakers in the audience, if you have, you know with where you are now and the experiences you've had, kind of a tip, a thought that you'd want to share with the audience about navigating the industry. Because you're all hugely successful, you're making amazing films. Is there anything that you think has been a key to that, or one thing that that you'd like to share? Let’s start with Adam.
AB: Yeah, I mean, I probably wasn't, you know, I felt a bit of an outside to the industry. I guess everyone does to some extent, but I really had no clue you know what I was doing to start off with and also how to approach it and so you know I was pretty much making up as I went along. I think you've really got to trust your instincts and have a lot of self belief in the process and then find people who can help you at all the different stages along the way because you're never going to have all the answers yourself, you know, even with all that self belief, so I think it's about finding those people at key stages who can help you and just believing in that that nugget of a story that, you know, diamond, that thing you really believe in, and then you'll develop all the other things you need to take it all the way if that story's got legs. But you know it does take a lot of self belief, you have to just keep going. And you know mine was not, probably the way I would recommend anyone to take five years to make something and to follow a story for five years I thought maybe it would last a year, you know and then five years later, I'm still making a thing and I'm like ‘God, when is this story going to end? Is there an ending there?’ So yeah I wouldn't recommend my career path to anyone! Find a story you could tell him five weeks if you can, not five years! But yeah, there's plenty of space to learn stuff along the way.
SP: Commitment and endurance, yeah.
AB: Yeah, that's right. And you know, I probably wouldn't recommend you know for your first film to do it in a language you don't speak in a developing country with a teenage boy as well. Avoid all those things!
SP: Yeah, but that was the perfect choice. Thanks Adam. Poppy, any tips from you?
PB: Uhm yes, find a mentor really high up in the chain that will back you to the hilt when you fuck up. Because those are the people that will stay with you through thick and thin, who will back you, who will support you. I think having mentors in the industry is really, really important, especially if you're a woman because it's so easy to get passed for someone else with more experience, and especially if you're a woman of color, you will fall by the wayside. I know things are changing now, but you really need to have support from someone who is either an exec or a Commissioner and it's easy for me to say it's taken me years to get to this stage, years, but that would be my one advice.
SP: Great, thank you. Hugh?
HD: Yeah, just I, I guess to sort of lead on from that I think like, you know, really, watching a lot of stuff and like finding stuff that you really love and then trying to contact those particular people that are making those sorts of things. I don't know I think like as the others have said, it's just so important to find people who can help you on your journey and who are making the kind of stuff that you know is really inspiring and creative, and the kind of stuff that you want to be doing yourself.
SP: Thank you. Sophie?
SC: Well, I was never really that academic at school and a lot of people told me not to, you know, that I wouldn't really achieve much and I wouldn't really become that much. And so, because I wasn't very academic, I was awful at maths, awful at science, awful at English, what I did work on was just my interpersonal skills and engaging with people, and for some reason that sort of turned into a career and actually watching too much TV. My mum used to have a go at me all the time, but I think the hardest thing and this is advice that I'm trying to give myself still is to have belief that you can do it, that you are good enough. I've had a very, very well known male exec tell me not to bother to ever direct because men make better directors, not women.
SC: Stick to producing and so I kept that with me and it wasn't until I got the opportunity to direct this film and Poppy at Sky saw something in me, the owner of the company that I work at, Darren, saw something in me and actually it wasn't until other people saw things in me that I saw it in myself. Yeah and just jump at every opportunity. I just said yes to a lot of jobs at the beginning to try different things.
SP: I think that we could stop now, there's a huge amount of advice in there, but let us not stop now. Let us let us move on to looking at all of your amazing films. So first of all, Sophie your film Look Away, which is a documentary looking at the abuse of young girls who were exploited in the era of the groupie and the attitudes to it that perhaps still carry on in the music industry today and elsewhere. I'm just, we're going to see a clip, but just a warning this is a very difficult conversation about rape, and if anybody feels they would like to leave at this point, that’s absolutely fine. We'll just give it a moment. But otherwise, if we can play the clip, please.
SP: Powerful stuff. What in your career if anything prepared you for undertaking a show like this?
SC: I suppose every job I've ever done has involved people telling difficult stories or telling stories for the first time, so I guess I'm quite used to people telling me really, really personal things and to meeting people and building that relationship so they trust you to tell you their stories. Like people don't just tell you these stories for no reason.
SP: And how do you navigate access with women like these who are carrying such sort of trauma of abuse?
SC: ‘I hear you’ you know. Some of these women hadn't spoken before, and they’d definitely never spoken in a documentary before and you have to go in as a human and as a woman, you know, talk to them about how sharing their story can actually do some good for them, not just for entertainment purposes, but for a reason. And I think that was the biggest thing with this film is a lot of these women wanted to speak out, not because they wanted to talk about their rape a million times over, but because there's something that hasn't changed in the industry and the reason for enacting change is why all of these women spoke.
SP: Good, that's a pretty powerful reason. There's also an exploration going on around the nuances of consent in the film and during the interviews. Did you find that your contributors were kind of caught up in confronting that question as well?
SC: Well, yeah, especially with Jackie. Actually, because Jackie was one of the few people--a number of the women who spoke out in our film had had sort of longer term relationships with these rock stars, whereas Jackie it was her manager, they were just celebrating a party and she had been drinking that night. She taken a Quaalude as a lot of people did during that era. And you know she talked about it, she felt that she had to justify it, and I posed her the question: A lot of people would say, so many people said to me when I told them I was making this film ‘yeah, but you know everyone was really drunk and she was probably really up for it at the time’, and I think that there is never a situation, you know you can't consent, it's not your fault if you've got drunk and somebody does this to you, that is not consent. And so it's tricky, and it was a tricky question to pose to the women because you had to ask them that because people would be thinking it. And you know Jackie was an incredible example of how she sort of literally said fuck you to everybody who thinks that and you know really was clear in that because she shouldn't have to justify herself.
SP: Ever. Absolutely completely agree. And was it a very tight team you worked with on this? I suppose what I'm thinking also is it must have been very hard for you. Where did you take your stuff to when you were hearing all of this trauma and dealing with these conversations?
SC: A really good therapist. That’s really to be recommended actually, and I think that's the most important thing when making films like this, there isn't really enough support for people who are making these films to, you know, that's another gripe with the industry, but I think that we should all be getting support.
SP: I think it's a big conversation about duty of care generally, isn't it?
SC: Yeah totally yeah.
SP: Yeah, the filmmakers of all levels and the craftspeople etc.
SC: Yeah, but it was really difficult. It was honestly a really difficult film to make in the sense that it was just me. Obviously I had the team at the company I was working at, but I was producing the film and directing the film as well, and so I was the one having the conversations with the women, I was the one navigating the relationships and it was really difficult and it was really challenging and a real like learning experience of how to sort of manage those kind of situations because it's difficult and you are--that's why making films is so, so incredible and so powerful. And you know, it's like making a baby almost at the end of it. You're so proud of what you've done because it's a real journey and you go on that journey with them.
SP: With a lot of pain, yes.
SC: Yeah, but I hate to sound cliché, a lot of yoga and therapy.
SP: Good, thank you very much Sophie. So Hugh moving onto your film Football's Darkest Secret: The End of Silence. It's another documentary, this time exploring child abuse that was long ignored, this time for men and in football thirty years on from the abuse. If we can see a clip, please.
So the scandal broke in late 2016. Where did you begin to forge the relationships with the fifteen survivors and their family? Talk us a little through that journey.
HD: Uhm so in early 2017 was kind of interested in really trying to make a film about what it's like to try to prosecute in these cases of historical crimes. And it was after the Jimmy Savile, we'd just gone through that and also the Me Too movement and then the football story started to emerge in late 2016. And so I approached a couple of different police forces to try to gain access to particular units that were looking at trying to prosecute these historical crimes and then, as more and more footballers began to kind of come forward, it became clear that like there was a real kind of important story here to be told that hadn't been told. And I was lucky enough to partner with, approach a director called Daniel Gordon and he was also looking at the story and kind of together we began to develop it and we were fortunate to sort of have a really long time in which to build those relationships. That was really important, so all of kind of six months of 2017 we spent developing the series and working with the BBC and we then, there were a number of criminal trials that took place, so we had a policy whereby we didn't want to film with any survivors that weren't going to make it into the final film. So we were able to attend a lot of those different criminal trials that were happening up and down the country as part of our research process and that allowed us to then make sure that when we did approach someone, we knew exactly how they could be involved, which is just really important and I think I think essentially in answer to your question: Time. Time is the key. It took us four and a half years to make the series so it was a you know, incredibly long, long event.
SP: And it is, it's such a compassionate film. How did you approach finding that space in which those men can break down, and allowing that to stand out as courageous without sensationalizing it? How did you approach that?
HD: Yeah, I, I think it's really difficult. You know I think it's, as Sophie was saying, you know, a lot of this is led by the people themselves, you know people that want to talk that want to share their story. Uhm, you know allowing long periods of time for interviews to take place, not sort of rushing people in and out of studios, giving people time to tell their stories and just spending a lot of time trying to understand you know how they would like their story presented. Dan, I was fortunate enough to work with a team that, you know, have had quite a lot of experience making films about sensitive subjects and you know, I think it's just sort of a journey that you go on together as a team and with the people whose stories you're trying to tell.
SP: It can't be rushed.
HD: Yeah exactly yeah.
SP: It has to be able to breathe, has to be able to develop, yeah.
HD: Definitely, definitely, and I think you know like Sophie was saying about, you know the importance of safeguarding and stuff. Again, it's not like a one size fits all package with that kind of stuff. It's really important to have enough time to figure out, you know, how people, what will work for certain people in terms of care. You know a lot of these guys, we would have a lot of stuff in place and a lot of them would have their own way of dealing with these things, and you know sometimes certain kind of package fits don't work. But I'd definitely echo what you said about you know the need for more care both on and off screen for people that make these kind of films, you know. And I think it's such an important part of this, and it's only with that care these projects are worth doing to be honest.
SP: Thank you and you know, I think you are all courageous as filmmakers in making these as much as your contributors were in many ways. So thank you for sharing. Poppy, Queens of Rap is a cultural investigation that follows the bold voice of two women Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, who pushed the envelope with their song.
PB: We all know WAP stands for!
SP: We all know what WAP stands for, but for those that don't it stands, just 'cause I wanna say this on the BAFTA stage, for Wet Ass Pussy.
Thank you for giving me that moment. OK, let's watch a clip.
This song was an absolute cultural phenomenon, and I think many called it revolutionary, but it also really divided people. So what's your take: Empowerment or exploitation?
PB: Oh God.
SP: Discuss, I mean.
PB: I went on such a journey I was like ‘it’s empowerment,’ blablabla. And I’m not trying to make it a Diana moment, my God, bear with me one second but I did ask everyone where were you when he first heard that song, and they're like ‘Poppy don't deep it that much. It's a big song.’ But anyway I was thoroughly confused because initially I was like this is obviously empowerment and then I was like no, this is--are we just perpetuating these same sexual stereotypes? But actually after going on, I'm sorry to have to use this word, journey I realize actually it is total empowerment. Like these women are in control. Men have been and it's not just in hip-hop but men have had the power to talk about what they want to do to a woman's body and now women are talking about it and making money from it and all power to them. But what was really interesting is that a lot of people, women especially, when we were filming predominantly in New York and time was not on our side, so not a theme in this documentary--people really hate, older people and younger like Gen Z, I mean they were really effectively saying it is sexual exploitation. It's what men do. But one incredible expert I spoke to, she was a fetish master and a clinical psychologist and absolute badass, I know, and she said, ‘look why does it have to be men doing those things? Sometimes I want to do those things to other women. It's not like men own those sort of sexual tropes’, but it was just it was incredible and it completely, it was like a Marmite topic. It divided people and I think what was slightly depressing is that in 2021 we were still talking about women bodies. It is a political minefield and I don't see any signs of changing. What was interesting sort of artistically is that kind of glass ceiling of when does it end? Does it become then pornographic? Because a lot of people would argue that video or is pornographic, but I mean art and portn is the same thing, really isn't it?
SP: Absolutely, and also you'd launched a podcast, hadn't you called Brown Girls do it too.
PB: Didn't realize we were talking about that.
SP: Talking about the stigma of talking about sex and the shame and guilt that comes with it. How, if, did the podcast prepare you for the deep dive?
PB: So it's really funny, like I started out in documentaries and I went undercover doing an ISIS documentary, and I've done all these hard hitting docs and like I think my legacy is just going to be about sex, which I'm totally OK with! But I just didn't realize, you know. When we did that podcast it was about brown women and sex and relationships 'cause we're not seen as sexy. We're often reading the news or we are always playing the wife of someone in the Taliban and ISIS and so the idea was we were going to break the stigma because I think in the brown community especially it is something that we don't talk about. It's sort of buried under the carpet and no one talks about sex. So when we did it, we genuinely thought six girls in Bradford would listen to it and that would be the end of that.
SP: So wrong.
PB: So wrong! Fast forward you know two years later, we've been commissioned for a third series. We've taken it to Soho, it's been optioned for a drama and we got so many trolls for that podcast. So many trolls. Now I have an unbelievably thick skin and you would if you'd met my mother. Yeah, she would cuss you down. But and I was OK with the trolls, but it really affected my co-host.
SP: So actually in many ways, for good and for bad it prepared you for doing the film.
PB: Yes, Oh yeah, yeah yeah. Yeah, people are schmucks and you just have to--
SP: Some peoples!
PB: Some people, sorry, sorry, let me rephrase that. I think especially now with optics and Twitter and kind of the work we do, it's part and parcel now of that comment section and getting trolled and people saying mean things, and I think sadly we just have to be a bit more prepared for that. A lot of people are schmucks, I'm sorry.
SP: Thanks Poppy. OK last but not least Adam’s film Into the Storm: Surfing to Survive, a documentary following the troubled teenager Jhonny Guerrero as he battles his way out of a crime ridden barrio in Peru to realize his dream of becoming a professional surfer. Clip please.
SP: OK, what was it about Jhonny? How did you find Jhonny? What caught your attention and kept it? Well you've talked earlier about how long this project took you, and I think you first met Jhonny in 2014. Yeah, so, what was it that you spotted?
AB: So Jhonny turned up at the beach with a broken board, torn wet suit and he was--I was out there doing a little project with Swatch, they were backing the Surf Academy that was opening up to kind of, you know, it's run by next pro Sofía Mulánovich and it was supposed to raise the next generation of pros, and this was kind of like the golden ticket for all these kids in Peru. You know Sofía Mulánovich is a national hero there. She's you know the only person really, male or female, to have achieved you know outstanding international success and here she was saying that she was going to give this opportunity to girls and boys from around the country no matter their background which was groundbreaking in itself, you know, 'cause Peru’s a pretty divided country: If you're rich or you're middle class, you're pretty much made but then you know majority of the country is forgotten about.
So the kids all saw this as this golden ticket, and that in itself was fascinating, and so I kind of had that this thing I was doing with Swatch, which was kind of straightforward and vanilla and everything, it was about Sofía. But I thought the real story was the kids and I sort of tried to finagle, you know, use the money that was meant to be making these promo videos for Swatch and making a documentary. And kind of, you know, managed to eke that out for a while, and you know, encourage them to you know back the project for a bit, which they which they did. But Jhonny was the standout. He had this drive, and this this talent, yeah, everyone would stop whatever they were doing when they saw him in the water. He was electric even at thirteen, that this tiny little kid and you know, sort of you know mouths open stuff. Even Sofía just saw that that electric natural skill, you know. I think we were all kind of drawn to that and then you know, the more I found out about him, I mean, people already told me that, ‘oh, there's this kid from the barrio’, but you know, they said ‘he robs people, he's you know he's up to no good, you don't want to have him in the Academy.’ And it was like no he sounds like the type of kid you should have. But he was kind of like this dream almost, people weren't even sure he existed. And then when I finally met him, you know, I was drawn to him. But you know there was a group of other kids I was filming so you know it wasn't sort of a slam dunk from the start, you know. And they all had pretty interesting backgrounds. But you know, the more time I spent with Jhonny there, I realized how you know the odds that he was struggling against.
But it was like a long process with him before he would really trust me because he was really poor and he was really ashamed of his background. Because, you know, he really had nothing and they were living in a house that they'd borrowed from their uncle and that was only temporary and you know there was there was a moment where he realized what I doing. First of all, he just thought I was making a, you know, just a straight surf movie about him, but I always wanted to sort of dig beneath and then he finally understood what I was trying to achieve and I watched a couple of documentaries with him and these guys from this NGO, this grassroots NGO, who were my contacts in the barrio. And it clicked for him and he's like, ‘oh now I understand what you're doing Adam.’ It's like ‘you don't just want to tell or talk about my surfing, you want to talk about my life.’ and I was like, ‘yeah, exactly Jhonny!’ And you know more layers were revealed as we went on. But you know that original sort of passion and his background, you know, made me think that there was something compelling in what he was trying to achieve. He was so sincere about his aim to be a pro surfer and I knew just how big a distance he had to reach to achieve that and then as we went on, he obviously got shot in a drive by shooting and you know, he was pretty lucky not to die. And then you know the whole story with his father, his father was in prison for armed robbery, he hadn't seen his dad for five years and and I started to realize there was this massive, massive hole in his life which was really holding him back. So the story started off kind of about surfing and his dream and it actually, I guess, became more about how important our families are to us and having a good start in life really and I could see all the things we're holding Jhonny back. The absence of things he had in his life, and I guess that compelled me to tell his story. Sorry, long answer.
SP: That's a great answer. Thanks. So again time listening, determination, trust so many words.
AB: Yeah, yeah 100%, I was lucky. Sadly I need to draw this section to a close, but we will hear more from these guys a little later. So thank you very much.
Progress down to the comfy seats now. Thank you very, very much.
OK, so we will now move on to Fiction and I would like to welcome onto the stage Adjani Salmon, the writer of Dreaming Whilst Black.
Nida Manzoor, the writer of We Are Lady Parts
And Nathan Bryon, the writer of Bloods. Welcome!
And I'd just like to do a shout out for Runyararo Mapfumo, who was the director of Sex Education, who sadly could not be with us tonight, but was also nominated in this category, so.
OK, so again just a sort of general: Comedians, how does it work? How does it work working with comedians? How much space do you need to leave for improvisation? What's the perfect alchemy? How does, how does it work – Adjani?
Adjani Salmon: For this it’s weird, and now that I've acted in other stuff, I've realized the difference but for our show, we write our jokes because I don't--I'm not funny. So we make sure just come in, say a line.
SP: Pretty scripted.
AS: We vetted it. It's fine, don't get too excited.
SP: You are not here to improvise!
AS: Yeah yeah, so yeah, but obviously we--and especially because the type of comedy is as well I guess a lot of our like our jokes are vetted as well as to like the type of joke. So, like what word you're allowed to say, so we really like for us we don't have much room.
SP: Pretty tight, interesting. OK, Nida, how about you?
Nida Manzoor: Yeah, I mean, I'm probably maybe a little looser, but again, quite, you know when you write your comedy, it's written. But I do enjoy sort of when I'm working with actors finding people who can do drama and comedy and with our show We are Lady Parts there was a music element so there was--it was comedy plus all this other stuff and I think I suppose where I think there was some kind of interesting improv I would kind of rewrite when I saw how actors would say the words and try and tailor it a bit more to their voice. But I suppose I don't know, I wouldn't say I was a comedian, I'm a kind of comedy writer, so it was a kind of introverted at my desk rewriting jokes rather than a stand up.
SP: Yeah, a different thing, yeah.
NM: It feels like a different thing, but ultimately I think you know you, you're trying to make people laugh and then open them up enough to engage in a more meaningful way.
SP: Yeah, but also challenge them in making them laugh as well.
NM: Yeah, exactly.
SP: It's, you know, I think all of your shows kind of force us to think about ourselves and our reactions to things. Nathan, how does the process work for you?
Nathan Bryon: Uhm, I I'm lucky enough to work with the incredible Samson Kayo and he is fucking hilarious, so it’s this thing of yeah, I might spend, yeah--
SP: You sit back, let him do it!
NB: I mean, I might spend you know half a year writing the scripts and it goes in front of him and if he's got a funny line, I'm like ‘say it, my name is on the credits, boom!’
So I'm happy for any funny actor to improvise whatever.
SP: If somebody’s agent is in the audience.
NB: It says ‘written by Nathan Bryon’ and I'm like thank you very much I did not write that. No, but in our show we really, we open it and we've got so many comedy legends who have been in this game for a billion years, a billion years longer than me. I want them to bring everything and make it as funny as possible really.
SP: Excellent, OK, so different processes. So let's hone in on the on the programmes now. So first of all we have Adjani’s Dreaming Whilst Black. Kwabs is stuck in a soulless job in recruitment and dreams of becoming a filmmaker. Let's watch a clip.
So good. The series started on YouTube, is that right?
AS: Yes it did.
SP: Back in 2018 and then it became a pilot for BBC Three last year. And am I right about forty-five drafts?
AS: Of the pilot? Yeah yeah yeah.
SP: Walk us through that. Now that’s determination and resilience!
AS: Oh no. So Ali and I, my writing partner again we came from the web series world. But because I guess contractually, I think it's three drafts you deliver to the network or something like that, so like draft one that they saw was our like draft seven because my agent Christian was just like ‘look, you don't, you can't show nobody your first job, right?’ So we kind of did it. We kind of went back and forth ourselves for a while and then presented draft seven. And Sarah gave us like a two page Word document, single line spacing of notes. Just like yeah. And we were like ‘nah bro.’ I literally just went back to the drawing board and she was just like ‘look. You have one shot like that's it.’ And even in the pilot, whoever hasn't seen it yet, it gets spoiled, so he quits and then we actually plan on him quitting in the end like episode five as like you know, that says like ‘now I'm ready’ and she was just like, ‘well, you don't have five episodes, you have one.’ So yeah, so it was very much like re-- and we went to like draft fifteen and then that was our… Um no, I think we went to draft fifteen and I said actually, this whole thing just don't work. I went back to outlining. And then we outlined about ten different drafts and then came back again because even, again, Christian was like, when he saw the notes, he was like ‘bro this don't look good.’ So I think we showed our second draft and it was like draft, that they saw was like draft twenty-five or something like that.
SP: I've still got twenty to go.
AS: Yeah no no. And then she was like, ‘oh, this is a much better shape.’ Clearly not. But yeah, it was just again this polishing those jokes and they were really onto us. Even that thing there they were like ‘look how do you describe a black woman without saying she's a black woman without putting a stereotype on her?’ Because that was also what we were trying to navigate as well and it was like cool she changed her hairstyle a lot. Alright cool, she likes spicy food, but it's like who is that? And it was only randomly, I think it was when we were prepping for the shoot, our hair designer Cynthia was like look man, look the hair thing is like, no. She's like try--she's like you’re Jamaican like if he says something in patois that would work and I said oh OK, cool them kind of things. So and so I guess yeah, so that's how it works so everybody kind of contributes to like… I guess it's not like everybody in the production kind of contributes to make sure that the jokes are like on the line.
SP: The authenticity, the real, really. OK, well that's I'm impressed. And you used your speech to shout out about, you know the talent coming from YouTube. Tell us more. I mean what, it feels like you were saying is that kind of commissioners etc should be looking in different places, should be searching in a different way for that talent maybe?
AS: Yeah, I 100% agree because even a friend of mine who's, she's a writer and you know but you know, does plays and stuff and it’s when she was saying, oh, she's trying to go to Edinburgh but the entry is £3000. Even though she's won the Vault Festival and is in Edinburgh, but she still needed £3000 and I'm thinking to myself it’s a one man play, what can the production be? It's literally her just talking the whole time like so, but it's… And for myself what I always found interesting is I remember hearing once, don't get me wrong there are great writers who come from like theatre. But I remember thinking to myself how they lauded like you know, we saw Michaela Coel when she did Chewing Gum Dreams and you know, we took her and made her into a TV writer. And I remember just thinking mad, but you have screenwriters already, but you'd much rather turn someone into a screenwriter than use a screenwriter who's there, ready, like we've studied for this. So for me, I was just very much like even again, how many web series like they were great--Brothers with No Game just got announced to be an American TV show. I watched it in 2011 and that is just being developed as a TV show now. And that was probably for people who watch YouTube that's probably like the first black web series that blew like in terms of like viral 2011. That was it. But I'm the one who's going to TV before him. You see what I'm saying, that don't make sense.
SP: Yeah no it doesn’t make sense.
AS: So it's just like about that. It's about like looking in where we are, 'cause that's the reality, something that's where class comes, right?
SP: Yeah, look at where it's happening, yeah.
Look where it’s happening, I don't--I just, we shot Dreaming Whilst Black on a stock DSLR camera with the lens that you get when you buy a camera. You understand? Yeah, that's what we had.
SP: And that worked.
AS: We just had a camera with an eighteen to fifty mm lens and you see what I'm saying. So actually that's what we had and we still, we deserved a shot too. That's what I'm saying.
SP: Yeah, absolutely. Good thank you.
OK Nida, on to Nida. We Are Lady Parts is a look at the highs and lows of the band members that make up a Muslim female punk band, Lady Parts, as seen through the eyes of Amina Hussein, a geeky PhD student who is recruited to be their unlikely lead guitarist. If we can have a look at the clip.
It's so good. Nida, do you feel, did you feel in making this, in writing, that you were pushing boundaries? Or actually do not see it as pushing boundaries? Do you just see it as trying to kind of wake people up to the reality of what being a Muslim in Britain really looks like?
NM: Oh God, uhm, I think yes and no. I mean the pushing boundaries feeling just felt that it was happening because I wasn't seeing anything that explored the nuances and the different ways of being a Muslim woman. So although I don't feel like I'm saying anything that isn't truthful, it felt like, you know, there wasn't a lot of things that I could look to for inspiration. Although you know there is great voices out there, but especially in television. So in that respect, it felt like you know it was pushing something, but then you know the story is so universal. It's so true to myself, so as long as, you know when I was kind of staying kind of grounded in my own truth, I felt that it would speak in in a universal way.
SP: Yeah, for everyone, yeah.
NM: So I think those were the two things and you know I kind of had so much encouragement, encouragement from my team around me, my script editors, my producers who were really just encouraging me to kind of go more in to my voice and just speaking to my friends and my family and it’s a weird thing, when you draw from personal life and that kind of and putting it into your work and then the kind of bleed between yourself and the story. It can sometimes be just, you know, feels like you're pushing back boundaries personally in just saying things that feel, you know, that you're delving into your own issues a bit in in that in that sense. But yeah, I don't know how else, sorry I’m just rambling.
AS: Are you a musician?
NM: Yeah I am. Yeah, and I suppose like the music thing came because I really wanted, you know I had been, I had a couple of meetings where I had been asked to kind of explore what it means you know the trauma of being a Muslim woman and I was sort of asked to a couple of times write dramas and all my specs are comedy, so I'm like why am I being asked to do this? And like I had a couple honor killing meetings? Or like ‘oh, could you do this thing’ I was like it's not really my experience. I've got these comedies, you know, and I remember being OK this is this is sort of annoying and there was like a frustration from that which made me come up with We Are Lady Parts which I was like I'm gonna put music in it 'cause I play guitar, I'm basically Amina, I’m geeky about--Paul Simon’s my guy, but I couldn't get him to clear—
SP: Not Don McLean.
NM: Don McLean’s alright but like Paul Simon, but anyway. Uh, but you know, so I was like, ‘oh, I'm gonna write something I can just like put all my favorite shit’ and get my siblings to write the music with me 'cause they're all like actual musicians, so it was a real kind of just leaning into the things I think I do best and what I'm passionate about.
SP: Brilliant, thank you and off camera, can I just ask you quickly about off camera. How important was it for you to hire women of color so that it brought the story to life from all angles? Was that, did that feel like a kind of big part of it for you?
NM: Yeah, I suppose so. You know I have had such great collaborators, P.C. Williams who did the costume design. You know I was just, yeah, P.C. who won a BAFTA on Sunday, but you know, I was so just in all of her work and I knew I wanted--she just has such an incredible way of working with costume in terms of like it's heightened, but it's grounded in truth and it's like, aesthetically, I mean she's the coolest person I know. So I was like, please do my show. And so I was really lucky. And then Aisha Bywaters, my casting director again, a woman of color, incredible casting director. I'd worked with her on basically every comedy I directed up to We Are Lady Parts so I just had this trust and she always brought interesting shorthand. Yeah, she just really brought, you know would cost from Instagram, she'd she just, you know, would look outside the usual channels and would just do amazing work. And so yeah, it kind of and especially you know you're writing a show about women and to have kind of women behind the camera. We had like yeah, mostly women HODs and that just, it just created a vibe which was cool. But you know, I'd say I don't go looking and you know I have male HODs too.
SP: But it's about putting that team together.
NM: Yeah men are cool too. I employ men as well.
But you know it's the right people.
SP: Yeah, it's the right people absolutely. Thank you. OK and finally we've got Bloods, comedy series centered around paramedics in South London. Yeah Nathan here. Let's look at the clip.
Oh fabulous. What was the hook? What was the key to developing that main character? Where did he come from?
NB: I mean, Samson and I, the way the show was made was amazing. Sky came to Samson said ‘we want to make a 10 minute Sky Arts short’ and Samson sat down with me 'cause he's obviously the busiest man in showbiz and he sat down he said, I'm really interested in his character, I had this point in my life I was either going to be a getaway driver or a paramedic, and I was like ‘that's our character!’ And that's kind of what we built Maleek around, that sort of juxtaposition. But one thing we made sure in the show is that he is a competent, brilliant paramedic because you don't get--
SP: And that’s what underpins it.
NB: Yeah he is brilliant and he cares and he loves what he does. You know so that's kind of the heart of the show.
SP: Brilliant. And what was it like, how important was it as a new talent having like someone like Raw and Roughcut behind you?
NB: Oh, I mean like when I pulled up into Roughcut like day one, I'd never written a half hour hour TV script so they really helped me through the process. It was huge. It was like a life change and there were days that were horrific where I'm like I shouldn't be here this is too difficult. But then you know, you get your script down. Draft forty-five, forty-six.
SP: And then you know, there's a guy out there who's still only on draft thirty.
NB: Exactly I mean, I can still do this. So Roughcut with Ash and Seb Barlow one of my producers like they keep you on track, they inspire you, they keep you pushing and going. And now you know we're about to, you know, we’re developing Series Three and I've learned crazy amounts kind of getting there.
SP: Rumor has it you've also been working on your first feature, yeah?
NB: Oh yeah, yeah.
SP: I think you’ve just wrapped?
NB: Yeah, no. So we wrapped the--is it the mix? The mix. So the films is wrapped wrapped.
SP: Final mix.
NB: Yeah yeah, the final mix is done so it'll be out hopefully—Yeah it’s done, it'll be out this year or next. It’s a beautiful black love story, it's a romcom, it's set in South London and it's like it's just like a love letter. It was just joyous, and that's what I want my work to be. I want it to be about—
NB: It's called Rye Lane like in Peckham and it's fun. And you're going to be safe watching it, there's gonna be no trauma just run up on you. You know when you're just watching something and then suddenly some trauma happens. You're safe, spoiler alert, you're safe. No, no, hopefully it'll be good, and I wrote it with Tom Melia, who's an incredible writer and Raine Allen Miller directed it and I'm so proud of it. It's going to be fun.
SP: Brilliant, congratulations. Congratulations to you all.
OK, I'm gonna ask you guys to leave the stage momentarily while there's a bit of moving chairs and then the music will stop and we'll all sit down again.
OK, back up now guys. Oh that was sneaky! OK, it's your moment people out there. I stop asking the questions and you start. So thanks again, it's lovely to have you all on the stage together, so there's a microphone wandering around I think, so if you'd like to stick your hands up and wait for the mic to get to you, then we will let you ask your questions. So who's who's leaping in? We've stunned them into silence. Come on, there must be a question somewhere. I've got a gentleman up there in a navy blue top.
Q: Is that is that me?
SP: Oh, and another gentleman who had the jacket on!
Look, I have actually got--I have actually got a navy blue top as well. Well spotted! OK this is a question—look I commission shows for a platform but it's not about me, it's about you obviously. And the question is that creativity is a gift, it’s like a gift that's given to you and not everybody can create something from nothing. But the question I have is if you weren't creating what other job would you do? What would you do?
SP: Oh, to everybody, anybody in particular you'd like to ask it of?
Q: Anyone who wants to answer the question who has an interesting job and alternative job.
AS: I have a degree in architecture.
NB: I'd be a TV murder detective.
SP: Any other offers?
PB: I'd go into finance, be a hedge fund manager, have a breakdown, then open up a cupcake shop.
SP: So many people have done that.
AB: Dolphin trainer
SP: Excellent come on, let's get the full house. Nida?
NM: I'd probably be a, uh, a lawyer of some kind, and my parents would love me, but I would resent them forever.
That almost happened.
SP: And this end?
HD: I'd love to be a chef, but I'm a pretty terrible cook.
SC: I would probably be a therapist because I'm really nosy.
SP: Great answers, thank you very much. Lovely question and there's a guy I think we've got glasses and a navy blue top here.
Q: Hi, uhm I was just wondering how do you get somebody to mentor you like find them you somehow find their email address… what do you do from then?
SP: Good question. Now who was it up top who talked about mentoring?
PB: I did, I did.
SP: You did Poppy?
PB: Sorry, can you repeat the question how do you get someone to mentor you? OK you follow them around and you be really annoying in the nicest, funniest way. That is half true. Oh God so I have mentors in the TV industry in the docs industry and they sort of they come and go out of your life, but there was a point actually, it was this film here, the exec on this film so it's taken me eight years 'cause I went into film in 2013 and I made that last year so it's taken me a long time to have a mentor that really believed in me. And something Sophie said earlier, you gotta believe in yourself, then you gotta find someone who believes in you and then you just gotta like smash that job work really hard. God just do everything you can, go to the ends of the earth. I know it's so obvious and just ask for help. There's nothing wrong with asking for help and also when you're starting out, I wish I could tell probably this eight years ago like be organized, have a book of contacts. Get that Excel spreadsheet out. Have a traffic light system: That’s a dick exec, that's a good exec, go to that exec. Honestly just do that.
Q: Cool thanks.
SP: Anybody else want to say anything about mentoring or how to get one or?
NM: Do you ever find that like the mentor you get isn't actually someone you were thinking was a mentor? Because you know, as a director was like you want to aim for, like the hotshot director who's like…But actually I found the people who've been really helpful for me have been kind of script people, producers, not like the sexy people, but people who understand the industry, who have experience, who read your work and give you time. So it's not always necessarily going for the famous 'cause that often, you know that won't happen. For me I think the most important mentors have been, you know, newer kind of in the industry or just yeah, kind of I mean not no shade to like script development people. It's not unsexy, but you know people not like the famous is what I'll say. I'll stop speaking!
PB: Basically what Nida’s saying is don't go for the top people, they ain't got time for you anyway, yeah.
SP: And it's also like the power in the room is not always where you think the power in the room is. And you know I'd say, putting my hat on my from my daytime job as an agent for behind the camera talent. I think a lot of people actually really want a mentor, but they're quite nervous about doing it, so go ask: don't ask, don't get. You know, and I think I've been lucky enough to mentor and get mentored myself and you get as much out of both sides of the relationship. You really do. OK, other questions guy here in the hat.
Q: Props, props, props to all of you guys, but specifically for the black and brown creatives. I want to ask--thank you for creating stories that elevate and aren't just steeped in trauma, but also what has been as you bring these stories to the mainstream, what's been the biggest obstacle that you found in bringing these stories forward?
SP: The first forty-four drafts, I think?
AS: Yeah, alright, here's what I would say. Uhm, is explaining the existence to people who don't understand it. But there's a double edge, there's a weird duality to it, which is also positive, so again, my writing partner is white, so he's like our like white whisperer to like the madness you know, I'm saying. Like him telling me the tea and he's like we write it in the show. But when we were writing the web series, there were certain things where I would write and he would, and he'd be like ‘yo man I don’t really understand that,’ and I'm like bro is a black thing just don't stress it. And he was like no but like explain it to me. And there were times where I would explain something to him like a head wrap thing like I'm like yo like if your girl starts to wear a headwrap at your yard, this is you're deep in it, so this needs to be a thing. And he's like alright, cool and explained that whole hair thing. But there were other things where like there was a scene we had in the web series where it was like oh, you know, like she puts, you know, she does like what do you call--like makeup like she put makeup on him and I'm like bro, black man don’t do that, and he was like what and I was like trust me dog like black man just don't do that. And he's like no, why? And I was like I don't know, just don't do it and it's like no I see cousins. So I went to my WhatsApp group and I was like ‘yo like any of you man make your woman put makeup on you’ and slowly they were kind of like ‘yo, you know…’
So it was that kind of thing of like, but being able, for me, being able to learn how to articulate our experiences prepped us for when we're with, you know networks and it's like you know we don't understand this joke. It's like actually no I have the language to articulate myself to you now, which helps us in when we're writing the show to be like look, this needs to be like that because of XYZ, but it's still, there's still a frustration in like yo like I need to just get this. Yeah, that's an obstacle.
SP: Brilliant OK next question. Guy at the back with the beard.
Q: The question is for, well, Ajani and Nathan. Also as well special congratulations to Adjani for winning his award.
And my question being as well for both Nathan and Adjani with your characters in Dreaming Whilst Black and Bloods respectively, did you have that personal aim to make it memorable and how did you go about it?
NB: I'm not in Bloods as an actor, I just write it but I wanna make the show memorable, like one of my favorite quotes from my idol is Shonda Rhimes, she tries to say, she says every episode should be a series finale. So it's just a really good thing to kind of have 'cause these people are spending a lot of money on these thirty minutes, you know. So you don’t want no lukewarm end, or you don't want a medium story, you wanna really give it everything. So when we sit down for our scripts and Sky got money so we wanna spend it. So we wanna, you know, we got helicopters and we got diggers.
SP: Anybody from Sky in the room?
NB: We got everything. Now TV, it’s Now.
AS: I don't know man. Honestly I feel like we just try to tell truthful like just honest characters and put honest characters in messed up situations. You know I mean and I just feel like if you tell a truthful character, that people will remember, 'cause they'll see themselves in them. Like I don't know if you guys have seen The Worst Person in the World? Phenomenal. And that's really just about a girl who just can't really figure out relationships. Nothing too special about that, but it was great because it was just an honest portrayal. Just a truthful portrayal of a person and I think that's really what it boils down to.
Q: Thank you for your answer. Thank you, thank you.
SP: Thank you for the question. Lady down here.
Q: Again, this is for Adjani and Nathan and OK--
SP: I'm gonna get the questions not for Adjani and Nathan next.
Q: We do we do, we do we definitely, how do I phrase it, because we come from a community that has so many stories that have actually never been told, we find that like our lives are a goldmine for content. How do you then pick the stories that you're going to tell, or the narratives that you're going to put out there? Because sometimes it's like I want to write--
NB: Well, that's a it's a brilliant question. I think we as artists, we all have that same uh question to answer. For me I like to have my little manifesto, right? And like for me I'm about black joy. I need to be joyful 'cause I need to get out of bed so I need--if I feel sad like I'm not fun. So I picked stories which I think are going to spread joy for others or for myself and I need that. One day I might work on some gritty drama, but there's going to be jokes.
AS: And to be fair, I think Nida as well like when I saw your thing on Blaps I was like this is so this is crazy on so many levels, like no, no they gonna it's exciting. Look I just do stuff that interests me. That's it. I don't really try to like I guess for documentary filmmakers it's very much like what's the ‘thing’. You know what I mean, but I guess for me it's always been like I guess I feel like my life is not particularly dramatic. But I do feel like it’s interesting. So it's just yeah, regular people. That's it for me.
NM: Yeah, and I think I mean sorry I know this is not for me, but I mean you know, I feel you when you say that because there's sometimes that thing of like you know even when you're telling stories that are personal and sometimes you don't want to tell a certain story, because then you're doing a stereotypical portrayal, but actually there might be truth in, you know--I was speaking to a friend and she's, you know, from a Muslim background and she wanted to write something about her difficult relationship with her father but then, she's like I don't want to do the angry Muslim man. But you know, it's kind of connected to my truth and I want to explore that in a nuanced way. And so we were having this back and forth of like it's difficult because you wanna, as you say, like bring joy and do that but it's also difficult when you're, there's stereotypes that you've been working against, so it's definitely something that takes some navigation.
SP: Yeah, thank you. I think one final question. OK I happen to know your name Danielle down here.
Q: Hello, can I just say massive congratulations so I think all of your projects are just amazing and just thank you for blessing us with them. And my question is for everyone on the panel, but it's essentially what are you doing next? Because I think you're all super talented film makers and I just want to like program it into my Sky box now to like have a reminder. And if you can't talk about it for contract reasons, because I am also a producer, what would you like to be making next?
SP: Right, let's do a quick whistle stop. Lovely question. Adam, let’s start at the end.
AB: Well, there's something kind of lined up with the production company, which is about the very, very super rich and how they distort societies, which I think is pretty topical at the moment. And then I've got my own project which is on, which is a bit of a slow burner, but that's really, really dark and I can't talk about that now.
SP: OK Poppy.
PB: Pretty predictable, I'm doing another, I'm doing a sex thing.
For someone who doesn't have that much sex I seem to be talking a lot about it, yeah.
SP: I think that's because you're too busy yeah, schedule it, schedule it in.
PB: I'm just busy, too busy, I can't come.
NM: Is it a sex thing that's all you can say?
PB: That's all I can say and I'm not coming.
SP: And moving on! Nida?
NM: I’m unfortunately not doing a sex thing… It's an action comedy film that we wrapped on a couple months ago. I'm just in the edit at the moment so it’ll be my first feature, it's called Polite Society. Go to the cinemas and watch it if cinemas are still a thing when it comes out but yeah, that's what I'm on.
SP: Cinemas will still be a thing. And Nathan, Rye Lane?
NB: Yeah I got Rye Lane out hopefully next year and I'm doing a horror series where golliwogs come back to life and kill their owners.
Well, you might not laugh. You got gollywogged. I don't know!
AS: I'm actually trying to adapt Sherlock Holmes to be like, what if he was black?
SP: Oh love it.
AS: Yeah, so that's the, uh, black Sherlock Holmes, that's the next thing.
SP: Cool. Sophie?
SC: I'm in development at the moment, so trawling and trawling and digging into lots. And I think for my next project I'd like to do something that challenges and surprises myself.
SP: Good. Excellent and finally Hugh.
HD: I'm doing am archive based feature documentary about Apollo 13. Which is a nice change from the sort of four years of abuse.
SP: Absolutely. And before we close, actually I've got a question more for the, for the BAFTA socials. But for all of you is there a TV show, and if so, which TV show, that you would always come back to? That brings you joy. Let's start at this end.
HD: Uhm, can I say Succession?
SP: Yeah, absolutely OK.
SC: This will show my age, Jonathan Creek.
AS: The Fresh Prince.
SP: Yeah, yeah.
NB: Mine’s 30 Rock.
NM: Mine’s Spaced.
PB: Fresh Prince.
AB: People Just Do Nothing, big fan.
SP: Great answers, OK, thank you guys. Thank you to Hugh and to Sophie, and to Adjani and to Nathan and to Nida and to Poppy and to Adam. You have been brilliant. Thank you to the amazing BAFTA team who put this together and thank you to you guys for being here. It would’ve been really boring without you.
If you could just bear with us for a moment while we get the cameras moved, and then if you can exit from the back of the room. And do, please join us in the Reuben Bar some networking and further conversations with some of these amazing people. Thank you guys.