Taofik Kolade ’08
Nevil Jackson
An internship at a film production company during his senior year convinced Taofik Kolade ’08 that writing movies was more fun than working in engineering. Good career move — he later won the Directors Guild of America Jury Prize in 2011 for his short film The Binding of Ishmael, and today, he writes for two critically acclaimed TV shows, Atlanta and Barry.

“I entered Princeton in pre-med [and] mechanical engineering, but soon realized that would be a lot of work,” Kolade said with a laugh. “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.”

Taking classes with Keith Sanborn, a lecturer at the Lewis Center for the Arts, helped Kolade understand an artist could do more with a camera than just point and shoot.

“He was into experimental, European, and bizarre movies,” Kolade 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.”

Going into his senior year, Kolade lined up an internship at Davis Entertainment, where his job included reading movie scripts. “I loved it!” he said. “I couldn’t believe people could get paid for writing them.”

Back at Princeton, he combined his science and engineering knowhow with moviemaking and co-created a robotic camera stabilizer as his senior project. After graduating, he interned with Panavision, where he worked on designing camera rigs, then earned an MFA in film at New York University in 2012. During that time, he wrote and directed prize-winning The Binding of Ishmael, about a Muslim honor killing. That led to two internships at Bad Robot Productions, headed by J.J. Abrams, the creative force behind the latest Star Wars films, 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,” Kolade said. “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.’”

In addition, Kolade freelanced, making short videos for Yahoo! Singapore and Princeton’s engineering school, among others.

An associate at Bad Robot helped Kolade secure a production assistant job at Fox Network’s Empire, where he did a little bit of everything, including helping out in the writers’ room. Danny Sammit ’08, Fox’s vice president of television production, suggested Kolade send a résumé to actor and director Donald Glover, who was developing Atlanta. Three weeks later, Kolade joined the show.

Reflecting back on Atlanta’s critical success, Kolade 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.”

While waiting for Atlanta to begin creating its next season, Kolade has written for Barry, starring Bill Hader. He’s also developing a semi-autobiographical series, inspired by his “personal misadventures as a prep-school student in Washington, D.C.”