Times are changing. In music, literature, TV and film, there is a palpable shift taking place ushering in a new swathe of creators. Just two days after firing a PR chief for using the N word, Netflix debuted an ad celebrating the Strong Black Lead. “This is a new day, built from the ground, broken by legends,” the voiceover declares, and, almost everywhere you look – both home and away – new stories are emerging with new faces taking the helm.
“Podcaster, vlogger, and comedian Kid Fury is developing a half-hour HBO comedy series that boasts Lena Waithe among its executive producers.” Variety told readers. Closer to home, it’s been announced Ashley Walters is creating a new TV series about UKG; and DJ Target’s best-selling ‘Grime Kids’ has been optioned for a TV adaptation by Mammoth Screen. Writers and creators from all over are getting opportunities to tell their stories, in way that represent them and there’s no better time to celebrate. Our new series #ScreenNation opens the door on the next wave of screenwriters, actors and directors taking TV and film into the future.
Calling on all the best hallmarks of British culture, ‘The Intent 2’ is set to become a moment in time. Written, produced and directed by Femi Oyeniran and Nicky ‘Slimting’ Walker ‘The Intent 2’ is their third film together. Back in 2013, the pair debuted a romantic comedy titled ‘It’s A Lot’, followed by 2016’s ‘The Intent’ and this year, the filmmakers return with a new story to tell, this time a prequel: ‘The Intent 2’.
“In essence,” Femi tells me, “it’s about a young man with an ambition to do his own thing.” The young man in question, Jay, is played by Ghetts, “he’s worked for this woman called Beverley all his life. She’s basically been using them to peddle drugs from when they were young. But she’s a respectable businesswoman from their area in East London and he gets to a certain point in his life where he decides he doesn’t wanna work for her anymore.”
While Ghetts takes the lead, Krept and Konan, Fekky and Big Tobz are all returning characters. Femi and Nicky also cast Popcaan and the acclaimed Jamaican actor Louie Rankin (‘Belly’, ‘Shottas’) as new characters. “I would literally say this is the urban, black, version of ‘Snatch,’” Nicky says “those are films I love – those Guy Ritchie films. I grew up on those things and they’re classics, and, for me, we don’t have that here in black culture. In this country, I feel it’s more, if you’re an actor, you’re an actor, if you’re a rapper, you’re a rapper and you’re expected to just stay in your lane. But, for us it’s about talented people, we just wanted to raise the bar.”
Going through various drafts of the script, Femi and Nicky found themselves refining the story they wanted to tell. “We had this discussion,” Femi explains, “I remember Nicky saying – every film about drug dealers and those criminals, it’s always about them trying to get away from that life and, why don’t we do something else? Not all drug dealers are in a position where they’re like, ‘I wanna stop doing this’. Some drug dealers are like, ‘actually, I’m really good at this, this is what I’m gonna do’ and I think for us – for people that don’t do that, it’s easy to think ‘why would you wanna do that? It doesn’t make sense, why would anyone wanna be a criminal?’ But some people revel in that and in being that and so we started reading into it. When you think of drug dealers, you think of the little kid peddling on the street. But, that’s not where we’re at with this, that’s not the world we’re looking at. The guys we’re talking about are the people slightly above that, who have links with people in Jamaica.”
Femi and Nicky filmed on location in Jamaica for a month, with scores of local actors coming out to audition, in what was a lengthy casting process. Turning people away was hard for both filmmakers to do, but they knew going to Jamaica was the right call for telling Jay’s story properly. “He decides he doesn’t wanna work for Bev anymore,” Femi says bringing my attention back to the story at hand, “his girlfriend introduces him to this Turkish dealer (played by Adam Deacon) that has his own supply from Turkey. He promises to give [Jay] his own line and Beverley finds out. And the story basically follows the fall out of that. The character, the way Ghetts plays him is so relatable, he could be from any world. It’s a story about status anxiety.” Anyone that’s familiar with the music Ghetts makes will immediately understand why he was such a no-brainer for the lead. It’s a role seemingly made for him with tracks like ‘Karma’ in his discography. But still, nothing is simply handed over, he had to pass the audition process like every other actor. And his performance? “He was brilliant, man,” Femi remembers, smiling wide. “He was sensational. I think everyone’s gonna be surprised. From the audition, he brought a natural element to it.”
The success of the first one got to a certain point, we knew there was something there for us to do.
Getting ‘The Intent’ to its release was no mean feat for a pair of independent filmmakers, from financing to production and later distribution Femi and Nicky placed themselves on the front foot each time. I ask Nicky when they began work on the prequel? “The success of the first one got to a certain point, we knew there was something there for us to do.” They had devised a marketing plan designed to stretch the reach of ‘The Intent’ as far as possible, “[it was] number 3 in iTunes because it was multi-release: DVD’s, iTunes and cinema all in that one week. Our main thing for this was to make it bigger and better. Obviously, we got a bigger budget, we got more support – me and Femi still do everything, but, we got a better support system around us.”
It’s the first time a record company and film distribution company have collaborated on a movie together.
That support may seem like it comes from an unlikely source but the more I speak with Femi and Nicky about ‘The Intent 2’ the more I’m convinced they’ve masterminded a new route that could yet become a norm. “This is financed by Island records,” Nicky explains when I ask how they were able to elevate. “[and it’s] distributed by a company called Vertigo Films – it’s the first time a record company and film distribution company have collaborated on a movie together.” Where did the idea come from? “Me and Femi come with a plan. We just felt like music companies in this country understand black culture more than we felt like film companies do. We approached Twin at Island, and Darcus and they loved what we was doing. They heard about the success of the previous ‘Intent’ and we was able to strike a deal with them. Island are a record company, so they don’t put out films. So, we still needed that support of a film company to get it out into the film world. So we merged the two companies. Vertigo have always kept an eye on me and Femi, when we put out the first ‘Intent’ they contacted us and were really impressed by what we’d done. We built a small relationship up with them, they were interested in doing something with us…”
Out in September, the timing of ‘The Intent 2’ is damn near immaculate. Putting themselves on at every level on progress, Femi and Nicky now not only have the ear of major film and music distribution arms they have an unmatched desire to tell stories that are usually only ‘safe’ in certain guises. ‘Black’ films are fine when tied to tales of historical trauma, ‘gangster’ is fine too, but only if we’re talking about the Krays. “If we’re talking black entertainment, it’s growing but it’s still not enough – obviously they’re talking about diversity and there are programmes getting made, but it’s still very little compared to other countries.” Nicky says.
Femi and Nicky have literally written themselves into a better place, fresh from writing with Idris Elba on the new Netflix comedy Turn Up Charlie, Femi maintains a free market perspective when I ask his opinion on British actors flocking overseas, “it’s like the premiere league like, white actors go to America en masse, no one says anything about Benedict Cumberbatch going to the states. There’s tonnes of white actors out there as well because there is more content being pushed out of America. I mean, they have a pilot season, we don’t have anything like that in England. So there’s a culture of more content in America and we don’t have that. So therefore, as black actors or black filmmakers it makes sense [to leave]. There aren’t really that many black filmmakers that have made the transition as well. I think you have to work at home and away. I think Idris Elba does that really well but, I think trying to stay home and say ‘I’m going to be in England forever’ I don’t think that’s anyone’s plan, because the bigger gain is to marry the two worlds.”
Whatever happens next, they tell me, they’ve already made a success. At this point, Femi and Nicky have done enough business to know how shit goes. They spun their experience writing, directing, financing and distributing ‘The Intent’ into leverage for the prequel, ‘The Intent 2’. Now the two filmmakers can say they have personal relationships with some of the country’s biggest executives in film and music. “We wanted it to feel more hollywood, and like a blockbuster so we liked the idea of mixing actors with musicians because we felt that really worked on the first one,” Nicky explains, “I feel we’ve broken our expectations. We set out to make a film originally to just be out on DVD. When me and Femi first spoke about we wanted to do a film independently, small budget film and put it out on DVD. Like the old school Grime DVD’s – Lord of the Mics, that kinda format – and serve it to our audience. I just think it’s the right time, if you think about Femi 10 years ago he was in Kidulthood and Adulthood, Anuvahood, all these films at the time they were breaking films.”
Now, in 2018, the pair are on the brink of introducing another hit to the black British film canon. In the 70th year since the Windrush arrived, ours the generation reaping the benefits across music, literature, TV and Film.
Femi and Nicky always have a plan, they’re filmmakers who continue to grow with the audience they serve, never losing sight of the voices they want to see represented. For the first time, they brought together a record label and film distribution company, and wrote their way into a better life.