'Asgaya' filmed in Jamaica with local stars
Toni Morgan Haye initially planned to write and direct a futuristic, sci-fi series. Last year, she became the first Jamaican director to debut on Amazon Prime, one of the world's largest broadcast networks. That pilot for a 10-episode-long psychological thriller was released with the hope that the story would be picked up for series production, but it was instead picked up as a three-film franchise.
With a new vision, new cast and local production crew in tow, Morgan Haye travelled to Jamaica to use its backdrop for the development of a newer story, and the 10 part series which was to be called SYN has since been renamed Asgaya.
"SYN, for me, started out as a different story. It's something I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I just have been having a gut feeling that I should change it, though I wasn't sure what I should change it to. I feel that SYN no longer represents the story Asgaya does," Morgan Haye told The Gleaner.
In approximately two weeks, the director managed to collect a majority of the necessary footage for the film. Though she aimed for all filming to take place in Jamaica, the remainder will necessarily be completed in California.
"The only thing left to film is the futuristic scenes, which we needed a cyc studio to do," Morgan Haye said.
'Cyc' is an abbreviated term for cyclorama, an all-white infinity wall used as a background of a stage set to suggest unlimited space. The cyclorama wall creates the effect of the floor and wall coming seamlessly together so that objects (or people) placed in front of it will appear to float again a clutter-free backdrop. Unfortunately, the production was unable to find a cyc studio in Jamaica large enough to accommodate the film's final vision.
"Some of the local actors will be flying out to LA to finish that in a few weeks, and that will the official wrap," the young director told The Gleaner.
Despite not being able to locate a cyc wall on the island, the production continues on full steam. "We already have VFX artists. For the footage finished in Jamaica, we already have an editor working on it - two editors, two on sound engineers, and three composers. We still have to wait until the studio scenes are done, but that won't be as hard," she said.
In light of the expansion of the project and the interest of Morgan Haye's international producers, Asgaya will not only be helmed by a Jamaican national, but will also be starring some familiar faces. Former Miss Universe Jamaica Isabel Dalley was recruited for the role of the lead character's sister, along with Joel Britton, a Pulse model who plays Dalley's love interest. Local actress Rachel Allen will also play a significant role in the film.
America vs Jamaica
For Morgan Haye, the Jamaican film experience played out differently than what she has known in the United States. Though fulfilling, the experience was not completely hunky-dory. "You can tell there's a major gap in the industry, but there's been a lot of growth," she told The Gleaner.
The most noticeable difference was the variance in how local production crews paced themselves.
"We had one crew member who left after the second day. His comment was that he shot his 40 minutes-long film, in one day. But you can't shoot one take. There are some rules you can't break. He wasn't feeling that and it made me sad. But there is no production that you're gonna get 40-minute shot in one day. In Hollywood, you shoot five pages (of a script) a day.
"I also found there were certain terms that people aren't familiar with. So it was challenging with communication. But the crew that we had here are amazing, and very willing. They made the project better than I expected it to be," Morgan Haye continued.
Regardless, Morgan Haye intends to bring the production of the next two instalments of the franchise back to Jamaica.
"Since I've been here, I've been approached by people with stories, really good stories. I wish to help in the local film industry, and demonstrate how to produce low-budget films that have high-budget feel. There are a lot of good ideas, but the quality is not up to par. I want to help with getting distribution, and getting accepted in film festivals, and showing tricks and techniques for getting that high-quality look," she said.