Category: Film & TV

“Caribbean actors in Hollywood movies do not inspire me”

I love movies but, currently, seeing Caribbean actors in Hollywood movies does nothing for me

I anticipated BlackPanther’s release so much that I may have been the only local to have noticed the release date changed three times; from February 16, to the 22, and then the 21. I was livid, by the way, the day I noticed it was pushed back to February 22, noting that here in the Caribbean, we would be among the last–certainly the last in the African diaspora– to see it. On February 21, when by chance I logged in to the Caribbean Cinemas website and saw it was showing a day earlier, I joked with friends that it was a must that I be amongst the first on island to see the movie because no one deserved it more than I did (Marvel fans don’t fight me, it was really a joke, although I am also always one to say; people often disguise truths as “jokes”) but my reason for wanting to see it may differ from most.

Cast and Crew

In 2016, when I learned Chadwick Boseman was playing Blackpanther in Captain America Civil War, I dragged myself to the cinema to go watch a superhero movie—Superhero movies are not my least favourite but they certainly are not my most. Needless to say, I was a Chadwick Boseman fan. I had seen him in Get On Up, 42, even his smaller roles in movies like Draft Day, and as one of the few black faces in the tragically whitewashed “Gods of Egypt.” Ofcourse Boseman shone as BlackPanther in Civil War, and when Marvel confirmed the character would lead his own film, you guessed it, my non-superhero movie watching self was through the roof.

Months later, I discovered Ryan Coogler would direct BP which would also star Lupita N’yongo and Michael B Jordan alongside Boseman. It was not N’yongo’s impressive portrayal of Patsy in 12 Years a Slave or her other roles in The Jungle Book, Star Wars or as the flight attendant in Nonstop (yeah, I caught that one too) that had struck me most about the Kenyan actress. But more so the elegance, intelligence, class and sensuality with which she moves through the world all while cloaked in humility and “realness.”

Jordan on the other hand, caught my attention for less noble reasons. The crush I developed after seeing Chronicle for the first time ran deep. I was elated when I spotted him in the fourth season of the series Friday Night Lights. Although it has been over 6 years and fully healed from my crush, I had along the way watched Red Tails, That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four, Creed and Fruitvale Station for more of Jordan’s magnetic, star power. The latter two movies mentioned however bring me to the most significant of reasons for my interest in BlackPanther; they were both directed by Ryan Coogler.

I learned of Ryan Coogler after watching Fruitvale station— the Director’s first feature film out of film school. I was hooked then, not by Hollywood glitz and glamour, but Fruitvale station told the compelling story of the deceased Oscar Grant who was unjustly shot dead in Oakland by police. I learned through interviews with Coogler and his leading cast that the film had received critical acclaim and picked up the Audience Award and Grand Jury price at the Sundance Film Festival as well as several other awards around the world. The fact that Coogler had made such an impact, right out of film school with a small budget was reason enough to follow his career. I would follow his career to when he made Creed. Coogler appears to move throw the world with a sense of purpose, naive millennial confidence coupled with a healthy amount of self-doubt, which I sense may very well be the driving force behind his pragmatic film-making style. The logistics behind his films are identifiable, yet seamless– he is a unique talent, one any young filmmaker would view as an inspiration.

Seeing Black Panther for the first time

When I made it to Caribbean Cinemas on February 21, Wednesday night, straight from work, I was there mainly for the cast and crew. All of whom ofcourse, did not disappoint.

My favourite character in the movie was Shuri. I fangirled over her coolness, her intelligence, her strength, and this was before I learned the actor playing her was Guyanese.

Both Letitia Wright and Winston Duke – actor behind M’baku, who now has a large group of female admirers– were heralded in Caribbean circles, primarily on social media, for their Carbbean heritage (Duke being “Trinibagonian”). When I learned of it, I too, proudly relayed the information to my family and friends and the news was met with pleasant surprise. But upon watching interviewe related to the film, I noted that both actors had left the Caribbean before the age of ten.

Opportunity

When atleast one parent is from the Caribbean, a child is bound to grow up identifying heavily with Caribbean culture but what they may not identify with is the actual physical limitations of living on a rock, or a dot on a neighbouring continent with similar history and setbacks. Caribbean people too, have dreams. We, as children, grew up watching movies like everyone else, and some of us developed a deep seeded desire to make and be in them as well. But for many of us, our dreams come to an abrupt halt once we leave secondary school and the impracticality of surviving on a passion forces us to change course simply because there is absolutely no avenue or opportunities for growth nor rewards for your natural expertise. You also have what feels like 0 resources at your disposal. The few of us who remain adamant about pursuing our interests ofcourse then, look for the easiest way to book a flight out. Will the time ever come when leaving will not be the only option?

Our creative industries often see the dark halls of inconsistency as ideas come and go; intiatives start, thrive then end— the money to keep them going never a certainty. We simply do not have the platforms to fortify our talents; to give artists that feeling of accomplishment, even after productions and projects begin, run and end. In a world where the American voice and accomplishments are so loud and bright, they penetrate our world at all angles and make our initiatives seem small, and overlooked by the wider public. Where as small towns in foreign places may have community theatres, where paid acting work may be only a bus or train ride away, here in the Caribbean, you better learn fast how to make your own oppurtunities.

Moving on, anyway

As we often do, we learn to press on. There are still creatives churning, working, growing, throwing things on the walls and hoping they stick. The Leila Janah quote “talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not” often comes to mind when I think about Caribbean actors, filmmakers, directors and the like. Everyday, the number of persons pursuing their interest in film seems to grow here, especially with the rise in festivals, workshops, competitions and clubs. Information regarding the ease with which films can be submitted to local, regional and international festivals is reaching more people. We all look forward to that time when travelling will not be a necessity for working on craft, but only the positive result of hard work, opportunity and achievement.

So I Still Haven’t Seen Black Panther

I have never been too much of a movie buff. In fact, I can possibly count all the movies I’ve been excited to see at the cinema on one hand. I didn’t even go past my laptop screen to see some of my favourite movies. For the most part, I have always preferred books to movies – the detailing is always better when it is written down, and book to movie adaptations have almost always been disappointing. My basis for picking movies has always been on whether the book was great, or the trailer looks exceptionally exciting. I have never just watched a movie based on actors or directors. But just possibly, Black Panther was about to change that.

The marketing was perfect: an all-star black cast, African themes, action and even sex appeal. Black Panther as a superhero was nothing new. First appearing in 1966, Black Panther was the first superhero of African descent, at least in popular comic books. It was a remarkable stride, given the racially charged atmosphere of America at the time. Even now, in 2018, race is still a major issue in America, and seeing dark faces like Chadwick Boseman, Luptia Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Michael B Jordan and Danai Gurira have actually ruffled some feathers – but I digress.

I was impressed. I wanted to see Black Panther just to appreciate Angela Bassett who I have always adored (and not even for her acting skills). But I still have not gotten around to it, weeks after the movies multi-million dollar opening. I watched as people bought tickets days before the opening in Saint Lucia, as they rounded up friends, as they posted vague reviews with attached gifs, expressing their absolute approval, as they rounded up different friends to see it a second time; as they had heated arguments and, as they reminisced over scenes where Michael B Jordan was shirtless.

I still didn’t go to see Black Panther. I didn’t even try to watch some illegally streamed version as I had done with what would become some of my favourite movies. Let’s leave it at the fact that I’m really just not a movie fanatic, and didn’t want to be in a crowded theatre either. But despite having still not seen the movie, I have come to appreciate what it has done for the black community – a sort of outsider’s perspective.

The saying ‘representation matters’ has never mattered more than in this particular instance. For the first time, black people have had the opportunity to enjoy a movie based on them, which was promoted on such a wide scale. Other black superheroes exist, and movies and series about them also exist, but nothing has been pushed as much as Black Panther has. Black people, the world round, have embraced the opportunity to cosplay to go to see a movie, to dress up in kente cloth outfits, and even face paint. Some referred to it as ‘the black people’s Harry Potter’. Admittedly, I thought the tribal face paint was a bit much, but who was I to judge when black people finally felt like they had made a huge impact in the film industry.

Movies like 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station have always hit some nerves in certain pockets of society, but Black Panther was all inclusive, and especially inclusive of black people. Seeing a cast of mainly black characters, hearing African accents (though unauthentic) in a movie that wasn’t about oppression, and widespread genocide (at least that is what I have gathered) must be genuinely empowering.

Given the absolutely mind blowing amount of money that the film has gained, the records it has broken, and the recognition and fame that it has brought to both the actors and the director, Black Panther has become a staple of the black community – something to be spoken of for years to come. Not to mention, numerous actors are of Caribbean lineage which speaks to the immense talent of the people in the region and the diaspora. With word of an already solidified sequel to the movie, I just might have to finally go see and appreciate the original Black Panther, and perhaps witness firsthand what the hype about the shirtless scenes was all about.

The Truth About Directing: How Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg get it done

In my (roughly) one year of gaining experience and growing in the Saint Lucian film industry, there are more than a few things I have learned, most of which I am afraid I cannot put into words but they have been nearly seared into my mind when making directorial decisions both on and off set. One of the things that I have learned however only through experience and constant interaction with other filmmakers and can articulate, is that there’s no rule book to directing. This stuck out to me because it has never been taught or passed down from any of the ‘grandfathers of local film-making’.

I realized this by observing not just local filmmakers but also those abroad (in online interviews, articles, behind the scenes videos etc.) and how they manage to take “an idea”, or rather a screenplay and make it a finished product to be screened in front of an audience. Never mind the screenwriting aspect and the producers role in the formation of a film, this is for the directors.

For the sake of bringing my point across, let’s consider two directors with very different processes (for the most part), but both are hugely successful and are currently on the top 10 list of highest grossing directors of all time (if that means anything to you).

Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott. He did thousands of TV commercials before he ‘graduated’ to directing his first feature film The Duellists at age 40. Since then, Blade Runner (1982), The Martian (2015) and most recently All the Money in the World (2017) are just a few titles you would find on his vast filmography. His extensive background in shooting commercials, he will admit, has been the greatest experience that no one gets as a filmmaker. The nature of shooting commercials as I myself have come to realize is that it’s heavily dependent on preparation as is most film-making.

To fast-forward, Ridley Scott is very well known for story-boarding all of his films from top to bottom, scene by scene, leaving nothing to chance but, there’s more; figuring out colour palettes and spending countless hours drawing concept art by hand for use as reference are all parts of his pre-production process. Yes, Scott is fully prepared at all times. In a round-table interview with The Hollywood Reporter he also admitted that his films never go over budget or over schedule and that is largely due to experience and preparation. I am also going to throw in the fact that he says he never rehearses before shooting. He claims to know exactly what he is doing and comes in with everyone ready to work towards that so why waste time trying to figure out your day if you already have it all planned out?

Now, I really like Ridley Scott films (particularly those mentioned above as they are the ones I’m most familiar with), but I cannot seem to relate to his process in the way that he describes it. Does that mean I am a bad director?

The other filmmaker I would like to toss into this is none other than…

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg. You might have heard of him, but I am even more sure that your childhood was built on one or more of his classics; Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), The Colour Purple (1985), Jurassic Park (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and my favourite of the lot, Bridge of Spies (2015).

To briefly run through his background as I have learned it, Spielberg, like most directors I have researched, started off making films as a child on a super 8 film camera. His story about the first film he made as a boy scout is actually pretty inspiring on its own. But I digress. Four Oscar wins and a ton of critical and commercial success later, let us talk about Spielberg’s pre-production and production process as director.

Disclaimer: Spielberg’s process changes based on the project as some, like The BFG, are very VFX (visual effects) heavy and so require different preparations. For the purpose of this article, I will highlight his process on Bridge of Spies.

In an interview with Film4, Spielberg recalls not doing ANY storyboards on Bridge of Spies, (Amistad, Saving Private Ryan among others) except for the scene where the U2 plane gets shot down—that scene, for your information, only lasts about five minutes more or less, but every other moment of this 2 hour 22 minute masterpiece was largely decided and done on the day of shooting.

Obviously, things like costuming and production design must be prepared beforehand but blocking, camera placement, composition, actor performances and the like were all done on spot. Spielberg often mentions going to the set early or the night before with a work-light on while he walks the set and figures out where the camera will be, where the actors will stand and how they will move. The actors’ performances (amazing by the way), as you would imagine, evolved over multiple takes, really needing no rehearsal period. In another interview, I recall the director saying that he does not like to rehearse (just like Scott, but for different reasons) mostly because sometimes you get the perfect performance in rehearsals and you have no camera to record it, not to mention it would be nearly impossible to replicate that perfect take again on a shooting day.

It would be pointless to even debate who “knows how to direct” and who should serve as your inspiration. Learning that the aforementioned directors— among several others— have different methods behind the scenes and on the day was a relief for me, who is still very much a beginner trying to figure out what works and what does not. So, trust your process, experiment all the time and keep improving.

 

End

 

 

Imran St. Brice is a Saint Lucian Filmmaker.

IG @imo208

 

How To Enhance Your Directing Process

 

Every film director is different. Especially when it concerns style, experience, execution, preferences and so on. After directing my own short film, these are a few things that helped my process.

1 Block your scenes through the viewfinder

The simple way to define blocking is, the movements of characters in relation to the movement of the camera (the audience’s point of view).  Of course, there are more than a few ways to block a scene. Depending on the director, a few lines of action and dialogue in a script could translate on screen as a comedy, drama, romantic comedy or a suspense scene. By this fact, blocking also involves the performance and not just the movement. Now for the tip: always block your scenes through the viewfinder when possible. (Obviously if you’re shooting on a DSLR you’d have to turn the camera off to view your shot through the viewfinder). Doing this forces you to think more consciously about the 3 dimensional space you’re dealing with as well as gauging the distance between the camera and the performer. Whereas blocking using the flat, two dimensional monitor doesn’t give you an accurate idea of spacing.

 

2 Use prime lenses

Why? For starters they’re sharper, more affordable, more portable (all relative by the way). But using lenses with a fixed focal length allows you to think more actively about how you shoot a scene. Because there’s no quick and easy way to get a closeup on an actor or to fit more in the frame, you’re forced to physically move the camera, which in turn affects the process of the actor, for better or worse. But overall it does let you think more creatively about getting a shot as opposed to just zooming in or out.

 

3 Know every process

Terry Gilliam once told Quentin Tarantino that <paraphrased; as a director, it’s not your job to know how to operate a camera, or move lights around to get a certain effect, or how to record sound or any of that. As a director,  your job is to have a vision. And then it’s your job to be able to articulate that vision to the talented people around you who can use their skill to help you achieve that vision.” For me, this is a more than perfect description of what a film director is. BUT, put plainly, you do give yourself a huge advantage when you have a working -not perfect- knowledge of what each process in filmmaking entails. You don’t need to be a DP for 3 years to know what a DP does but it’s good to be an instant expert on all processes so that 1) you know when your crew is lying to you that something can’t be done (lol) and 2) in the case of many independent filmmakers getting started, you’ll need to teach your crew how to do their jobs effectively, so the more you know the better.

 

4 Get to know who you’re working with

This could easily be overlooked but I think it’s highly important that you actually take time to find out what kind of personality types you’ll be spending your time with on a particular project. If they’re unlikeable, or worse yet, not knowledgeable enough then what could be a simple, fun project could end up dragging on and becoming a gloom. On the other hand, persons who are just as passionate and on a similar wavelength can be more fun and make you a better filmmaker overall.

 

— END

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Interview w/ Caribbean Filmmaker Pierre Chester

Millennials – Technology – Creativity. Is it me or do these three go hand in hand now?

This is certainly the era of the Iphone, the Android.. of Instagram, YouTube and the like. Consider it .. how many photographers and videographers do you know? It’s cool though, who doesn’t like a fancy photo, or some quick burst of ethereal scenery in motion? How many of us spend an embarrassing number of hours skimming through the portfolios of creative lens maestros? Not to mention we especially love the work of our counterparts who think outside the box and use their gifts to tell unique stories. Pierre Chester is a storyteller/ filmmaker from Saint Lucia.

To read about Pierre’s journey and perspective on Film in the Caribbean, click here.

“Being on set is a great feeling, with everybody coming together and making a script come to life, it’s a rush.” – Pierre Chester

 

Loving Chiron

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Moonlight. I can't think of another instance where the complexities of manhood, particularly of the black – queer male, entranced me entirely for a full hour and 51 minutes.

Eversince its release, endless webs of discussion have been spun on the themes explored in this film. I remember the first time I saw the triad of main actors, their faces, filtered in blue, purple and pink hues, sailed up my Facebook timeline, an image peered with the Afropunk article “WHAT IT WAS LIKE WATCHING 'MOONLIGHT' AS A QUEER BLACK MAN (FILM REVIEW)”. My interest peaked, not because I am a queer black man (I am not), but because I knew this would be like nothing else I had seen before. However, I allowed my curiosity to stop then and there. I lived in south-east Asia at the time and knew good and well that this would come nowhere near Taiwan's Cinemas.

Months later, after the wave washed over the film world solidifying Moonlight as an Avant- Garde masterpiece and Barry Jenkins as a bonafide director/ screenwriter virtuoso, catching the ripples I was able to get my fix and fall in love.

Technicalities (which as a self proclaimed filmmaker made up a large part of the reason this film impacted me the way it did) aside, part two, I.e 'ii. Chiron' of this movie left me undone and I won't miss this chance to hail Ashton Sanders for his flawless performance. Sanders' character, a young, black, teen male, meekly moving through his life, physically hunched forward from the figurative bricks on his shoulders, eyes glistening with loneliness; a picture of a child performing a grim juggling act with individuality, sexuality, exclusion and parental neglect, stuck out most for me.

While I was devouring the film scene by scene, Sanders' performance forced me to question myself; What pre-conceived ideas did I have when it came to the images of black men? What expectations did I hold on how these men were supposed to move through the world? Was I culprit to drawing the rigid lines that box black men in and perpetuates ideas that there can be no gray area, even for self-exploration and discovery. I thought of a friend I had in my teens who coincidentally shared Chiron's skin-tone, stature and mannerisms. Although we never directly spoke about his sexuality and having witnessed nothing to attribute to, I remembered how my mind was wrongly made up, 'he is gay'. That was not my place. That was insensitive and dismissive of a person's own past and experiences as well as of his freedom to claim it and declare it for and by himself.

It has now been several weeks since I've seen the film yet scenes from the movie appear behind my eyes as vivid as they did on screen; Chiron engulfed in a sea of bodies, dissolving into the school corridor wallpaper, a wide shot of Chiron walking on the street alone, his adversaries slithering into frame, their altercation, proceeded by Chiron's repressed anger. All these against a vibrant, colorful Miami street backdrop adding to the mastery that is Moonlight.

I am not an African-American male growing up in the hood with a mother addicted to crack, struggling with and suppressing my sexuality and identity but I could feel the movie's importance. I could also feel my teen self looking at ii.Chiron, feeling his exclusion, loneliness, repressed self-expression, necessary self-reliance, and finding a point of understanding. I think if most people allowed themselves they would see themselves or someone they knew/know in Chiron.