Andrew Osayemi and Debra Odutuyo (pictured above – left and right) are the creators of the popular British TV show Meet The Adebanjos – a comedy series about a British-Nigerian family living in London. After facing several rejections by some UK mainstream television producers, they decided to raise their own funds to independently produce 50 episodes before being able to get Netflix to air their show worldwide. Andrew talks about self-funding their creative idea without any major support and pitching for a Netflix deal for their TV show.
“Meet the Adebanjos was birthed in 2010 in my childhood family friend, Debra’s kitchen. We were discussing our childhood and the funny things which we experienced growing up as British kids of Nigerian immigrant parents.
We both looked at each other and said why hasn’t something like this been produced before. Debra, who worked in TV, said it was something she would have loved to do but no TV station would fund it.
I said naively why don’t we just do a pilot ourselves and when the TV stations see how funny it is and how much interest it gets they would snap it off our hands.
So we decided to do a pilot and put it on YouTube to see what the reaction would be.
Debra sold her car and I put in some money – as I was working in Banking at the time – and we produced a low budget pilot.
We put it on Youtube and within a week we had 50,000 views, which was a lot of views back then. Not only did we have the views we had hundreds of comments regarding how we can make the show better.
We sent the pilot to the mainstream broadcasters thinking 50,000 views would get a commission – they all said no.
Not to be deterred, I remember going by myself to the Edinburgh TV conferences and hunting all the TV commissioners who you don’t always get the chance to speak to face to face.
I would wait for after a panel discussion ended and just ambush them. They still said no – that we were too experienced…we needed to work with an established production company, that the scripts and characters needed more development, that the show was too niche etc.
I went back to Debra and said naively that if we could raise cash from investors and produce a full season with an experienced production company we could then sell that season to the broadcasters.
However, we had to find a production company to work with the limited budget we had.
I remember meeting Jenny Stimpson, the boss of Fresh Media Productions for the 1st time in 2010.
Every other production company had laughed us out the door when we told them we wanted to produce eight episodes of a TV sitcom by ourselves without any TV backing.
Jenny laughed but didn’t kick us out the door straight away. Instead, she said, “What you guys trying to do is crazy but I respect your passion and determination.”
And then she kicked us out the door.
Within a few days, she called back and said: “You know what – I have had a chat with Dwyane (Jenny’s husband), we respect what you are trying to do and I love impossible challenges – let’s do it!”
She helped us get a community centre hall in Clapham to shoot, she got us an experienced crew for next to nothing and she kept us going when we almost lost hope.
That’s how we ended up producing seven episodes for season one independently – for around £10,000 an episode – and that’s how the journey began.
When we went back with the finished season to the TV stations they still said no. More excuses so we had to go back to the drawing board to find a way to recoup our investors’ money and also to get a new season made.
This pushed me to search outside the UK for international markets where we could sell the show to. We found by accident that Africa has a vibrant TV market when I visited a TV conference in 2011 in Ghana.
Through this conference, I learnt how to raise money by selling the rights to air the show to different countries.
For each subsequent season, I had to raise the funds to get the season made.
I did this through presales of the season to international TV stations and then take out loans to cover the presales as we only received deals from mainly international TV stations.
We didn’t have a distribution company so I travelled across mainly Africa to strike deals with various TV stations. It was tough and was always touch and go if we would get the funds for the season.
That’s why between each season there is a two-year gap because that’s how long it took to get the funds together.
We also branched out and made a show called The T Boy Show and made two seasons of that show.
After season three, Debra and I decided after 50 episodes we had done enough justice to the show and it was now time to move on instead of keeping fighting against the machine.
The story of how it ended up on Netflix is a bit of luck and persistence. I’m not going to lie – the team had more or less given up hope on getting on a mainstream platform.
We were happy that we had made history, produced a show we were proud of and had international success even if we hadn’t cracked our home market.
But something inside of me said we could still do it and I continued attending TV conferences and networking with TV producers on my travels.
Then at the beginning of the year, via a LinkedIn notification, I found out that an executive I had met during those travels had joined Netflix and I reached out.
I was then able to arrange subsequent meetings and negotiate a deal for Netflix to licence all the seasons of the show.
I was very lucky because I was dealing directly and not through a distribution company but I count it down to the years plugging away.
If you stick at it and people see you making progress despite the rejections you will get the chance to one day to be in a position to make something happen.
Everyone keeps asking us ‘How does it feel that the show is on Netflix’ – it feels very good.
Mainly because we know how hard we worked on the show despite the odds.
We made every possible mistake, including producing 5000 DVD’s at a time DVD’s was dying, doing two theatre shows (Catford Broadway and Hackney Empire) which were sellouts but we lost money and so much more.
All in the pursuit of trying to find an alternative business model because we couldn’t get a mainstream deal.
So the Netflix deal is a kind of validation for all the hard work we put in and Debra and I are very proud of what we were able to accomplish with so little.”
Images Copyright – Meet The Adebanjos
This feature is part of our regular ‘Unfiltered Stories’ collection which highlights the impact young people are making in the society and how they are going beyond their comfort zone to achieve something.