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‘Dreaming Whilst Black’ Director Koby Adom on Focus, Vision and the Joy of Working with Friends

‘Dreaming Whilst Black’ Director Koby Adom on Focus, Vision and the Joy of Working with Friends

Dreaming Whilst Black is a hilarious and moving dramedy that stars and is co-written by the rising UK star Adjani Salmon. The series, set in London, is about Kwabena, a recent film school graduate, and his quest to tell stories that matter — while being paid — and coexisting with the unique challenges that Black people face. 

Ghanaian-British director, writer, executive producer, and founder of DBK Studios, Koby Adom, worked on the original Dreaming Whilst Black web series. This talented artist directed Episodes 2 and 3 of the new series on Showtime. BGN spoke with Koby Adom via Zoom two weeks before the premiere.

What attracted you to directing two episodes of Dreaming Whilst Black?

Adjani is one of my best friends; I’ve known him since 2015. We were like, the “Black film school guys” — you know, there wasn’t that many of us. We didn’t go to the same film school, but we were both in London. I was the DOP [Director of Photography] on his graduation film, which he directed. And then he worked on my graduation film, and we just stuck together since. 

When he did the web series version of Dreaming Whilst Black, I was in it and was the DOP in one episode. I was something else in another episode and was just along for the journey. So, when it was commissioned for the pilot, I was supposed to direct the pilot myself. But then I got another job, which I thought was a career power move that I couldn’t pass up. But then, when the rest of the series got commissioned, I got the call, and it was a no-brainer, of course! 

I loved it. You get to work with your friend every single day, like using your craft that you’ve learned on someone you know so well. It’s like a dream, and obviously, that’s why our paths have crossed, and we have the opportunity to do those episodes.

You directed Episodes 2, The Reality, and 3, The Friends. How do you prepare to direct one or two TV series episodes?

It’s not actually that difficult, I didn’t focus on necessarily putting my stamp on it. I came to serve my friend’s vision. I know how long he spent on the script. And I know how good of a writer he is, so I knew I wasn’t gonna have a problem visualizing this thing. 

All I had to do was focus on making sure I was serving the scripts — knowing where the punch lines are, what the actual intentions are, and then bringing the performance and the camera creative decisions to that middle point, that vision. 

It was a lot of fun. It made everything so much simpler because it was like, as long as everybody’s got that ethos, you’re gonna get a very cohesive show where everyone thought we’d make decisions according to the message and the deeper part of the script. I said, “Adjani’s my friend.” I’ve actually gone to his house and sat with him and Nicola Ward, the producer. We’ve gone through the script, and he’s telling me the punchlines. He and Ali [Hughes], he’s the other writer. Funny enough, they’re quite opposite people, but it’s such a beautiful merger. It is so much fun to latch onto work with those different styles and merge them visually.

Who are your favorite characters on the show?

I love Kwabena, obviously, being the lead character. I’m a filmmaker as well. I think his stories are all of our stories as Black filmmakers in the UK, especially when you go to film school; you’re sort of put into a “demographic.” You’re put into a space where you’re automatically the outlier. 

I’m not saying that it’s necessarily right or wrong; I think, for me, it is talking more about the experience of being in that space and what you have to deal with, and it’s so relatable. At the same time as I’m watching this guy, I’m kinda like, I’m a bit different than Kwabena because I would actually walk off. I think that’s my Black superpower from God. I’ve been quite bold. 

Another person I really enjoyed was Amy [Dani Mosely, Eastenders] because she is another very relatable story like Kwabena’s. Now, who else do I like? Auntie Cami. Auntie Cami is a brilliant character. Shooting that whole party scene for me was a dream because where I live is predominantly Nigerian.

Talk to me more about how you relate to Kwabena’s journey as a filmmaker as it’s portrayed on screen, even though you’re a little different.

My government name is Kwabena. But also, I had a job while I was at film school. And that was difficult wrangling the two. Again I said, “I’ve always been bold,” so it’s not like it actually affected me as hard, but I felt like I was always in conflict. You know? Sort of like standing up for what I am. 

I’m a film scholar, and I’m working at this job with a major brand where I was very clear from the beginning that this was the job to aid my film school. So when I’m coming to my graduation, I shot my graduation film in Ghana. It’s called House Girl, which I’m actually turning into a TV show. I had to book two weeks off from work, literally take my holiday to shoot my graduation, which was fine, but I didn’t have enough holiday for the day I landed back from Ghana. 

After a nine-hour flight with two stopovers, I had to carry my suitcase to work and then be on the keyboard because I used to do customer service and stuff. And I realized, like wow. Did they actually make me drop my self-worth and drag the suitcase off the nine-hour flight and shoot in the trenches for two weeks, and you made me come back to work? I’m out of this place. Anyone can relate to Kwabena’s work getting in the way of his dreams. That is the journey. 

Dreaming Whilst Black is a six-episode half-hour dramedy by A24 and Big Deal Films, makes its streaming debut on Paramount+ with SHOWTIME on September 8, 2023, and premieres on SHOWTIME September 10 at 10 pm ET/PT.

Follow Koby Adom on X (Twitter) @DirectedByKoby and Instagram @driectedbykoby.

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