ShortList 2020: ‘No More Wings’ Explores the Meaning of Home Over a Plate of Chicken

British playwright Abraham Adeyemi didn’t want to direct his short screenplay, but he was forced into it and is now an award-winning filmmaker

Last Updated: August 24, 2020 @ 12:07 AM

Writer-director Abraham Adeyemi had just moved to a new home when he got on the phone to talk about “No More Wings,” his short film that is a finalist in TheWrap’s 2020 ShortList Film Festival. And his move was well-timed, because he was heading back to South London, the area where he grew up and the one that is an essential setting for his film.

“I went for a walk this morning and I felt so full of joy,” Adeyemi said of his return to the working-class neighborhood that he’d left when he was studying at Birkbeck University and becoming a successful playwright. “I’ve been away from here for about four years — and if I’m honest, I would never imagine that I would be missing South London.”

“No More Wings,” which takes place entirely inside the Morley’s fast-food chicken shop in South London, is all about home in one of the areas in the British capital with the largest Black population. “It’s a terrible pitch,” he said. “It’s about two friends meeting up in a chicken shop, loosely based on two friends I knew growing up. I kept thinking, what would happen if they met up in a chicken shop today, with their lives turning out very differently?”

In the film, one of the friends has left South London and become very successful; the other still lives in the old neighborhood and deals drugs. They meet in the shop and have a polite conversation over chicken wings, but their history comes out between the lines, augmented by flashbacks to the two men as children in the same shop. “A friend of mine told me that in all of my work, I’m asking about the meaning of home,” Adeyemi said. “And I think it’s taken me nine years to realize that’s true. Home is always a big conversation, and a big conflict as well.”

Initially, though, Adeyemi was not planning to direct the short himself. He wrote it for the Soho House’s global screenwriting competition, which required that the winning writer also direct the screenplay. “I tried to find a loophole so somebody else could direct, but I couldn’t,” he said. “And it is the perfect film for me to make my directing debut.”

Adeyemi had never taken a film course, read a book about directing or watched a master class, and he only had about 10 weeks to learn how to become a director between the time he won the competition and began to shoot “No More Wings.” His director of photography talked him out of his initial plan to shoot the film in one continuous shot, explaining that he could say a lot without dialogue if he wasn’t hung up on the single-shot logistics. He also panicked during the two-day shoot when he thought he hadn’t shot some necessary transitions, but the film ended up coming together in the editing room.

But that, he said, is when the biggest problem arose. Watching the edit, he decided that one crucial scene wouldn’t work unless it had a musical score — so he went to an always-reliable composer friend of his, who said he couldn’t guarantee it but would try to write something for the scene.

“On the day the film was due, he said, ‘I’m really sorry, I’ve not been able to get anything for you,'” Adeyemi remembered. “We had about 10 hours to deliver the film, we did not have a score and it does not work in silence. I had to reach out to my network to say I was looking for a score. I don’t know what kind of miracle was working for me, but I got about 50 different composers working for me. And then I had to sit there listening to score after score. It was a mind-numbing experience, but there was no option to stretch it out.”

“No More Wings” won the jury prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which did not take place physically because of the coronavirus. And as yet, Adeyemi said, it has not had a screening in the area where it was inspired and shot. “I had a loose idea that we would have a screening in a South London cinema, and we’d have chicken wings at the screening,” he said.

“It might not be until next year, but it will definitely happen one day.”