I want to talk about TriForce and the film festival. You’re co-founder of TriForce Promotions, and this upcoming one day short film festival, to be held at BAFTA HQ in Piccadilly on November 22nd (2014). Tell me about your vision for TriForce…
“Me and Fraser (Ayres) set up TriForce after we first went to the Edinburgh Festival (2003-04). We did a play there called People Next Door by Henry Adams and it transferred to London. But while we were there we had friends there and we were able to bring everybody together, even if they didn’t know each other… We would just text people and say, ‘Hey come and meet us at some dry sort of bar or club’…A remarkable thing happened. When people had shows or after their shows, they would come together and just catch up. Actors, directors, lighting people, the ushers, the bar staff – people would use the time to get to know each other, and…in a completely organic way, we built a mini-network! It was quite beautiful”
When they got back to London a friend was DJing at the private member’s club at Planet Hollywood where they organised another night for about 20-25 people. Afterward, the manager offered the space to repeat the event. So they decided to use Fraser’s birthday for the next. From there, it became a monthly event where each would invite his friends. Guests were welcome, but had to be vouched for. It was serendipitous timing, because it coincided with a new wave of exciting young actors just starting out their careers…
“… Ben Wishaw, James Corden, Sheridan Smith, Eamonn Walker… I mean, everybody has been to one of our nights!”
Over the course of a year, with one every month, the network kept building and expanding.
“… So, basically, you might work with someone but not see them in a year. But, by us doing these monthly network party nights, if you were in town at the end of the month, you could catch up… or take your friends to an event where the majority, are film-minded.”
What they didn’t realise was just how effective these parties were…
“We would bump into people and they’d be like, “Thank you so much, I just got a job because I just saw the casting director at your party…(We) were… bringing people together, connecting people from all different types of backgrounds, all types of levels, people exchanging business cards…we realised we created a network before we created the company!”
The next phase, again, happened quite organically. Fraser Ayres was working on a script, and they decided to test it using the network. They invited people – the usual suspects, plus producer friends and commissioners from the BBC – to arrive a little earlier and did a reading of Maynard… with actors like Sheridan Smith and Aml Ameen to around 80-90 people…
“They all loved it and Fraser got a commission! That was when we realised we need to start a company. Because once we’d started the company we’d have the networking arm, then we’d have the platform for a writing arm, because we saw what Fraser did with his play. If you’ve got good content and you need people to hear it… find a venue and get people to come and watch it. Then after that we thought, “Why don’t we do the same for actors? Why don’t we start up a showcase for actors to be seen by the industry? In all this, without us shouting about it, without it being a topical word like it is now, our network was naturally diverse!”
…And the vision didn’t stop there! That desire to facilitate their fellow actors resulted in yet another monthly event!
“So one of our big events is called MonologueSlam UK – a free showcase for actors to be seen by 450 people at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. My job is to get 6 industry people there – like a casting agent, producer, writer, director. They don’t have to do anything, but if they see 20 actors that have been picked out of 200 actors and they find someone, what happens is that they will get offers of representation, people get jobs in films and TV, theatre.”
Akingbola mentions outcomes like a proud father…
“Some outcomes are like seeing a nervous young guy audition, get chosen, performs in the MonologueSlam. You see him come on stage, and you see his shoulders. Suddenly, he’s a different person. It’s about empowerment and education, as well. So, we just want to do that thing for all creatives… breaking down boundaries, of access and diversity.”
The next question they asked themselves was What else can we do…?
“Fraser said, “Why don’t we write a short film?” So, Fraser wrote a short film, I produced it, Mo Ali, director of the new film Montana that’s coming out, directed it. Lots of our TriForce Team helped make it, and suddenly between July and December, we had our first short film ‘Glimpse’.”
Not only that, but they cast an 18 year old actor called Jaz Deol alongside veteran Paul Bradley, whom Akingbola was working with on Holby City. Why? To help young talent…
“Put a young actor with a professional actor like Paul Bradley, he’s gonna learn. On the job, he’s going to learn… We’d been learning how to produce our short film, so it was all sort of a learning curve and a beautiful process…[following that]
“I woke up one evening and thought, “By Jove, I’ve got it! We need to do a short film festival!”“
Apparently, Fraser is the slightly sane one, because he flipped out over the limited time they had set themselves to organise it.
“But I said, we’ve got to do this, because the short film is so important and I think it really displays… just how much talent is out there – not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera as well…”
So they booked the space and created – a platform for film makers to be seen by the industry – actors, directors, writers, the crew – as well as absorbing that month’s networking party. Free of charge. A film maker just has to show talent and produce a piece of work eligible for selection…
“Connecting film makers, bringing in the funding bodies like Film London that can help these artists. We do get established film makers, but we also get a lot of emerging film makers who don’t know how to get funding from the Arts Council or the BFI. So we’re just gonna use our reach, as a company of actors, to reach people that can help people’s career.”
The first film festival was a major success, it sold out, their first short film was showcased…
“But the next year, I said we need to go to BAFTA. That’s the home of film and television… providing access for hundreds of people…You can only go into BAFTA if you’re a member or you’re invited by them. But… we’re breaking down that barrier and letting people say, “Yeah, I’ve been to BAFTA. My films been screened at BAFTA at the TriForce Film Festival.” And by our relationship with these production companies, commissioning channels and film production companies, we’re also pushing for them to create outcomes for our winners. Because there have been too many of these initiatives (where) nothing happens… So we are saying, no forget that – no initiatives, no schemes, come and see the talent… see how great they are and while you’re there, engage that talent… I think that short films are so important. Our last winner Jane Gull won the TriForce short film award (Sunny Boy). The same film was shown on Channel 4 in August, and now she’s working on her feature film (My Feral Heart)!”
The TriForce Team encounter so many levels of talent at a time when there are many short festivals out there. But some are just not as accessible because of expense, the wrong background, lack of a film school education or lack of a big enough producer attached. TriForce don’t want to know where you’re from…
“This year, we’re doing the screenings all day from 11 to 6pm and then topping and tailing the screenings with seminars. All of our seminars are about empowerment and education. One is about diversity – the importance of the positive aspect and having that compassion. Another is women in film. Another is From Scribble to Reel – from the idea to your first short film – how do you get the idea off the ground? And then the next is about the career ladder – after you’ve done a couple of short films, what are the next steps to get your feature, to get representation and such…and we have an expert’s room… so that if you’re young, emerging or even established, you can engage with all of these different experts’ stalls, take their details and see how they can help your project. Then we’ll be doing the VIP gala evening in the night.”
I noticed that you have quite an impressive judging panel…
“Yes, a mixture of people with different expertise, tastes, and also just people that can give our film makers work! So, we have Kathy Burke – she’s a real supporter of new talent. We’ve got Matthew Justice, who was a producer of Attack the Block, the MD of Big Talk Productions. We’ve got Gary Kurtz, who is one of my personal favourites. He was a producer of the original Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (also, American Graffiti and The Dark Crystal). Then also, we’ve got Peter Cattaneo who directed The Full Monty, we’ve got Bola Agbaje who’s just released her first feature film (Gone Too Far!); Tony Jordan who we were talking about earlier -a prolific writer with a production company Red Planet, we’ve got Gina Carter who owns her own production company (Sprout Pictures) and we’ve got Steve November from ITV. So we’ve got 10 judges – probably 5 too many, but you can’t say no to any of them and all of them can offer the possibility of opportunity for our film makers.”
After this film festival what’s next for you personally?
“I’ve just finished three American jobs. A Dustin Hoffman film, a history channel drama called Sons of Liberty, where I play a real-life African American called Peter Salem. It s about the 1700s Boston Tea Party riots. I’m playing an African-American killing the British, which was really bizarre and interesting at the same time. Then I’ve just finished my first Hollywood movie with Legendary Pictures (as Sgt. Steve McFadden), who did World War Z and Inception. The film’s called Spectral and should be out in 2016, I think. Now I’m auditioning a lot for American work and some good UK stuff. But I’m probably gonna be back and forth from the States to the UK now. I’m not saying goodbye to the UK.”
No, you can’t! you have to stay!…
“I’m not, but at the same time, I want to do more interesting work and my business head says, give yourself the best opportunities, but go where the work is.”
I begin to thank this incredibly charming artist for sparing us the time to talk, and its only now that he mentions the funding. It’s great news!
“Thank you, and thank you for all the support for the film festival. Me and Fraser set it up and it’s bigger than both of us now. You know for 10 years we’ve been doing this, we’ve been putting our own funds into the company and from next year, it will be the first time we’ll ever have had funding! The Paul Hamlyn Foundation has just given us a substantial grant over the next three years to help us give back. They give money to the Royal Opera House and Tate Modern and they’ve just given us a quarter of a million pounds. So, as two full-time working actors providing opportunities for other actors, we feel really proud that a prestigious organisation like that has acknowledged us as Arts Leaders. We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing… The more we do as actors, the more help that comes, the more it helps us to be actors because we see it from both ends.”
Well that s just brilliant. Congratulations. I hope the Americans love you, but not too much. Sorry. Good luck!
Jimmy Akingbola is known as ‘Mr Nice’, but my impression is of a man possessed of far more warmth and empathy than that name suggests.(Actually, I think of the Welsh marijuana smuggler Howard Marks, who was the subject of the 2010 film Mr. Nice starring Rhys Ifans). Sunny Jim is too cursory, but there is something Solar (or Soul-ar) about Mr. Akingbola. I’m not given to hyperbole unless completely moved to do so, but maybe it’s the solar association with Apollo, one of the more complex of the classical Greek and Roman deities. Because, as well as forging a critically acclaimed career path of his own, here is an artist who, through sheer empathy, has been partially responsible for facilitating the careers of others (Apollo: leader of the muses, patron of music and poetry, defender of herds and flocks – i.e. livelihood), who champions diversity (Apollo: has dominion over colonists, patron of truth), and who is investing in the future with the very existence of Triforce Promotions (Apollo: represents light, truth and prophecy).
Check out the reference to the first Blue/Orange play. Akingbola unhesitatingly reeled off the cast, director and writer 14 years after it was staged and 9 after his own run finished. That is love. Everything else simply reflects a man with his finger on the pulse, refusing to leave any man behind. And we can extrapolate that attitude to the people like Fraser Ayres who surround him share the vision, and those who continue to join them.
So, with the many-pronged dialogues happening in the Arts today, here is a man who is, with Fraser Ayres and their other associates through TriForce Promotions, simply doing it.
Watch the trailer for the TriForce Short Film Festival 2014
Jimmy Akingbola interview for the british blacklist by @DescantDeb