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C4 gives new writers a run

BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT: Marlon Smith (left) and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan

THERE’S A changing tide amongst young black filmmakers. In stark contrast to days of old when folks would bemoan the state of the film and TV industries, insisting that opportunities were sparse for black talents, the new generation of black content-makers are doing things for themselves.

Step up fast-rising writers Marlon Smith and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan. The budding filmmakers literally put their money where there mouths were, opting to create and self-fund a drama, which was originally intended to be screened online.

But as luck – and hard work – would have it, the drama eventually reached the powers that be at Channel 4 and so, a new TV programme was born.

Hitting screens on July 15, Run marks the TV debut for the south London writing duo. And while they’re thrilled that their drama is set to grace the small screen, they explain that making it to TV didn’t happen overnight.

“It’s been a long journey, which started back in 2007,” says 32-year-old Fajemisin-Duncan. “Marlon, myself and John Pearson – the director of episodes three and four – we all went to the same college, and in 2007, we all decided we wanted to do something. So instead of hanging around and waiting for the industry to give us a chance, we decided to put all our money together and create an online drama.
That’s how it started.

“We shot a pilot for the show and that got to Jamie D’Cruz [owner of independent production company Acme Films] and he really liked it and really wanted it to push it. He convinced us to take it to TV as opposed to online.

“Then it got to Channel 4 and they liked it too, and it went from there. But even when it got to Channel 4, it was a couple of years before we got to where we are now. It was a real passion project.”

Admitting that there were times on their journey when they were “tempted to give up,” Smith, also 32, believes that being proactive was one of the keys to their success so far.

“There was a time when we were waiting for people to make decisions for us, but we decided to make our own thing,” he says. “I think if you believe enough in what you’re doing, you’re passionate enough about it, and you’re proactive, nobody can stop you from achieving what you want to do.”

Fajemisin-Duncan adds: “I think it’s especially important when you’re young and you come from an ethnic minority background, to grab the bull by the horns. Because if you hang around waiting for someone to acknowledge you, you might be hanging around for a very long time.”

Starring British actors including Lennie James and Olivia Colman, alongside an ensemble cast of new talent, Run weaves together the stories of four seemingly unconnected people, facing life-changing decisions.

A series of four fast-paced narratives, the four-part drama is a compelling and surprising portrayal of modern British life and the unseen situations, which play out all around us.

STARS: British actor Lennie James is amongst the actors in Run

To be blunt, Run is not a ‘hood’ tale, nor is it a drama about ‘man on road’, or any variation of the type of racially stereotypical story that the masses might expect a young, black, male writer to produce – particularly following on from the huge success of Channel 4’s hit urban drama Top Boy.

On the contrary the writers say they weren’t trying to recreate Top Boy, although some people thought they would do just that.

“We knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to overlap with Top Boy and we were aware that being young black men, there might have been the assumption that we were going to create a drama like that,” says Fajemisin-Duncan, who is of Nigerian, Jamaican and Irish descent.

“Even when our own friends and family heard we were doing something for Channel 4, they immediately assumed it would be like Top Boy. But we knew what show wanted to make.”

And thankfully, the writers found that Channel 4 were accommodating of the show they wanted to produce.

“There was some compromise between what we wanted to do and what they [Channel 4] felt was best,” says Smith, who is of Jamaican and English parentage. “But they trusted us a lot and they did allow us to do a lot of the things that we wanted to do, which was really surprising. So we didn’t have to pander to anyone.

“In creating the drama, we looked for universal themes; collective things that we all share. That allowed us to get around the problem of falling into stereotypes.”

Aware of the negative side of racial stereotyping, the duo say they are mindful of being labeled as ‘black filmmakers’. However, they also acknowledge the potential positive impacts of being defined by race.

“I think we’d prefer to just be seen as filmmakers, without being put into a particular box because of race,” reasons Fajemisin-Duncan. “However, my experience as a young black man heavily informs what I do, and at the end of the day, you are who you are.”

Smith adds: “I’m happy to use it [the race label] if it can inspire people who come from where we come from to see what can be achieved. If you put in enough hard work, you can achieve what you want.”

Asked if there was anything else they wanted to add, Fajemisin-Duncan kindly said: “It’s an honour that The Voice wanted to speak to us, as we grew up reading it.

Smith added: “Our parents will be very proud!”

Run begins on July 15 and continues on July 16, 17 and 18 on Channel 4 on 10pm

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