Photographer and filmmaker Timi Akindele-Ajani sheds light on his latest short, a monochromatic display of a photographer struggling with money

“Fuck it, let’s make a film,” thought Timi Akindele-Ajani, a photographer and filmmaker based in London, while devising the story for his latest short Tony. With a spontaneous energy brewing in his bones, Timi called in some favours and proceeded to build a film with all that was available, with little to no budget. The result of which is an anxiety-inducing yet effectively simple display of a photographer who’s struggling to pay their rent.

The story is something that many can relate to; it’s the end of the month, the bank is dry, and if you don’t pay then the landlord is going to evict you. The tension rises quickly, so you write a list and call up some people who might be able to help you out. Meanwhile, you’re rushing to edit the images for a client due on the same day. Calls and calls later and you reach no conclusion, and the client won’t accept your work. You call your dad to let him know that you can’t send him the money this month. What now?

Tony follows the everyday struggle of a creative – a character so developed and relatable that many are bound to feel something from this narrative. As Timi explains, it’s a visual and empathetic inquest into the “complicated nature of humanity,” particularly shining a light onto the stigma of money and financing. Before developing the film, Timi binged all he could on the Canadian filmmaker Joel Haver, landing on his YouTube page to watch a self-distributed indie feature named Pretend That You Love Me. “I was so inspired by his own ‘fuck it, let’s make a film’ energy that I just dove head first into this project.” Sometimes, though, the best results can come from endeavours less planned and thought through.

Timi has built a healthy career telling tales of human nature, pointing his lens at the intricacies – the social, political and cultural – of life around him. “I like to tell stories that complicate people who appear easy to judge at first glance,” he says. “For me, something interesting happens at the intersection between dramatic situations and complex people. When these two elements interact, you get an amazing opportunity for empathy.” This becomes paramount throughout the breadth of his work, notably within his personal projects like the past film The Dynamics of Black Single Motherhood. An audio and visual exhibition comprising portraits and a 40-minute film, the project highlights the challenges of being a Black single mother in the UK, using his visual platform to empathetically tell the stories and experiences of his subjects. 

As for his latest release, Tony, it’s a project that first blossomed a few years back in 2017. It was while Hana Elias and himself co-directed Cora Kirkthe actress who plays Malaya in Tony – in a small experimental film shot in a “real run-and-gun way”, i.e. using one camera, no script and no budget. “Just three mates with an idea type of thing.” The film never lifted off but the trio had unleashed a free and “uninhibited” method of working, which is something that became even more desirable after the gruelling year of 2020. “I was keen to see if we could make something using the same techniques but with a bit more structure.” 

Thereon, Timi contacted Rosa Kimosa, girlfriend and co-writer on the film, to assist with the story. Shot during the second edition of lockdown and over the course of a weekend in November, it required little shoot time or production for the making. In fact, Cora and Timi were the only crew members on the two shoot days. “All the other actors joined us via Zoom,” he notes. “But because it was just Cora and I, we both had to wear many hats. I did the camera and sound, alongside directing, while Cora did costume and continuity, as well as absolutely smashing it as the lead in the film.”

As mentioned prior, Tony follows an impeccably simple format: it’s shot entirely in black and white, and follows the protagonist as she embarks on many awkward calls made from her desk. Emphasis is placed entirely on the character; you become so heavily intwined in her life and turn of events, that it’s almost as if you’re there with her in the scene, equally experiencing the ups and downs of the photographic journey. “Interesting characters are extremely hard to write,” he says, citing how he wanted to avoid the typical cliches of a photographer. “One of the ways to make that process easier on yourself is to draw from your own life and the people around you. When you see photographers in films, they’re always kind of embarrassing, it almost feels like they’re being written by someone who’s never actually taken a photo in their life; camera swinging from their neck, performing ballet to ‘capture the moment in amber’. I wasn’t interested in that.”

Rather, Timi steers the focus to the graft and struggles of the photographer, illustrating the exact moment when the client isn’t happy with the work and shedding light on a gruelling moment of not being able to pay your rent. “Both of these things I have deep personal experience with, so I won’t go as far as to say that the character of Malaya is based on me or anything like that, but you have to write from what you know.”

Tony marks Timi’s first short film created since 2016, and plenty has changed since then. Learning hard truths about himself and settling into his own identity, his films nowadays tend to have much more to say, just like the polarising and convoluted topic of money. “For me, it’s less about breaking down the stigma around money and more about complicating the conversations that surround it,” he adds. “The goal with all of my films is to present the inherently complicated nature of humanity or the human experience. And money or finances are a huge part of that experience. Money is only ever really spoken about within the context of dichotomy, you either have it or you don’t. I wanted to examine that and show people how that view is just too simplistic.”

Timi’s film Tony can be watched below.

Malaya – Cora Kirk
Paul – Samuel Rintoul
Lydia – Estrella Mabika
Vicky – Lauren Drennan
+44 – Gavin Dunn
Louis – Miles Paloma
Tony – John Vernon

Written by: Timi Akindele-Ajani & Rosa Kimosa

Shot, directed & Edited by: Timi Akindele-Ajani