Interview with Julius Amedume

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Last weekend i had the opportunity to interview Julius Amedume, a Ghanaian-British film director based in London. I discovered his films via Ghana Rising and i was immediately drown into the deep consciousness in his films. I wanted to uncover more so i sent him an email for a feature and we ended up having an hour and half conversation on skype. We talked about a wide range of topics from his passion for films, the genesis of his film making career,creative process,to life changing advise he received from actor Jack Nicholson and more. Enjoy!

When did your interest in film start.

It sounds a little bit of cliche, but i  got interested in film around the age of 5 or 6. I was at home a lot till around 8, i never really attended nursery or anything like that because of a few unfortunate events which made me stay at home a lot. I ended up spending a lot of time watching TV and black and white movies which kind of gave me escapism and also it opened my eyes a bit, it immersed  me into people's world, stories etc.
That was also my first introduction to the idea of story telling through film medium.

When did you get your calling.

When i was between 19 and 21, i was working at a high end fashion outlet. Around that time i was soul searching, looking for my path or route in life,  I met Jack Nicholson and we had a quick 10 mins chat. I asked him, how and why he became an actor. He just told me that he does it because he enjoys it and it does not seem like work when he has to wake up early morning to go to work. So i asked myself, what do i really enjoy throughout my life? And it was sitting in front of the television for hours watching films and escaping into a world which i knew nothing about.

That sounds like a good calling.

Yes i quit my job after that. I took a year off to relax and then i went to university and i had my degree.
Even when i did my degree, coming from an African background, Ghana to be specific. Most African parents try to install  their children to be doctors, lawyers, study agriculture, so when you tell your parents you want to do film, they look at you crazy. Because of that i did not just want to do film to upset my parents or be seen as a failure, so i did communication and technology which was a bachelor of science degree honors . It had a little bit of film in it, plus radio, video, and all the different aspects of communication. So wanting to do film, if that flopped, i knew communications will be something i can go back in to as a profession.
After school, i started working at a production company, i started on monday and it went bankrupt on friday. My parents were like "See i told you so". I saw it as a sign, i looked at the positive side of the scenario and i started my own production company with whatever little savings and credit i could get my hands on. Through this production company i made three short films and a low budget feature which earned me about 25 nominations around the world and 9 awards. That was when i started making films, i wrote them and directed them.

What made you take it to the next level, as in a professional level.

I was always fascinating about films growing up. At the age of 16,  i had the opportunity to make a film in college and that was my first opportunity to make a film. I was in a group of 4 or 5 people, between us we needed to write,direct,shoot edit and have a finished product. I was really up for it and  into it that in the end i ended up writing, shooting, directing and editing because the others saw how much hard work and passion i had, they soon dropped out. The good thing was, with my determination i had to finish that film and it helped me through out my career in terms of having determination and perseverance to stick with a career and to want to make my first initial fascination which turned to a hobby which then now turned into a career.

So how did you progress or evolve from that moment.

I made this first short film, called Safe Sex, it looked at the subject matter of safe sex. Basically it was about three different groups of young people. We had three different males and three different females who do not know each other but meet at a party, and they all enter into a conversation with the opposite sex and then later end up going home together. The film jumps to a year later and it looks at the repercussions of that evening and how it changed their lives.
I suppose i took a relevant social issue at that time, because at that time there was a big push from the government to raise awareness of sexual education and the practice of safe sex among young and old people.
So i took those social issues and i put it into a commercial context which can relate to my core audience in an educational and a debatable discussion.
I am glad i did that film, when  i look back, it was something i carried with me for the rest of my life.
After that i took some classes which was more into communication, focused on media, television, film,radio and so forth. I never really specifically took a film class until five years ago.
Before that everything i knew was self taught, from watching a lot of movies and learning from great film makers.

Having real life social topics in your films. Do you write the films from your perspective?

You are right most of my films tackles social issues and i try to put them in a commercial context which will entertain, educate and be debatable. I suppose they are based on my observations and my understanding of real life scenarios and situations and is through me doing research or real life experiences or meeting people who have these real life experiences. I try to embody myself as these people. Then once i have an understanding of it, i try to manifest the story which can explore these issues and then i put it in a way where i don't give my own opinion but leave it to the audience so they can think about it and bring their own life experiences onto the table.

Talking about audience, how was your first film festival experience.

I made a short film called The Meeting, i had that screened at Kent festival and BFM film festival, which is no longer in operation, it was a festival in the UK for black ethnic minority filmmakers.
Kent was my first festival but BFM was my first mainstream audience. It was a wonderful experience.
The Meeting production still
What was the response you received especially from people that had no idea of your work and your film vision.

It was good, people embraced it and a lot of people said, I am a deep film maker because some of my topics or subject matters are really thought provoking.

I actually agree, i have seen three of your films. They are dark in a realistic sense.

Yeah, my first film, The Meeting,  it was different and at the end of the day i just wrote them and made them, i did not really know why, i just knew this was something interesting and inspiring that i can live with because it becomes a part of your life. 
It was about a banker and a teacher who meet in a train station and while they are waiting for the train, they get into a conversation and they talk about everything. The subject matters they talked about were deep and intelligent. That was the first film i showed to the public and they loved it.
Mr Graham production still

Which of your films have been the most challenging so far.

It depends mentally or physically. Mentally it was, Mr Graham. I had a lot of difficulty with the research with the views and opinions. To tell the story i had to absorb all these information talking to a lot of people, i watched a lot of documentaries, spoke to doctors, psychologies and some of the information made me sick. 

Physically, A Goat's Tail, I had little money to do the film, some people were experienced some weren't on the shoot so i had to train people at the same time, shooting in two different countries (Ghana and UK) . It took me three years to finish this film. It even reached a point where i almost gave up but i still went through it. That really was a testimony.
Can talk a bit about A Goat's Tail, seems like an interesting project,with all that you went through to make it happen.

Is a about a Ghanaian taxi driver that meets a tourist in Ghana, and he makes a proposition to the tourist about coming to London, obviously for money and also he wants to succeed in becoming a poet. She says no, but four months later he shows up at her door step. 
It basically looks at his repercussion of his actions and whether the grass is greener on the other side. 

What is the major satisfaction you gain from making films.

I get more satisfaction from people watching my stuff. Melvin Van Peebles told me that as a director my job is to serve the audience. At first i did not really understand it but i later understood him. My main job is to keep them entertained and inspire them. It is great because when you sit in a small room and come up with an idea and you get the actors, make the movie and present it to the audience, just sitting back and watching the audience interacting and the information resonating with them, i think is amazing.

Do you have any interest going mainstream.

After i screened The Meeting, i asked myself, where is this going, then i made a few more shorts which were commercial and arty at the same time. You can either be an art house filmmaker or commercial filmmaker and i say my films kinda falls in between. They have a consistent narrative and i shoot them in a way visually when you dissect a scene they are thoughtful and the images are beautiful, so it resonates. But i do believe i am a commercial filmmaker I do not want to limit myself.
It is a line of communication just like the human languages. Yes we have different languages that become barriers but we should still be able to communicate with every one no matter what background they have. So i am hoping the future my films will travel around the world for people from all walks of life to engage in it.

What about directing other people's work.

I do not mind that, i am actually working with 2 or 3 writers at the moment. They are writing their own stuff. I just want to tell stories, whether it is my own story or someone else story, so long as i can engage in it and can get some sort of stimulus out of it, i wont mind.
I also recently did some day time television. It was a good experience. It was not my script, i was just brought in to direct. It should air around November.

What is the major difference for you, working on your own stories compared to working on someone else story.

I think is a question of me understanding it. I have to make it my own, i have to apply my own stimuli to it. I have to incorporate and embody it. That is the only way i can do something truthfully and put it on screen for someone else to engage in it. If i cant connect with it how can i go through it?
Is like when you go to the cinema, you through the list and you choose the one you are most engaged in to watch. I also do a lot of research, and is through the research i connect and understand then i can truthfully tell the story.

What about Hollywood blockbusters and how sometimes directors do not have full creative control.Do you see yourself going on that route?

With creative freedom, as long as i can prove my self, then i will. One great example is Steven Spielberg's first TV movie, Duel. At that time he was just small director working for the studio, and the film became successful and he did more movies and established himself as a director.
So yes i do want to do blockbusters. It has to be a film i am attracted to or i really like, then i can put a 100% in there. As far as creative freedom, as long as i prove myself then i will. I want to be versatile. I can do films of any genre.

So you are creating your own path?

I am actually. I saw it a very long time ago, who i want to be. I understood exactly how i needed to get there and i knew the outcome was inevitable, so i suppose i am taking my time getting there and slowly picking up and learning as much stuff as i can along the way. So when i do get there, it will make my new environment a pro-long stay and i will be more prepared.

Can you give a picture of what you see.

Just telling great stories and entertaining people and moving people emotionally. Educating people without dictating or forcing them to a specific way of life. And hopefully telling people the truth so they can think and make their own decisions so they can evolve themselves consciously to a higher state of mind.

Most Challenging part of your creative process.

Writing is the most challenging. I never sort of trained as a writer. I am dyslectic, so sometimes it takes me longer time to write. But i know myself, i know the mood and time i write best. I have to get into a frame of mind and visualize everything. Also researching is challenging depending on what i am writing. 

Which is the easiest?

I enjoy everything else. Not that i don't enjoy writing because i do. it just has it's own challenges. I mostly write at night time between 1am and 6.30am and that kind of mess up my body clock. Then i have to go to bed at 6 am, wake up again and think about the script. I might do that for a month until i am satisfied. 

So you are a perfectionist in your own way.

Yes i am and i am obsessive as well. I have to pay attention to the small details to find perfection.

How was it like working with Jimmy Jean Louis, a well established actor with an up and coming actor, Martin Turner in Precipice.

It was great, i think with actors, regardless of how well known or unknown they are, is what they bring on the table that matters. Is about how we can progress and get this work done and lets not get any of the bullshit in the way like money,ego or whatever. Once you get that out of the way, and rather open for ideas, it gets easier, quicker and better. At the end of the day, is up to the director to make you look good, so if there is no trust how do you expect me to make you look good.

Is there going to be a full length feature for Precipice one day? I think it deserves one.

Yes, I will definitely do it. I just need the money. It might be the second film i will make.

Will you have all the characters back in the full length movie?

Jimmy's character will definitely return. His character will also be explored, as in how he got there and where he will go next. It embodies the short film. We will see how it goes with time.

What about making movies in Ghana?

Yes i would love to do that. I have some ideas. 

I think it will be breath of fresh air for the film industry in Ghana. Since it is a little bit typical now.

The Ghanaian films are good, but it is getting a little bit generic now. I think my advantage is, i trained at one of the best films in Europe and i will probably look at the same stories but from a different perspective and different approach. I would love to apply my knowledge to the African market and see what i can produce and make. At the same time raise the standard and quality of what people are used to.

It will be great if you do.

Yes i am going to, it is just a matter of time, when the stars are aligned everything will work out.

What is the last great movie you have seen.

The New World by Terrence Malick. I wont say it was a great or good movie but i  really enjoyed the film. It speaks volumes about humanity and civilization. 

How will you define creativity.

Creativity is finding a way or means of communication which can spark enlightenment in someone else,  which will in turn spark another form of communication or give them a reason to communicate back because of the initial subject or object or full process one originally had. If you look at all the forms of art, it is a way of expressing one's self or communicating one's expression for someone else to interpret, dissect and understand, which will make them communicate back It is a way of channeling yourself positively or negatively in a way where you will engage in some sort of  positive or negative reaction from someone else.

What do you like most about what you do.

Meeting people, traveling, knowing that tomorrow brings something new. Where it takes me is what i like most. It is unpredictable.

Find Julius Amedume Here :