In a little over 4 months from now, this year’s British Urban Film Festival line-up will be decided. Another year consuming, digesting and deliberating on hours of output, private screenings and submissions will come to a head and the UK’s buffest films (otherwise known as the sweet 16) will be offered to the public for due consideration at BUFF 2012, the 7th such occasion, with each festival seemingly surpassing itself in profile and prestige year on year. And so it goes without saying that the responsibility bestowed on those who have the fortunate (as opposed to arduous) task of watching these films as they come in, is one that has never been taken lightly and in turn will present a unique window of opportunity for the chosen few filmmakers to bask in the spotlight on a par with their acting contemporaries.
There are of course exceptions to this rule, one of them being the actor and now fully fledged director Aml Ameen who is twice striking whilst the iron is hot with both his acting and his filmmaking taking centrestage in 2012. Another exception is Adam Deacon who, earlier this month followed in the footsteps of another exception (Noel Clarke) in winning the public vote and bagging himself a BAFTA in the process. Co-incidence or calculated strategy?
Whatever one thinks, there is nothing to say that actors can’t be directors as well as producers and writers. Take the issue of BUFF to one side, there are in fact countless British actors who have become directors – award-winning directors in their own right. Across the pond and indeed around the world, to have a director’s CV alongside an acting CV is a seemingly must have accessory. And not only does it apply to actors as we will soon see with the release of Ben Drew’s ‘Ill Manors’, later this year.
It was in last month’s blog where Aml Ameen took the view that it was only a matter of time before street films (by which we mean the likes of ‘Anuvahood’) were nothing more than carcasses left bare with no life left in them. Are we to assume that Adam Deacon’s triumph signals more of the same – ‘riding the wave’ as it were, or maybe perhaps ‘a changing of the guard’, a view shared by Aml and many considerable others including BUFF who celebrate diversity in its’ truest form; culturally, artistically, commercially – ultimately it is in the eye of the beholder.
Writing exclusively for BUFF, read the thoughts now (and indeed re-post them and retweet them) of Aml Ameen in the final part of his blog and the state of the UK film industry as he sees it…
Success of peers (Actors turned filmmakers)
I’m very proud of my peers; filmmakers and actors alike that have been part of a pioneering generation. I believe that for all the criticism I’ve made, there’s a movement happening. I always liken what many of us are experiencing to how Hollywood was back in the 70’s regarding filmmaking; when people like Martin Scorsese began changing the status quo with films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and Francis Ford Coppolla with the Godfather series. It goes without saying that our generation of filmmakers may not have yet reached the classic heights of these films (or maybe in some ways we have). That said, I refer more to the revolutionary approach to filmmaking in the early 70’s; the end of relying on the studio system; filmmakers getting out and making films with little or no budget which I believe is happening right now in the UK; actors are writing their own scripts, picking up cameras, and making an impact.
My hope is that UK urban filmmakers, influential actors and actresses alike, will find time to collaborate more, creating commercial success on a par with our UK Urban music artists. My hope also is that we find a way to make UK urban films, a more diverse and ultimately lucrative industry, making money and sustaining art. My hope is that we can have more films like ‘Attack The Block’ that cross over into the international market, and make young stars out of our actors and filmmakers. And much like Idris Elba, actors that see success abroad (and therefore) find themselves a commodity to British projects, come home and star in projects they deem worthy of their talents. This in turn broadens the market in recognising the global appeal of British actors and stars.
The movie star system works best (for the most part) in the American market. Our young industry needs to model itself on that and create young stars (i.e. our own Will Smiths, Denzel Washingtons, Quentin Tarantinos, Al Pacinos & Halle Berrys). The calibre of these names gets audiences excited and rushing to the movie theatres. It is happening here in the UK I’m happy to say, let’s just keep pushing more.
My Hollywood Experience (Opportunity and reality check)
For any actor who’s coming over to the states, an important thing to know, is that you’re pretty much starting again, unless you have the luck of having a film which is or has played internationally and having what they call ‘heat’ behind you.
You’re relying on your actual skills as an actor to get you ahead, and a good demo reel together with the work you’ve done at home in the UK serving as experience, and that’s pretty much it. There are a lot of us out here, some actors you’re already aware of, some of whom you’ll be aware of soon, and others that pass themselves off as working actors. The benefit to me of having a career in acting over here, is that you can make a good living, and build a career. Have a trajectory of where you wanna go in this business, and the kind of actor you hope to mould yourself into, and with a great team behind you, take the steps to make it a reality. The competition is bigger, more of your ‘type’ are in the waiting room, but there are many more job opportunities. America is the major league of entertainment and that has its’ benefits. People often ask me, what’s the difference between working on a set like ‘The Bill’ to ‘Harry’s Law’ and the honest answer is a set is a set, trailer maybe be bigger, the catering better, and the stars are more famous (i.e. Kathy Bates), but if you know how to navigate yourself on a set in the UK, it will be very much similar here in America. I’ve also found that much like at home, American actors, also have their complaints when it comes to the quality of representation, and though intellectually I understand their argument, coming from the UK film industry, I see things from a far more optimistic point of view (Look out for more ‘Harry’s Law’, ‘Red Tails’, and my role as a detective with Steven Moyer in slasher-thriller ‘Evidence’).
My production company was formed as a remedy to my frustrations, as my own roll of the dice. And much like my peers, I have stories I wanna tell and characters that I’d love to play. So far, AmeenDream Entertainment has produced five short films, two music videos, and have four feature films on the desk, ready to be made.
All the shorts have been financed by me and the help of a few friends at different times. The challenges I’ve been met with (mainly in producing them) very much go against the grain in terms of what is deemed popular at the moment. My ideas are fresh, innovative, and a leap away from what UK urban films have been doing. Much like anything that’s different, it will take much effort and time, “life doesn’t get easier, we get stronger”. I have used my shorts, especially ‘Drinks Drugs and KFC’, as a way to demonstrate that with no money, the potential is there for diverse storytelling and good films.
‘12 The Damaged Race’ is my latest short film, shot over two days last Christmas, with guest appearances from Red Madrell, (Kidulthood), Femi Oyeniran (Kidulthood), John Bowler (PC Roger Valentine from ‘The Bill’) and Nabil Elouahabi (Eastenders). It’s a social commentary based thriller about the eventful year that was 2011 in London, told through the eyes of HERO, the main character. Its’ got a 2012 Olympic style feel to the film, with themes like the London riots, the student riots, and my thoughts on the UK urban film industry all told in an abstract way.
The teaser has recently been released (WATCH HERE: http://youtu.be/rtlVbtfFOak)
We’re entering the film into many festivals, and we will also have a screening at The AmeenDream Entertainment night I intend to do in London later this year.
In closing, I believe that there are a lot of great things ahead for this generation. I think that we’re using our disgruntled energy as a source of inspiration for creativity, and we’re seeing international success with the knock-on effect spreading to our peers. The next steps, I believe, involve making more commercially viable films – playing to a global market with varied subject matters; diversity on and off screen for the many Black British actors in the UK, and more trans-atlantic careers.
We’re in a good place; we just need to keep pushing, challenging and take action to keep evolving as UK artists (writers, directors, actors) – we need the financial support of the mainstream, but that’s a whole other debate.
UNTIL NEXT TIME : )
Thanks to BUFF and Emmanuel for giving me a voice. I”d like to hear from more professional filmmakers and actors, and implore them to get involved.
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