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BAFTA Breakthrough 23: Adjani Salmon

Adjani Salmon and I sit across from each other through a Zoom call. Behind him, rows and rows of books with sprawling plants and a single skylight. As a newly appointed member of 2023’s BAFTA Breakthrough cohort, I ask Adjani what he would have gained had he been a participant in the programme back when he was in film school.
“The opportunity would have been invaluable” he says. “The key messages from a few people at film school still ring true now, it would be invaluable to have conversations in real life with those I look up to and, not only to give my flowers, but to ask for advice from the people whose careers I’ve followed and tried to mirror.” What does BAFTA Breakthrough mean to you? Getting into it is humbling. I know I’ve received recognition before, but I’ve never had an official mentor or scheme to promote my career. Since film school I’ve been trying to let it myself and with my friends so to have this kind of recognition from BAFTA means a lot, and I’m looking forward to this opportunity. What are you looking for in particular from the participants of Breakthrough? Honestly, I’m looking forward to conversations I could potentially have with industry people.
To have a conversation with the Issa Rae’s the Jesse Armstrong’s, the Jordan Peele’s. Asking, "How do you balance being a multi-hyphenate talent in the industry?" "How do you avoid being trapped in a box?" "How do you escalate to the next level?" You know? “I can’t imagine what I could learn in my career if I had access to the people I look up to". You managed to get your breakthrough in independent cinema, an avenue seemingly getting harder and harder to get into. Do you have any thoughts on how young filmmakers can enter into these spaces and create the type of content you’ve created? To be honest my advice would be to try everything. I can’t tell you that the web series is the way because I didn’t know it was the way. I knew they did it in America, but I’d never seen it here [in the UK]. There was at least a year and a half before anybody picked up the web series so I was already back to ‘okay, let me write two more short films’. The key thing to do is, before you stress yourself about getting in, focus on developing your talent. You don’t necessarily need many resources to do that. We made [the web series] Dreaming Whilst Black with the camera on auto focus the whole time. Most of it was shot in the day because we had no lights. There are barely any professional actors in the web series. Most of them are my friends from architecture school or film school, because we didn’t have money for actors. But it was still an opportunity to develop our craft, our writing skills, our directing skills. "Shoot your shot in any way possible." What was the reception like to Dreaming Whilst Black [the BBC series] from your point of view? Man, it’s been humbling. It’s exceptionally hard to make TV. I genuinely don’t judge any show, you don’t know what they went through to put that on screen. To make something good or great or to make something people love, is a whole other level. To see the love from our community and the wider British public. It’s in America, it’s in Australia, it’s all over the world! We screened it in Uganda. Where do you see the comedic space in the UK going? Is there anyone that you see as next up? Who’s next!? Oh my gosh, Abdou Cisse, Runyararo Mapfumo, Teniola King, Rashida Seriki .... Who else? There are so many [people]! I really hope we get a series two, cause there are so many new directors I’m trying to put on. Are there any places you go to in London to catch a comedy show? The real joke is I’m a person who writes comedy who doesn’t go and watch comedy. What are some dramas you’ve been engaging with? Dreaming Whilst Black is my first comedy. The short films I’ve done prior, the feature film I’ve done with Film 4, those were all dramas. For me when I think about stories and what I want to say, I think about who I want to tell it to. Then I think about how best they'll receive what I want to say. That’s why Dreaming Whilst Black became a comedy. It was the best vehicle to speak to our community and have that conversation about the different themes in the show. I am writing another comedy, but when I’m tryna chill I like to watch a serious Bong Joon-ho, Paolo Sorrentino, Barry Jenkins. That’s where I naturally sit. How do you identify your key audience or is it always for your community? Bro who else am I tryna write for? There are loads of people writing for everybody else. I’m tryna feed our people with more content. Having had tremendous success, who would you want to give those flowers to and learn from now? I’ve followed Issa Rae to this point, I’ve followed Donald Glover to this point. I’ve followed Michaela Coel, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I would like to follow Jesse Armstrong. I would like to Step into the film space and move like Barry Jenkins or Bong Joon-ho. Those are my people. BAFTA Breakthrough is supported by Netflix. To learn more about the individuals in this year's cohort click here . UK BREAKTHROUGHS (20): ● Adjani Salmon, writer/performer/exec producer – Dreaming Whilst Black ● Bella Ramsey, performer – The Last of Us ● Cash Carraway, creator/writer/exec producer – Rain Dogs ● Charlotte Reganm, writer/director – Scrapper ● Cynthia De La Rosa, hair & makeup artist – Everyone Else Burns ● Ella Glendining, director – Is There Anybody Out There? ● Funmi Olutoye, lead producer – ‘Black History Makers’ (Good Morning Britain) ● Georgia Oakley, writer/director – Blue Jean ● Holly Reddaway, voice and performance director – Baldur’s Gate 3 ● Joel Beardshaw, lead designer - Desta: The Memories Between ● Kat Morgan, hair & makeup designer – Blue Jean ● Kathryn Ferguson, writer/director – Nothing Compares ● Kitt (Fiona) Byrne, 2D artist/game designer - Gibbon: Beyond the Trees ● Michael Anderson, producer - Desta: The Memories Between ● Pete Jackson, writer/creator – Somewhere Boy ● Raine Allen-Miller, director – Rye Lane ● Rosy McEwen, performer – Blue Jean ● Samantha Béart, performer - The Excavation of Hob's Barrow ● Talisha ‘Tee Cee’ Johnson, writer/director/presenter – Too Autistic for Black ● Vivian Oparah, performer – Rye Lane US BREAKTHROUGHS (12): ● Amanda Kim, documentary director - Nam June Paik: Moon Is The Oldest TV ● Aminah Nieves, performer - 1923 and Blueberry (Film/TV) ● Apoorva Charan, producer - Joyland ● Cheyenne Morrin, senior games writer - Star Wars Jedi: Survivor ● Edward Buckles Jr. documentary director - Katrina Babies ● Gary Gunn, composer - A Thousand and One ● Jingyi Shao, writer & director - Chang Can Dunk ● Maria Altamirano, producer - All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt ● Santiago Gonzalez, cinematographer - Shortcomings ● Shelly Yo, writer & director - Smoking Tigers ● Sing J Lee, writer & director - The Accidental Getaway Driver ● Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, writer & director - Mutt INDIA BREAKTHROUGHS (10): ● Abhay Koranne, writer - Rocket Boys ● Abhinav Tyagi, editor - An Insignificant Man ● Don Chacko Palathara, director/writer - Joyful Mystery ● Kislay, director – Soni ● Lipika Singh Darai, director/writer - Some Stories Around Witches ● Miriam Chandy Mencherry, producer - From the Shadows and The Leopard's Tribe ● Pooja Rajkumar Rathod, cinematographer - Secrets of the Elephants ● Sanal George, sound editor/mixer/designer - Gangubai Kathiawadi ● Satya Rai Nagpaul, cinematographer – Ghoomketu ● Shardul Bhardwaj, performer - Eeb Allay Ooo!

The BAFTA Breakthrough 2023 is here! We spoke to cohort member Adjani Salmon on his comedy series Dreaming Whilst Black.

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