PERFECT PAIRING: Ola Masha, (left), and Olan Collardy
OLA MASHA is a budding filmmaker unafraid to speak his mind about what he thinks makes for good viewing.
Tyler Perry is certainly not on his list and neither is Kidulthood director Noel Clarke. Earlier this year, the Central School of Speech and Drama graduate got into a heated exchange with Clarke via Twitter after calling the BAFTA Rising Star award-winner’s body of work “embarrassing”.
The veteran – known for his fiery temperament –shot back a few insults of his own before adding: “Don’t like what I do? Make something better”.
Masha, 24, realised it was time to put his money where his mouth was and push himself from critic to creator.
Now he and his business partner – 29-year-old cinematographer Olan Collardy – have teamed up with the UK’s number one youth channel SB.TV to create urban mini-series London Heat which is set against the backdrop of last summer’s riots.
“It’s terrifying because we have never gone down the urban route before. Our stuff is normally artsy stuff that no one understands," says Masha with a laugh. "My spat with Noel Clarke presented a challenge. I wanted to write something that fit the genre without giving in to stereotypes.”
London Heat was done on a shoestring budget with support from producer Alfred Mante and executive producer D’Aro Mambu, who invested after being impressed by Ola-Olan’s previous work.
The pair worked within a very tight time frame in between Collardy’s nine to five at an investment bank and Masha’s work curating for the British Film Institute (BFI).
The 33-minute pilot tells the story of Malcolm (Alex Aplerku) – a young man who gets caught up in a love triangle between his beautiful neighbour Jasmine (Rochelle Neil) and her drug-dealing babyfather, (Leemore Marrett Jr).
It sounds like something one might have heard before but Masha assures me there’s more depth and complexity to his story than predecessors.
“London Heat challenges stereotypical pe.rspectives you will see in what people call ‘urban’ storytelling,” says Masha who is currently shooting a documentary with Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.
“Malcolm is someone who goes against the grain. He is striving to be better. He is interested in education and passionate about black history. You don’t find those characters in other films,” the budding film producer explains.
“The average young black person living up on an estate isn’t necessarily engaged in criminal activities. They have family. They have education. They have morals, standards, goals and dreams just like any kid in the suburbs of Cheshire. They have multifaceted lives,” he adds.
Another aspect of London Heat that helps set it apart is its attention to quality: professional actors, with an emphasis on good dialogue, rather than action and beautiful composition.
The approach has been shaped by Masha’s academic background in the arts which includes a Masters in filmmaking from NYU where pre-eminent African American director Spike Lee was creative director.
Masha was also invited to intern for the Malcolm X filmmaker during his stint in the US. It is in stark contrast to self-taught Collardy.
“I can’t see myself working with anyone else,” says Masha. “We understand each other and we are like one person when it comes to directing.
He remarks: “His path might have been different to mine; but he is an inspiration for anyone who has a passion and natural talent for something and goes out there and does it. I think we have both paid our dues and have respect for the craft which heightens the quality. He puts 100 per cent into the cinematography and quality of sound and lighting while I focus on the actors and the story.”
The pair’s next venture will be a feature-length film, which they hope to take to the Sundance Film Festival.
He is keen for the Ola-Olan partnership to make their mark as serious filmmakers and not get lost in the gulf of overly-optimistic amateur productions.
Masha explains: “In this YouTube age everyone is an actor/writer/rapper/director/journalist because they have a blog and access to a camera, sometimes it means there is stuff out there that is poor quality.
“That upsets me because I really love film and people should respect it. Even I am hesitant about proclaiming myself a writer or a director because I have a long way to go and a lot to learn in order to perfect my craft. I hope people see we have tried to do this right. We have tried to raise the bar.”
But while Masha might see the Internet as the enemy of quality control, he does see the virtue in the opportunities it has created for independent creators.
The partnership with SB.TV – founded by young entrepreneur Jamal Edwards who even has a cameo in the pilot alongside UK rapper Squeeks – is a game-changer in its ability to bypass mainstream interference.
London Heat will also be the first TV show in the website’s new ‘culture’ channel – SB.Culture – and could be developed into a complete miniseries depending on the response.
Masha adds: “Jamal is an exemplary young man who is inspiring a whole generation. He built his business from scratch and what he has achieved is amazing.
“If you want to make a difference you’ve got to get out there and do it yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. Waiting for others to validate what you do can stifle your creativity.”
ON SCREEN: Actress Rochelle Neil gets ready for her close up
London Heat is available now on http://sbtv.co.uk/