"I do try not to think about the fanfare around the series because it does add pressure."
Adjani Salmon is one of British comedy's most promising new talents, after turning his 2018 web series Dreaming Whilst Black into a BAFTA-winning BBC Three pilot in which he plays aspiring filmmaker Kwabena,
In 2022 I included Adjani in my list of '22 TV Stars of Tomorrow for 2022' and since then he has gone on to star in Doctor Who and Chivalry with the pilot for Dreaming Whilst Black earning him multiple award nominations including wins at BAFTA for Emerging Talent: Fiction, the RTS Awards for Breakthrough Talent and the Broadcast Awards for Best Comedy.
Thankfully, the BBC saw sense and committed to a six-part series of Dreaming Whilst Black which launches this week and has been co-produced by Big Deal Films and A24, who will distribute the series internationally. Speaking as someone who's seen it all, you'll be hard-pushed to find a funnier British comedy this year on television. And we all know how important laughter is at the moment.
As the series begins, Kwabena bumps into Amy, an old friend from film school who has just returned from three years in Nigeria, she offers to pass his script, Jamaica Road, to the development team at the production company where she works.
But life isn't as simple as all that, and Kwabena who's stuck in a dead-end job, may have to make some sacrifices in order to pursue his dream when he gets the opportunity of a lifetime.
Ahead of the launch, I caught up with Adjani Salmon to discuss the pressure felt following such a successful pilot, the essence of the web series he didn't want to lose when moving it to the BBC as well as finding the funny in uncomfortableness and more.
You've been a filmmaker for many years and Dreaming Whilst Black began life as a web series. Why did you choose that route?
To be honest, I knew no other way. I tried the traditional route, as many of my friends had, which was, you know, make a short film, go to film festivals, try to get an agent, but that didn't happen.
At the time I had seen Kayode Ewumi make Hood Documentary and his career catapulted. Michael Dapaah and the whole Big Shaq phenomenon. So after seeing those, and even Cecile Emeke who made a web series called Ackee & Saltfish, she ended up directing the first season of Insecure.
So I guess I'd been seeing a pattern of people online breaking their careers. So I thought, well, I've tried the film festival route. But that didn't work, so instead of making another short, which I was going to do, I figured why not try a web series?
How were you then able to get that web series in front of the BBC? I can't imagine they were watching many web series looking for new talent.
They were not. At least in my time, they were not. But that was funny because we were very much shopping it around everywhere. I eventually got signed from the web series, but even before then, we were trying to share it with people and, you know, people would like it, but nothing would really happen.
And it was only until I got signed, actually, that we were sharing that web series with production companies and got Big Deal involved. But even then, we still had to write a treatment, pitch document, and sample scene to get it in front of the BBC.
I don't actually think they watched the whole thing. Maybe Sarah Asante (former Commissioning Editor at the BBC) did. But even so, it was very much when we got signed, that I guess we slipped back into the traditional route of having to write pitches and scripts and so on.
When the BBC then initially commissioned the pilot for Dreaming Whilst Black, were you worried about the show losing its authenticity and what you'd created so lovingly?
100%. I mean, by that point I'd met Kayode Ewumi and I remember asking him and having an honest conversation with him about it. He made Hood Documentary online, which became an international sensation and then went to the BBC, where it did not have the same effect. It was very much about keeping the essence. That was the core concern.
Yes, we have to learn how to write for television. Yes, it's a different format. But it was very much, Ali (co-writer Ali Hughes) and I were interrogating "What's the essence of what makes the web series what it is?" so that we can keep that and transport it to the other arena.
What was that essence you wanted to keep?
It's a weird thing to put into words, but it's actually just the way we tell jokes. I think traditional comedy is very much the lead is the funny man, and they live in an ordinary world. So that's your Mr Bean, Mighty Boosh, Chewing Gum - all these kind of great comedies, but actually our comedy is the reverse. Where the lead is the straight man and everyone else, from his lens anyway, he thinks everyone else is weird.
So that, and not shying away from making fun of things that aren't funny.
I was going to mention that actually. A large part of the humour in this show comes from microaggressions. That runs throughout. How do you feel about laughter coming from such uncomfortable moments?
That's what I think is funny. We always think that uncomfortableness is funny but that has been a challenge for us. How do you present such a sensitive thing, such a sensitive topic in a funny way? And really, it's about understanding who is at the centre and who is at the butt of the joke.
So at all times, we'd be questioning where we were getting the humour. That again, has always been a challenge for us. But it's one that we embrace.
Let's talk about the pilot. A BAFTA-winning pilot. That doesn't happen very often. What was that whole experience like for you?
It was a surreal thing. As much as I'm referencing Kayode (Ewumi) and Michael (Dapaah) - there are tons of web series out there. Even those guys, even Hood Documentary didn't turn into a full TV show. So we were very aware that we had a unique shot at cracking through that ceiling that not many people had done before.
To get the love and respect for the pilot from the original people who watched, that they still loved it, at least we'd done that.
Even with all the awards that came afterwards. It felt unrealistic. I remember going to the award ceremony... forget the award ceremony, I remember when the BBC said "we're going to submit it for this thing" - I remember my agent and I just wanted to get nominated. That's it. To get nominated. Celebrate. Done. With no expectation of winning at all.
Sitting there, I just thought cool, I'm here for the free food, meet some celebrities and see what happens. So to hear my name called was "Oh shit!"
Does all of that then add extra pressure when you're creating the full series for BBC Three? There's a lot of momentum behind this series.
We thought long about that and I would say we struggled for a bit when we first started writing, because if it's not better than the pilot, then it's not working. After a while, Ali was just like "Forget the BAFTA. Let's just do some fun shit."
It was almost like, let's just disregard everything and start over as if we're starting from when we made the web series and maintain that energy. I do try not to think about the fanfare around the series because it does add pressure.
For those who missed the pilot then, how would you best describe Dreaming Whilst Black?
Dreaming Whilst Black is a TV show about a young aspirational filmmaker who tries to fulfil his dreams, but comes up against the reality of what that looks like. without the finances and his own version of reality.
And how similar are you to the character of Kwabena?
Not that much, you know. That was something that we consciously moved away from because I'm far more confrontational than he is. It's almost like the core characteristics were me, but in order to make him funny, you had to create new things.
How involved were you in the casting?
I was involved through most of it, to be honest. Heather (Basten, Casting Director) is great and super collaborative. We tried to create a space where everybody was allowed to do their jobs. But I was in most of the castings, because most of the characters play off me, right? So I would go to read with them, just so we can get that energy and assess that chemistry. Heather found great gems all over!
What were some of your most memorable moments on set?
In episode three, there's a dinner scene. Shooting that was really fun! We knew from being on set that this was going to be fun.
Even the scene with the friends at the end. It was a tough day, but everybody was uplifting and bugging everyone up. Those two scenes were great to film and you see it on camera as well.
I wanted to talk about episode four, which sees a slight shift in tone. How difficult was that to write?
To be honest, we had a big writer's room and mapped out certain ideas and that was something that we tried to lean into. The big question from everybody was "How do we make this funny?" because it still has to be funny and A24 were very much like "There are too many pages without a joke".
For us, we've always been about leaning into it and then try and find the humour afterwards. But it was one of the more challenging episodes to write. But weirdly enough, one of the more fun ones to film, because of the atmosphere on set. The cast was very much like a family.
And actually, sometimes a lot of our jokes don't read funny. When we were pushing back on certain jokes, we had to be like "No, there's a. joke here. This is funny. Just trust me." That's one of the tricky things about the show actually, and how we write, it's not always funny to read.
And I imagine you have ambitions for at least another series of Dreaming Whilst Black.
We know what we want to do. We're just waiting on the networks to do what they need to do.
Dreaming Whilst Black starts Monday 24th July at 10pm on BBC Three with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer