Interview with Writer/Actor Toni Adeyemi (DOWN BAD)

DOWN BAD, 27min., USA, Drama/TV Web Series
Directed by Rogelio Salinas de la Torre
After a night of infidelity, Nia navigates the awkward morning-after with her one night stand and battles with what this means for her already stalled engagement.

CREATOR STATEMENT: Growing up, I yearned to see TV that was rooted in Black humanity. We are often tokenized and/or made to be exceptional – with little room for error or flaws. I wanted to create a concept that allowed us the same slice-of-life realism and character depth that many of my favorite shows are afforded.

DOWN BAD is a project that started as a short story for a creative writing class at Stanford and later became my first screenplay. Throughout the process of writing, producing, acting in and editing this piece, I’ve been inspired to grow as an artist and collaborator.

For most of the cast and crew, this was our first time in these roles on a scripted set. To have this project be so Black – and so grounded – feels radical to us. I hope you enjoy the DOWN BAD magic as much as we do!

— Toni Adeyemi

Get to know writer/star Toni Adeyemi:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

My primary goal was to add to the canon of TV shows that explore Black humanity. In the media, we are often tokenized and/or made to be exceptional — with little room for error or flaws. However, these portrayals usually contrast with the entertainment I admire most.

I prefer a certain slice-of-life quality that gives viewers a deep understanding of nuanced characters. Like real life, these characters are not all bad or all good. I wanted to make a show where even when a character makes a questionable decision, the audience can still relate to their motivation or, at the very least, justify their actions.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

During my senior year at Stanford University, I took my first creative writing class. Our final assignment was to turn in a twenty-page story, and I wrote one called “Smile, You’re on Camera.” That was 2018.

At the time, I hadn’t explored film as a vehicle for my writing, so I had no intention to produce it. But when I felt called to pen my first screenplay, it was still the narrative I wanted to see realized. I couldn’t find the original story anywhere, but my professor was able to locate two critique letters he gave me for previous drafts.

Using the feedback from his notes, I wrote the screenplay for DOWN BAD. It had most of the same characters as the original short story and followed the same general plot. That was December 2020. A few months later, I held a table read for it to see how it paced. Thankfully our director, Rogelio Salinas de la Torre, told me it had to be shorter if we were to film it.

I worked on rewrites/cuts with my producers, Cam Woods and Siena Streiber, for about a month after that. We started pre-production in April 2022. We started principal photography on July 22 and filmed for five days all over Los Angeles. Post-production was completed twice: first in September 2022 for a private Stanford Alumni Arts festival and again in January 2023.

DOWN BAD was a labor of love from start to finish, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Down Bad

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

This was the first narrative production that a lot of the cast/crew and I ever worked on. The length of DOWN BAD (runtime: 27 minutes) meant that our pre-production was thorough, our production was fast-paced, and our post-production was lengthy.

We were all committed to excellence at every stage, and we held each other to a high standard throughout the process. However, we also all leaned on each other and were transparent when we needed support, so there was never an obstacle we couldn’t overcome. I am so grateful for the ingenuity of everyone involved for pulling this off!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

The feedback video instantly brought me back to why I started creating — to have real people interact with my art. More specifically, it reinforced why I made the drama in DOWN BAD so juicy. I wanted people to react to it. I wanted it to be a show where the audience can discuss the character’s life choices and add their opinion about the various topics we touch on. For the responses to be so positive from such a wide-ranging group of people, and for us to have won Best Long Form Short Film, is really exciting.

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I’ve been editing videos since around age 7. I was the friend that always asked people to record random footage at sleepover so I had something to edit the next day. I created videos for clubs in high school, I started my own talk show senior year of college, and produced/hosted several unscripted segments + a podcast for my Youtube Channel the year after I graduated.

I realized I wanted to make films when I realized I wanted a challenge. I wanted to take my portfolio to the next level and showcase the range of my creative prowess. I was also curious to see what our team could accomplish with minimal experience and resources. I am a big believer in learning on the go, so it felt like the natural next step for me to level-up my production skills.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

8 Crazy Nights

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I think the feedback element of this festival is great because it forces you to be brave enough to put your work out there without the chance to explain or justify anything. It really is the rawest way to have someone watch your work, and it allows you to put aside your ego and let it be consumed as intended.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Being new to the festival scene, I’ve appreciated having most of the things I need to do in one place. It’s easy to keep track of stuff I’ve submitted to, and it’s useful to discover festivals I may not have heard of. Like this festival!

10. What is your favorite meal?

Vegan tortellini, sausage, and spinach soup 🙂

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I have a modeling and commercial acting project releasing this year that I’m really excited about, but I’m under several NDAs so I can’t share any details. I’m also producing a short for Punya Chatterjee, who was the Director of Photography / VFX Specialist / Colorist on DOWN BAD. It is a hilarious comedy film that follows an Indian American rock band trying to make it big in the 60s. We start principal photography in May. It’s the first project I’m doing where producing is my only role, so I’m excited for this next adventure.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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