How this Nigerian went from being an assistant to writing for two popular American TV shows 'Atlanta' and 'Barry'

Taofik Kolade has been nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Comedy Series.

Taofik Kolade, a Nigerian-American, went from being a writer's assistant to being the writer for two popular American shows (Photo: Nevil Jackson)

Four years ago, Taofik Kolade, a first-generation Nigerian American, was a writer's production assistant. 

His job included getting lunch for writers and doing a little bit of everything else. 

Now, he is a screenwriter writing for two critically acclaimed TV shows - "Atlanta" and "Barry".

From Engineering to Writing:

Kolade got admitted into the prestigious Princeton University for pre-med and mechanical engineering in 2008. As we all know, this is a career path approved by Nigerian parents, who believe that this is a ticket to a good life. 

"I entered Princeton in pre-med [and] mechanical engineering, but soon realized that would be a lot of work," Kolade said with a laugh in an interview with The Princeton Alumni Weekly. "But I didn't want to let my parents down, who thought that a career in math and science would create a good life. I've always loved movies, and taking a few moviemaking classes started me down the rabbit hole."

He went along with his parents' plan until an internship during his senior year at a film production company, Davis Entertainment, changed his mind. "I loved it!" he said about the job which included reading movie scripts. "I couldn't believe people could get paid for writing them."

Kolade also took classes with Keith Sanborn, a lecturer at the Lewis Center for the Arts, who helped him see all the ways one could play with a camera.

"He was into experimental, European, and bizarre movies," he said. "He taught us how to plan scenes and always look for new angles to tell stories. And I enjoyed taking classes with all the visiting screenwriters and technicians."

These classes helped Kolade combine his knowledge of engineering with his newfound love for filmmaking to create a robotic camera stabilizer as his senior project.

He later made his own short film "The Binding of Ishmael", which won the Directors Guild of America Jury Prize in 2011. 

From numerous internships to writing for successful shows

After graduation, he interned with Panavision. There he worked on designing camera rigs and later earned an MFA in film at New York University in 2012. 

He also had two internships at J.J Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, where he wrote, filmed, and edited short promotional films.

"[Abrams] had a filmmaking program for unrepresented minorities, and I'm forever grateful to him for that," said Kolade. "Lots of people out there say they want to help minorities, but he stepped up to do more for folks who, as they say, 'look different than us.'"

He later got a production assistant job at Fox Network's Empire, thanks to a recommendation from an associate at Bad Robot. There, he helped out in the writers' room and did a little bit of everything. 

It was during this time that Danny Samit, Fox's vice president of television production, convinced him to send a résumé to actor and director Donald Glover, who was developing Atlanta at the time. He joined the show three weeks later.

"Helen" was his first episode. It ended up being Zazie Beetz's submission for her Emmy nomination.

He has since been nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Comedy Series. The critically acclaimed show is now in its third season, set to air soon.

Reflecting on Atlanta's success, he said, "A lot of people try to analyze the show, but we're just telling stories that feel true to us and make us laugh. When we're writing the show, we try to come up with funnier jokes, and that kind of fun gets shaped into stories that we talk about, but don't see on TV, and try to bring them into the light."

Today, Kolade also writes for HBO's Emmy-winning show, Barry, currently works as an executive story editor at HBO and is a co-producer at Amazon Studios. 

There are reports that he is also developing a semi-autobiographical series, inspired by his "personal misadventures as a prep-school student in Washington, D.C."

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