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MetFilm School London Undergraduate Open Day

Metfilm School

A Masterclass with MA Directing Graduate & BAFTA-winner Adjani Salmon

By Elise Czyzowska

09 August 2023

Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting MA Directing alumni Adjani Salmon at our London campus for a MetFilm School Masterclass.

In 2018, Adjani released the 9-part web-series, Dreaming Whilst Black, which he created, produced, starred in, and co-wrote alongside Ali Hughes. The series became the most successful UK web-series on the 2019 festival circuit – with 36 wins across 34 festivals, it was a hit.

After spending the next few years further proving his skill through new projects, networking, pitching, and everything in between, Dreaming Whilst Black was commissioned by BBC Three, and the first season was released in 2021. Having just released its third season, Adjani continues to star in, write, and produce the show. In 2022, he won both the BAFTA TV Award for Emerging Talent: Fiction, and Screen Star of Tomorrow’s Inaugural Menelik Shabazz Legacy Award.

In today’s blog, we’re sharing the top takeaways from our session with Adjani Salmon…

The Art of Pitching

‘You have to understand’, Adjani began, ‘all of us can make films. I don’t think I’m necessarily the best filmmaker from here. But one thing my agent has helped me to do is learn how to sell my films.’

Throughout the session, which was hosted by Head of MetFilm Futures, Sarah Winstanley, Adjani came back to the importance of pitching. You can write the great thing known to man, he explained, but you’ll still have to convince people to read it.

Producers and commissioners don’t have time to take a chance on every script that comes their way, especially when the writer is not as established. That means it’s your responsibility to make them want to read your work.

Adjani credits his success with pitching partially to his previous degree in architecture. While the two crafts appear as total opposites, the fundamentals are the same: you come up with a visionary idea, and then you convince someone to let you make it.

As an architect, you present your ideas at the front of the class. That’s 60% of your degree right there – in a ten minute presentation. You can’t fumble it.

From that experience, I know how to make people engaged. I know how to take an idea off the page.

Adjani SalmonMA Directing Graduate, Creator of ‘Dreaming Whilst Black’

How do you create an engaging pitch? There’s no single answer, but Adjani suggested modelling your style after your script: ‘If it’s a drama, you need to sound deep. If it’s a thriller, you need to have them hooked. If it’s a comedy, you need to be funny – otherwise, how will they trust you to write a comedy?’.

Our Masterclass with Adjani Salmon

Staying with your ideas – even when it takes years

Euphoria saw a 2+ year gap between its first and second season. The original script for 2019’s Booksmart sold in 2009. And after originally auditioning for Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (then just called Don Quixote) in the 1990s, Jonathan Pryce joked that the pair had been ‘waiting for him to get old enough‘ to play Quixote by the time it was finally released in 2019.

Clearly then, while the industry is always in a rush to complete the ‘next big thing’, behind the scenes can be a waiting game of rewrites and edits, scheduling clashes, and so on. After talking to our students about the almost seven years between developing Dreaming Whilst Black as a web-series, and getting it onto BBC Three, Adjani spoke about staying motivated on a project after years of work.

Genuinely, it is friendship, and that friendly competition. When Tomasin Adepeju (MA Directing Graduate) got his feature ‘Appreciation into Sundance… that film is amazing – it was a bit of healthy competition.

Then, once he was in Sundance, the rest of our group wanted to meet him there. A couple of months later, Kobe Adom made ‘Haircut‘, which won Film London. So then, I’m the only one who hasn’t done anything – I’ve just been focusing on Dreaming Whilst Black, and I’m thinking… “Let me just write another draft!”. It spurs you on.

Being in the trenches with your people. That’s how I kept going. We’re always in it together.

Adjani SalmonMA Directing Graduate, Creator of Dreaming Whilst Black

Watch the trailer for Dreaming Whilst Black

Why your Graduation Film matters

After graduating from MetFilm School in 2014, Adjani took his graduation film, His Father’s Son, to film festivals across the globe. From Cannes and Blackstar, to the Montreal World Film Festival, the short follows Jimmy, who ‘fears the results of his actions as he tries to be seen as a man in his father’s eyes’.

While the expectation that ‘you make a good film, you get an agent, and they get you into rooms to book projects’ didn’t immediately happen for Adjani, he describes the graduation film as an essential piece of work – as a creator, it’s your ‘calling card’.

Your graduation film is there to execute well. It is the only chance you have to make a film where people are paid to tell you their opinion. When you gradate, you’ll have cousins like mine – people who say anything you’ve done is “sick”, or haters that will never like your work.

At film school, your tutors are paid to give you a professional opinion on your work. Use that.

Adjani SalmonMA Directing Graduate, Creator of Dreaming Whilst Black

Adjani added to this that, for this project, it’s better to do something small but powerful, then it is to rack up huge costs with visual effects or genre pieces. Instead, use your time at film school to try out these different styles and techniques, and then use what you’ve learnt to execute something perfectly.

‘You won’t make a decent film until you’ve done the experimenting,’ he added. ‘Do all the period, all the action and thriller stuff – experiment, go crazy. And then make your graduation film.’

  • Adjani Salmon studied MA Directing at MetFilm School London. This course is also available in Berlin and Leeds.
  • You can watch all three seasons of Dreaming Whilst Black on BBC iPlayer now!