The Reel | Millennials exploiting their resources
The Jamaican film industry has been experiencing a rapid ebb and flow in recent years and seems poised for a huge wave of possibilities. Today we continue our feature The Reel, which explores the industry and highlights the players and the possibilities of a bona fide film district on The Rock.
A common theme among local filmmakers, millennial or otherwise, has been that getting the work done means getting on their hands and knees. Young UK-based filmmaker Adjani Salmon and Joshua Paul know this very well. Salmon secretly depleted his mother's savings to fund his award-winning web series Dreaming Whilst Black. Also earning accolades on the international scene is a short film Kinto, which Paul wrote and directed and which was produced by Saeed Thomas. Both productions were possible because they exploited their resources, doing whatever it took to make their dreams come true.
The young filmmakers from family and strangers to make it from the page to the screen and are still making the rounds on the international film festival circuit.
Dreaming Whilst Black was filmed at six houses, all booked for free. The production utilised about 80 actors, most of whom were friends or associates. Salmon estimated that of that number, only about 10 actors were compensated.
"What I did is what people before me have done. If you have a house, shoot inna yuh house. If you don't have a mic, make a silent film. If you have a camera phone, shoot a film that makes sense to use a camera phone. That's what I mean by exploiting the resources," noted Salmon.
Though he did have some finances at his disposal, he maintains that it's not always about the money. "At some level, money comes into play - but it's not about that. Exploit the resources you have to its fullest potential, and focus 100 per cent on the story. That is what I did."
Kinto has also garnered international attention. Initially produced by Transition Media Company (owned by Paul), the short film did receive some sponsorship. But the filmmakers still had to 'beg favours'.
Kinto relied on the support of local industry professionals with whom they had developed a good relationship. This cut the production cost in half. "We reached out to older people, and because they were willing, we got a great product. These are the same people who work on the Netflix productions when they came to Jamaica."
The professionals were paid, but at heavily discounted rates. "The budget to do something like this would have been about J$2 million," Thomas told The Sunday Gleaner.
Making a film with little or no budget goes beyond asking friends or colleagues for free labour. By Salmon's philosophy, streaming platforms have changed the game for millennial filmmakers by eliminating traditional gatekeepers. It seems a sure way to get an audience's attention. Besides working the film festival circuit, Dreaming Whilst Black gained fame on YouTube.
How does it work? According to Salmon, "Is the story good? Is it resonating? Will the audience connect and feel? Will they go on the emotional journey you're portraying? That is 150 per cent why we have got into award ceremonies." So far, Dreaming Whilst Black has been received at 13 film festivals, earned 22 nominations, and won five awards. The tally could go up this weekend following the series' turn at Rio Web Fest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He told The Sunday Gleaner that discussions have opened with various production companies and broadcasters on making the series for television.
Thomas agreed that streaming platforms help build a fan base without the bureaucracy of major production and distribution companies. However, established channels remain necessary for millennial filmmakers. This year, he attended the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, where he met a distributor for Disney from Canada. "Film festivals shouldn't be underrated. I wouldn't be able to stay in Jamaica and meet someone like that. Festivals may not give social-media presence, but they put you on a level with the industry."
Still, the power of streaming is undeniable. "No one wants to talk to you until they see what you've done. Only now that I've done Dreaming Whilst Black have people been reading my scripts. Before, they weren't."
Salmon has already begun preproduction for his next work. "We've written an outline for season two in television format, so half-hour episodes. Now they have proof of concept, they're reading my script." The two young industry practitioners said other young filmmakers can learn from their stories of using alternative routes to get their work out.