Born and bred in South London, Abraham Adeyemi is an award-winning writer and director. In 2019, he won Script House, a screenwriting competition created by Soho House, and used the prize money to make No More Wings, an insightful and heart-wrenching look into the effects of gentrification on local communities and the choices we make. Isaac and Jude are two boys who grew up in the same area, but whose lives have taken different directions. As adults, they meet up at their local chicken shop one night, and come to terms with the ways in which they’ve changed. No More Wings won at Tribeca in the Best Narrative category, along with The Wrap’s Shortlist Film Festival Audience Award and the Encounters Film Festival Audience Award. Strand caught up with him to talk about it ahead of its screening at the London Short Film Festival on Sunday 17th January.
How was the idea for No More Wings born? What was your creative process?
It came about a few years ago. I’d written some films, two of which had been made, but I kept being told that all my ideas were too expensive to make. So I started coming up with simpler ideas that I liked. I’d been thinking about two friends whose lives had turned out somewhat differently, and it led me to think about other young black boys who had had a similar upbringing who turned out so differently, and wonder why that happened. That’s how the idea was born, and then during the pandemic, I rediscovered a short film called Coming and Going, for which I’d written notes. I’d completely forgotten about it though. Fast forward to 2019 when the Soho House script competition came about, and I was thinking what I could write about – most competitions have quite vague themes that you can squash anything into – and that idea came back to me.
What was the vibe like on set?
It was amazing. I didn’t know anyone, apart from my director of photography, producer and the behind the scenes photographer. People who I had met in preparation were the first AD and the set designer, but everyone else was completely new to me. It was great, everyone was really excited and there was this great energy. It was even better because it was a night shoot, and I can imagine that those don’t tend to be enjoyable but for some reason this one really was. Also everyone was really excited at the idea of shooting in a chicken shop and we probably ate a bit too much than we should have!
Though neither are specifically based on you, who do you most relate to, Jude or Isaac?
I relate to both of them. Jude is a big dreamer, he wants to do a million different things and I can see that in myself. I see his resilience, at least as a young child, thinking he can be the best at anything. I definitely relate to that. But Isaac is dedicated and focused which is what I think Jude lacks, and so at some point in my life I realised the importance of picking one thing and focusing on it. In terms of home life, I also relate to both of them. The conversation is almost an argument with myself when I think about whether I want to live where I grew up, in South London, or whether I want to escape to another part of London, another country, another continent. It’s a continuous inner conflict for me.
You've also written a play [All the Shit I Can’t Say to My Dad]. What do you feel are the main differences with screen writing? Which one is more difficult?
My approach to theatre versus screen doesn’t differ much in that it’s all storytelling at the end of the day. Structurally at least, I look at them in the same way. Theatre is definitely more difficult, and indulging in theatre made me a better writer for the screen. You need a lot of discipline. Screen wise, you can get away with cutting and chopping away scenes, but you have to stay in the moment and hold the audience in theatre. That’s a far more difficult skill to have because if you lose the audience for a minute, you’ve probably lost them for the whole play. For television or film, you can get them back with a twist or a bang or just a big laugh. I think I learnt the discipline I have now from theatre, but I’m still far more conscious about it than with film or television.
A lot of your work is somewhat based on your life, or aspects of your life. How important do you think autobiography is to creative work?
For many years I think I ran away from the thought that I was writing about my own experiences. I really wanted to go as far away as my life as possible, and try to be as imaginative as I could be. But then I realised it actually becomes impossible to not write autobiographically, even if you’re writing about aliens! Even if you’re writing someone else’s story, it’s still their story from your perspective. I’ve found peace with that now. Equally though, I always find a way to distance it from myself in order to give me the flexibility and comfort to tell stories. Without that distance, I find myself trying to stay true to the truth when my responsibility is telling a story. Sometimes, you need to take liberties in order to tell a better one.
No More Wings is also about gentrification and its effect on communities. Is this a subject close to your heart, one that you plan to develop on?
These are themes that are important to me, and will probably keep constantly popping up in my work. But like in No More Wings, it’s not a black and white answer. I see the benefits and the negatives of gentrification, so it’s about finding that middle ground. You want a community to be taken care of and maintained, but not at the loss of those who are a part of it. So there needs to be the possibility of co-existence within a community, which is always difficult. But there must be a better way of doing it than the way it’s currently happening.
How important is it for you for all voices to be heard, and which ones in particular?
It’s very important for me. I’ve grown up in a multicultural community and I want to see all stories told and explored, I want to hear a multitude of voices. First and foremost, you think of your community though. I want to see stories from voices who grew up like me, and although primarily, I think of black voices, I think it’s more general, South London is important to me. But equally I think of what community actually is, geographical, being a black Brit, or a British Nigerian, or working class. There are so many different versions of community I am at the intersection of.
I want to also hear about communities I know nothing about. One of my favourite films I watched last year was The Farewell, which is about a family living in New York who go home to visit a dying grandmother. But the grandmother has no idea she is dying, they don’t tell her, because it’s part of their culture. And that was mind blowing to me, if someone said that to me I wouldn’t believe them. But when I watch a film about it, I can appreciate the beauty of it, and understand why they would choose to do that. So untold stories to me in general are very important.
What are your main goals in the future?
I just want to keep writing. I love telling stories and I hope I can keep writing until the day I die, and keep having my work made, and keep telling a varieties of stories. I’m at a point where I wake up every day and pinch myself that this is my life, that I get to sit down at my table and write for a living. One of my main aims though is to not tell the same story over and over again. I don’t want to get pigeon-holed, because I have so many different ideas. I’m writing a comedy, a thriller, and a drama, and they’re all such different vibes. Beyond that, hopefully I’ll be able to use my career as a way to pave the way for other writers and open doors for them.
Any future projects we can look forward to?
Nothing I can talk about in great detail! I’m working on a feature film and a series. Outside of that, I’ve been writing and directing on other people’s work, but it’ll be a while before any of it is on screen. Film and television takes time, but even during a pandemic, the show is able to go on somehow! There are a lot of precautions on set, but it’s great that they’ve found a way – film and television crews are particularly good at problem solving. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor