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An ‘uberindie’ dream come true

Sunday, September 10, 2017
A scene from the narrative short film The Weekend, which premieres September 20 as part of the T&T Film Festival. PHOTO: COURTESY RABID SQUIRREL STUDIOS.

There are a number of T&T films making their premieres at the T&T Film Festival, which opens September 19 with the screening of the film adaptation of Michael Anthony’s Green Days by the River.

One festival film that’s likely to generate a lot of conversation is The Weekend, a short narrative drama directed by Sean Hodgkinson. It stars Cindy F Daniel, Chris Smith, Andrew Friday, Stephen Hadeed, Jr and Frances de Lancey in its ensemble cast.

The Weekend’s budget was a meagre $17,000 TT.

That amount of money couldn’t cover the blink of an eye in the typical Game of Thrones show; the HBO series costs upwards of US $10 million per episode. No dragons and White Walkers? A regular network TV drama still costs US $3 million an episode.

So how did Hodgkinson swing a 40-minute drama on such a shoestring budget? And why?

Flashback to last year.

“This entire idea was born one day when Kia [Rollock], Aurora [Herrera] and myself got together to lime and we were talking about how we wanted to do something, a passion project,” said Hodgkinson in a press release on the film. “At the time, the industry felt tense and uninspiring… Creatives need to create so we decided to just go for it.”

The original idea was based on a feature film that Hodgkinson had conceptualised, but shelved due to the death of collaborator Marcia Henville.

Henville, a journalist and actor who produced his feature film Trafficked, was murdered in 2015. It was a blow to Hodgkinson and to the nascent project that would become The Weekend.

Then producer Aurora Herrera and actress Kia Rollock took charge of the project. “I created the characters,” Hodgkinson said, “and then we called our collaborators and they recommended fellow creatives, and then we were doing location scouts and table reads; the script was a total collaborative effort, and then we were shooting”.

“The rules were simple: one location and the project had to be shot over a weekend.”

Hodgkinson has been involved in filmmaking since 2009 when he studied for a certificate in the discipline from the London Film Academy.

Under the aegis of his production company Quirky Films—he’s its co-founder and creative director—he’s made three narrative films so far: the short A Story About Wendy, the feature A Story About Wendy 2, and the feature Trafficked. The latter two have been awarded locally and abroad, and shown at various festivals around the world. Trafficked picked up the prize for Best Local Feature Film at the 2015 TTFF and Best Foreign Feature at the 2016 San Francisco Black Film Festival.

“Quirky is known for its polished and refined finishes to our films,” he boasted in a email message about the film before admitting wryly, “The Weekend is not that-hence we created Rabid Squirrel Studios…uberindie films.”

This “uberindie” production cut its budget down to practically nothing. Cast and crew worked for free.

“We paid for props, damaged audio gear”—he added a steups—“housekeeping, catering, insurance and expenses related to pre-production-meals and such. Hadco gave us a tonne of food and drink, so we ate really well”. TGI Fridays also supported the effort.

“Technical wise, we stripped everything down,” Hodgkinson said.

“Lighting meant flicking on a light switch-we had three days; we had to compromise.”

But, he said, “Story trumps technical. If we had money, of course, it would have been different, but we just wanted to be creative.”

The 42-page script’s resulting experimental project was selected by Caribbean-Canadian film festival CaribbeanTales to participate in their film incubator in Toronto in 2016, itself an honour.

Now the finished film will have its world premiere at the T&T Film Festival on September 20.

It’s a harbinger, he hopes.

“Since our plan is to make it into a series, this is the pilot edit—and leaves some questions about certain characters’ motives unanswered.” Hodgkinson sounded a little shaken when he said, “It’s the first time I’ve ever chopped entire scenes and we cut about three or four.”

After the film’s world premiere it will screen three more times in the festival. His previous films have been popular, selling out venues during past festivals. The Weekend is likely to draw crowds as well. And then, Hodgkinson said, “Hopefully it would be on VOD, so we would be able to at least fund part two: The Weekend: Valencia River Lime.”

The weekend TTFF screenings:

•September 20, 8.30 pm, MovieTowne POS Screen 8 Q+A (WORLD PREMIERE)

•September 21, 8.30 pm, MovieTowne Tobago

•September 24, 9.30 pm, MovieTowne POS Screen 7 Q+A

•September 24, 8.30 pm, MovieTowne San Fernando


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