James Barber – Journalist turned screenwriter pens new web series about London’s housing crisis

Hello James, welcome to Levile the home of all things film! Q: Coming from a journalistic background, how did you move into the film industry? What challenges did you face? JB: Well, prior to working on Flatshare, I worked at the BBC on different TV shows and I’ve always been a big fan of avant-garde movies which inspired the visual style of Flatshare. Before we started shooting I watched TV shows like Queen Sugar, which aesthetically is a feast for the eyes, I’ve never seen such a beautifully shot television show. I also watched lots of indie flicks like Weekend, The Comedian, A Single Man, Fishtank and Jungle Fever. I love the cinematography in these films, but we obviously don’t have the budget that these films had, so having to work with a very limited budget has been the biggest challenge and this is one of the main reasons why we created a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the web series. Q: How did the idea for ‘Flatshare’ come about and what is it about? JB: A friend of mine approached me about doing a web series together just over a year ago. I’d never embarked on a project like this but it seemed like an exciting idea, so I agreed to do it, not knowing how much of a big impact it would have on my life. I wanted to create a show in which I could see myself and the people within my close inner circle as I feel that the lives we live are often missing from mainstream narratives. During the writing of the series, there was also a popular hashtag that started to circulate across social media called #VentYourRent, which involved lots of young working professionals expressing their frustrations at having to pay extortionate levels of rent to live in properties that are in a terrible condition. So, I thought it would be really interesting to not only have a story about these four big personalities from diverse backgrounds living together in a run-down flatshare in South East London but to also explore this dynamic through London’s housing crisis. Q: How would you describe the Flatshare web-series in 3 words? JB: Funny, thought-provoking, riveting. Q: What vision did you have of the type of characters you wanted to portray and how were the final four cast members decided? JB: I think as a writer you’re always writing about yourself, even if it’s subconscious. I feel a strong connection to all of the characters because each one represents a different dimension of me. When I started to develop their characters I was really inspired by archetypes and using astrology to give them specific behavioural patterns that are related to certain birth signs. Like most people, I spend a lot of time on Instagram and have been really inspired by hashtags like #CarefreeBlackBoy and #BlackgirlMagic as it helped me to visualise how I wanted characters like Kemi and Omar to look like and the personality traits that are associated with these hashtags. When we started auditioning for the roles it was very obvious who we would cast for the lead roles. I was very clear on what I wanted, so it was then about finding actors who could bring those qualities out and take it to the next level. When Andrew Rowe came into to audition for Tom, what I loved about him is that he tapped into the emotional undercurrent of his characters sexual drive which gives him more depth. And the same with Callum Tempest, who plays Seb. He not only captures the rage and angst of his character who is a social activist but also the inner conflict he has around coming from a privileged background. Throughout the auditioning process, it was about casting actors who brought a strong level of authenticity. The hardest character we had finding was Omar, who to me is the heart and soul of the series and also happens to be a free-spirited gay man of colour. I found that a lot of the straight guys who auditioned for this role would overplay him by being overly camp and effeminate which was off-putting to me because I didn’t want him to be stereotypical. “When Lewis Brown walked in, he captured the right balance of what I was looking for. It was the little things he picked up on like Omar’s facial expressions, his body language and his tone.” Kemi, is the female lead in the series, she’s very outspoken and strong-willed but I also wanted to make sure that people wouldn’t label her as the ‘angry black woman’. We had quite a few actresses read for this role, but what stood out about Lauren Cato, who plays Kemi is that she brings a soft sensitivity and a vulnerability which makes her character more multidimensional. Q: How do we take the story forward and tackle issues explored in the series, like gentrification, class division and racial prejudice? JB: Once we complete filming for Flatshare we plan to hold screenings and have panel discussions about the issues raised in the series like the lack of affordable housing, gentrification, misogynoir, and Chemsex. With Flatshare, I’m not trying to present a single solution to these issues, if anything I want to create more dialogue. My long-term vision is to use the series as a platform to bring different people together to discuss new ways of moving forward because I think the world is very divided right now. I think that social media has created these echo chambers where people live in their own little bubble and just surround themselves with people who think like them and affirm what they already believe in. And as a result, they’ve forgotten how to listen to others, especially to those who have different opinions to themselves, and this why there has been such a strong resurgence of the far-right. I’ve always identified as someone who is quite liberal, but the intolerance and the desire for people who would…

This content is for Free Membership and Premium Membership members only.
Log In Register

You may also like