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BAME innovations: The African filmmaker who has created a unique vision of Britain

BAME

Spectrum London is a drama series that follows the lives of its compellingly diverse characters.

2017 is the year the hotly anticipated LGBT web series Spectrum London will finally make it to our screens and given its broad appeal, it’s highly likely to propel its innovative producer, Monica Y Dee, into our mainstream consciousness. 18 months in the making but with a 7months gap due to production issues, Spectrum London is a drama series that follows the lives of its compellingly diverse characters. It explores everyday trans (and non-trans issues), normalising conflicts within LGBT lifestyles in a way that simply hasn’t been seen before in a fictional medium.

The Pilot, EP 1 was co written by Monica and talented trans actor, Jake Graf, there after Jake wrote the following episodes and it was directed by the exceptionally impressive Queer director, Campbell X, it was always clear Spectrum London would hit the ground running. It hasn’t failed to disappoint, picking up its first award from the International Independent Film Awards two months ahead of its release date. However, that said, the filming of Spectrum wasn’t without its challenges.

Monica Y Dee is largely to thank for its success to date. Having pushed forward with the project, (which suffered no end of production problems), she not only completed the filming within a revised schedule against the odds, but also secured distribution with the LA-based streaming app, Revry. The web series is now in post production and will be ready in time for its official release in March.

Here’s what Monica had to say about the challenges she faced:

“In total, the production spanned over 18 months, with 20 days of filming. There were some extremely frustrating times when production had to stop due to our (pilot) director leaving, actors leaving, new ones arriving, creative and writing differences and a 7 months break where I was trying to raise money or waiting for scripts to be re written and finessed. This long break did put a dampener on the production and I feel that cast and crew’s interests were slipping away. I had to gain momentum back asap. We resumed production again in May 2016 and this continued all the way until 11th Dec 2016, our wrap day. Now I can see the finishing line, the light at the end of the tunnel, but I never expected to jump through so many hurdles.”

What have you learned from the experience?

“I have learned so much about producing, managing people, how to overcome money constraints and how to work around problem actors, how not to be despondent yet to find a solution and charge ahead full force no matter what as well as how to recognise considerate, genuine and loyal people. Would I work with them again? It would be my pleasure!”

How did Spectrum first come about?

“I had made a documentary in 2011 following the lives of a group of LGBT people in London who happened to be some friends also and my interest in these diverse, interesting characters made me want to work on a scripted, episodic project. Initially Jake had declined to be in the documentary as he was not ready to transition and share his story yet which was understandable so with this project a few years on I approached him with the James Roche character and asked if he would play James and also write the series.

I had pretty much all the main actors in mind from working with them before however a friend told me about a model based in NYC who had a lot of press due to her shaving her hair off and who started getting more work in men’s wear. Her name is Elliott Sailors and I was introduced to her that same year in London pitching the Hayley/Sacha character. Her love triangle storyline would involve Jake. I was happy that Elliott embraced the complexity of playing two characters and I was surprised to hear that she had never really acted before. Elliott flew to London in July 2015 and we shot all her scenes in 3 days.”

Who would you most like to thank on this project?

“I recognise those who have been supportive of me and one of these people was our director, award winning Black Queer film maker Campbell X, who stepped in mid way sharing their vision and talent which has helped glue this project together. I am truly thankful for having Campbell’s experience, patience and knowledge, I have learnt so much from Campbell. They have been my mentor through this project.”

Despite her humility, Monica is no stranger to the film industry, or to taking a risk for the greater good. The fact that only 5.3% of film producer in Britain are from a BAME background, didn’t phase Ethiopian-born Monica. It also didn’t stop her leaving her secure job as partner in a law firm to gain an MA in film, before setting up her own successful production company; rKive Productions, her own film festival, ‘UK Web Fest’ which is now in it’s third year and is also a judge for the Toronto Web Fest in Canada. Monica has also founded a new streaming app just for web series, which is also due to be launched this year. The award Spectrum won is her second, having picked up a film production award for her short ‘Truco’ in 2013. This could be a truly breakout year for the whole Spectrum cast and crew.

BAME
Monica Y Dee

T: @SpectrumLDNweb
Web: www.spectrumeastwebseries.com
Fbook: www.facebook.com/SpectrumLdnWeb

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