by Latoya Burnham
Imagine this: You are a Bajan filmmaker. Your script is done, you have selected the people you want in your very small cast, and now you are about to select your location. So you show up in a small neighbourhood where you know no one, and knock on a door. It opens and before you stands a guy. You explain who you are and what you are about, and all he does is smiles and says, “Easy t’ing. You cud have dis house, an’ dat house, an’ dat one. Dah easy”.
Sounds slightly like a throwback to the days our grandparents talk about. It sorta kinda was and was essentially the beginning… well, actually, maybe like the midway point to the success that is the Bajan film, PAYDAY.
Barbados TODAY sat down last evening for an interview with three of the core members from the production company, Let’s Do This Filmz, and it was just as funny as the movie, but even more insightful, because if this little group has its way then Barbados is in for some good things in the area of film.
Now director, cameraman, ‘chief cook and bottlewasher’ Selwyne Get Bizzy Browne, scriptwriter Shakirah Bourne, and graphics and imaging man Ricky Redman will be the first to tell you that the way was already paved for them by productions like Chrissy by Marcia Weekes and the crew behind Keeping Up With the Joneses.
They are pretty particular about giving Jack his jacket, which is why they just had to single out the media in Trinidad which heard about the film and have been talking about it there, as well as the community of Bayfield, St. Philip, whose residents volunteered to act as free extras, opened their homes for filming and in some cases just gave them the keys to “lock up when ya done”.
The film is set in this one district and surrounds the troubles of best friends Romie (Andrew NRG Franklin) and Pack (Damien Snappah Gibson), who are trying to buy their own garage in an attempt to make a better future for themselves. Challenges come when Pack owes the neighbourhood drug man money for his weed, and Romie is caught in promiscuous situations because he can’t keep his fly shut.
It was Selwyne’s baby, for which he gave the concept to Shakirah to put an idea into words. Shakirah had four things to work with – it had to be funny, cheap, set in one location and easy to shoot. So she set about observing Bajan life at work, paying extra attention to people’s dialogue, even Facebook for everyday experiences – and it all came together in the gem that is PAYDAY.
“It had to be de Bajan stuff. People who does keep plastic bags for bags, the little funny things that are common to Bajan culture dat people really don’t think about. I seh I want to include dis and dat and I went into de communities and saw de characters and how funny they were and I wrote what I saw and there was a bit of creativity involved, a little bit,” she laughed, and glanced at her colleagues as they joined in. “Bajans are funny people.”
Producer Marc Gibson was absent for the interview, but the production took about a month of planning, six months to complete the script, two table readings, a week of shooting and a month of editing before PAYDAY hit the big screen, so to speak.
“At the beginning we was saying dat people was gonna love it and so on, but when it happen it was way beyond. We knew it would happen but not to this extent,” Ricky said about the popularity of the film.
“We did not expect that people would go and see it two and three times and people talking about going four and five times. We just got news that the Olympus extended the run until the end of the month because we were in the top, if not the top bestselling movie,” Shakirah said.
“We even beating out all de Hollywood movies, the international films. We expected to be a hit in Barbados with Bajans but not outside,” Ricky said.
The film has already been to festivals in Toronto and Trinidad and Tobago, where it has been well received both places. In fact, in Toronto Selwyne even had a viewer from Japan begging him to bring the film to that country and other enquiries, with possible plans, they are remaining tight-lipped about, for now.
But the response to the film, which has had Facebook, Youtube, and even Twitter buzzing, has been phenomenal, something they are celebrating, however moderately. Celebrating to a point because it means the pressure is now on, to some extent, with expectations already prepped for what this crew will come up with next.
As far as they are concerned, film in Barbados is going places and they aim to be part of the process that takes it there with plans for at least three films a year, with more than 30 scripts already in hand.
“We wanted to start to make movies, but you know the problem with funding. No one is going to fund a movie. If we say we want to make this movie and approach people they are not going to take us seriously. Where is de track record? What movie did well? How much money did it make? There is no track record,” Selwyne said.
So he explained that they started with this one, begging people to come out and act for no pay, over a short space of time, putting it out there to see what the response would be like. It meant workshops for their actors, a revelation that caused Shakirah to almost curl up on the couch with laughter as she admitted she is a horrible actor.
Their first run with PAYDAY was a total learning experience and they are still learning as they go along, the team noted.
“I think what worked is that we packaged it from the start. From the first meeting, when we met and got together and read the script; the next time we met all the actors were here in character and we were shooting for the posters,” said Ricky. And it was that kind of timeline that they worked with all along, where multiple things were happening simultaneously.
Now they are looking at the feasibility of touring with PAYDAY, but again, there are things that have to be put in place first, as well as examining exactly when they will begin their second film. They even have a formula, stemming from their PAYDAY experience, for how they will launch their premiers heading forward. For PAYDAY they built a screen, set it up at Gun Hill with a true Bajan blue and gold welcome carpet, fishcakes, breadfruit chips and other local delicacies, to keep it in the same vein.
“We are actually in pre-production for a psychological thriller called Two Smart, and we plan to shoot in October. So we are trying to see if we can get it out this year. So that is coming up next and after that, who knows,” Shakirah said, disclosing with a grin that the script was actually sitting there next to me.
About their plans going forward, Selwyne added: “We actually plan to produce two, three movies a year. We started a little late this year but that will pick up…
“We want to create an outlet. What Marcia [Weekes] has been doing has been very instrumental in creating that outlet because you have a situation where you can do a movie, show it in Barbados all fine and dandy, but our numbers are really small. So the reality of it is that there is only so much you can make in Barbados.
“At the end of the day it’s a business. It’s good people love it, but the only way it can be sustainable is if you make money, reality. What she has been doing is showing her movies to the diaspora, so you have a situation where Bajans in the diaspora that have money are coming out and watching these movies and encouraging others around them to come out and watch.
“So we can have a situation in the future where we do a movie here and then have a worldwide release; not necessarily a Hollywood scale, but nevertheless a worldwide release and it becomes an industry from there because you are making money,” continued Selwyne.
“I think why PAYDAY is accepted on an even broader scale than we expected is that the characters are so, so real and that is what you need to be. You need to be real and genuine. The next one, the psychological thriller will be Bajan as well and real,” he said.
Ricky joined in, “And we will be stepping up in terms of script, camera, everything. For [PAYDAY] Selwyne did a lot. He was director of photography and he was director, everything. I am going to come from behind the scenes, looking to help Shakirah with direction… Now we have the process because PAYDAY was our pilot, our test to see how the process goes and we are still learning.
“Once we know that process and map that process, we will repeat it. So it is also because it is a business and about formulating that process so we can roll out the next one, and the next one and each time improve on it. At the end of the day we delivered comedy and a fantastic product because we looked at who we are delivering to and we did not compromise on the fundamentals. We didn’t have a big budget, but we maintained all our values with what we had. Now we will try to get a little bit more and grow that way.”
Beyond Barbados, Shakirah said they had been receiving notifications daily with people asking for the DVD. “We want to complete a real good world cinema run before we talk about DVDs. There is going to be a next PAYDAY based on how I ended the movie. Today is a week it has been in the cinema and look at the response, in only a week.” [email protected]