I had the tremendous pleasure of being an executive producer and fight choreographer on the set of a 30 minute short action film called “UNBOUND”. It has been out for a while but if you haven’t caught it go to www.boncrekfilms.com/unbound. You can rent or purchase it there. The name has so many meanings when you look at the storyline. It follows a detective attached to a police unit responsible for investigating crimes against women and children. She encounters obstacles in the form of two men on the wrong side of the law getting in her way. Her very soul is challenged when she is faced with some very serious predicaments.
One day out of the blue a friend/film colleague called me asking about my fight choreography services. David Johnson told me his budget and the honest truth is that at the time I was so swamped with things I was very tempted to say no. I have always had a problem saying no when friends or family need help. As much as I wanted to I could not resist when I heard the story. The topics being tackled were sexual abuse, human trafficking, and child molestation. All things I abhor and view my country among others as having a serious issue where this is concerned. I could not say no. I had to reshuffle my priorities, even cancelling an important event my wife and I were scheduled to go to because this was more important.
The biggest concern came when I heard that we pretty much had 2 months to train several non-Martial Artists how to fight and we practically only had one day a week. AY CARAMBA! This was not the preferred situation by any stretch of the imagination.
After going through the fighting styles the director envisioned, I had to meet the actors and figure out what they were capable of, what limitations they had and how willing they were to learn. Luckily, they were very enthusiastic. Unfortunately some of them had serious limitations with time and previous injuries. None the less, we knew we could not achieve some of the expert level skills displayed in many of the reference fight scenes we dug up but we found a happy middle ground that gave us the technical outcome we wanted.
Every Saturday morning bright and early at 8 am we trained. Starting off with general warm ups then getting into basic punching, kicking and footwork drills and techniques. I don’t believe in just giving pre-rehearsed moves to beginners straight off the bat. I believe they must know how to perform proper techniques first then they can learn how they blend together naturally in light sparring simulations. This was just for them to feel what a fight is supposed to feel like so that when they get to rehearsed moves, they can play the part convincingly. Next step was teaching them how to sell a hit so that the audience would believe a punch or kick is as hard as intended to be. Once they got a good feel for these skills, a choreography was created that matched their abilities and communicated their preferred fighting styles. As you can imagine, closer to the time of shooting as the intensity of training stepped up a few minor injuries crept up here and there, but it is a part of the business. They had to look believable on screen and they did.
Shoot days were long and gruelling. We shot the last scene first. One of my favourite parts of set life was meeting new people and helping a story unfold. I met a Jamaican filmmaker who lives in California named Mark Lecky. We had been acquaintances on Facebook for a while but we had never met in person until that set. He is going to flame me for this but at first I was observing him to see if he really knew anything about film production because I always saw him posting on Facebook but never anything he worked on. Turns out not only was he a great Grip and Best Boy, but he was also a cool dude. We quickly became brothers. I pretty much looked forward to seeing him and working with him on set every day. I learned a lot just observing him. This man had the energy of a 10 year old child, always moving always observant, monitoring when the fog machine needed to be turned on (Inside joke I know he will flame me for).
I got to work with Darren Scott again, one of Jamaica’s top Directors of Photography and for the first time I got to work with Gabrielle Black, the President of the Jamaica Film and Television Association which was an honour for me whether she knows it or not because I respect her work and work ethic.
Overall it was an exciting team. I can’t remember everyone but my partner in crime Robin Chin was there, our lovely Make Up artiste Katherine, Production Assistant Na-Kaydia who kept bugging me for Martial Arts lessons and was actually getting pretty good at it quickly. There are many more people I could mention but there were so many on set.
The writing duo in Director David Johnson and Assistant Director Aliceia Dawkins created an excellent film that I think is a beautiful piece of cinematography that needs to be seen by everybody.
The Finished Product
We filmed for four days. The actors were such troopers. I know how draining choreography can be on the day of shooting because you have to do the moves over and over again even more so than in practice. The lead actors Stephanie Hazle and Kevin Sean Hamilton did a remarkable job. I am looking forward to torturing them for the sequel.
Once this production was over it was on to edit, color and sound. Once that was done it was time for a premiere and a few other screenings with NGO’s. It has been quite a journey. The stunts are hard, finding the production money is hard, rehearsing is hard, but finding persons to partner with to get the film distributed properly is perhaps the most difficult but it is a journey we have been taking in strides.
So far the film premiered at the Liguanea Club, screened at the Christian Life Fellowship, UNICEF and The Bureau of Gender Affairs Jamaica. The premier had present the highest representative from the UN offices in Jamaica Mr. Bruno Pouezat and representatives from CISOCA and CDA. It is currently available on www.amazon.com, www.reelhouse.com and www.vimeo.com for purchase. It has been screened at film festivals locally and overseas and received write ups in local newspapers and magazines. We still have a long way to go but the journey is continuing to progress uphill and we are all grateful for that. I am definitely looking forward to the next instalment which will be a feature length film continuing where the short film left off.
If an idea for a story is a seed then when watered it sprouts roots in the form of a script. Without these roots a movie cannot grow. Therefore the very first step one must take in creating a piece of art one can show on a big screen or air on a television is to write a good screenplay. But after a good screenplay is created it needs further nutrients to grow. "Script development" is the soil that provides a script with all the elements it needs to be a strong and healthy film. Enough of the puns, let’s talk about the “Making Development Work” Script Development workshop put on by The British Council Caribbean (BCC), Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA) and the Jamaican Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO).
I’ve been to several workshops of different kinds and the honest truth is this is one of the few I’ve been to that was actually a workshop. Most I have been to were more “Talk Shops” where the instructor merely goes in detail step by step into a process but you seldom get to actually practice or simulate it. The other thing that is typical of a workshop is the instructor telling you there is only one way of doing things. This was entirely different. Not only was this workshop practical, it was also very organic and non-invasive. Ludo Smolski is a Script Development Consultant from London with decades of experience in the UK Film Industry. He is a Script Consultant who does Script Reading, Script Development and designs & teaches Script Development courses. On top of it all he was a seriously nice guy, with a great sense of humour and a great appreciation for Jamaica and its culture. We could not have been in better hands.
The 5 days of the workshop started on a holiday…YES on a holiday…Ash Wednesday. The dedication was immediately evident as all 14 participants showed up not just on time but ahead of time to start the day off right and dispel the myth that all Jamaicans run on Caribbean time. Each day consisted of theory in the morning a lunch break and then a practical exercise to emphasize what was learned. This was achieved through role playing, developing analysis reports, outlines, simulated development meetings, reading several scripts, breaking down scripts and breaking down scenes just to name a few. In some cases we got homework which was reviewed the next day. It was back to school again for everyone…literally. We covered everything from Dialogue, to Plot, to patois in films. Interestingly Ludo saw no issue with patois being in films which is in stark contrast to Hollywood Director Joel Zwick who did “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. He told the Jamaica Gleaner "There is an enormous audience that would like to find out about Jamaican stories, Jamaican culture, but they're not gonna do it as a foreign
film, reading subtitles. That won't happen."
Ludo pointed out there are far too many successful examples of subtitled films out there for him to see it as a disadvantage. He admits there are situations like distributing to the North American markets that may require a strategy to gain acceptance with dialogue but he stated strongly that if the visuals of the film tell the story, then dialogue really will not pose a problem. Another option he recommended if we chose to go the modified patois root is to write the dialogue in such a way that sounds understandable in English but also sounds Jamaican. This can be achieved by speaking English but using an accent, similar to the way we hear Romans, Africans or Germans talk in films. Germans do not speak English but the audience believes they are authentically German when they hear them. The point is, he would rather we not remove the “Jamaican-ness” from the film if it adds to the authenticity of the story. How we represent that is up to our creativity.
Enough of the cultural banter, let’s get to the crux of the matter. The workshop ended on Sunday March 5 and everyone left feeling very empowered. Tired…but empowered. Ludo encouraged us all to stay in groups (which he assigned) and continue to develop our scripts to meet their full potential. The team committed to this as the benefit was obvious. I know some are going to ask, “But what happens after…are you going to get the films made?” Great question and the answer is “One step at a time.” This step is a very crucial step in the journey up the hill. We will not get there in a single bound but this surely elevates us. With the combination of projects like Propella giving filmmakers $500,000 each to make 10 minutes films for regional and international consumption in the film festival circuit and this script development workshop, Jamaica is putting itself on the right track. The British Council is very willing to help the Caribbean boost its creative industries and one thing they do very well is making connections that can assist us. This I believe is the first of many good things to come.
How I feel about last minute work
I hate last minute work, I'm sure we all do. That job that comes to you minutes before work closes, or that your client gave you today but wants back by tomorrow. There really is no specific length of time that defines "Last Minute Work". For some, once the true estimated time to complete the job exceeds the given deadline, then you have a ‘last minute’ project. It in essence means your client came to you too late to complete it, but wants you to work a miracle. Last I checked I’m not Jesus and I am sure you aren't either.
Last minute work calls often go something like this... "Hey, I need a favour..." or end like this "I need it like yesterday". Terms like these are serious red flags. Sometimes we’ve taken these last minute jobs without thinking, because we were low on funds and project came out of nowhere to save the day. Other times we get that bad feeling in the back of our necks, but we ignore it because the work is coming from a reputable company or a friend. Whomever it comes from, it can often rob you of precious time and earning potential.
These jobs are usually cheap, but turn out to be expensive in the long run. Here are 5 ways to spot last minute work you should not touch, or at least how to handle these jobs - if you choose to accept them.
1. Open to Definition
The first thing you must do with ANY client is interview them. Ask them a million and one questions, and then some. They might get annoyed, but due diligence is key. Ask them what they want and get it in as definitive terms as possible. Do not accept "You are the creative one, I will leave that up to you." That is a cop out statement that means "I don't have time for this and my boss is the one that really needs this done." Whether they know it or not they are trying to pass all the responsibility onto you. Since the end product is not for you, neither should the definition of the end product be yours unless they are willing to not question your decisions and pay you what you want. At the end of the day, If they don't know what they want neither will you.
2. False Start
Clients will be tempted to have you start working before coming to an agreement or the signing of a contract. This is a huge risk and a big red flag. In many cases you might get away with it, but in several cases you might end up not getting paid and still doing all the work. Insist on some payment upfront. This demonstrates that they are serious if they fulfill the request. Not wanting to pay on a rushed job is a big RED FLAG. If they were in that much of a rush they would be willing to pay quickly to get the ball rolling.
3. Long Run Short Catch
Funny thing about these last minute jobs. They always come along disguised as a quick buck. One or two hours of work. At most a day or two, but they somehow string out into a week's worth of changes, because again...they didn't know what they wanted in the first place. However, when they see what you have given them they realize what they don't want. Now you will be entwined in a never ending cycle of changes. Sometimes even repeating the very same changes they previously rejected. This cheap job suddenly became expensive because you are now losing opportunities and the payment for this job is not increasing with each edit. Make them know up front that they will need to pay for changes, or give them three changes free and no more. That will make them think carefully before giving you a mountain to climb for a drop of water.
4. Quantity vs Quality
When persons rush you to do a job, they 9 times out of 10 don't care if the time is too short or not. They want you to deliver on time and at the highest quality despite the fact that persons with more expertise than yourself have never accomplished anything like it in such a time span. Maybe they are hoping they discovered a prodigy but most likely you are an ordinary man like anyone else. Always stick to the simple triangular formula. You must always balance the equilibrium of Time, Quantity and Quality. Quality x Quantity = Time. Extrapolate this equation any which way you want either quality or quantity suffers when you limit the time. If you KNOW the time is too short say so from the get go and do not relent. Either you state that you cannot do it and move on or you tell them they need to give you more time or scale back either the quantity or the quality. Do not make them bully you. You will most certainly regret it and your reputation will hate you.
5. The Nose Knows
If it smells too good to be true it might just be. You always know when a job is not right. You smell it, you taste it, you hear it, you feel it. Do not ignore your senses. Think back to past experiences with clients, those that worked and those that didn't. I am sure if you look back you will remember your spidey senses tingling when the job came your way. That feeling you can't shake, but can't prove at the same time. Your heart tells you, "What's the worst that can happen?" but your common sense keeps telling you "Run Forrest RUN!!!". If it smells like a rat run for the hills. If you don't run, repeat steps 1 through 5.
These are my 5 warning signs to look out for and how to handle them when last minute work comes your way. It will happen to all of us at some point. Like Kenny Rogers said "You've got to know when to hold em' know when to fold em' know when to walk away and know when to run." If you can't master these tips then my next best advice is to buy a bottle of Panadol or Excedrin because you will be needing it.
Creatives: The Dance of Hall
With all the controversy surrounding the dancehall image on the cover of the 2017 telephone directory published by the yellow pages late 2016, it's obvious many in society especially the church still look down on the culture. It's a pity because dancehall dancing is an art form closely resembling its African roots but authentically developed in Jamaica.
Dancehall dancing makes many persons a lucrative living both here and abroad. In Austria they offer workshops and certification in the art form and let's not forget Japan who has taken it to another level winning several Dancehall Queen competitions here on Jamaican soil taking that fame back to Japan where they become hired celebrities for parties and music videos.
Austria dancehall dancing workshop
Now there are several schools teaching dancehall in Jamaica to foreigners who travel half the world to learn. It is also becoming a very popular class offered as an aerobics session at many gyms. The Jamaican party scene has become world famous for it's style and antics. The first in a series of creative mini documentaries done by Realizm Studios show cases a snippet of the culture from the persons who live the life style day in day out. Check it out and learn a thing or two about the origins from recording artist and dancer "Chiney Kiki", veterans in the art like "Colo Colo" as well as today's up and coming stars. Each and everyone one of these people rep hard for Jamaica on a daily basis so share and help their work spread.
If you missed it last night, I was interviewed by Ed Umoja on "Speaking to Harmony" a radio blog show on "Sister's in Harmpony radio". If you want to hear it here is the link below.
We spoke about my short film "Heart Shaped Box" the response it got at the PITON International Film Festival (PIFF), Chicago Caribbean Film Festival and the Houston Caribbean Film Festival. Beyond that we spoke about the film industry in Jamaica and the Caribbean, how we can address some of the challenges.
It was a good interview covering a lot of ground including film festivals across the Caribbean, Animation, making linkages overseas, collaborating more across the Caribbean and of course bigging up a few local filmmakers I think we all need to look out for.
Ed Umoja is the founder of PIFF in St. Lucia, an international film festival he has been successfully running for 3 years and it is growing in terms of attracting tourists during the slow season helping to fill hotels and flights to the island not to mention the spill over economic benefit to restaurants and local craft and transport sectors. Ed is also the founder of Cariwood, a movement that is encouraging the effective networking of different film communities in the Caribbean, Africa and the diaspora to help strengthen and unify the industry. It is his strong belief that our combined efforts will help put us on the map faster. Right now each island is struggling to make even one film a year. Ideally we should be making 10 but that is a challenge. If the islands could easily work with each other, maybe the combined resources could help us meet that goal. Then a significant dent could be made. 10 is probably not very achievable in the nearest future especially for more than maybe 3 islands at this time, but it's definitely something we should aim for and hopefully initiatives like the highly successful JAFTA Propella program and PIFF's initiatives regionally and internationally can help boost that movement.
Until then I encourage filmmakers to look out for local festivals next year like Lignum Vitae Film Festival, GATFFEST Film Festival, Reggae Film Festival, Alliance Francaise French Animation Festival and hopefully the Jamaica Film Festival as places to show case their work. Regionally look out for what Cuba is doing, look out for PIFF, the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) and the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF). These festivals are not to be snoozed on.
Check out the Interview and tell me what you think below. Did you enjoy it? What would you love to hear more about?
Watch out Jamaica! A new kind of hero is coming and you can get to watch him in the 15 minute short film pilot called “Enhanced”. Directed by Joshua Paul, the story follows a masked vigilante who stops the kidnapping of a defenseless school girl, Shari, played by the charming and innocent-looking Melissa Gooden.
Shot in Jamaica by a Jamaican crew with Jamaican actors, the movie premiered at the University of the West Indies in front of a crowd of over 200 people. Present were the Film Commissioner Renee Robinson and filmmakers Robin Chin and Kyle Chin, among others. The film shows off professional, crowd-thrilling martial arts fight scenes choreographed by Lamardo Christopher and Kevin Jackson. The high kicking action between the vigilante (L. Christopher) and two thugs (K. Jackson and the other played by the serious but very comedic Fitzroy Walters) left a resounding impression as it is a genre of filmmaking not often seen from the country.
A refreshing change from the typical “shoot em up” thug movies we are accustomed to, “Enhanced” tackles a prevailing topic in our society- the safety of our children in our communities. It also looks at the need for their awareness when on the road between school and home as well as the fantasy concept of who is to save them if things go wrong. In this case, a young acrobatic hero comes to the rescue but at a harmful cost to himself.
With desires to become Jamaica’s first action based super hero series, the film has been accepted and screened at the “Urban Action Film Festival” in New York at an HBO red carpet event where it competed against other international action films and was nominated for best short film. Though it did not win, it pulled a lot of interest from the audience who were excited to see such a film coming out of the Caribbean. Since then it has screened at the Liguanea Club and New Wave Lounge on Mannings Hill Road in Jamaica. It has landed articles in the Jamaica Observer, interviews on www.reggaetoreggae.com and TVJ's Smile Jamaica. It will be further screened in Jamaica to gain more exposure to wider audiences for the support it needs to build its fan base and impress investors. If you want to check it out, follow @enhancedja on instagram, twitter and facebook at #enhancedja for more information regarding future screening dates and series development.
I started working on All Star Twerkers as a character animator about 1 year ago. I was not able to talk about it because it was in development and contract or not, I do not talk about people's projects before they are done and distributed unless expressly permitted.
This would make the first official game I've worked on. I have messed around and built some incomplete games in the past so I went in with a little working knowledge. The app is downloadable for free on itunes and playstore. Yes that's right, available on both Apple and Android platforms. The game is called All Star Twerkers. Twerking is a series of dance moves popular in clubs, music videos and youtube videos. It is so popular it is a no-brainer that it should be made into a game. It is the brainchild of writer and game producer Christopher Williams who lives in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, He found me on social media after seeing some of my animations online. I was a little apprehensive at first because of the nature of the game most likely degrading women but decided to hop on board and see what happens.
Well I was totally wrong about it degrading women because I found out the characters ranged from men, women, aliens, robots, cyborgs, you name it. The game is meant purely and simply for fun. The illustrations done By Michael Dunbar were lovely, I was happy to be on board from that point on and I was excited about the challenge of animating game characters. It was not smooth sailing at first because I generally animate 2D in Anime Studio Pro. When I met with Chris he asked me if I knew how to use "Spine Animation" I figured he meant bones or skeletons which is a common tool/technique used in limited or cut out style. I said yes without hesitation, took his character design broke it down properly and then proceeded to rig and animate in Anime Studio. Turned out pretty well. Showed Michael he loved it then asked me for the Spine export files...I was entirely confused by what he meant. After long deliberation I eventually realized that when he asked if I knew how to do "Spine Animations" he meant if I knew how to use a software called "Spine" to do animations. Whoa...what the hell? I had no idea such a software existed. It is a 2D animation program used to make sprites for games and it allows you to animate your moves and just apply character skins to the bone system so that you don't have to re-animate each character. Sweet but this now meant I needed to get the software and learn it.
I did this and I can say this software was not easy to learn. I learned it quickly but it was stressful. It does a lot of things in a weird way but what it is really good at it excels in. It's key framing system has different dynamics to it where you can either automatically set key frames once you manipulate the bones or you can manually set it, meaning if you change the position of a bone but you do not confirm it, then that frame will not be keyed. I could go on and on about the pros and cons, but the fact is, this is the program I had to use. I figured it out and once I started getting comfortable with it, I was animating with ease until something new had to be tried.
There were lots of back and forth tweaks between myself and the illustrator trying to get the body parts shaped right to compliment the animation. Once that was set it was on to coding which was in the hands of Kamau Vassal and his team mate who shall remain nameless. This again was another circuitous process as many tweaks had to be made to ensure the export files worked properly in Unity. as time went on the character list grew, the moves increased, the coding brought every thing together into the finished product you can download today. In fact, as of the time this article is being written, a release is coming out very soon with an Obama character. Look out for the update.
For those of you interested in knowing how spine works and seeing behind the scenes of the animation process, here is a video overview I did.
When I just started out in film, my first instinct was to put the film online and show the world. Seeing the views go up was always exciting, checking day by day to see if more and more eyes were peering at my vision on screen. Of course there was something missing from that experience that I couldn’t quite explain. As I did more and more research I saw a piece of advice repeat itself over and over. Enter your film in festivals.
I am a Filmmaker, Animator and Writer. I love telling stories and making them come true. You will see me on the big screen soon enough.