By Naseem Ally. ‘Serious Tingz’ is a micro-short film from director Abdou Cisse that paints a picture of his personal experience of growing up in South London, where it’s somewhat expected for young men to follow the rite of passage of wearing the iconic ‘screwface’. This film goes underneath the surface of masculinity and questions ‘what is a smile worth?’
I had the fortune of being able to see the BIFA nominated film at a screening in Shoreditch held in collaboration with The Beats By Dr Dre Residency and Stormzy’s Penguin Publishing imprint #Merky Books, where Abdou Cisse himself, was present as part of a Q and A session.
Serious Tingz has a total running time of three minutes and in that time, the film displays a vast array of characters all reflecting the power struggle that youth face in inner-city London, when it comes to having to maintain the ‘screwface’ pose on a daily basis.
In the Q and A session, Abdou mentioned that he wanted to make the film authentic by casting people that were actually living in South London estates and could relate to the premise, rather than putting out an open casting call.
I think this was a great choice for the film and it makes it really believable. In all honesty, it would probably be quite hard to randomly pull someone off the street and instruct them to put on a performance like that. Especially for someone who may have never even been in similar circumstances, of growing up in a scarce, competitive socio-economic environment where you’re pretty much forced to put up a front, for the sake of your own livelihood. Even if you don’t want to.
It’s better to cast someone who’s actually lived and breathed the lifestyle, than trying to force or manipulate a performance out of them, which is so often the case with child actors. However, of course, there are some exceptions – case in point being Zain Al Rafeea’s great display in the lead role of ‘Zain’ in the Cannes winning ‘Capernaum’.
What I appreciated about Serious Tingz is that these aren’t actors – they’re real people – who are ‘acting’ by circumstance, not by choice. I’d love to see more work of this ilk, instead of the arguably fabricated performances in shows like ‘Top Boy’. It’s a drama. I understand – Drake, don’t come for my ‘headtop’.
After watching this, I couldn’t picture Cisse yelling cut, and then the guys on set saying to each other, ‘Yo fam, you wanna go for a cheeky Nando’s? – Nah bruv, I can’t, I gotta go do some shopping with the missus’.
Maybe, after giving each other daps, they’d head their separate ways before catching themselves putting on another screwface – only 10 minutes after wrapping filming on their way home. One of the only places they can let their guard down – perhaps.
Growing up in environments like the one seen in Serious Tingz shows it’s not hard to see why there are cases of PTSD among inner-city youth, as day to day life on a council estate is like living in your very own battlefield.
Abdou Cisse took the right approach towards casting. Props should also go to Nico Jouvel and Andre Black, credited as casting directors for the film.
Serious Tingz is aesthetically pleasing. There’s a great montage of sped up photos and what seems like a video shot on a phone of someone freestyle rapping out of a car window, which gives the film a raw and gritty feel that you’d get from ‘homemade’ videos. For those familiar with the ‘Lord Of The Mics’ DVDs, it would definitely give you some nostalgia. Who remembers this classic?
One of the photos in the montage, a group photo, reminded me of the ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album artwork by Kendrick Lamar. I don’t personally know if Abdou Cisse was also inspired by this, but regardless, the monochrome technique works perfectly for this film. It’s minimalistic but captures so much at the same time.
The best shot in the film hands down was the rotating shot, looking up at a flight of stairs in a block of flats. Having the cast dispersed across the different floors was nicely done.
Again, similarly to the casting for this film, the crew that worked on the visual side did a fantastic job; James, Korrie, Zainab and Birame, all played their part and it shows in this film.
There’s great sound in here too. The echos that fade out as the camera transitions to the next scene gives off an eerie vibe and a sense of anticipation that something could ‘kick-off’. In the words of Phil Collins, ‘I can feel it coming in the air tonight‘.
It creates a feeling that some hostility would ensue if your ‘screwface’ was not up to scratch.
It’s quite hard to find a fault in this project. In terms of all the fundamentals you’d expect from a film, it ticks all the boxes. Great story, cast, lighting, sound and editing.
Perhaps, one obvious drawback of Serious Tingz is its running time. I’m sure Abdou Cisse specifically intended to tell this story in a concise manner and to be fair to him, it works.
However, personally, I would have been interested to see how Cisse could have expanded on this premise, on a much longer running time.
Perhaps, it could focus on a central protagonist that has the conflict of managing the ‘screwface’ in a number of different situations. Is there an underlying cause, apart from the one in the film, to put on a screwface?
Could it be an accumulation of microaggressions they receive on a daily basis, that is the root cause of them having to do this?
The water cooler conversations at work, the comments at school about ‘being disruptive’ in the class? the clutching of handbags on the tube? the double-takes from police officers as they drive by.
These sort of scenarios are very relatable and I believe can tie into what was being portrayed in this film. I feel that Abdou Cisse has limited himself and could have taken this project to the next level if he had shown how these young men are affected outside, as well as inside the ‘ends’.
A perfect example is the TV show ‘Atlanta‘. I could definitely see them titling an episode ‘screwface’ with a very compelling storyline.
The genius of ‘Atlanta’ is that it has the right blend of ‘hood’ and ‘corporate’ worlds that show the fine line of what it’s like to live in a challenging environment, whilst maintaining a degree of integrity ‘in a society’ (cheesy ‘Joker’ pun – I know) that wants to discredit your abilities due to being surrounded in circumstances that are somewhat, out of your control.
In other words, these are the cards you’re dealt with and now we want to see how you pull yourself out of that. Will you fold, call or raise?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s space for shows and films like Top Boy and Serious Tingz, but it feels like it puts a cap on what they can do as creatives.
I’m not oblivious to the factors that come into play, such as what gets commissioned by studios and producers, but going forward – say five years from now – I’d be interested to see if creatives from the U.K will put themselves in a position to say in pitch meetings ”yeah we can do this, but we can ALSO do this, and THEN SOME!”
Speaking of Atlanta, FX, bring on season 3 because I want to see some Serious Tingz!
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