By Dominic Buchanan
I want to tell you a story, a brief insight into my journey as a producer in the UK Film & TV industry, especially the awards end of it all. In the aftermath of a triumphant night, where my show won two BAFTAs, where apparently there were “Diversity Gains” . Let me tell you a story about how the system will always fail us, where archaic rules can inflict pain and trauma on all creators, but specifically how Black filmmakers/creatives like myself, and let’s be honest, other filmmakers/creatives of colour, will never truly feel supported nor included until these institutions change rapidly.
It’s important I introduce all the facts correctly, because there are many layers to this.
Just over 8 years ago, in London, I met a young filmmaker (Jonathan Entwistle) who had just screened his short, we then had a meeting where we connected over our love of film, and ambitions to shake up what we thought was a stale approach to storytelling. A month later I was in Austin, Texas, and had just won the Grand Jury Prize for my first feature film ( “Gimme The Loot” ) at the SXSW film festival; an email popped into my inbox from Jonathan congratulating me and also that he had something he wanted to talk to me about. That thing, was a brand new comic book he had found called “The End of The Fucking World” from an exciting young comic book writer called Charles Forsman – yes, before the “***” were used.
I read the first 4 comics which were shared with me, loved what I saw, spoke to Jonathan again and had an “aha” moment as I knew exactly where we could take it, back then it was going to be a cool indie film that we’d maybe shoot in the US. I took it to Film4, an exec I had met at SXSW was running this new division to make smaller films that could be put out digitally (this is pre streamers dominating the marketplace).
Jonathan and I were commissioned by Film4 to make a sort of proof of concept for TEOTFW , we went back and forth about the best way to do this, should we shoot a trailer, a promo, we settled on crudely putting the first two comic books together and shooting those (this is before it became a graphic novel), we ended up with a 10min proof of concept that is now referred to as a short. We hired some incredible people to help us at this early stage, Justin Brown, the now Emmy nominated Cinematographer, and Kharmel Cochrane our casting director, who presented us with some wonderful casting choices at the time, one in particular, this incredible actress named Jessica Barden (a quick shout out to Craig Roberts who was the original James but scheduling conflicts meant we had to later move on when it became a TV show).
OK, I need to speed up this story as I know you’re all already fatigued…
We made the proof of concept short, screened it for the Film4 execs, and then found out, due to internal restructuring, it no longer had a place on Film4’s slate. By now it is January 2014 and I have made a second feature film called “Lilting” that was having it’s World Premiere at that year’s Sundance Film Festival, this film went on to win an award at the festival and 12 months later was nominated for Outstanding Debut by BAFTA – the irony in this nomination being – as it was my second film I could not be recognised by BAFTA myself and that deservedly went to the director Hong Khaou (fun fact: I did not even get invited to the awards ceremony by BAFTA at the 2015 edition, where our film was nominated, and had to be Hong’s plus one, yes, Hong couldn’t even take his loved one as he had decided to take me his producer – since he felt duty bound – thank you Hong I am still so ever grateful!).
TEOTFW was now officially in turnaround, I was riding the wave of my second feature, about to make my third, and Jonathan and I were conspiring on other projects until we could find the right home for our baby, at the right time. I got a call from Jonathan in the spring of 2014 as he had just had a general meeting with a cool exec at a TV company called Clerkenwell Films. They had seen the proof of concept short, through a private link (we couldn’t release it online as a short for various reasons – one being that it wasn’t really a short film – in the true sense), and the exec was excited enough to share it with his colleagues and boss who had some interest.
Jonathan and I met with them, although sceptical at first, we felt ‘why not explore?’, Clerkenwell had Film in their name, so maybe they could/would help us? Not before long, the execs at Clerkenwell had a brainwave and asked us if we had thought about TV? No, we had not, since this is pre- Golden Age of TV and there were no reference points for us from UK Television. But, again, we felt like ‘why not explore?’, also selfishly I was busy making my third feature “King Jack” , which went to Tribeca Film Festival in 2015 and won the Audience Award.
Clerkenwell, because of their placement in the TV industry, and their execs being good at what they did, knew of a young writer who they were excited by, and also that Channel4 were excited by. Her name is Charlie Covell. We met Charlie and by now, had not only a complete set of comic books for Charlie to see, also the proof of concept, it was so much easier to sell the vision of our project now that we had a mini ‘package’.
Charlie liked the project, we liked Charlie, Channel4 liked Charlie, Clerkenwell liked Charlie, so we all boarded the train to Pilot Commission! We now had a TV show in development(!), Charlie did fantastic work building on the comic book, infused some new original ideas, and used everything she had as a platform to craft what we hoped would be a thrilling TV series. Also a company called Netflix, came on board to partner, and finance half the show with Channel4.
Let’s skip ahead now…
We shot series one of TEOTFW in late Spring of 2017, ironically/painfully at the same time I was in Budapest working for a US financier on their first European production entitled “Colette”, produced by Elizabeth Karlsen (of Number 9 Films) and Pam Koffler (of Killer Films). I was there in a shadow capacity for the financier, truly torn up inside because my real baby was happening back in the UK. That being said, although I couldn’t be present during production of TEOTFW, I was able to be around for development, and some of the post production process. Late October 2017 TEOTFW debuted on Channel4/All4, and then January 2018 Netflix released it globally. I think it’s fair to say that it has since changed the TV landscape; we won a Royal Television Society Award, were nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for Best Drama Series (we lost that year to “Peaky Blinders”), we were also nominated for an Emmy (go Justin!) and then were further astounded to win, by unanimous vote, a Peabody Award.
We had been commissioned for season two by Channel4 and Netflix, we had a change of personnel as we became a victim of success, and those initial directors: Jonathan Entwistle and Lucy Tcherniak had bigger fish to fry now (read: Hollywood), which we totally understood, it was still Clerkenwell, Charlie and myself. By now, myself and Dominic Buchanan Productions, the production company I had founded in 2012, which of course didn’t mean much to anyone when I made those indie films, had now grown in stature – as this gift that kept giving of a show – won all these new fans and accolades.
Ok let’s skip a little further ahead…
Season two was shot in Spring of 2019 and then came out to a feverish reception in November of that same year. At this point it has been over a year since I left my job working for the aforementioned financier, I’m truly independent, and building my own slate of Film & TV projects. We managed to avoid the curse of the sequel, got very respectable reviews and a solid reception from fans, two new directors: Lucy Forbes and Destiny Ekaragha and some fantastic new cast: Naomie Ackie helped elevate the show further. Charlie wrote the hell out of that season, as we were now technically “off book” (as Season1 ended pretty much where the graphic novel ended).
In the Spring of 2020 we were then truly surprised to be nominated for three BAFTA TV Awards; Best Writing (Charlie Covell), Best Supporting Actress (Naomi Ackie) and Best Drama Series, at this point, Covid-19 was just starting to shake up the world.
Now the boring bit, the rules…
So it’s important to explain this clearly, as it is the plot twist you already could see coming. BAFTA only allow you to put 4 names down for consideration for Best Drama Series, these are the Writer, a Director, the Producer, and an Exec Producer (important to note in the world of TV the EP is the credit a producer like myself would actually take – as opposed to the Film world where I am a Producer not an EP – but let’s save that lesson for another day).
With regards to the EP slot on the ballot, for the Award in 2018, I spoke with Clerkenwell’s Chief Executive, the owner of the company, and we agreed to put Ed Macdonald down as he had been the driving force for the show via Clerkenwell, and I cannot deny he had put a lot of hours into it (as mentioned, I was in Budapest for a lot of S1’s production, so making a case for my name over Ed’s wasn’t the battle I wanted to focus on at the time). To be fair, Clerkenwell did ask BAFTA at the time, on my behalf, to be included as it was a co-production, but we were denied. For the 2020 awards we decided Ed would be the sole EP nominated again due to his contributions via Clerkenwell, and again I agreed because it made sense (by the way, a lot of other production companies who seek to co produce, seem to have fallen foul to this rule, so my experience is not new unfortunately). To give you an insight into my thinking, as long as my production company is named, all should be OK if we win, right?
Also, let’s be really real here, the TV landscape has changed such that co-productions are now more natural. More to the point how does a smaller outfit, with no TV track record, get people to believe in them (especially when they are Black)? With all this in mind, how does the end point of the industry, the awards organisations, not realise the shift, and take it into account?
Due to the rampant coronavirus the Awards themselves had been pushed, and then finally they were to be held virtually (still televised on BBC One) in the late summer. I sat on my sofa that evening, after a long day of calls, and watched as we won two whole BAFTAs, for Best Supporting Actress (go Naomi!) and Best Drama Series!!!
I was shocked, I cried; 8 years of this personal journey on this project and our show wins a BAFTA! I won a BAFTA! My name is on the TV screen as a winner! My parents are calling me! I am still in tears, how could this be true?! All the pain and trauma of making a show like ours, and we won, I messaged and called everyone dear to me and the rest of the evening and weekend were a blur of emotions and coming to terms with this new success.
The final, painful twist…
So a week later, after more messages and people asking when I would get the actual award, the famed Mask, could I bring it with me on our socially distanced link ups?
I got in touch with Ed, and of course BAFTA had emailed him to say there would be a delay delivering the physical awards due to Covid, he forwarded me the correspondence. I took it upon myself to message the BAFTA rep and ask if they would be sending me a copy of the award directly, since my name & company, “Dominic Buchanan Productions” is the co producer with Clerkenwell. A few days of no response and then, 7 whole days after the awards themselves, and a couple days after I emailed BAFTA, I got the fateful email response, in short: I would not be receiving the famed Mask award because the rules stipulate only the 4 people who were named in the entry would be, our Writer (aforementioned Charlie), Director (only one can be put forward – even though two directors did the whole show equally weighted – so Destiny misses out here too as Lucy was put forward), the Producer (Jenny Frayn), and one EP (the aforementioned Ed from Clerkenwell).
I couldn’t believe my eyes, they wouldn’t even allow me to buy a copy, much like the RTS Award, or the Peabody award that I have sitting in my flat. This prestigious BAFTA prize that I had apparently won, maybe I really didn’t? Oh, but I could purchase a winners certificate if I wanted that instead?!
The final, final bit now…
I want to tell you about my interaction with BAFTA, and also, let’s talk about race, yes lets.
I have been in the Film & TV industry now for 14 years (two of which were unpaid), the TV side of things is newer to me, but nevertheless I am here now. Especially as the landscape and opportunities for a producer like me have changed drastically in a decade. I decided to apply for BAFTA membership in 2015, now being able to meet their guidelines, I found out via Noel Clarke, who went out of his way, and told me my name had come up in the membership committee meeting, but that the other committee members did not think I should be admitted; Noel fought for me, and I was granted membership. After paying my introductory fee, I then graduated from an Associate Member to Full Voting Member later that year. I was so happy because I am a Black Man from South London, of Jamaican heritage (my grandmother came to the UK in 1956 as part of the Windrush generation), who grew up on a council estate that my mum and little brother still live on, the system was luring me to fail, but I managed to push through and make a legitimate success of myself, especially in a White dominated industry, that is from the outside, exceptionally exclusionary. But here I am, 2015 a BAFTA member. Let’s not forget in 2014 my film was nominated for an award but I was not officially invited to the awards. In 2018 I was asked by BAFTA to help shortlist writers for their BAFTA Elevate campaign, in 2019 I was asked by BAFTA to help curate their 2019 edition of BAFTA Elevate, this time focused on young exciting actors. Later in 2019 I was asked by BAFTA to be on their Jury for Outstanding Debut (oh the irony). In 2020 I was asked by BAFTA to be part of the Film Awards review, and give insight in how to make BAFTA more inclusive and not too exclusive, especially with regards to race.
Most of this time is unpaid, but I did so because I am passionate about our Film & TV industry, I care for it deeply, I am passionate about what I do, I also want this industry to be better at representation and how they treat people of colour, in front of screen and behind, so I do what I can when I can (and till now I tried to keep it quiet – because we already know – actions speak so much louder).
So imagine the devastation of being me, with everything I have achieved, and now not being able to get a copy of the actual BAFTA Award my show won, that my production company, that yes albeit due to ego, my name is a part of. Imagine the furthered trauma of being the only Black person on the entire 8 year journey for a successful show (only Kharmel Cochrane has been on the journey almost as long as me), and everyone who is going to get the physical BAFTA is white? Was the decision to exclude me racist? No, I don’t need to reach for that, because that would be untrue. My white colleagues who will get their award actually deserve it, they put their hours in, to make the show what it is. But seriously, after everything I have put into BAFTA, everything that I hold dear to me that I bring because of the different arm, or leg of that institution, who invites me to help, but then at the head I am being denied a part of the prize my TV show has won.
How is this possible, what type of madness is this, so many questions running through my mind.
How am I to feel? How can I now, with everything that has happened to me, how can I turn to people coming up behind me, specifically those of colour, champion BAFTA and the awards system? What type of example does this set? How can I give them any more of my time for their various inclusion efforts? Bear in mind, I write this as a winner, who has been made to feel like a loser. I certainly do not want to come across as ungrateful, especially with everything going on in the world right now, but today I really needed to share my truth, because I am truly shattered.
I sat on this letter for 3 whole sleepless nights, I am still deeply upset.
I decided to not do a petition, and get other notable signatures, because we have already seen how ineffective they are (especially, as I am now aware other producers have petitioned BAFTA on this very issue, and continuously been denied). I have traded emails with the new BAFTA chair, I will keep the details private, but it doesn’t look like I’ll get a physical award.
Ed Macdonald from Clerkenwell, is attempting to lobby on my behalf to get me a copy of the mask, we shall see.
We need to talk about Black women directors’, and how we keep failing them, in the UK.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me on my 14 year journey.
Dominic Buchanan is an award winning Film & TV producer, who has had feature films premiere at Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca and Cannes. Additionally, his TV work has earned him 2 x BAFTA nominations, a Royal Television Society Award, and a Peabody Award.
As well as internships, Dominic worked at film Festivals when trying to break into the industry: he worked at Tribeca Film Festival (’07, ’08, 10), London Film Festival (’07) and BFI Flare (’08). He then moved into the world of acquisitions, briefly at The Weinstein Company, and then most notably at Universal Pictures International (2009) in the International coproductions and acquisitions department, then transitioned into producing via working at Qwerty Films (2010-2012), under revered UK film producer Michael Kuhn as acting head of development.
His first feature “Gimme The Loot” (2012) won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW, then had its International debut at Cannes in Un Certain Regard and was later that year nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. In May 2012 he then became Head of Film & Original Content at Stink, and his second feature “Lilting” opened the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2014 and won the prize for Best Cinematography, it also was nominated for three British Independent Film Awards, and a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut for Hong Khaou, its writer/director. He also went on to produce “King Jack”, which won the Tribeca Film Festival’s Audience Award in 2015.
Dominic was appointed Vice President of Production & Development at Bold Films in February 2015, and ran the UK operation until November 2017. Whilst there, he helped Co-Produce (for Bold) “Colette”, starring Keira Knightley, which had its World Premiere at Sundance in January 2018.
He is an Exec Producer for Channel4 & Netflix co production: “The End of The F***king World” in partnership with Clerkenwell Films. The first season was launched, to rave reviews, globally on Netflix in January 2018. “TEOTFW” won a Royal Television Society award for Best Drama Series 2018, and then was nominated for Best Drama at the BAFTA TV Awards 2018, it was also nominated for an Emmy (2018), as well as a Gotham Award for “Breakthrough Series – Longform”. In 2019 it won a Peabody Award (Entertainment for 2018), and was commissioned for a second season, which aired in November 2019 Globally. In 2020 TEOTFW S2 has been nominated for 3 TV BAFTAs, “Best Drama”, “Best Writing” and “Best Supporting Actress”.