Fresh Takes: MetFilm School Masterclass with Noel Clarke
Over the last 15 years, BAFTA-winning actor, director and writer, Noel Clarke, has earned a devoted following for his gritty, uncomprising depictions of inner-city life. His screenplay for 2006’s Kidulthood was a box-office hit, generating two trilogy-completing sequels, Adulthood and Brotherhood, both of which he wrote, directed and starred in.
Most recently, Clarke has linked-up with Ashley Walters (Top Boy) in creating Sky’s smash-hit police drama Bulletproof, which aired its second season this year. Variety once described Clarke as a ‘one man film industry’ – a testament to his ability to confidently take on a variety of filmmaking roles, and put his unique stamp on everything he does.
We were thrilled to welcome Noel to MetFilm School for an exclusive Virtual Masterclass discussing staying motivated, the future of the industry and diversifying his skills.
Acting was always something that I wanted to do, and I knew from around the age of six that I wanted to work within TV, in whatever capacity that would eventually be. The interesting thing is that I didn’t see any actors who I related to, so I found myself looking towards American actors, as I just didn’t feel the UK Film and TV industry was very representative of people like me.
Both behind and in front of the camera I try to make sure there are people that are representative of colour, disability etc. I want to help people get opportunities they wouldn’t generally get.
Ashely Walters and I had been in the business a long time and somehow had never been paired to work together. From the time we met to discuss the project to getting it made and produced on Sky, it took around six and a half years. The chemistry we have on screen didn’t come from us being really good friends off screen, as more often than not, we were played off against each other for similar roles; it’s just the nature of the industry. We approached Bulletproof from a business perspective and along the way, became really good friends.
It is innate in both me and Ashely that you don’t generally get characters on TV in certain positions that are from where we are from. Ashely is supposed to be in Top Boy and I am supposed to be in Kidulthood – that’s the be all and end all of where we are supposed to be; and no further than that. Black actors who have gone on to crack America have generally not been working-class boys like us – they have mostly been ones who have gone through the more traditional channels and drama school etc. What makes Bulletproof stand out is that you don’t normally see people like us playing characters of police officers; this gives the show an energy that other police shows can’t have.
MORE THAN AN ACTOR…
The path to being a screenwriter, director and comic book writer stemmed from necessity. If I didn’t begin to diversify my skills, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am in now. It was either be unemployed or write. When you have written the work, you know that character inside out; so, the acting side almost takes care of itself. Then once you are on set the writing side also takes care of itself (there will also be rewrites on set), so your main focus is on the directing and nailing your performance. You need people you trust around you who will give you honest, constructive feedback.
FUTURE OF THE BRITISH INDUSTRY
I see the industry getting huge. London has always been a hub for the world. You guys (film students) are about to hit the golden age. A lot of the streamers – Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Peacock, Disney+ – are all looking for local market content that goes outwards. And that’s not even talking about the main TV channels and YouTube. It’s going to be a beautiful time. Anyone who is half-decent will be able to work in some way, shape or form.
As a whole package, it’s about creating and doing things that make a difference. With Bulletproof, if someone else had created that, it wouldn’t be the show it is. We have changed the business, and for me that is important. Kidulthood, Adulthood… changed the landscape of film and that’s the kind of stuff I want to do. With 22.214.171.124, we had a black and gay character as one of the leads, and that was 10 years ago. When a working-class person of any colour, from an under-privileged background, creates a TV show now, they can’t doubt it.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN WRITING
I look back on my stuff and think it’s not perfect, but that’s the process of learning. As you get older, you change. The more voices that can come out with authentic, raw stuff is what the business needs, because you’re going to take that style into your adult work. Even though I don’t write every episode of Bulletproof, you can clearly track the lineage of my humour and rawness. We just need more voices like that who can put their original stamp on something.
There’s nothing super original about a cop show, what makes it original is us. It’s about voice and finding what you bring to it that makes it different and answering two questions. One: Why now? That’s a really important question. With whatever it is, why is it a good time to tell that story? The other question is: Does it surprise you? So simple, but very important. When everything has been made almost 30 times over, it has to have enough of a different spin on it.
Interested in launching your career in the creative industries? Download a prospectus!