The prestigious BAFTA Breakthroughs 2023 have been announced this week, with comedy-related winners including writer and performer Adjani Salmon (Dreaming Whilst Black), writer Cash Carraway (Rain Dogs), hair and make-up artist Cynthia De La Rosa (Everyone Else Burns), and director Raine Allen-Miller (Rye Lane).
We were pleased to interview Adjani, Cash, Cynthia, and Raine.
How would you describe what you do?
Adjani: I procrastinate in the guise of "experiencing the world" to then race to a self-imposed deadline to create work that makes people laugh (or hopefully cry) while on the emotional journey we take them on in film and TV.
Cash: I'm a weird funny freak.
Cynthia: I would describe hair and make-up as a visual form of storytelling. Hair and make-up is so important to giving an audience initial clues about the character's personality, socioeconomic background, and how they live their lives. It also sets up an actor's ability to portray their character, and as a hair and make-up designer, I have the privilege of establishing and creating a second skin for these performers.
Raine: I am a director and a writer.
Did you always plan for this career path?
Adjani: Absolutely not. I have a degree in architecture and didn't think of film as a potential career until I was 21, when my cousin came down (to Jamaica) and told me that's what he did.
Cash: When I was working at The Bakers Oven, and when I was selling Sky TV packages from a call centre, and when I was a web-psychic, and when I was mopping up the puke of coked-up middle managers in a bar in Beckenham, and when I was a terrible stand-up, and when I was a terrific stripper at Spearmint Rhino, and when I was a home-based telemarketer, and when I was a rubbish art forger - I always thought YES I will create TV shows and become a millionaire at the age of 42. And I was right.
Cynthia: No, I did not plan for this career path at all. I always thought that I would be a high flying fashion designer, but was sidetracked when I fell in love with the theatre and decided to go into costume design instead. I didn't know that wigs, hair and make-up was even a path that I could take as I didn't grow up seeing people like me take that career path. It wasn't until uni when I worked for Tom Watson, the hair designer for Wicked, that I considered a career path. He told me to "ditch costumes and come join the dark side!". Moments like that made me realise how important representation is both in front of the screen as well as behind it. That's why I co-founded a not for profit which is helping the industry expand its knowledge of textured hair and mentoring people of the global majority into the industry. I am a true believer of "if you can see it, you can be it". I hope to use my own career platform as a designer so that other people can see it as a possible path for themselves.
Raine: I always dreamed of being able to pay the rent, but have a job that allows me to be creative. I still think that is a huge luxury and privilege. I feel like I have achieved that, and I'm really lucky.
Congratulations on joining the BAFTA Breakthrough cohort. What was your reaction when you heard the news?
Adjani: I was elated. I have never been accepted on a mentorship scheme before so was super excited to be apart of this cohort to meet and interact with all these amazing people.
Cash: Yeah, great day. Got the email, I was over the moon. Then I went down the David Lloyd gym and did a personal best on the running machine. Then I went home, celebrated with a Mint Magnum, absolutely wicked day.
Cynthia: Probably something I couldn't write in this interview! Lots of expletives and just real disbelief that I, and my craft in general, were being recognised by such a prestigious institution. I am only 1 of 3 hair and make-up designers to be recognised for my work in the 10 years of the program. I am the first woman of colour to be recognised by BAFTA Breakthrough in this field so it's quite momentous. Hair and make-up isn't always a craft that is recognised for its important contribution to storytelling so it feels like a pretty big deal to be receiving this accolade as I have been in the performing arts for over 18 years.
Raine: Thank you. Super pleased and honoured.
What is it about your recent work that you think has propelled you to Breakthrough status?
Adjani: I think it's "originality" so to speak. It's a show that brings a mirror to the industry's face from the black perspective. I also think it's probably due to the way in which we have come into the industry. I'm a by-product of the YouTube web series era so I think my journey is appealing to those who make the decisions.
Cash: I write genuine anti-heroes and flawed characters, and that's rare to see on TV these days. I'm a prick, and a lot of people who shop at my local Londis are pricks, there's no shortage of them about, is there? So, I thought - why not put them on telly? And although Rain Dogs had a small audience, people really related to it, because all humans behave like pricks. Plus it's got Eddie from Bottom (Adrian Edmondson) in it!
Cynthia: Both Dreaming Whilst Black and Everyone Else Burns really needed two very different techniques in design. Dreaming Whilst Black is a contemporary piece which allowed me to show my Afro and textured hair skills and skills in make-up for multi ethnic skin. I led a team that was about 90% from the global majority (some of whom I have mentored into the industry) and really had to research different cultural norms within the black community and understand how they translated into how a character would or wouldn't wear their hair or make-up. It was a real lesson in cultural intelligence.
Whilst Everyone Else Burns is a modern sitcom, it was a very character led design which meant I had to lean on my wig skills to really transform well known actors so that they were almost unrecognisable. We had to make a couple of actors in their late 20s look believably like teenagers, whilst also ageing well known comedy actors. The wigs and make-up were integral in helping to create these characters but also needed to be subtle enough that an audience wasn't focused on the actors having wigs on.
Both productions, whilst being comedies, needed to feel character led, without feeling like we were creating caricatures.
Raine: I think Rye Lane is a movie that was needed in the world, the South London black experience shown in a positive light is important.
What do you think is the biggest challenge, in terms of career progression?
Adjani: From my distant perspective, I'd say access. There are far more production companies, with triple more scripts than there are channels and commission slots to house us all.
Cash: It's a real challenge to find a home for the dark, twisted, human, comedic characters that I write. Outsider stories are hard to get on television. But it can be done, Rain Dogs managed to get on terrestrial TV! As did the shows I adored growing up like Jam, League Of Gentlemen, and The Larry Sanders Show.
Cynthia: I am a working parent with four kids from a working class minority background....the fact that I have gotten this far is pretty miraculous considering my odds. Having kids alone can preclude you from making the career leaps one needs to become a designer when your basic work day is 12 hours, and your childcare options are limited when you have a 4 or 5am start.
The first steps towards making this industry a more inclusive place, not just in the context of ethnicity, but in general, is to make courses more affordable through grant schemes and scholarships, create more paid internships at the high school level, create affordable childcare facilities in large studios such as Pinewood, and for production companies to create their own childcare voucher schemes for freelancers working for productions in the industry, whether they are working as dailies, or as full time employees on long term projects. I also think that without being a part of mentorship programs, I wouldn't have been able to navigate the pitfalls of being a first time designer. It was a godsend to have Sian Wilson, my mentor, on the other side of the line to help answer questions and offer me advice.
Raine: Social media, it's the most anxiety inducing thing ever. I don't think I've ever gained anything positive from it, other than really satisfying spot popping videos.
Could you give any tips/advice, for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Adjani: I'd give the same advice my film school tutor gave me, "while still unsigned, make exactly what you want to make because the moment you begin to be paid, you'll be making what they want." Upon first hearing it, it felt like a harrowing warning about the industry, but reflecting on it now, it's the specificity and clarity of Dreaming Whilst Black's voice why I think it got the industry's attention, and that's something I (and the team) were able to develop while making shorts and web series for no money. It's that work that we made using a DSLR on auto-focus that got us attention.
Cash: Never trust a man named Nigel. Never trust a producer in white Gucci loafers. And always double check your script for spelling mistakes.
Cynthia: I would say definitely go to a university that offers NVQs Level 2 in hairdressing/barbering. The industry currently has some really amazing make-up artists but we really need people who have backgrounds in hairstyling, colouring, textured hair, and Afro barbering. There are some amazing 4 month intensive taster programs such as CBMA Academy, The Iver Academy, and Delamar Academy which offer taster courses on everything from wig dressing to prosthetics application. These courses also tend to be partially subsidised and offer a bit of work experience at the end of the course. Also, don't discount working in theatre. It is an amazing industry that allows you to use your skills straight out of college and really creates some strong all-rounders. You can also check out the screenskills.com website for training opportunities and career advice, as well as checking out my page at @levellingup_uk for people of the global majority looking for advice or work experience into the industry.
Raine: What you think is good, is good - be strong and confident about it. Don't compare yourself to others. Be kind.
Tell us about your next plans...
Adjani: I have a sitcom in development with BBC Studios and a feature film in development with Film4. I'm super excited by them both as they are tonally and format-wise completely different to each other and Dreaming Whilst Black. I'm excited to push and stretch myself in new ways.
Cash: A sitcom called Big Shot for Boffola that I've co-written with Charlie Stone. A comedy drama called Reserve List for Objective Fiction. And my first feature film, a rom-com, set in the 19th century art scene with Playground Entertainment/Screen Ireland.
Cynthia: I am going to be designing the hair and make-up for Lena Dunham's next project for Netflix, and my theatre production of Standing at the Sky's Edge, which won an Olivier for Best Musical is moving to the Gillian Lynne Theatre in February of 2024. Also, the not for profit that I co founded in 2020, Levelling Up, will be expanding its mentorship program to help bring more people of the global majority into the performing arts. So some big and exciting things are happening.
Raine: I'm writing a heist movie and writing a TV show with phenomenal production teams.