Good question. I am a lot of things to a lot of people. In my personal life I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a support system.
Professionally, I am an artist, creative, scientist, linguist and marketeer. I truly believe I was born in the wrong city. My spirit is that of a New Yorker. Extremely entrepreneurial and ambitious. If I put my mind to something, it’s already happening.
How did you become a filmmaker/writer/actor?
I began training as an actor when I was 13. I went to a school called Anna Scher for several years until I did my degree in acting and directing at Brunel University. The degree wasn’t great, but it helped me harness the basic tools of lighting, sound and devising plays from scratch. I then did 2 years at Identity drama school, 1 year at LAMDA and then decided to focus on my 2nd passion – Beauty. I became a successful Beauty entrepreneur and took an 8yr hiatus from filmmaking. The industry in the U.K. seemed very ‘white’. Black creatives had to flee to the states or stay behind and partake in the ‘crime’ films which told the stories of gang life in the U.K, that wasn’t my story. My genre is Romantic Drama. But all I could see was “Bridget Jones Diary” or “Love actually”. The stories of white Sloan rangers enjoying the frivolities or sex, dating and coming of age. I didn’t have the finances and the confidence to jump ship to the states, so I decided to wait almost a decade to see if things changed. They have. Thanks to organisations like my husband’s “British Urban Film Festival” black and working class independent filmmakers have an exhibition platform to showcase their films, establish an audience and build their filmmaking network of cast and crew. I’ve been the marketing director for the past 3yrs and the growth of the organisation is insurmountable.
To date what has been your favourite project?
Working on No Shade. It’s my ‘welcome home’ project. It has established me as a triple creative – writer, director and actor. Truth is, I’m more than that. I exec produced, did all the 2nd unit DOP, location management, casting and marketing. In me, I took on the role of 12 people. I’m used to doing this as my experience as a skin doctor with my own brand Premae UK was the perfect apprenticeship for me to master my directing skills. Dealing with so many different people, steering a brand forward, going into different markets (Africa, South & North America) helped me to develop negotiating skills, read contracts, write contracts and budget finance.
What have been the highs and lows of your career?
So many highs. I think every day that I get to wake up and direct my life, do the things I want and share my art or science with people is the great high ever.
The lows have been taking risks and things not working out, trusting people to do jobs only to be let down by poor delivery or lack of care, slow markets in film – cinemas and traditional exhibitors refusing to show No Shade in the U.K. as they deem it to be a ‘local black drama’. It’s sad to know that white decision makers have the power to stunt your income based on their view or lack of knowledge about your culture.
What inspires your work?
People. I’m obsessed with human behaviour. I love watching people. Most actor/ directors do. I love nature, I’m very sensual and love love. The emotion of love is volatile and complex. It is an action, constantly moving, and never remains the same. I love telling stories about Love. It’s the simplest state of being, yet people find it so hard to do. That’s fascinating to me.
How did No Shade come about?
A client/ friend called me to rant about a mutual friend relegating her to the friend zone because she is dark skinned. Coupled with women beginning to ask me to create bleaching creams at my clinic in Harley St. It made me question my teenage years and the things I thought ‘we’ as the black community had overcome. We haven’t. I had to explore the issue of colourism through a romantic drama. I had no idea that 2018 would be the year of colourism. There’s not a week that goes by when someone brings it up. It’s real and it needs to be addressed.
How was the process of making the film and what challenges did you face?
The process was magic and mayhem.
The magic was the filming process. The final cast were absolutely spot on. I’m so glad that I had the courage to recast and recast until I found what I was looking for.
The mayhem was misconduct from some actors on set. Locations failing and having to waste time and money to reroute a convoy of cast and crew to another set.
What do you hope people will take away from watching the film?
To love everyone despite their difference. You don’t have to pity the person. Fancy whomever you wish, just don’t compare people. Comparison is the thief of individuality – everyone on earth is unique. Don’t diminish that uniqueness just because it doesn’t appeal to you.
Who has played a major role in nurturing your career?
My husband Emmanuel. We manage each other. He is the epitome of a gentleman. His daily love, care and long-term vision excites and calms me. He creates the right environment at home for me to be free to create.
My brother Andy. He gave me the completion funds to finish the film. Without his support of all my crazy ideas over the years, I wouldn’t have had the finances or the confidence to bounce back and keep going. He is a rock.
Do you face any stigma being a female director and how do you deal with it?
Not really. I think it works. There’s not enough of us in the U.K. so it’s easier to stand out. The key is to ignore gender and race. Just make hot content that you’re passionate about. Let the work speak.
Given the demanding nature of filmmaking, how do you balance your work and personal life?
It’s all the same to me. I love work and I love being at home. When the 2 worlds merge, which happens often I’m fine with it. I do need more non-working holidays though. When I travel it’s usually for work and then we find downtime to sightsee and relax.
What is your view on the current state of film/TV that represent black culture?
I think USA has really made a concerted effort over the past 6 years. The U.K is still 15yrs behind. There are no black commissioners in the U.K. There are no black owned production houses making films for more than £10million which is considered microbudget. There is no director here anywhere close to making a £100million film like the 13 black directors in the USA.
Describe a typical day in your life.
No 2 days are the same.
If you were to give something up for a year what would it be and why?
Instagram. A pointless exercise of sharing the best moments of your life or career. I’d prefer to just live it and not share.
What is the soundtrack to your life right now?
Nice by The Carter’s – I truly believe I can do anything.
Who are the rocks in your life?
My husband, my brother and sister.
What words of advice do you have for upcoming directors/actors/writers?
Tell the truth. No matter which feathers you ruffle. So many people laughed at the No Shade script. Ripped it to shreds, said it was nonsense. Self-finance your film. Back yourself. Pay people if you can, build a team.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Apply for a USA visa and teaching job. Hustle until you make it. Whatever it is.
What are you most proud of about being Nigerian?
The truth is, every 7 people you meet, there will be a Nigerian there. A dynamic super race of creatives, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, warriors and survivors. There is nothing that Nigerians cannot accomplish, no matter the tribe. As an Igbo woman, I feel like our names say it all. Most names start with Chi or Chukwu. This means God and spirit. It is that indefatigable spirit that keeps us rising from the ashes of every tragedy. What a people!
How would you like to be remembered?
Twitter: @clareanyiamo, @noshadefilm