James Drew on Producing a Wale of a Story

(Director Barnaby Blackburn and producer James Drew)

As we approach the Oscars, one might consider the UK’s version of these awards known as BAFTA. Prominent among this year’s nominees is the film Wale which, in addition to its recognition from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, has also been Academy Awards shortlisted in addition to receiving awards at the East End Film Festival, Dances With Films, Urbanworld Film Festival NYC, and numerous others. The tale of an eighteen-year-old man and his attempts to break from his previous life of crime is indicative of a course many people also experience. Throughout the film we see that even with sincere intentions to pull one’s self out of transgression, the actions and intentions of can derail us. Wale (pronounced Wally) is lured and trapped into a seemingly unescapable situation but an unexpected turn of events may either save him or damn him. The film’s writer/director Barnaby Blackburn enlisted the talents of James Drew as executive post production producer for the film, just as much for what he could take out as what he could place into the story.

VFX is deeply ingrained in modern filmmaking in numerous and sometimes unobvious ways. As is the case with many of the films he works on, James consulted with the writer/director of Wale concerning the methodology of certain scenes that might require VFX. Drew’s expertise informed Barnaby about subtle differences that would allow a better realization of his vision. The two had collaborated on a very successful video game commercial [NBA2K18] establishing that they shared a similar taste and style preference. Director and BAFTA nominee Barnaby Blackburn professes, “James is a rare breed of producer; a consummate problem solver. His brain is a marriage of the methodical and the artistic, at all times comprehending the creative vision of the film and understanding the technical requirements and solutions necessary to realize that vision.

Most of the viewing public immediately perceives images of Marvel and DC superheroes when CGI is mentioned but a fair amount of work in the industry is less spectacle oriented. While they can manifest the fantastic, James and his crew regularly find themselves “adjusting” the visual information on screen to avoid attention. For Wale, the VFX department’s work ranged from adding traditional African art onto previously unornamented walls to removing a member of the production team from the back seat of a car, displaying an empty backseat during the film. It’s appropriate that the VFX work for this film is so covert as the twists and unexpected turns of the story follow a similar misdirection. The deceit enacted upon Wale is the most frightening, that which is completely believable in modern times.

The VFX team also handled color grading for the film, which was prominent in creating the mood which Barnaby desired. This type of work is something which, when done at the most expert level, is rarely discussed but strongly felt. The postproduction EP comments, “I think the film had a raw and gritty realism to it. The work our team did amounted to not only a photographically beautiful project but it was grounded by a realistic representation of London. For example, whilst Jason [Wallis] was coloring the film, he had the deftness and restraint to not go overboard with the process. London is not generally a bright, colorful place. It’s often grey and miserable. Jason’s color treatment was an authentic representation of the city and of the characters. It is subtleties like this which contribute to the overall feeling we wanted for the story.”

Wale is perfectly suited for this time in the world. The kind of treachery Wale finds himself the victim of is likely something that has occurred in our society. The cast and the crew have communicated this in a way that allow the viewer to easily imagine being in Wale’s shoes and feeling the same fear. The ending is so gripping that you’ll likely find yourself yelling at the screen. The professionals behind the camera and in front of it have challenged the public with a story that asks of us “What would you do to alter the course of your life?” and to wonder if things are truly as they seem.

Kelly King writes for numerous popular online media outlets in addition to being a staff writer for NYC & LA based/internationally published Drumhead magazine.