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Q&A With Writer and Director, Yasmin Godo

We had the opportunity to sit down with talented Director and Writer, Yasmin Godo. We learned more about her Channel 4 Random Acts short film Un(fit) to work, (which we featured in last months Let’s Watch series), how she found her way into the Film and TV industry and some of the ways in which being Neurodivergent plays a part in her career as a creative. Yasmin is best known for Random Acts: (Un)fit to Work (2022)Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha (2016) and Foresight (2021).

What was your journey into the TV and film industry?

I attended the University of Brighton to study Broadcast Media – although my speciality then was due to be Radio. That planted a seed that led me to the Legacy Media Institute Filmmakers workshop at the BFI in 2015, led by Mentor & Friend Tim Reid (“Sister Sister”/”Green Leaf”). An intense programme to learn the process of making a short film in a fortnight. To be screened in the festival at the end of the 2 week period. 

Although I sought to gain my first credit as a Writer during this time, Mr Reid saw something in me that was akin to being a great 1st Assistant Director, which is what I had been doing for the past 8 years until my short film debut. It was during this time working closely beside local & international Directors (CALMATIC, Debbie Tucker Green, Joelle Mae David, Jake Scott and many others) that I would study my craft and gain a feel for the stories I wished to create.

Have you always known you wanted to be a director? 

This is always an interesting question, but ultimately yes. My younger self felt confused all the way until University about my future aspirations, mainly because it didn’t fit the status quo of what anyone else I know was doing at that time (culturally – representation is key). But looking back retrospectively, from childhood you could ALWAYS find me with a DV Camera in my hand, making skits in my parents room or taking stills photos. At college this continued, filming the school talent show or just discussing creative ventures with friends.

Both of my parents have an overwhelming passion for Film, so that’s also filtered down to me wanting to Direct. Mum loves Film Noir, Musicals, Documentary’s & has a penchant for Spaghetti Westerns. My Dad’s tastes are a little harder to underpin; Action, Comedy, some Foreign Film (Nollywood is foreign from a Western lens, plis), Martial Arts – ultimately if it kept him in his seat at the Cinema we were onto a winner. My formative years were spent watching a LOT of Film & TV. Sunday’s were with my Dad attending Cinema Club at Peckham Plex with a cheeky McDonald’s Happy Meal afterwards. 

Regardless of what format it came in, Film has always been a shifter of cultures. So I guess there’s always been a part of me that wants to be a part of that. Whilst invoking the same emotions for others, that I had whilst watching anything that moved me.

What inspired you to write (un)fit to work?

“(Un)fit To Work” was a direct commission/response to a Channel4 Random Acts callout looking for Neurodivergent & Disabled Directors, to create a period (80’s themed) piece in celebration of the broadcaster’s 40th Anniversary celebrations since the channel launched in 1982. 

What inspired me to write “(Un)fit To Work” is quite layered

Being a child of ‘89 and seeing the sweeping changes in culture/political landscape through the decades, I have always said when I get the opportunity to make Film, it will be to tell stories through various era’s (60’s/70’s/80’s/90’s), so I genuinely had the best time letting loose with this film. I love the style, flair and poignance of these almost dynasties.

In my life I have had numerous people very close to me who live with visible & invisible Disabilities. The most important one being my Mum. Watching the continued exhaustion and fatigue that comes with having to fight to prove the extent of one’s disability for income assessments etc, just to be denied, is an incredibly frustrating and angering exercise. One I have seen up close time and time again. I only learned in more recent times that I am Neurodivergent, which also made sense why I have had so many jobs over the years until working in film and struggled with seemingly quite basic things. The rigmarole of “signing on” at the job center is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but it created the basis for “(Un)fit To Work”. This fed into my idea of what it must have been like during the Thatcher Era/Jobs Market Crisis, with an AIDS/HIV endemic also at play. I had seen so many stories and depictions of these things but only from the lens of White British Coal Miners who striked or American citizens who lived with AIDS. Never from the lens of any marginalized group.

What did you enjoy most about Directing (un)fit to work? 

I think the thing I enjoyed most was seeing the set, wardrobe (thanks Mum & Dad) and props all in situ, and feeling like we really managed to step back into the 80’s on our tiny budget. It was a proud moment for me. 

The best part of Directing this piece was spending time learning about each cast member’s respective disability, how it related to their character (closely written to reflect some of the personal stories shared with me and subsequently written into the script), and finding cool ways to get the exact moments out of my Cast without them conveying any dialogue. Learning about how to get the best out of everyone based on their personal strengths and challenges, also allowed me to understand my own. Being that it was a silent Musical, only 5 minutes in duration each beat had to count. 

Blending together the humour, seriousness, dance, music and message was a real joy to see come to life.

You said this film is about creating conversations, what is the most important or notable conversation you’ve had following the film’s release? 

I’ve had so many people reach out in relation to my film, be it personally sliding into my DM’s or randomly on a night out whilst having a drink with friends, all in ways that has touched my heart. 

As recent as last week, someone shared that their boyfriend is Autistic, so they had been looking for content to learn a little more about his diagnosis, whilst seeking out representation that would allow them to enjoy their daily viewing content and stumbled across “(Un)fit To Work”. It made me smile, simply because that was EXACTLY the reason the film was made. I’ve had parents with Neurodivergent children reach out, in how connected they felt and touched by the message, some more mature audiences have also spoken on how they felt a sense of visibility due to the close nature in which the narrative resembled their personal experiences and made them feel empowered. 

I have to give thanks to my really good friend (@mrVans7) who allowed me onto his Podcast “Off The Cuff” to speak at greater lengths about the film, broaden it’s reach and the people who have since been in touch with me about the film.

Being Neurodivergent can present many challenges, but are there any aspects of your ADHD that you’ve found to be a positive element to your career?

Truthfully, this is a hard question to answer. As someone who has spent nearly 8 years as a 1st Assistant Director, done the odd bit of Producing here and there and moving into Directing; absolutely none of the above lends itself to my neurodivergence and the challenges that comes with this. Keeping to structured deadlines, being the lead organiser in the group, enforcing timekeeping within the production and remaining focused and a sharp attention to detail are polar opposites of what my ‘neurodivergence’ often allows.

However, the cheat-code of everyday being different on set, has been a cheerful loophole that has allowed me to thrive. Knowing that for some reason, my brain is wired to cope really well in things that may feel like chaos [to others] but somehow gives me a sense of comfort, means that I can troubleshoot problems quickly and find solutions that allow me to navigate helping my team get the job done. This in turn has meant being fortunate enough to work beside many Directors whom I could learn from creatively (not just logistically) to hone my own Directing skills. In which to apply my ideas and understand my mind a little better. Whereas in a traditional office environment that feels the same everyday, I have fallen short quite often.

I think a positive element to my neurodivergence has been my enthusiasm for multiple tasks at once. Although concentration has definitely been a stumbling block at times, my ability to have “multiple tabs [in my brain] open at once”, has allowed me to approach things in a way that means I still find a way to thrive despite being under a wealth of pressure. 

As someone who is Neurodiverse, what are some accommodations you make for yourself during filming and post filming of a project? 

I always give myself more time than I feel I may need. Unlike neurotypical people, at times (to be read as ALL THE TIME) my mind seems to be hard-wired to “Procrastinate”. So this can mean that despite actively sitting in front of my screen ready and willing to work, not very much productivity tends to occur, until the final hour. When creating Treatments, tweaking edits or previously creating schedules. Then all the idea’s, words, sentence structures, creative ideologies tend to flood at once. As such the last minute flurry can be quite overwhelming and not allow for me to deliver my best. As a way to navigate this, I give myself even more time than needed, to negate the last minute scramble, and almost as a means to trick myself into doing what is needed before any deadline approaches.

Noise canceling headphones have been a game changer for me. Until the Covid/Lockdown period [prior to receiving my formal diagnosis], I was aware there was maybe something different about me from everyone else, but I wasn’t sure what. As such I wasn’t aware how much sensory overload tends to affect me. Too much noise distracts me and tends to overwhelm me a bit, so if I don’t have the same song on repeat to drown out background noise, then I just have my headphones set to noise cancelling. It’s helped me get on with SO much work, I can’t believe I wasn’t hip to them sooner.

Beyond this, I work to the hours that make sense to me. My body clock means i’m usually at my most productive from like 3-4am until 9-10am. Then I have a brief dip in energy for an hour or so, then i’m relatively hyperactive again for as long as the duration of my busy-ness lasts for. Understanding this about myself has been important, as it means i’m not as hard on myself anymore for not operating to the same capacity/working hours as everyone else. But this allows me to complete the same if not more than others, by playing to my strengths.

(Un)fit to work celebrates disabilities, both visible and invisible. What is true representation to you and how do you think the industry can be more inclusive for those with disabilities? 

I have worked across a number of productions in the past with crew & cast who are Hearing impaired or Deaf, and individuals feel a level of uncomfortability to communicate because it’s foreign to them. Or speaking freely without being in view of the person with the disability, then become frustrated due to not being heard, when the “fault” (if any) lies with the person not exercising patience by ensuring they were in clear view to have their audience lip read. I think a little education and kindness can go a long way, but in a fast paced industry it’s far too easy for people assume that it’s “too hard” and remain comfortably stagnant by lack of change.

True representation to me, is how Jamie McCallum (my Producer) and I, sought to create our crew & cast environment. Everybody in front and behind the camera was either living with a disability, various nationalities and ethnicities, LGBTQI+, a balanced gendered group of varying ages, and we listened to the needs of our team. Ultimately we had £5k (with a little extra specifically for Access Requirements) to make our film but still prioritized genuine diversity.

As an industry, larger scale productions tend to have far more money to play around with but ultimately I see HOD’s being guilty of crewing up with the same people time and time again. There’s nothing wrong with working with who you’re familiar with and trust, but I do question those sensibilities when everyone in said department all look exactly the same. I think we’re all guilty of not trying hard enough, or at all. As an industry I would love to see a little more effort, not just when funding tick boxes apply, but as a standard. The gap in diversity exists because we often tend to not care until it’s glaringly obvious there is an issue, then we seek to solve it temporarily, give ourselves a pat on the back. Allow it to fall back to what we all know it to be, then rinse and repeat. Equity cannot exist without a sweeping overhaul of existing practices and challenging each other to do better. 

I think eventually we will find a balance that’s fitting for all, but for now there’s quite a lot of work to be done. I use the word “we” because as long as I continue to be a part of this industry, it is equally my responsibility just as everyone else’s to attempt to help create change.

As Barking and Dagenham locals, we were so excited to see that you filmed part of the film in the borough thanks to our friends over at Film Barking and Dagenham – How do you usually find filming locations and how long does the process usually take? 

Discovering the beautiful souls at Film Dagenham & Barking was an absolute God send!! They are life long friends now (they don’t have a choice, they’re stuck with us), their love and generosity made an exhaustive process so much more simple. Finding our location was probably the toughest part of the entire production and had taken us no less than 5 months, due to Channel 4’s requirements of it having to be a 1980’s themed period film to celebrate the 40th anniversary since the launch of the channel in 1982. Making sure the building looked aged, like a Job Centre AND appropriate to the access needs of our cast who were Wheelchair users, on our teeny tiny budget was keeping us up at night for months. 

We got super creative in our search, as we had no budget for a Locations Manager. We sought out Town Halls, closed Job Centres, Community halls, Co-Working spaces, Function rooms, University campus, Office spaces, you name it!

For every time we got close, we either didn’t have enough money, it wasn’t quite right, or organisations heard we were attached to a Broadcaster and wanted to extort us for money we simply didn’t have. This labour of love was getting further and further away, until we met the phenomenal Anna, Lisa & Jayne, who not only loved our idea but had felt the narrative had an affinity with the prior communities of Dagenham & Barking who may have struggled with unemployment statistics in the yester-years prior. So were all too willing to help. The only constraints were a very major Netflix production happening at the same location, which meant availability dates were quite rigid; and the Queens Platinum Jubilee, but we made it work. Thus, “(Un)fit To Work” was able to come to life. Even allowing for ramp access, large open bay windows and aircon, as one of the very key stipulations was ensuring we had ventilation, so my talented cast may not suffer any symptoms of relapse due to overheating. Our location ticked off all of the boxes. 

What’s next for you and where can we keep up to date with your work? 

I currently have a few scripts i’m finishing off and a Documentary i’m getting off the ground. I’m cheerfully awaiting the outcome of a few more Film Festival submissions but that’s it for now. 

To keep in touch or follow the journey, my @ across all socials is: @yazzypresents

A huge thanks you to Yasmin for speaking with us, and you can watch Un(fit) to work here

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