Julius was awarded a Toledo scholarship to study a masters in directing fiction at the National Film and Television School. During his time there, Julius wrote and directed four short films. Mary and John was nominated for Best Short at the 2009 Rushes Soho Film Festival and a Golden Lion at the 2010 Taipei County Film Festival in Taiwan. Lorraine premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Film Festival and was nominated for Best Short at the 2010 Rushes Soho Film Festival. Mr Graham premiered at the 14th Urbanworld Film Festival in New York 2010 and his graduation film Precipice won Best Short at the 19th Pan African film festival 2011, and an African Oscar for Best Diaspora Short at the 2011 African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in Nigeria.
Julius was then one of 18 students from the British, French and Polish film schools who were selected by the MEDIA DESK UK to help develop his graduation film into a feature film. He was then selected out of 3150 applicants for one of the 12 places offered by Channel 4 to work with writers to create an original series or serial for television. Julius has since directed for Doctors and he currently has a feature film, Riding The Whitey, in development which Idris Elba is executive producing.
His most recent film Rattlesnakes, played at the Los Angeles Pan African Festival this year and won the award for Best Narrative Feature as well as winning the African Oscar for Film By An African Abroad.
When did you know you wanted to be a director?
I have honestly been into films all my life. I remember growing up sitting in from the TV watching black and white movies on BBC2 and Channel 4. I was home schooled in London, as a child until, 7/8 years of age due to illnesses. My Dad, who worked nights, taught me Maths and English until he would fall a sleep after his long night shift. And whilst my mum was at work and my siblings were at school, my afternoons until they returned would be spent immersed into the many worlds of film. I knew at that age that I enjoyed the escapism it brought me and I thought they were magical entities that just appeared. I didn’t even know what a production was or who did what within a film’s production to decide that I wanted to be a director.
It was at the age of 16 when I made my first film at college I had a physical taste for it. Tasked with making my first short film I had to take on a number of roles within the production as my teammates dropped out, after finding out how difficult it was. But I was determined and passionate and as I took on all the missing teams members’ roles, it never felt like work to me and I really did enjoy doing the roles in all the different departments. It was a lot to take on but that’s what I thought filmmaking was. It was only a few years later I realised and learnt filmmaking is a collaborative process and a director interacts with all the departments in some way shape or form, and that’s when it clicked and I knew I wanted to be one.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career as a director, what were your first steps in achieving this goal?
I couldn’t find a course on directing so did a number of film courses in the different departments like sound, cinematography, lighting, editing etc. I thought if I learnt everyone else’s discipline it would give me a greater understanding and short hand of how to communicate to these departments as a director. I did this between the ages of 17 and 23. It gave me a great understanding for years to come. I then did a degree in Communication and Technology, which had some film models within it but it was more based in multi-media. This was also great, because it gave me knowledge and expertise in allot of the areas around a film, like marketing, promotion publicity, etc., whilst making me knowledgeable in new emerging technologies like multi-media formats and streaming video…
After graduating at 25, I set up my own production company where I used my contacts and personal savings to fund my own work. This is what I thought would be the quickest route for me to build my directing career as getting production roles even as a runner was extremely difficult, let alone a role as a director.
Setting up a production company was a lot of fun, and I had to do music videos and corporate videos to bring in money for the daily bills which after a while I felt was a distraction from what I had my heart set on: which was just making films.
I guess it was a blessing and a curse, you get the experience that people say you need but you spend your time, not doing the fun stuff or what you really want to do. But this was my personal chosen route/ journey and having the opportunity to fund my own work gave me more control and opportunities I couldn’t get elsewhere.
And through this production company over the next five years I made four short films and a low-budget feature film that won me, more than 20 nominations and five awards.
What obstacles or setbacks did you face in becoming a director?
There was a lot of institutional racism that resulted in a lack of opportunities. I had to create my own opportunities if ever I wanted to work in film and TV. My parents wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer so I had to end up convincing them as well. A lot of my time during that period was spent filled with self-belief, determination and perseverance to succeed. And I soon learnt that small victories daily build to a big victory over time.
How did you develop your voice and hone your craft?
I have never stopped studying, whether it by making films or by watching them. Even understanding why you don’t like something is very beneficial. My early independent short films were a big learning curve and this is where I tried and failed in many different ways. I later did a masters in directing fiction at the National Film and Television School (NFTS), and during my time there I made four shorts that were aimed at improving the areas I wanted to better. Like directing multiple actors within a scene, handling uncomfortable subject matter and action set pieces I also found it very beneficial watching my fellow directors direct; everybody does it differently and there is a lot you can learn from someone else’s approach and thought process.
How did you get your first break?
I tired for many years to get an agent and failed, then two approached me one day to represent me in the UK and the USA. A short I did as my graduation film opened the door to the agents, I took a minuscule budget and made a high-end thriller with high production values. Which with ever shrinking budget was bankable.
My first BBC job was through relationships I had made. To a certain extent it’s about your talent, but it is also about relationships you make along the way. People move around allot in this industry and so it’s good to keep in touch with people. I think the best thing you can do is never stop networking, and more importantly learning to better yourself at your craft.
Even the last feature I made was through an existing relationship. An actor I had previously worked with called me up and said do I have any ideas, and three months later, I had written a script we were shooting a feature … This film was called Rattlesnakes. It was a super-micro-budget feature which we shot in 12 days in the United States. And yes, 12 days is a short period of time to shoot a feature and it wasn’t easy. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and even more, such as the biggest natural disaster in Californian history, which really tested how much I really wanted to make this film. We were supposed to be spending a couple of weeks in a beautiful mansion in Montecito, California shooting until wild forest fires ravaged the nearby mountains. Within hours we were put under mandatory evacuation. With no time to pack up hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, we had to lock up everything in the house and move to safety. Three days later we somehow got our kit back, relocated, found new locations and replaced half the crew we lost along the way. This film did pretty well in the end, it played at 21 film festivals, got worldwide distribution and won eight awards.
What I have found up until this point in my career is this.
1. I enjoy what I do so it doesn’t feel like work.
2. Dedication, perseverance and not giving up has kept me going in this industry.
3. All your skills are transferable and you never know, what you learnt which you might think is unrelated might come in handy. So never stop learning.
4. Relationships have always opened the next chapter in my career.
5. Small victories daily build to a bigger victory over time.
TV Credits: Doctors (2012), That Thing That Happened (2014).
Photograph: Photography by Michael Moriatis