Theo Johnson and Summaya Mughal hold court at the BBC Academy masterclasses

Theo Johnson and Summaya Mughal hold court at the BBC Academy masterclasses

By Roz Laws,
Wednesday, 10th May 2023
Theo Johnson (credit: Vivienne Bailey)
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Roz Laws listens in to some inspiring local talent in Birmingham.

Theo Johnson has already achieved an impressive amount – not least making a film for £200 that has been seen by 1 million people – and he is only just beginning.

The amiable 29-year-old was a hugely inspiring figure for the young audience at the RTS Midlands Student Awards (see page 35) last month. As well as hosting the ceremony, he was part of the BBC Academy masterclasses before the event.

He is a multi-hyphenate, having worked as a model, music artist and BBC 1Xtra presenter, as well as writing, acting, directing and producing his own films and comedy sketches. He has acted in the Channel 4 sitcom Raised by Wolves and the BBC soap Doctors. His first short film, Friend Zone, was made with £200 and received 500,000 views in one day on YouTube.

Johnson grew up in Handsworth in inner-city Birmingham, where he witnessed his first drive-by shooting at age 12 and saw two people fatally stabbed. Telling his story at an event one day, he reduced one audience member to tears. She promised to help him and, through her connections, his film Just One Drop was picked up by Amazon Prime. It was made with £25,000 to raise awareness of the horror of acid attacks.

The follow-up, Just Two Drops, set in a prison, is to be released shortly, with a budget of £70,000 and featuring rapper C Montana, celebrities from Love Island and Peter Andre’s son Junior.

Johnson told the RTS: “I have so many labels and job titles because of all the doors closed in my face. After I acted on Channel 4, I went back to my hood and thought everything was going to be great. But I was broke and looking for another job. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, I had to create opportunities for myself. I taught myself to write, direct and edit. I say: ‘Don’t find the problem, find the solution. And don’t procrastinate, just do it.’

Summaya Mughal (credit: Vivienne Bailey)

“I’m constantly knocking on doors, but I never like to go to the table with my hand out, I like to bring something.

“I was scared to put my films out so I started doing comedy sketches online. I built myself a brand and an audience with 100,000 follow­ers on Instagram. The secret of making online content go viral? Try to be different, and don’t do something just because you think it’s cool. My family love game nights so I’ve made a comedy sketch about playing Monopoly featuring rappers Jaykae and Ambush.

“I am nowhere near where I want to be, but I know I’m going to get there. I want to be the UK Adam Sandler – he makes all his own films and puts his friends in them.”

The masterclasses also featured Amber Sandhu, a presenter on BBC Midlands Today, who has just landed her own show on the BBC Asian Network, and Summaya Mughal, a BBC Radio Leicester presenter and the creator of the award-winning podcast Brown Gal Can’t Swim.

Sandhu had two important pieces of advice: “Say yes to everything – you don’t know where it might lead. And you have to have a presence on social media. Posting your own content can be exhausting but you have to do it, without bragging or showing off, so people know what you’re doing – it’s our CV. You don’t need snazzy equipment; you can film it all on your phone.”

Mughal was embarrassed that she couldn’t swim, so she started having lessons and recording her thoughts before she was commissioned by BBC Sounds.

She said: “It was a story I believed was important to tell [for] other people. If you’re passionate about something but you’re struggling to get people to believe in your idea, go ahead and do it anyway. Then you’ll have something tangible to show them”.

The BBC Academy masterclasses were held at the MAC in Birmingham on 21 April and supported by Create Central.

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