British award-winning film producer and writer Sheila Nortley tells us that: “Success is an on-going discovery”


Sheila Nortley is an award-winning film producer and writer with a unique way of story-telling. She’s made waves in the UK film industry with a string of films that have been released including David is Dying, Victim and Zion which features Ashley Walters and Aml Ameen. Currently working on season two of the award-winning web-series Brothers With No Game and Limbo [at the time of interview] - a film that she has written, Sheila has an admirable strength and determination to pursue with a career as a young black woman in such a cut-throat industry. AFRONOIRE regards Sheila as a phenomenal talent, with fantastic prospects and applauds her ‘can do’ attitude.  

How long have you been working in the industry?

I’ve been making films for as long as I can remember. I began studying it around the age of 16 and have continued to study it every since, but I began my career in it around 2008 when I made my first proper short film.


How did you get started? You know when you look back and you realise that this started a lot earlier than you were aware of? It’s like that. I guess I started when I was around ten or eleven and me and my cousin and younger sister would create characters and stories. We’d create a whole record label and draw all of the artist and bands, design their album covers, write interviews with them. We then made TV series’ and soap opera’s [funnily enough, the first one I remember us making was called: Scandal and the logline was ‘trials of love and life’] where we’d plot the most complicated story lines and then even act them out. So yeah, I began developing my first TV series when I was about ten years old. I didn’t realise at the time but this was my foundation in story development and character development and this is where my passion for story-telling first manifested. From there I studied a Media A-level and went on to study get my degree in my field where I particularly focused on Production and Film Analysis.


What's your key to success? Success is an on-going discovery and for me personally I just enjoy watching life unfold so beautifully and carefully, like rose petals. I know that very little of what I do is about me, so much as it is about those who came before me and those yet to come. By this I mean, my ancestors and my descendants. And of course the Author of what has been written. With that as my motivation, that is what keeps me focused. Maya Angelou, who is far more qualified to speak on such things than me said:"Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it." As simple as it sounds, how can one like themselves if they don’t even first know/remember who they are [either internally or in relation to the rest of creation?] So I guess, to my understanding, success is born and grows in a very deep and intimate place. And knowing just that, that’s when I can start trying to locate where I’d find the key to the door of such a place.


What does being a woman mean to you?

Being a woman, to me, is being a human being. Being a nurturer. Being a creator, being someone who is capable of bringing forth life. There’s a saying that the woman is half of the nation and she gives birth to the other half so we play a key role in society. You know, heal a woman, heal a nation. I embrace my femininity.


How has your Ghanaian heritage helped to shape your character?

I guess it’s given me quite a calm nature generally. Just a general sense of, I’d like to think, just basic manners. You know, good manners. I guess also an awareness of the rich culture and history Ghana has instilled a natural sense of pride in me which I have forgotten at various points in my life but when there is silence and when I can focus on this I am reminded, it speaks to me and reminds me who I am.


What advice would you give to a young girl/woman who wants a career in film production?

I’d say just study and learn as much as you can. And just don’t rush. And just don’t make it be all about you. Have a purpose behind your work. I’d advise that to anyone male or female, have a purpose behind your work which is greater than yourself.


What do you like most about being an entrepreneur? Obviously the freedom you have over your path, you can just kind of very organically - or strategically depending on how you want to play it - you can just go for it and do what you want. That’s probably the most exciting ABOUT being an entrepreneur in that sense.


How do you stay so balanced?

To be honest, I have my good days and my bad days in terms of balancing. Sometimes I’d describe it more as ‘juggling’. When I’m at my most balanced it’s due to factors such as family; family and love keep me balanced and obviously the greatest source of love and the owner of love Himself is God. So at least one day a week I dedicate a whole evening to just focusing 100% on Him. There’s a group of brothers and sisters that I chill with on a Friday night and just kind of relax and focus and meditate and it keeps me spiritually balanced throughout the week. And playing with my baby nephews and my niece and older nephew. Otherwise it is like juggling, and as I said I have my good days and my bad days and some days its completely unbalanced but you have to put in the work, you know.


What are the projects you've got coming up and what should we keep an eye out for?

The first one is a film which is premiering 22nd June in Miami at ABFF– it’s up for four awards there [At the time of interview]. It’s a film called Sable Fable, in which I actually play a character – which is, interesting. I’m yet to see the film. I’m going to see it for the first time at the Premiere in Miami. I’m currently producing a web-series, we’re going into season 2 of Brothers with No Game, which is exciting. We’re currently shooting so that’s going to be released in the Summer. And also, a film that I’ve written which is being directed by Sebastian Thiel, called Limbo. It’s a team that I’ve worked with very closely before so I’m glad to have them on board and that’s something that I’m solely a writer on. So I’m looking forward to just stepping back and watching it unfold and seeing how the Director interprets it.


What's a typical day on set like?

Long, fun, tiring and exciting. If I’ve done my job it should run like clockwork but there’s always an element of unpredictability. Then there are moments of magic which are captured through the lens, and seeing those moments live and the twinkle in the directors eyes are priceless.


Share your favourite inspirational quote

‘You are not just the drop in the ocean. You are the mighty ocean in the drop’ – Rumi

And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America -- then, all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine.’ – El Hajj Malik el Shabazz

*This interview first appeared in our sample issue of August 2013.