Making of BBC2’s ‘BRAIN IN GEAR’

Going from ‘My self-doubt is about to sabotage this piece’, to ‘This was the best experience of my life!’

All the Gbemisola Ikumelo’s.

All the Gbemisola Ikumelo’s.

Email from Heaven.

This summer past I got the best email of all time from BBC Comedy asking me what I was doing for my July. I replied ‘Dunno lol’.

I didn’t reply that, but hastily got back with a ‘NOTHING. I WILL DO ANYTHING YOU WANT’, style email.

They asked me to go on a Skype Call with the incredible Gbemisola Ikumelo about her script ‘Brain in Gear’ and if I would be interested in coming onboard as a Co-Director on the piece, to work with Gbemi as she creates the world of what we hope will be a series if the stars align.

Below is the making of, as best as I can remember it, that went through June and July of 2019. Broken, as always, into three stages.

PREP.

PRODUCTION.

POST.

Hope you enjoy!

PREP - ‘Jesus, this is surreal!’

Once I got off the Skype call with Sam, the amazing exec, Inez, the incredible producer, and Gbemi, the creator/now good friend, I had to wait for two days or so, sick with nerves to see if I was the guy they were going to trust with it. Often, with these kinds of pitches, I’ll write a letter to the funders/decision makers, but having felt that we’d had a connection over the call, I decided to be cheeky and send this:

Hey, why not?

Hey, why not?

It worked! Well, maybe the email didn’t help. But I did enough to get the shout, and had to get ready for Pre-Production the following week inside the BBC Comedy offices. Which, as a lifelong fan of BBC Comedies, was insane and initially very intense. I really began to doubt myself here, I struggle with ‘You fucking suck’, thoughts at all times anyway, but they were exacerbated here by being surrounded by so many people who’s work I admired. Had a bit of a black-hole period where I convinced myself I didn’t deserve happiness and this was one big set-up by the universe for me to fail massively.

You know? Everyone gets that right? Right?!

But then, I let those thoughts creep in, and always find they go away when you begin to actively engage in the work. Inaction leads to so much doubt for me, and you battle that bullshit with hard-graft. I was determined to make this work, mainly for Gbemisola as it was her baby and meant so much to her, and for Inez and Sam who’d shown faith in me. ‘Prove them Right’, was the main refrain for a while.

My mam thinks I’m very intense and worries about me. Can’t tell why.

VFX Questions - The main thing with Brain in Gear was that there were three main characters, all sharing the screen at one-time, all played by Gbemi. So, a lot had to be figured out with how we were going to make this work technically. I had made a short previous to this where an actor had to share the screen with themselves, and there were valuable lessons learned there, but nothing to this scale technically. So, it was ‘research by doing’ time! Which means: CAMERA TESTS.

Here’s one of the tests, shot on my iPhone to see if this banter and craic-exchanging would work. Tonality of performance was a huge deal and continuity in action. Super rough:

The rehearsal process was intense and fast, we realised we needed body doubles for Gbemi to react to, but to create a full-blooded performance we needed really fantastic actors to work with Gbemi to bring the character of Remi to life. We found them in Sarah, Lekhani and Jennifer. Truly incredible.

Sarah Merrifield as “Boss Bitch Remi”.

Sarah Merrifield as “Boss Bitch Remi”.

Jennifer Dixon and Lekhani Chirwa as “Remi” and “Dark Remi”.

Jennifer Dixon and Lekhani Chirwa as “Remi” and “Dark Remi”.

PRODUCTION - “This is complex, but awesome!”

So, how we’d build a sequence would be:

Shoot Gbemi as “Remi” first. Then have her change her costume and makeup to whichever character had the most agency in the sequence, generally Boss Bitch, with Dark Remi being used for the final passes.

Matt Wicks, our DOP and I had to be really focused on what our shots were to be as any slip-up in a VFX shot meant jeopardising a sequence. Matt was way better than me at figuring out the scheduling of our sequence building.

Here’s an example of the shot-list, just looking at it again makes my brain hurt.

Green was 1st scheduled, Yellow was 2nd, Red was 3rd.

Green was 1st scheduled, Yellow was 2nd, Red was 3rd.

We’d work our days throughout the 3 day shoot this way. We went over on one of the days which sucked and was on me, but we caught up on our final day which was our entire crew working at an insane pace to get the entire script shot according to our schedule. The crew really threw down and it was an honour to work with them, major shout-out to our incredible makeup artist Billie who had the look changes down to a science so we could quicken our schedule thanks to her Herculean efforts. The only proper picture of me working on it is blurry!

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Throughout the shoot there were many times when I just internally went “Holy shit, this is for the BBC.” Crazy man. 9 years ago I was 19 and making comedy music videos about my hometown. Life is mental. I dunno. Anyway.

POST PRODUCTION - “Is that Edgar Wright?”

When the shoot wrapped, we had to chop this piece together rapid quick as we had a very tight delivery schedule. I left a very helpful message on the whiteboard of the edit suite to inspire us all. Check it out.

Awesome editor Luke, slashing the film into shape. He was a legend, and we shared an enthusiasm for “Jackie Chan” editing. Look it up! It’ll blow your mind if you’re interested in editing and really add to your stuff! We cut on AVID Media Composer. I’m a Premiere Pro man personally, but it made we want to give AVID another try for sure.

Awesome editor Luke, slashing the film into shape. He was a legend, and we shared an enthusiasm for “Jackie Chan” editing. Look it up! It’ll blow your mind if you’re interested in editing and really add to your stuff! We cut on AVID Media Composer. I’m a Premiere Pro man personally, but it made we want to give AVID another try for sure.

Editing the piece was super intense, going from a longer iteration to a much shorter one thanks to three intense days before delivery of just chatting it through in great detail with Gbemi, Inez, Sam and I. Cherished moments had to get the chop, some scene reconfiguration had to be done to cover me fucking up some stuff (technical challenges clogging my brain be damned!) We did everything we could think of to get the piece working at a cracking pace.

Also, what was also cool, Edgar Wright’s new horror “Last Night in Soho” was shooting directly outside our suite.

At this stage I had to leave London and return to my day job (gotta pay the rent) and Gbemi oversaw the sound mix and the grade and absolutely killed it. It sounds and looks awesome!

Then, the long wait to broadcast came upon us. And when it did, we, and Lazy Susan were Critics Choice in The Sunday Times!

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Insanity!

It went out that night and got a huge reaction on Twitter and great reviews online which was a relief.

Main Takeaways from the Whole Experience:

1: Work with Gbemisola Ikumelo as much as possible.

2: BBC Comedy are awesome people to work with and their notes are valid, interesting and come from an accumulative experience far greater than anything I’ve ever done, or will do. So, listen.

3: Everyone’s trying to make something good, no matter what the scale.

4: Panic is the enemy of creativity.

5: Technical research is essential. Do the homework.

6: Nigerian Food is awesome.

7: Do what makes you nervous, and let that build your personal confidence.

8: I need to work on how I speak to actors, I don’t offer enough emotional reasoning. “Because it looks cool”, isn’t direction.

Hope that’s all of some use to anyone! It was a magic experience!