Two lifelong friends meet up at their childhood favourite South London fried chicken shop at a divergent point in their lives. This enchanting tale of friendship treads between both past and present showing how one's promise and talent can struggle to be fulfilled.
Hi Abraham thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during the lockdown?
I am holding up okay - thank you for asking. I think I came to terms with it all very quickly, found coping mechanisms and made the most of it - which meant taking the opportunity to bury myself in work! Like everyone, I have my down days as well and when I do - I've been sure to allow myself to feel the emotions - rather than try to ignore them. But above all, I'm grateful to be safe and to have no more worries than the average human being. There are many who are experiencing this pandemic in far worse circumstances than I am.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
I'm not sure if I've had many new ideas...I've mostly been working on ideas that I was already working on, or had before that I now have the extra time to work on. I love cooking and I've been far more inspired in the kitchen where I've been having the time of my life cooking some dishes, both old and new! I learnt how to cook Jollof Rice for the first time, a West African dish that I've grown up with, in an online cooking class led by a talented chef friend of mine Tobi Akingbolagun. That was a massive achievement for me!
Your directorial debut film No More Wings had its World Premiere at TRIBECA winning Best Narrative Short, what did winning this award mean to you?
I'm still pinching myself in disbelief. It's unreal on so many levels. Like you said, this is my directorial debut. The very first festival we submitted to was Tribeca. I was elated when it was the first festival we were selected for and was in disbelief to discover we were in competition. Never did I allow myself to imagine that we might win but it means the world to me. No More Wings is a story that is so close to my heart and with or without the accolades, I would have always been so proud of it and the work the entire team put into making it. But for that story to then resonate with so many people? It's a priceless feeling.
No More Wings is going to be part of We Are One Film Festival, are you excited to be sharing your film in such a unique way?
It's exciting for sure, if you'd told me a few months ago this, any of this, a global pandemic would've been happening... I think I'd have called you crazy. If the film can bring some joy and a brief escape from the chaotic times we're living in, I'll be really glad and that we're raising funds to help with COVID relief is great, too.
"Generally speaking, when actors ask, I tend to find that I think their instinct is right and agree with them, which happened a couple of times with this. "
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I can't say I have, no. I grew up wanting to be a lawyer and when I was around 17, started considering a career in finance as an alternative option and went on to begin studying International Politics in university. Halfway through my degree, I lost a childhood friend and it really changed my outlook on life... That moment led to me deciding that I wanted to do something I'd always loved. After some thought, I landed on writing. I've always loved writing, writing anything, essays, stories, letters, you name it. But making a friend around 19 who was a year older than me, from the same background and had sold a script to the BBC; that was what made me decide that I, too, could write for the screen. The filmmaking/directing part came a lot later; I'd actually never wanted to direct but the rules to Script House, the competition I won that funded No More Wings, was that the writer of the winning script would also have to direct... So I found myself having to learn how to direct in ten weeks! I never imagined I'd enjoy it but I absolutely did and so excited to get behind the camera again.
As a playwright and screenwriter how much did this experience help prepare you for making your directing your first short?
A writer-director friend - Abena Taylor Smith - said to me "you've already done the hardest bit, writing the script. You know your story better than anyone else and now you just have to translate what you see in your head to everyone else" and that was really great advice. Other than that, I feel that directing required me to use a very different part of my mind. Writing often feels effortless to me, almost second nature. But directing kept me on my toes 24/7! I constantly felt like I was running out of time (Abena told me that no matter how much time I had, I'd never feel like I had enough time to prepare) but just kept learning and preparing as much as I could.
How did No More Wings come about, what was the inspiration behind your film?
I grew up in South London, went to a grammar school and have spent many of my teenage years in Morley's. Whilst the story isn't inspired by my own life, a few years ago I began to imagine what it might be like if two friends whose lives had turned out completely differently were to meet and catch up on life. What would they talk about? How would they feel about each other's lives, and their own? How would they feel about the past? Just imagining all those things is where the story.
Being a writer/director did you allow yourself to be flexible with your screenplay or did you like to stick to the text as it was written?
I've always thought of myself to be quite the advocate of improv, with my theatre work I tend to be happy with the actors taking some creative license. But with No More Wings, I was very keen to stick to the script. What helped, though, was having rehearsals with the actors because it meant they could ask me questions about what lines meant, the specificity and equally they could check with me if I minded them saying/doing things a little differently. Generally speaking, when actors ask, I tend to find that I think their instinct is right and agree with them, which happened a couple of times with this.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?
Learning how to direct in the first place! It felt like I was on an ad-hoc crash course/fast track. I had to spend ten weeks reading books, learning from other directors, talking to as many experienced people as possible and taking so much information in. My head nearly exploded! Though, one particular moment that will always stick with me is the challenge on the deadline day of the film.
"Above all, I'd encourage a first-time person to be confident in what they know they are good at, know their shortcomings and don't be led by ego."
Looking back what would you say has been the biggest lesson you've taken from making No More Wings?
I'd say that I learnt not to freak out too much if you don't get everything you want on set. There's so much work still to come in the edit and it's where you really craft and make the film! There was a moment halfway into the second (and final) day of shooting where I freaked out inside because we hadn't captured something I wanted, which would've needed to be applied in every single scene; it was essentially to do with how I wanted to visually transition between the young boys and men. When it came to editing, it turned out it didn't matter. When I explained to my editor what I wanted to convey, we were able to figure out how we could do it with what we had. The magic really does happen in the edit... Which also leads me to the other biggest lesson. Just stay calm. From start, to end. It can be hard, but it all turns out to be fine in the end and if you show people you're not calm... It ends up rubbing off on them and you don't want that.
Now you have your directorial debut in the bag, do you have any tips or advice to offer someone about to start their first project?
As a first timer, I believe I shone because of my incredible, experienced cast and crew. Particularly, a script editor in Nelson Adeosun who was with me from the very first draft, before we'd even won the competition/finance for the film. An amazing producer in Abiola Rufai, who I have worked with for many years and did a magnificent job of assembling the right crew for me that had the right skills, personalities and humility for the project. A cinematographer in Olan Collardy, who supported me with patience and ability, giving me the courage to execute my vision. And my editor Jim Page, who was magnificent and patient in story editing. Above all, I'd encourage a first-time person to be confident in what they know they are good at, know their shortcomings and don't be led by ego. If you keep at that, you'll deliver a great film because it will allow those around you to ultimately support your vision (which is part of what you're good at - you wrote it after all!). You don't need to know all the correct lingo, all that matters is that you can articulate what you want.
What are you currently working on?
I'm currently juggling a few television and film projects, and having great conversations about some other ideas and waiting to see what gets off the ground. No More Wings for film or TV is something I'm working, but the ideas for each medium are very very different... The feature version would be a lot closer to the short film. Of those which I can talk about are a pilot from Channel 4 which I imagine would be a UK/US co-production as the idea straddles between both countries. And for fun I'm writing a feature; a romantic drama that I've wanted to write for ages that's a bit in the vain of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from No More Wings?
I feel like there's so much people can take away from the film, how do I pick?! It really depends on who is watching it. I feel like there's different messages I'd want for different people. For example, I'd want young people to see how important focus is, whatever it is you decide to do, it's a key ingredient. As a whole, I hope people can appreciate the vulnerable, real and authentic relationship that exists between black men, and also appreciate the responsibility to feedback into the community you're from, if you want to see it change.