Get to know: Aaliah Simpson, Film London Talent Exec

Aaliah talks Issa Rae, getting rid of barriers and what makes a perfect pitch with BFI NETWORK

27 May 2021
By Ambika Sidhu
BFI NETWORK Coordinator
What made you want to work in film?

It was actually the encouragement from one of my childhood friends, Keisha (big up, big up)! I’ve always been into movies but didn’t really consider it as a career, as my Jamaican dad wanted me to do something more ‘conventional’, so was not initially impressed with the idea. When doing my A-levels I would host movie nights at sleepovers, and when it came to picking what I wanted to do at university I didn’t have a clue, so that’s when Keisha encouraged me to apply for film degrees, because it’s one of the only things I have truly been obsessed with (music is the other key to my heart).


If you could recommend one film to an aspiring filmmaker, what would it be?

Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite (2019) is a title that blew my mind. Whilst Bong has an original approach to multi-layered screenwriting that is seriously impressive, the movie is so crazy and expands your cache to foreign films/storytelling.


What are you most excited about for your new role?

Meeting new filmmakers on their journeys. Having worked in talent development for three years it is so rewarding to watch filmmakers on their upward trajectory. I can’t wait to use my skills to elevate their stories and help get them on the path to where they’re going.


What advice would you give to a filmmaker whose project has been rejected?

Don’t be disheartened and don’t give up. We have seen teams that previously weren’t successful (such as the team behind Holy Beef, a 2018 commission) apply to the funds again with a different project and be accepted. But also the BFI NETWORK isn’t the be all and end all. If you are seriously passionate about your project, then there are various other avenues you can go down, whether that be other funding bodies or the DIY approach.

If you could make one change to the film industry, what would it be?

To get rid of all the barriers to entry! Racism, sexism, classism etc, to ensure it’s an accessible industry to all and as such is reflective of the diverse stories that accurately represent the society that we live in.


Who is a filmmaker that has really inspired you?

Issa Rae is up there for me. Watching Awkward Black Girl – her self-funded web series she made in college – evolve into Insecure was super cool. Issa definitely has a distinctive voice in her writing where she adopts satire specifically around being black, which often hilariously externalises my own experiences and internal thoughts; she’s dope!


What would you say is the biggest challenge that emerging filmmakers are facing today?

Originality in a saturated industry.

We often get applications addressing the current trend during that application round; the topical ‘in thing’ or enquiries about what Execs are looking for. We all have our own voices and experiences; use what makes yours unique, get it down on the page and sell it. So basically no shorts about COVID-19 please (I am joking)!


What is the key to a great collaboration?

Safe spaces.

I think major reasons filmmakers feel apprehensive when seeking collaborators is the fear of judgement, being super protective over their work and, when adopting Kubrick’s auteur approach, wanting complete creative control over their concept. Collaboration is a positive thing, and if you’re in a safe space where potential collaborators have differing skills and experience but the same shared vision it should always be welcomed. A second pair of eyes is never a bad thing, so the key is to be open and receptive!


What makes a perfect pitch?

Selling what makes the film original and your connection to it without giving a blow-by-blow account of the plot within a concise time frame (if pitching verbally) or within a streamlined document (treatment/pitchdoc etc).


What's your favourite line from a film?

If you know… you know!