Toronto based filmmakers Jabbari Weekes and Tichaona Tapambwa's new TV show
Jabbari Weekes is a filmmaker originally from Scarborough (Malvern specifically). His creative experience began while he was a child. He would make VHS covers on blank cases he got from the dollar store and watched action movies with his sister. Weekes was a freelance writer and then writer-turned-Editor (2015-2019) at VICE’s now defunct music channel, Noisey. Now, he is in marketing while bettering his craft at filmmaking. Weekes met Tichaona in University of Toronto’s journalism program. He has no idea how they became good friends, but he does know Tichaona must have talked to him first.
Tichaona Tapambwa is a filmmaker from Zimbabwe, but grew up in Flemingdon Park. He’s always been curious about the film/TV world, but his creative journey started when he went to school for journalism and realized that that was not the profession for him. Shortly after, he was accepted into the City Life Film Project (2013), a four month curriculum for emerging filmmakers and was able to work on his short film, Soul’d Out. From there, it’s been a long, fun road getting to ‘Next Stop’.
Anna Akoto - First things first, congratulations! Next Stop is now streaming on CBC Gem. How did that come into fruition?
Jabbari: Basically, a story in two acts: Amar Wala [Executive producer of Next Stop], reached out to us when we had released BEEF and said he’d love to help us when we had more stuff out. What he didn’t know was we were already prepping for the next episode. So a short order of months later, we caught up at a party and he put us in contact with a person he knew who was looking for digital content at CBC Gem named Gave Lindo [Executive Programming, OTT].
Tichaona: We reached out and Lindo responded and said he would love to meet with us. So we went into the meeting with the intention of just introducing ourselves as new voices in the industry. But over the course of the meeting, Jabbari and I both realized that the questions being asked leaned heavily on the pitch side. Five months later, Lindo and his team confirmed this suspicion and that’s how CBC Gem came to fruition.
AA - Each episode, from the content to the lingo, is so authentic to the city. Tell me what the writing process was like and what conversations were had at the table.
Jabbari: I’d love to lie and say it was fun but, at least at the start, it wasn’t. We ached over how certain lines would sound and how to structure the episode so it didn’t run too long or too short. We all just really wanted to ensure it felt natural. And natural is really hard when you’re competing with years worth of people from here and out in the boons doing exaggerated takes on the slang here.
So during rehearsals we’d constantly be revising lines until it didn’t feel like a performance. With that, Jordan and Vanessa had freedom to improvise but still get to the point. This was crucial when we decided to shoot by a wind tunnel and then later, inside a hot garage with no AC.
Tichaona: Yeah, once the actors had the base understanding of the goal in each scene they improvised their lines, gave suggestions, and made it in their tone of voice.
For example, some of my favourite quotables come from ‘BEEF,’ when Vanessa & Jordan are standing on the TTC bench and yelling at each other. When she says, “you keep chattin,’ chattin’, CHAT-TING”, that is all Vanessa improvising. Same as Jordan, when he throws an added jab about Islington station patties and says, “pigeon food unnuh nyam dawg.” Those lines were in the moment but never veer off course from the next beat because the show is a fine-tuned mix of the actors' voices and our own.
AA - What are some beliefs or ideas you had going into creating the series that changed after the series was released?
Jabbari: That no one would watch this and we’d make the very content we cringed at or fell asleep to. Perhaps, the first sentiment has changed BUT not so sure about the latter. I feel though that’s why execution means so much to us because I’m mean about stuff I don’t like. So I treat our stuff with the same rude energy.
Tichaona: Truthfully, I’ve been so disillusioned by the creative industry at this point, I didn’t have any ideas going in. I just wanted the final product to be worth watching.
AA - To my understanding, Next Stop was self-funded. Why was that the route you took?
Jabbari: I’m impatient. In all seriousness, that drove at least half of our decisions as far as money goes—we just didn’t want to wait. Coming out of my past jobs, it’s either a real slog to get content out because you have to convince people a thing matters OR you buck up, get creative with your lack of resources and put it out before anyone can tell you no. And hey, we wanted total control to develop our voices and make our own timelines.
Tichaona: Also, a large part of going with the self-funded route is due to our teams unfamiliarity with the grant process for up and coming creatives. Not sure if the access has changed post-COVID but I remember getting sent Facebook invites to grant writing workshops— then immediately seeing they are full. So it’s almost like we’re all going for the same grants. So this just became the more reasonable choice and also the most fun because we got to do it on our own terms.