A brand like Nike is already universally recognised, respected and sought after so any branded campaign for the sporting apparel giant has to be innovative and find a new angle to speak to an already established client base and appeal to a new one. When London based filmmaker Seb Tabe was approached by the brand Youwasntder to put something together for Nike, he took their initial idea and ran with it, injecting his own artistic stamp and style in the resulting film Back Your Chat. A barbershop holds court for a cocky young man who rapidly exhausts patrons and staff alike as he unleashes a bitter rant in a futile effort to prove something to them, and perhaps more profoundly himself, as Tabe’s film assuredly extols the virtues of the mega brand’s continued success in the marketplace. We invited Tabe to speak to us about grounding his short in realism to speak to his target audience, how he coordinated a moving bus and running actor and the location challenges posed by an increasingly gentrified and developed London.

What do you particularly enjoy about working on campaign films?

The thing I enjoy the most about being a filmmaker is actually being on set and having a group of collaborators with whom I am working together to create my vision. Seeing an idea physically and visually come alive still amazes and excites me to this day. This carries over to every project I am involved in whether it be a campaign film, music video or short film.

I pull a lot of photography references to best display the visual tone and feeling of a film.

How do you approach brand collaborations and the shaping of your ideas into something that serves their needs alongside your creativity?

My approach varies depending on where the brand is at in terms of an initial idea. For the last few projects I have worked on, I was given a fair bit of creative freedom to initially pitch an idea via a treatment. For this specific project, I was approached with an initial idea on their side which we then had conversations about. I then wrote a treatment to display the visual tone and feeling I wanted to achieve within the film. The treatment stage is important as it allows all involved to align. Within my treatments, I pull a lot of photography references to best display the visual tone and feel of a film – specifically for this project I pulled a lot of Simon Wheatley references, a photographer who beautifully captured a forgotten era within London. Once the treatment was locked I then wrote the script for the film, which went through three iterations. The third iteration of the script was written following a rehearsal with our lead actor Daniel Akilimali.

Barber Shops represent community, a safe space and a place where you can open up. Why did you want to flip that on its head with our vocally bitter young man?

Barbershops do indeed represent a safe community space. The inclusion of Daniel, our cocky young lead, in this specific setting was done so to portray a scenario grounded in realism, which one may genuinely see within a barbershop in London. Our main goal was to offer the audience a scenario they would recognise and relate to. When one is in a barbershop, there is a possibility of bumping into a variety of different characters at any given moment. They are essentially a community melting pot.

The main objective was to find a barbershop which still had an old school London feeling within it. A lot of barbershops in London have modernised – however we lucked out. One of our producers knew of a local barbershop in Balham which a relative regularly goes to, the interior was perfect; it was like stepping into a time machine.

Due to the ongoing gentrification of London, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find genuine and authentic locations.

Do you find the increasing gentrification of London and other cities poses problems when looking for more authentic and traditional spaces to shoot?

The surrounding area, unlike the barbershop, felt like it had undergone heavy gentrification and at first glance didn’t capture the same essence of London as within the shop, however, through careful scouting we managed to find small pockets filled with shop exteriors which felt unchanged and suited our demands. Due to the ongoing gentrification of London, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find genuine and authentic locations. This is because new homogenous buildings are popping up in every free space imaginable, essentially changing the original landscape I grew up within, in London.

Talk to us about your choice of equipment and what it brought to the look and feel of the piece.

We shot 16mm on an Arri 416 with a set of Ultra 16s. Shooting on film was a necessity for this film (and any other film I do haha), as it effectively added the desired texture and feeling we wanted to achieve when portraying a forgotten era of London. Film especially aided us when shooting interiors within the barbershop as it effectively harmonized our carefully planned production and costume design. In all honesty, every project I’ve shot has been on film (16mm or 35mm) and I am a big fan of the process; the limitations of film in terms of stock amount force us both to carefully plan, as well as refrain from wasting time or shots. Due to my constant use of film the only surprises I ever get are good ones!

Shooting on film was a necessity for this film as it effectively added the desired texture and feeling we wanted to achieve when portraying a forgotten era of London.

I love him desperately running after the bus, how challenging of a shot was that to capture?

The running shot was done in one long take. We were simultaneously coordinating the bus driver and Daniel (through the window) in order to line up the shot.

How does the preparation you put in before a shoot allow you to find moments of spontaneity on the day?

The preparation for a shoot allows for a plan to be drilled into my head. Once we have carefully prepared, especially in terms of shot lists and blocking, on set spontaneity is always achieved, as we begin essentially loosely referencing ourselves. Due to this panning, everything on set becomes instinctual.

How is work on your narrative short going and what have you learnt and implemented from your previous commissioned work on that upcoming project?

We are currently in the pre-production stage of my narrative short and it is slated for a late-July shoot. Every shoot I have done has added knowledge and experience which I carry with me to the next. A big thing I have learnt is to be an effective problem-solver. Shoots are constantly filled with a barrage of unforeseen problems and I have learnt to react quickly when they arise. Time is of the essence.

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