Shakirah, Congratulations on your recent successes. First the release of your debut feature Payday and then a few weeks ago you won the Filmmaker Pitch Session at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and a $20,000 grant towards your next film? What does that feel like?
I am just thankful that the stories that I write are being shown on screen. I think that is the most important part for me that something that I have written finally came alive and everytime I watch the film and I see the script it is a very special feeling. It is a special feeling knowing that people want to hear the stories in your head.
You have been known as a writer to watch in the Caribbean for some time now, poetry and some really entertaining short stories…how did the transition to screenwriting come about?
Writer to watch. Hmmm. Well I’ve never done any poetry just short stories and I got into screenwriting by chance. There was a class I wanted to go to at 9 am but I didn’t want to wake up at 9am so I went to the class at 1 pm which happened to be screenwriting so that is really how I was introduced to screenwriting. I realised the formatting and style of screenwriting was very similar to the way I wrote my short stories so it was a very cool transition for me. It was another form of writing and I realised that I really did enjoy it.
So why did you choose to tell the Payday story?
I didn’t exactly choose it since I tend to write about more serious things even though they are put in a funny way but Selwyn Brown the director called me and told me he really wanted me to write this script and it had to be cheap, easy to shoot, set in one location and funny. I just really observed the characters around me and around village life and I thought it was the perfect story to tell. It was easy to shoot and those characters are so funny. That’s how Payday came about.
How long did it take you before you got to a completed draft?
It took me about six months and I wasn’t working on it consistently because I had to work full time…I had other writing to do. It took about six months from start to finish.
How did this story go from an idea to a successful Caribbean film that is touring film festivals and getting a positive response?
It was really all [director] Selwyn. At first when he approached me about a script I didn’t take him seriously. He pestered me almost everyday asking me how the writing was going until I realised: this man is serious. So we got together and we decided to make this story work and to get it onscreen and our story, I guess because we shot it in one week, it attracted some media attention in Trinidad and they did this story about this film that was shot in one week and what we were trying to do and were we trying to bring Barbadian stories onscreen. So from then we were on their radar. They contacted us about the Trinidadian [film] festival. The film was not even fully edited but they saw the first forty minutes and were like: Ok, we want it. Our marketing really. Our marketing, Facebook, social media it attracted alot of programmers at film festivals and from when we went to one film festival we started getting invited to others. I can’t exactly say which ones yet but our film festival run is far from over.
Based on attitudes towards art in the Caribbean was it difficult to get funding for the project?
We didn’t even bother trying to get funding for ‘PayDay’. The whole idea is that we need to prove ourselves, we need to prove that a movie can actually be made. Here in Barbados you know people have been trying for years; they’ve gathered funding and it seems it never happens so with ‘Payday’ we wanted to prove that we can make a movie happen and we use our own resources hoping that people could see what we could produce with so little and if we had alot what we could produce. Really it is for government to step up and they are. So the attention we were hoping to get is there. We need some philanthropists, I mean corporate Barbados to believe in film and to believe that you can get something from it but that is a long journey and you know every step brings you closer.
How was it when producer Marc Gibson and director Selwyn Browne got involved?
Selwyn is the person who orchestrated the entire project, the entire thing of shooting a movie that is quick and easy and making it a series and getting it popular so Mark had actually introduced me to Selwyn so that is actually how we came together. So I finished the script. I had my first meeting with Selwyn and that is how I met all the other members of the team. From February to now – it’s crazy thinking that these people have been in my life only for a couple of months. It’s just weird….
Did they allow you on set and did you have any input? Generally writers are not allowed to voice their opinions once the material is in the hands of the director – was this your experience with Payday?
We are not going by the traditional structure of the film set. I mean Selwyn was the director but because I had written the script alot of the things I had seen going a particular way when I had written it, Selwyn actually had that kind of personality and approach and we would decide: ‘Alright, let’s see how it is going to go here or let’s do it again’. I guess that’s why I am directing the second one because it was a team effort. On American sets people can’t talk to the directors and they all have these roles and responsibilities and they stick to them. On the ‘Payday’ set we all had to have multiple roles to get things done. I was writer turned into line producer; I did some boom, production management; I did some location scouting so basically anything that needed to be done we did it and it didn’t matter if that was our job our not…we just needed it done. So everyone will have a chance to direct because everyone is capable of directing. It’s just my turn that’s next. I just think I am blessed. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It would have been easier if I wrote the script and got paid and saw it in the cinema at a premiere but I enjoy this alot more. I like learning about the process.
Were you pleased with the way the film was received?
I expected alot of criticism- it’s full of cuss words and the women aren’t exactly role models. I was expecting to be cussed out but everyone loves it so far and all these different age ranges they love it. I saw some old men and women….they were just so happy to see a real version of Barbados portrayed onscreen that they kind of overlooked some of the technical errors, the cuss words etc. and they just all related to the characters and loved it.
How has it been doing on the festival circuit?
Toronto, we got a really great response. In fact someone from Japan was saying please bring it to Japan. He loved it. In Trinidad it ws a good crowd as well and afterwards people told us it was a stress reliever. The comedy translates over all cultures. Barbadians obviously would get it or maybe would find it even funnier but it is stil funny to other cultures as well.
Tell us about your production company ‘Letz Do This Filmz’ and what’s next on your agenda?
We plan to do three to four films a year. Our next one is a psychological thriller ‘Two Smart’ and that’s going to be shot by next month. We just basically want to keep producing these films and just create a demand for the films and a demand for the stories and hopefully in a couple years we can be producing scripts from other people.