A Q&A with a First Feature Director
We spoke to first feature filmmaker Emmanuel Adeola about his journey into filmmaking and the step up from shorts to features - a must read for any filmmaker hoping to make a first feature!
I know it's been a long road to getting this first feature made, what inspired it and what made you make the decision to make it so independently?
It's weird because when I first got out of university, (graduated in 2012), I didn't know what route to take, with regards to my degree. In the sense of, shall I look for a graduate job or just go head on with what I wanted to do. I remember sitting down in an office for work experience, I believe for a creative company that were mainly to do with graphic design, (Rockabox Media), and the manager asked me, do I see myself working here. The wise person would be like.. 'Sure, I see myself working here.' But that wasn't my answer... I said, 'I don't really think this is for me.' To her surprise, due to the fact I was doing their work correctly, and had a good understanding with the rest of the staff. She was caught quite off-guard.
I remember one of the colleagues working there showing me a short film that got nominated for a BAFTA award. It was starring Danny Dyer, (Wasp, 2003). And I started thinking to myself, as I was watching it... ‘That I could direct my own projects.’ So soon after watching it, I began to start writing a rough 1st draft of TSOI on my lunch breaks.
Before you know it, I began to gain momentum, page after page. I remember stopping, just to look and see if I had made any mistakes, like spelling etc. Then it hit me, that I wrote 48 pages of a film, and that was just me, typing away ideas straight from my head on, whilst still being in the early stages of ACT 1.
I said to myself, at that moment... THIS HAS TO BE A FEATURE! I didn't know how I was gonna do it, or where I was gonna get the money from, but I said to myself there and then... I'm making a feature film. Looking back at it now, at the time, I sounded like an ambitious, arrogant, naive 22 year old.
I came back home, after my work experience ended, thinking... I got a decision to make. I either dedicate a chuck of my twenties into this project, knowing there’s a possibility nothing could possibly come out of it, or apply for creative jobs, knowing I have a safety net, with industry experience under my belt. Me being me, I chose the decision to make my twenties the most stressful experience of my life (so far).
I didn't go through the kickstarter route, because I wasn't interested investing time on there everyday asking / begging people to believe in a project from a first-time feature film indie filmmaker. I had to put myself in a position from the other side and ask... Would I invest in a novice? Probably not, if I'm being totally honest. I just think, personally, anyone without a portfolio of work, whether that is short films or web-series/webisodes, you’re kind of wasting your time, investing in a kickstarter. Because you don’t have enough experience, for an outsider to invest in you. So I took the decision to invest in myself, working part-time jobs as well as the 2012 Olympic Games, saving up, in-order for me to raise enough money, on my own to buy equipment to produce this film. Still it wasn't enough.
What have been the challenges and what have you learnt from the experience?
The experiences I learnt were, to always stick and listen to your inner voice. What I really mean by that is, stick to your ideas and goals, as well as your principals. Because I remember when I was telling my friends that my first film is gonna be a feature they didn’t believe it was possible for me to do it, especially at that time on my own without a crew beside. I personally believe they said that because of fear, not because they don’t want me to do well. It was like they thought I was doing an impossible task, which I’m not going to lie, it kind of felt that way at times.
I was still facing challenges. Not so much with Actors at the time. Every time I met with potential Actors and gave them the script to read, they were 100% down for the project.
But getting a crew that believed in the project the same way I did that became a bit more problematic, especially when I didn’t have the funds necessary for them to help carry out my vision, and at times, that got me stressed out, very stressed out I must add. Because you can sit down and have meetings after meetings and discuss how you’re going to shoot a particular scene, and then the DOP at the time would possibly say, how much such and such is gonna cost, due to the fact, they don’t own the equipment themselves.
I took a hiatus from the project (possibly 4/5 months away from it), after I had a few key Actors dropping out in early 2014, due to personal differences.
I began to work on a short with a talented writer by the name of Charis Agbonlahor, where we created a short piece ‘Because you think I’m Beautiful.’
We managed to premiere that short film at a few underground film events. I happened to come across likeminded people that shared the same enthusiasm, desire and ambition I shared for film. Which was crazy! Because I didn’t anticipate that, I thought I was just gonna showcase the Short, talk about it a little and leave. But as I was looking for the exit, one of the guys, actually two people approached me from the audience, telling me how he enjoyed the short, and asked if I had any future projects I’m working on, because they wanted to work with me.
If I’m being totally honest, I took it with a pinch of salt, by what they were saying to me, (possibly because I thought I’ve heard it all before). After a week, I was holding one of the business cards, and decide to give one of them a call.
Which happened to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
Raed Abbas is literally coolest man I’ve met in my life. He made the film possible, when I thought I was literally gonna kill myself to get this project made. He took all that heavy pressure from me, and turned it around.
You worked with a number of collaborators on this, how did you go about go finding your team?
Totally by chance, as I said earlier, it was me just being at the right places, at the right time. Funny enough, I get asked that question a lot, and it actually brings me back… Apart from Raed, that I just explained, I met another person at that same event by the name of Nathalie Pitters who is also a Cinematgrapher, but at the time she was a 1st year student at London MET Film School, she came on my project as a 1st AC, assisting Raed.
One of the production assistants on the project, I had the pleasure studying with him at Southampton Solent University. His name is Max Palombella, it’s funny because he was the one that always encouraged me to write more, as well as direct, when we were studying together. It’s just weird now, because I met him there, and although he only stayed on at the course for a year, we developed a good relationship, that I suggested we keep in contact, especially knowing that he lived in London, and that we had a great understanding of film.
My photographer Antoine Lassalle, I met him on set of a short film for another director’s project. I liked the image he took of me. And I saw straight away that he had a special eye for detail, which kind of sounds cliché, but his images just gave me a different feeling, of excitement.
You’ve got some amazing performances – what’s your process when working with Actors?
I like to be very hands-on with my actors. I see it exactly like sports (football management to be specific) if I were to compare it. Whereas, some need an arm around them, whilst others just know what to do when they get my instructions. I feel that it varies depending on the Actor’s personalities. You get some that are very vocal outside of Acting, but when they see the Red light blink, they get nervous, how do you handle situations like that? I personally prefer to do rehearsals with Actors like that before I shoot them so they get a gist of what kind of performance I want from them, or I show them a clip from a film that is very similar to the scene we’re going to shoot. So we work on ways to approach any difficulties that may occur on the day of shooting, that we can sort out in rehearsals. So it makes everyone’s job run smoothly.
What’s your plan for the film now?
From the get go, I was always planning on sending TSOI to the major festivals as promised to my cast and crew, such as Sundance, Cannes, Toronto IFF, Berlin Film Fest, etc. Although I’ve missed Sundance, I’m hoping I can make Cannes, but I’m slightly worried I won’t because the exporting process is killing me, when I only have my laptop to export the film from unfortunately. But, we’ll see what happens, God willing I make that happen, because the amount of work collective the team put into this project, I feel personally, light should be directed towards our direction.
What are you working on next?
I have a lot of uncompleted scripts, (Shorts mainly) and a short/webisode (I don’t know what to call it) which I want to dedicate my time to, for me to complete. As I feel kind of jealous watching everyone producing new content every few months, knowing I want to do the same. But I’ve always been that kind of person to finish what’s on my plate first, before I jump onto another one. And as much as I love the TSOI project, I want to see the back of it, because it’s taken up a lot of my time. Working on one project from 2013 – 2018, that’s a long time!
What advice would you have for people making their first feature film?
Try to be as organized as you can in pre-production, organization is key, I’m telling you. Even when I thought I got things covered, something always flew over my head. Get hold of trustworthy, as well as reliable people within your crew/team at the earliest. Having meetings is very important, strategizing, especially to discuss any problems that you feel could interfere or derail your project in any way. Always stay guarded, anticipate every possibly thing whilst shooting, look at each scene a week or two thoroughly. Because there’s always problems such as locations, weather, Actor’s emotional state etc. In fact let me get in to that quick.
If, as a filmmaker you decide to do a micro-budget feature, and don’t have the funds to pay your actors, make sure you keep them motivated by paying for travel or at least food and drink, to ensure that their time is well-respected and recognized by you, (The Director or Producer). I think most of the times, even in my early stages of the project, I didn’t acknowledge how important that actually is, and possibly, that’s why a few Actors had problems with me in the early stages of the project.
You got to look after your cast and crew, because they are the backbone for your project. Thank God the cast I have now, never pulled out or threatened to pull out on me, considering we worked on this project continuously for 5 years. They dedicated loyalty, and they expect the same, nothing less, especially if it isn’t paid for someone to work that long. Not saying ya’ll projects would be running for that long, but you get the picture.