When it comes to local film-making, Rommel Hall certainly knows his stuff. The writer, director and often producer, has been doing a lot of work in media production for well over a decade here on the island. Some among us may not be familiar with his name, but will be familiar with his Barbadian hit sitcom show Keeping up with the Joneses, and the popular, but short lived, web series Abiola.
Recently, Bajan Vibes had some time to sit down with the filmmaker to discuss his upcoming documentary Liquid Gold – The Story of Rum in Barbados slated to premiere at this year’s Barbados Independent Film Festival (BIFF), and also chat about his background in the film business and where he hopes to see the local industry go in the future.
His introduction to the filming world was not what one would deem a typical story. In normal cases, he would tell others his background into film started in the early 2000s. However, there is a more humorous story he likes to share with his friends.
“The first time I actually got involved in film was in 1994 when I was asked to videotape my grandfather’s funeral. My aunt from Canada . . . came in for the funeral and had a video camera. She showed me some of her home videos, and at the time I told her it was cool, but the footage was shaky. I felt I could do a decent job; she was gracious enough to let me play around. Some of the first videos I ever took were of my brothers playing road tennis. I showed her the footage and she complimented me on how steady the videos were. While she was here for the funeral, she told me to record it. That was really where it started.”
His first experience of using a camera, coupled with his time in theatre during the following years, pushed him and some colleagues to form a multimedia company called Jesus Army Productions. The newly formed company took their inspiration from the local comedy group, Laff-it-off, and created comedic short films, which would play in between their theatre productions. It’s from these comedic skits that “Trapped in an Elevator,” the musical drama short, was born.
Last year Rommel won the award for Best Filmmaker during the BIFF awards, and with his win, he also received the BIFF grant which gives local filmmakers the opportunity to work with international filmmakers to create a local film that focuses on unique stories centered on our island.
Dan Mirvish, better known for his film Bernard and Huey, and also being the co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival was selected to work with Rommel on a film project. The project eventually developed into being Liquid Gold, a documentary on the history of rum, and its genesis here in Barbados.
“This [film] highlights the fact that Barbados is the home of rum . . . We look at where it came from. We also interviewed people from Foursquare Rum [Distilleries] and St Nicolas Abbey and also talked to many persons who own rum shops around the island. We also filmed and interviewed some of the revellers on Kadooment Day who were drinking rum. It’s a short film, so we did not have a lot of time to work with, but there is a lot of information packed into [it].”
When asked about his time working with Dan, Rommel was very pleased to have been given the chance to work and learn alongside the seasoned filmmaker.
“Working with Dan was really good . . . I learned a lot of stuff from him in terms of how he puts his films together. He, like myself, runs a film festival called Slamdance. Obviously his festival is massive, but we spoke a lot about the joys of running a festival and things like that. Even in the production process, I learned a lot about his editing techniques, and a lot of those techniques, I used in the editing of this film and other projects I have since worked on.”
The Barbadian film industry has, in his eyes, come a long way in the last decade or so. But there are still challenges he would like to see addressed.
One of them is marketing; for him, marketing is where a lot of local filmmakers don’t grasp the full sense of their power with audiences.
“One of the things we have fallen down in is marketing . . . I myself try to get the most out of my films by using digital marketing. Every single film that I create, I create a poster, a trailer, and a Facebook page. We, as a film community, need to tell people from the get go, to get excited about projects via the use of trailers, posters, and behind-the-scenes content. Marketing is extremely important.”
Currently, his upcoming projects include Tales from the Script, a 5-part series of comedic shorts that can currently be found on Facebook. Also, later this year on Independence Day, a film will be coming out named Days of the Bold and the Restless, a soap opera spoof that promises to be filled with overacting, ridiculous story-lines and over the top plot twists. This film shall kick off a plan of releasing a film at the end of every month, from November until March. (SB)