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The Making of Hot New Comedy Film Gone Too Far

Directed by Destiny Ekaragha
(Screen International Star of Tomorrow 2009)

Written by Bola Agbaje
(Winner, Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliated Theatre, 2008)

Produced by Christopher Granier-Deferre
Financed by The BFI Film Fund and Poisson Rouge Pictures

Official Selection: London International Film Festival 2013
Nominated: Best Newcomer (Destiny Ekaragha), London International Film Festival
Official Selection: Toronto International Film Festival: Next Wave (2014)
Winner: Best New British Comedy, LOCO London Comedy Film Festival
Selected for: Birds’ Eye View Festival 2014; Belfast Takeover Festival 2014

Nominated: Independent Spirit Award (Destiny Ekaragha) &
Female Performance in Film (Shanika Warren-Markland);
Young Shooting Star (Adelayo Adedayo);

Favourite Male African & International Emerging Screen Talent:
(OC Ukeje), Screen Nation Awards 2014

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The origins of the project:
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Gone Too Far! was first performed as a play at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliated Theatre. Bola received an Evening Standard Award nomination for Most Promising Playwright in 2008.

Bola Agbaje (writer): “Gone Too Far! was the first play I’d ever written. I was on the Young Writers Programme at the Royal Court (which has also launched the careers of writers such as Polly Stenham and Lucy Prebble), which was a really inspiring experience and I owe them a great deal. The play did really well, and won an Olivier Award and raised some themes about racism within the Black community that hadn’t really been talked about in public before. It was based on my experiences growing up on an estate in Peckham, not causing trouble – just doing things the kids in Gone Too Far! do, and my moving between Nigeria and London when I was growing up –

feeling like you had a foot in both cultures, and not knowing who you really are.”

The play was first performed in 2007, and helped launch the careers of some of Britain’s now most high-profile Black actors, including Zawe Ashton, Ashley Chin, Bunmi Mojekwu, Tobi Bakare and Tunji Lucas. It caused headlines when Agbaje invited then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to come and see the play if he really wanted to understand the problems that inner-city kids faced. He didn’t attend. But the potential to turn the play into a film was obvious from the beginning.

Christopher Granier-Deferre (producer): “I saw the play and immediately knew that it had the potential to be turned into a movie – it was so fresh, so moving, and so unusual that it just leapt off the stage. So I basically door-stepped Bola until she agreed to discuss making the film version with me. And it was good timing, because the play was getting a huge amount of attention.”

Bola Agbaje: “When it was running at the theatre, an exec from the then-UK Film Council came running up and asked whether I’d ever thought about turning it into a film. And coincidentally, I’d met Christopher the day before, and we started talking about how we’d do it. But it was a really long process – it took three years to get it from first draft to shooting the film”.

The development process:

Destiny Ekaragha (director): “I saw the play at the Royal Court, and really loved it. It was a really funny story that I had never seen told before, it felt like my story. It dealt with things that I had dealt with growing up in South East London – things that I had never seen talked about on screen.

I jumped at the chance to direct it. When I first met Bola, we clicked almost immediately. We became friends in a matter of seconds and a team in a matter of minutes.

“Our vision for Gone Too Far! was clear to us and Christopher, but to many others Gone Too Far! was so different from anything else that had gone before. Here was a film that had young black people in it without guns, drugs and knife crime. It was just a coming of age story sprinkled with comedy. Many didn’t get it, but the execs at the BFI Film Fund did instantly. I walked into their offices and was treated like a human being – not some alien that was trying to prove to them why.

Producer – Christopher Granier-Deferre

Christopher has over twenty years’ experience working in film and television. As an assistant director he has worked with, amongst others, George Lucas, James Ivory and The Hughes Brothers. Work as a production manager includes Syriana starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. Credits as a producer include the BIFA-nominated thriller The Hide and A Thousand Kisses Deep starring Jodie Whittaker and Dougray Scott. His latest feature, Gone Too Far!, premiered at the 57th BFI London Film Festival in October 2013, and saw director Destiny Ekaragha nominated for ‘best newcomer’. He has recently directed his first feature, Dirty

Weekend, a “deliciously dark black comedy”. He is currently head of Creative England’s low budget iFeatures initiative.

my people were important. One meeting later and my first feature was being made. I was in shock for days. We’d had three years of constant ‘no’s’ and here was a ‘yes’. In an hour it was decided that one of my dreams was going to come true. And it did.”

Bola Agbaje: “Initially, it was tough to turn the play into a film because I kept being told that I had to tell the story visually – and as it was my first screenplay, learning how to cut the dialogue back and put this back into the world that it was from. Onstage you can use your imagination about the world of the play – in film, you have to describe it. In terms of the essence of the play, nothing’s changed from what was performed. But there are lots of changes in the tone and the dialogue – it’s more of a straight comedy now. I took away issues of knife crime and gun crime that was in the

play. At the time (2007) it was necessary – people weren’t really talking about that on stage. But now it’s changed – I think we’ve come a long way in what we see on TV and the openness about those issues being discussed.”

The Casting Process:
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Casting Malachi Kirby as Yemi

Destiny Ekaragha: “I first saw Malachi in BBC Drama My Murder and I thought he was incredible. I called him in to read for us just to see him perform. As he’d played mainly serious parts before, I was curious to see if he could cross over to comedy and he did, he blew us away. I loved working with him on set, he’s just a sweet, sweet soul and a phenomenal actor.”

Casting O.C. Ukeje as Ikudayisi

Destiny Ekaragha: “There’s nothing worse than non-African actors doing bad African accents. I can just tell from a mile off that they’re not African and it just takes me out of the scene. So with that in mind, we decided that Ikudayisi should be played by someone from Nigeria. Bola had actually met O.C. when he was in London for the Olympics performing as part of the Cultural Olympiad, and she sent me his showreel, which I loved, and we Skyped. I talked to him about the character and about how I wanted him to be a real person and not some caricature. I was worried that in the wrong hands Ikudayisi would just be a larger-than-life character and not human. O.C. and I were on the same page about that. He nailed his audition, he was perfect.”

Christopher Granier-Deferre: “O.C. is a huge star in Nigeria, and we were thrilled when he accepted the role. What he must have thought when he came over he came for 6 weeks, and we made him shoot in November in East and South London in terrible weather for very long hours! He is such a pro – hard working, eager and enthusiastic. And a brilliant actor. Hopefully this is the start of big things for him over here too – although the way his career is going, who needs ‘over here?’”

Casting Shanika Warren-Markland as Armani

Destiny Ekaragha: “Shanika had played Armani in a read through for us, when we were still developing the script and she was amazing, she had Armani down perfectly. I was a little worried about her look though. Shanika is a very elegant and classy young woman whereas Armani is this very young and boastful girl. So for the audition I asked her to dress as Armani. When I saw her across the street I just thought – ‘that’s her’. Htosiner hair was slicked back, she looked 17 or 18, and was almost unrecognisable. She was Armani. It was a wonderful experience to watch her work. She’s such a sweet and lovely person – the complete antithesis to Armani – so to watch her switch into the villain of the piece was mesmerizing.”

Casting Adelayo Adedayo as Paris

Destiny Ekaragha: “We shot a pilot for this film a few years ago – to test the tone, the mood, the characters and Adelayo was in that as Paris. Two years later the film was green lit and there was nobody else in my head for the role of Paris. It had to be Adelayo. She has this ability to make you feel whatever she’s feeling with just her eyes. She’s an extraordinary talent.”

Casting Tosin Cole as Razer

Destiny Ekaragha: “This was the hardest casting we did. We met so many great actors for the role – some really up and coming names – but because of what the character Razer does and says throughout the film, it was very important that the actor playing him was funny. If not it would’ve given the film a different tone, a darker tone and that’s not what we wanted. The moment Tosin came in and opened his mouth I was laughing. Even when, as the character, he was being serious I was still laughing, I couldn’t stop. We knew then that it was him, the role was his. On set

it was the same. He was constantly improvising, constantly coming up with ideas. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve worked with, and that really comes across in his delivery”.

Casting Miles McDonald as Ghost

Destiny Ekaragha: “We had to cast this role really, really quickly – literally we had 20 actors come in and one of them had to be right, because we were going to start shooting with him the next day. Everyone that came in was good but they weren’t right and towards the end of the day I was starting to get really worried. Then Miles came in. Miles is a pretty quiet, mild mannered guy so I wasn’t sure about what he was gonna do. His sight reading was great but I could feel that he had more to give so we did some improv. All of a sudden this vulnerability tinged with edginess came

through. He was able to be calm, funny and vulnerable all at the same time which I was blown away by. It was real, nothing about it felt fake and I think that’s what made him perfect for the role.”

The shoot:

The team shot for 5 weeks in Bethnal Green and the film’s spiritual home, Peckham. The shoot wasn’t plain sailing, of course – the budget was low, and shooting a film that had initially been based on the hottest day of the year, during October and November in London, was always going to present challenges.

Christopher Granier-Deferre: “The film’s based over the course of one day, all set outside, in one location. So there was some frantic looking at the weather forecasts every morning for continuity, but this is film making – you have to go with what you’re given. Some days we literally had to shoot what we had as there was no interior we could go to. It even snowed once when we were trying to do “summer” beauty shots of Peckham. Generally we lucked out. But as soon as we wrapped the film, it rained for a month non-stop. The gods wanted us to make the film!”

The crew shot for three weeks on the same estate in East London, and became semi-permanent fixtures in the area. When they moved to Peckham, it was key to getting some of the area’s most famous locations into the film, and involving the local community.

Bola Agbaje: “I grew up in Peckham, and while it’s really fashionable now, when the play came out Peckham was only really known for Only Fools And Horses and Desmonds. So it was really important for us to make sure that the area, which is really vibrant, and culturally rich, and colourful, was represented truthfully and positively on film. We were embraced by placed like Peckham Library, The Bussey Building, the local church and by the people who live there. I hope we can be a little part of putting the area on the map – it’s a great community and it’s given us a lot, and a side of London you don’t see very often on film”.

Destiny Ekaragha: “I loved shooting, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s hard work. It’s not glamorous in any way shape or form. We shot the film in November so it was freezing and yet I still found a way to love it. I loved directing these actors and I loved coming up with the shots with the DP and the crew to realise the vision. It’s such a massive team effort that you don’t get to see.

30 or 40 people on set every day freezing cold and battling all sorts of obstacles to make this film work. They made the experience great– I should really give a shout out to them”.

Bola Agbaje: “With a play, the writer is key, being involved in rehearsals is where you discover things about the characters and the script. So part of me wanted to be on set to see it come alive.

Destiny Ekaragha: “It was great having Bola on set. Having the author on set means that if there’s a line of dialogue that the actors need some help with I could just get some advice on what she meant. And we’re really good friends, so it’s always nice to work with someone who gets where you’re coming from the whole time”.

Post Production and reception:

The team camped out at Met Film Post at Ealing Studios for 4 months, emerging in April 2013 with the finished film.

Christopher Granier-Deferre: “When we started watching cuts, we realised that there was a whole other layer underneath the comedy in the film. I was excited to see how much sentiment was wrapped up in the film – something that wasn’t as evident on the page – as we get towards the end it becomes surprisingly emotional. It really has a lot of heart, and bus load of charm.”

Destiny Ekaragha: “When we found out we’d been selected for the London Film Festival, Bola and I went a little crazy. It was the best news. My first ever short film premiered there, and the festival has been really supportive of my work since. It’s great to be having a West End premiere–it’s a very London movie, and it’s the right place for it to show. It’s a dream come true.”

Bola Agbaje: “Yes, we’re new to this industry, and yes, we haven’t made a film before. But we know what we want to watch, and I believe that we’ve created a product that – whatever happens to the film – we can be really proud of.”

Destiny Ekaragha: “There isn’t another film out there like this at the moment. And that doesn’t make it better or worse than any other, but it’s unique. And I’m really proud of that.”

Gone Too Far is in UK Cinemas From Friday 10th Oct