Filmmaker's success down to graft and self-belief
At the age of just 21 Ali Rasoul has achieved extraordinary things.
He’s rubbed shoulders with royals and Hollywood A-listers, his face has been on a billboard, he’s started his own business, and he’s chasing his dreams – big dreams.
The University of Portsmouth film graduate learned that against all received wisdom, he could indeed run before he walked.
Ali has travelled the world filming some of the big names in the Afrobeats music genre. As well as films, he works with social media influencers, and as a filmmaker and photographer in the fashion industry.
He’s been interviewed by Lorraine Kelly, met Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings and Prince Charles, and been invited to the Grammy Awards, and afterwards to Alicia Keys’ house to party with Bradley Cooper, Jessie J and Channing Tatum.
He works with some of the world's best-known brands, including Nike, Universal Music Group and Warner Bros Music, and his clients include Spike Lee, Jordan Peele and Tory Lanez.
He says the only thing stopping others from doing the same is self-belief and a lot of work.
Ali said: “Someone needs to believe in themselves for others to.”
Someone needs to believe in themselves for others to.
He graduated with a BA in film production this summer and throughout his studies was often asked by other students how he managed to make such a success of his creative life, before he’d even graduated.
“People often ask me how did I do this? How can they do this? There is no mystery. It’s about work, work, work.
“Young people are told all the time they need to start at the bottom, be a runner, make the coffee. That’s not true. If you dream big, you can do whatever you want to do.”
Ali was born in Sweden to an Iraqi family who then moved to England when Ali was at primary school. He speaks Arabic, English and enough Swedish to get by.
As a teenager living in London, he was running with a bad crowd.
“I wasn’t a well behaved kid,” he says.
“One day I just thought I want to be more than this.”
He saw an advertisement from the British Film Institute for a free three-week summer holiday course in film, and applied, alongside 66,000 others. He was one of the 66 people given a place and that course changed his life.
Young people are told all the time they need to start at the bottom, be a runner, make the coffee. That’s not true. If you dream big, you can do whatever you want to do.
“When I was there, at the BFI, we were surrounded by Oscar and Bafta winners. There were pictures of them everywhere and some big names were on the premises or came to speak to us. It was my moment of discovery. I knew then I was a creative.
“The course taught me to dream big, to create my own path.”
He stopped hanging out with his friends to avoid getting into trouble, and instead started going to a café in Shoreditch, in London, a known hangout for people working in the creative industries.
“I was on my own, but I was fuelled with a drive to create, create, create. I was networking, just talking with people, hearing about their worlds. I just wanted to learn.”
He was drawn to music videos, especially the Afrobeats genre, and started making films of artists.
He applied to university and started a three-year BA in film production in 2017. Alongside his studies he was often on the road, filming musicians at work.
“I wasn’t thinking about earning money, I was investing my time so I could learn. As well as musicians, I was also coming across influencers and people in fashion and so I started working with them on photography and film.
“I was networking with so many creative people. I remember at one event being overwhelmed. I was 17. I was standing there surrounded by some huge names and I thought this isn’t normal. I was the youngest person there by a long way. I was mentally battling with being there.
The course taught me to dream big, to create my own path.
“But the more I worked, the stronger my CV became. If I’d filmed with one musician that opened doors to filming with others.
“Once, I was filming at the O2 arena. I was on stage, I was working and for a moment I did cry a little bit – I thought I don’t belong here, even though I worked and worked and worked to be there. I didn’t have any of my childhood friends to tell. I’d made that transition away from them, but sometimes that feels lonely, you know? For so many teenagers in London that’s very much an issue.
“I wanted my friends to see what I was seeing, bigger possibilities. Like look, these are places you could be, these are the kind of interesting conversations you could be having.”
In January this year, he was invited to attend the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. It was his proudest moment.
“I’ve never been to places like that, around so many people I look up to. I was at Alicia Keys’ house and there was Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum and Jessie J and they were all just there. I thought if I’m here with these people, I belong here. I’ve worked so hard and I’ve got to keep working hard, now is not the time to rest, a big door has opened for me.
“Adults have this long background full of people who can help them, but a lot of kids don’t have that.
“I have made a lot of friends, but those childhood friends are the people you trust completely, who when they say well done, you know they aren’t faking it. That’s a big mental health thing, for me. I am dealing with it, and I still check up on my childhood friends digitally, but I have to be careful, I need to protect myself.”
I was on stage, I was working and for a moment I did cry a little bit – I thought I don’t belong here, even though I worked and worked and worked to be there.
Ali met a fellow university student at one networking event and she introduced herself as “just a student”.
“I said I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. What projects do you really want to work on?”
“And she said she wanted to be a writer, so I said try introducing yourself as that.
“Believing in yourself and speaking your truth is very powerful.
“The creative industries are very diverse. You could meet anyone. You might meet a publicist, and who knows what could come of that? Everyone at these networking events is there to expand their network. If they didn’t want to meet new people, they’d stay at home. So there they are, and there you are, and I’d say, ‘hey, my name’s Ali, what do you do?’
“Someone would ask what I’m doing and I’d say I’m a filmmaker and sometimes that person would ‘oh, are you available next week?’
“You have to believe in yourself if you want others to.”
As a student he says he treated his tutors’ assignments as if they came from a client and he was building his professional portfolio.
“I knew I wanted to establish myself before I finished my course. University creates a discipline – you have to wake up, be there, hand things in. It’s a time to grow up. You put on a bit of weight, so you sign up for the gym and you get yourself there. Or you negotiate with the landlord over extending your lease. These are all life lessons which are really important for working in industry.”
He describes the city of Portsmouth as very creative, diverse and welcoming. “Everything is there, plus it’s small, so you can walk everywhere, and save money.”
Ali’s website can be found here.