California is said to dazzle.
London? Well… it drizzles.
One has earned itself the affectionate nickname “The Golden State”, the second has been slapped with “The Old Smoke”. No prizes for guessing which is which. The two places are ocean’s apart in more than geography. But one thing they have in common; The Movies.
“If you want to make serious money, you probably want to go to Hollywood. It’s a machine and they’ve honed their ability to create ‘product’ for huge audiences. There’s a formulaic way of doing things, and they excel at doing them. That’s why if you look at the box office, the numbers are staggering.”
These are the words of Yaw Basoah, who holds that ever glamourous title; Movie Producer. But considering he’s one of ours, a local, a Londoner, perhaps we should bestow him with the more British moniker; Film Producer.
In his own time, Yaw has managed a fair amount of dazzling, culminating in the launch of his own production company, Dark Pictures. Having trained as an accountant, he holds an economics degree and initially pursued a career in start-ups and finance. Introduced to indie cinema by virtue of a film-loving friend at uni, at the back of his mind he’s always felt a niggling pull towards the picture industry. Of course London has it’s own modus operandi, it plays by it’s own rules, and I want to know what Yaw thinks of them. “The UK is an innovative place”, he muses, “it comes up with interesting ways of telling a story, but I think that’s out of necessity. We don’t have their kind of cash, but we do have our own identity.”
It’s a statement corroborated by so many of our home-grown hits which have made it to the international circuit. Think Lady Macbeth (2016) and Weekend (2011) and Nina Forever (2015) all products of raw, stimulating, occasionally challenging talent. If you haven’t seen something by Yaw yet, hold tight. His first full-length feature will start filming in spring, and is sure to add to our shining British roster.
Titled Zero (formerly Kill Her Witch), the film is a chase thriller, set five minutes in a future London that is in a reversal of the refugee crisis, with everyone trying to leave and get into Europe. The story follows a girl called Zero, and is a commentary on various atrocities committed worldwide against women. When asked about his influences, he replies “The reason my production company is called Dark Pictures is I’m interested in the human condition and what makes us what we are. The dark side of human nature, why we do the questionable things so many of us do, and how the world is affected by different people’s egos, agendas and politics.”
Refreshingly, Yaw started his career from ground zero, having no connections to the industry, and no handy nepotism to harness. “It was a case of joining things like Shooting People, going on short courses, learning and staying in touch with people. That’s how I got the first thing I did. I replied to an ad – there was a director who wanted to make a short film – a short film that no one will EVER see” he chuckles wryly, “because it was THAT bad. But it was such an amazing experience to have done it.” An understanding of his own abilities guided him, “I just looked at my skillset and producing was the obvious thing to get involved in. I liked that dual challenge of being one of the creative driving forces of a project, but also liked putting everything together, raising the finance and so on. I didn’t really think it was the best idea to go to film school. Subsequently I’ve worked with lots of people who have been, and have got so much out of it, but at the time I was more interested in starting businesses and getting that part of my brain working.”
It is a shrewd and fast-acting personality who can place himself on the right path so swiftly. Identifying one’s strengths and acting upon them takes a kind of confidence, one which Yaw has in abundance without ever seeming arrogant. Impeccably dressed and polite in the extreme, Yaw doesn’t have the manners one comes to expect of creatives. He looks the part of a businessman. You’d trust him with your money. This perhaps, plays some part in his success with funding. Back in 2008 he got his first big break, “I’d made a short, and got onto the Guiding Lights scheme, and I had Alison Owen as a mentor.” On the scheme he met director Faye Gilbert who was being mentored by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, and it’s this very friendship that has led to the development of Zero.
The film is being funded by Film London’s micro-budget film-making scheme Microwave, which has allocated them 150k. “That’s a very tough amount of money to make a feature film on, but the support you get uplifts that. Getting facilities, companies, crew, actors… I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s easier.”
It’s when talk turns to teamwork that his enthusiasm is truly palpable. When describing any project, he makes a deliberate point of crediting everyone. Speaking with a boyish excitement he reels off lists of names, the histories and success of the people behind every move, and glows with a father’s pride when talking of the wonderful ideas his co-workers have. Film, for him, brings people together. “It’s great being where I am in my career, at my stage the producers who should be in competition with each other, we ring each other up and ask for advice. It’s such a tight community, it’s amazing.”
There are other things Yaw is passionate about. The London living wage he underlines as essential. With diversity and inclusion a key priority, “I want all sorts of people in all my projects, representing them both in front of and behind the camera.”
Luckily, his interest in progress, diversity and community are echoed by our government bodies and creative funds. The BFI’s new strategy is looking to help regional filmmakers, since so much talent in London means they’re easily overlooked. BBC Films and iFeatures seek to connect new filmmakers with budgets and mentors. Creative Skillset organise schemes for trainees. Even Pinewood is expanding, the infrastructure for the industry is growing. London, Britain in fact is spreading out, sharing skills, working together.
We’re a hive of activity over here, and the forecast is sunny.
Watch Yaw’s short film The Line a precursor to Zero here.