Thu | Jan 17, 2019

TV start not 'Savannah' end - Producers target video-on-demand platform

Published:Tuesday | November 21, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Donisha Prendergast (left) and Joel Young Sang in Savannah.
zBek in character during a scene in Savannah.
The crew of Savannah on the road in Portland.
Full use of the Portland scenery in the making of Savannah.

One more locally produced pilot has premiered on national television. On the heels of giving airtime to the grassroots, stoically comical Losing Patience, TVJ recently showed Savannah. Shot over three days between the lush greens of Portland and the Kingston cityscape by a crew of 23 persons, D.S.E. Jamaica produced an introduction of a love story, exploring long-distance relationships and compounding pressures like economic instability.

"Telling a love story with Portland as the backdrop isn't new. In fact, it hasn't been done enough," director Kush Asher of D.S.E. said. With a desire to feed the Jamaican diaspora and the world with stories that reflect the honesty and diversity of the Jamaican experience, Asher hopes to attract enough support to extend the pilot into a complete seven episodes.

While production funding is hard to come by, the Savannah production team decided not to approach potential advertisers and investors. Also, they chose to forgo the short-film approach, in an attempt to demonstrate proof -of -concept that a series production is possible, however improbable it has appeared in the past. "We have the physical capacity we have the foundation to build. The endgame is video on demand (VOD) and we're not going to be romantic to say Netflix or Amazon Fire. The aim is owning our content. I didn't want it to look like a Hollywood feature," Asher said.

'Savannah' was written by Donisha Prendergast, who also plays the lead role. Joel Young Sang and zBek complete the main cast. "We wanted to tell a simple story about young people exploring ideas of love, independence and life outside of what they know. In Jamaica, sometimes that means dealing with situations that arise as a ripple effect of an unstable economy. We have six more scripts already prepared for this series," Prendergast explained.


Seeking partners


The pilot's producer, Stacy-Ann Sutherland, told The Gleaner the crew is currently seeking partners, because producing the first 23 minutes of this story cost an estimated US10,000, with an additional US$2,000 for promotional costs. The crew recruited interns in the Breastwork community, where the story is set. Even while creating those short-term jobs, Sutherland said, "it was difficult, in the sense that there are not many resources in Jamaica. We had to ask persons to work at half their rate and for free."

In 2014, Asher was commissioned to direct five made-for-TV movies for MNET Nairobi, Kenya. Asher recognised that foreigners' familiarity with Jamaican culture is firstly tied to entertainment, particularly music. "They only know the music. As a filmmaker, I grew up doing music videos and shows like Mission Catwalk and NCB's Capital Quest. Now, I want to document stories that can outlive us," he said.

The director's aim has become the content creation through film as a means of introducing diversified perspectives of Jamaican culture and establishing a presence in the VOD arena. "There are young people who spend a lot of time on Netflix and other video-on-demand platforms and we want to see ourselves there, too. The endgame is to do episodic television," he said.

Although the pilot was also aired on HYPE TV, with an intention to show on CVM TV , the team plans to skip broadcasters altogether in the long term.

"Three million people in Jamaica can't pay for production. I need the diaspora to buy into Savannah.

We're telling the story for them, to show that we're not gangsta and gunmen and that not everybody live in a politically affiliated garrison," Asher said.