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Extra make extra as T&T film industry blossoms
The T&T Film Company (TTFC) is vigorously pursuing its mandate to ensure the local film industry is a viable and sustainable one.
Local employment is paramount to the organisation. CEO Carla Foderingham stressed no matter which country filmmakers/producers come from, once TTFC facilitates, the international crew must employ T&T talent.
“TTFC is about the business of film and it is like an economic agency where it’s driving investors to film on location in T&T and in so doing to retain local labour, whether it is commercials, documentaries or features,” Foderingham said.
Labour is secured through a strong network involving government agencies and private stakeholders who are retained as location scouts. To keep T&T in the marketplace and attract foreign investments, the TTFC continuously promotes and positions the country in a variety of magazines, directories and on Web sites.
International film crews are enticed with government rebates of up to 35 per cent on their qualifying expenditure with an additional 15 per cent on labour, which guarantees a 55 per cent cash back when they shoot here.
Home Again was one of five films that benefited from this rebate.
“We have well over 35 production houses that are functioning in T&T. We also have many local actors. A matter of fact Home Again used 1,000 extras—all from this country, and all of whom were paid. So this is also a prime goal—to ensure sustainable livelihood,” said Foderingham.
In a separate interview, Wickham explained how T&T earned revenue from Home Again. The film was made on a $6.4 million budget. That money contributed to the economy in the form of hotel and guest house accommodations, air fares, office and equipment rentals, carpentry, telephone and Internet service, transportation, catering and other labour.
“We had just over 100 crew members which included cleaners as well,” Wickham said. Revenue was also earned through the building of trailers and the retaining of permits for police and security.
“The rebate that is given is multiplied over so much more than what is invested. There are people who worked with us on Home Again who have been able to expand their businessess through the work they did with the movie.”
Room for improvement
The industry might be doing well but Foderingham said there was always room for improvement in some areas, like a more cohesive approach among some stakeholders while films were being shot on location.
She said in the past, there have been instances where filming was prematurely halted, pushing back the schedule, as happened when traffic police did not show up on location to direct motorists to alternate routes.
She would also like to see the establishment of a guild of directors in T&T, and an arts council that runs across all the arts. Additionally, as is done in Barbados, a waiver of duties and taxes should be introduced for local film producers who want to import equipment, she believes.
Asked if she felt these issues would be quickly addressed by CreativeTT, which is supposed to be the umbrella company for film, music and fashion in T&T, Foderingham said she could not comment.
Asked about CreativeTT’s plans for the film industry, its director Donna Chin Lee said she too was not at liberty to speak as the company had not yet been officially informed by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment that the film industry fell under its purview.
Several calls were also made and e-mails sent to business development directorate Mario Romany at the ministry to find out whether or not the film industry was in fact under CreativeTT’s aegis, but to date there has been no response.
In the meantime Foderingham says TTFC, which also holds the first vice president seat of the Caribbean Association of Film Commissioners, continues to keep strategic meetings with stakeholders at least once a quarter.
It maintains its Web site (www.trinidadandtobagofilm.com) and Facebook page to provide regular updates and continues to advocate for improved incentives that will encourage the growth of the industry in T&T.
Local filmmakers comment
Dieffenthaller, who is best known for her work on local soap operas Westwood Park and the Reef, said for the film industry to grow, the corporate sector needed to become more actively involved in funding.
“The film company is not given giant funds in order to make giant steps and despite this, TTFC has done a great deal for new careers,” she said.
She stressed, though, that the industry was still at a very much stagnant stage for one that is close to 100 years old. If the country did not have an indigenous industry, how then could it help foreigners when they came to the islands, she asked.
“All TTFC can do is set things off the ground with what they have.
“But filmmakers do not need incubation money, they need serious money and this is why the Government and corporate T&T need to get involved if we are really to talk about diversifying the economy,” Dieffenthaller said.
A young filmmaker who wrote and directed A Story About Wendy and its sequel, Hodgkinson got his break in 2010 when he submitted a script to TTFC and it was selected for funding.
About his experience, Hodgkinson said: “If it were not for the TTFC I would not be able to live my dream, aside from funding local films, the TTFC also creates a forum where filmmakers can meet and exchange ideas, for example, at a TTFC hosted cocktail reception; I was introduced to technical gurus in film Anthony Fung and Kevin Lee Yuen. We have since made three films together,” he said.
It was also important to note that filmmakers cannot just rely on the TTFC alone when making a film, he said.
“The TTFC provides the platform, and it is up to the filmmaker to use the platform to jump.
Paddington, filmmaker, co-designer and co-ordinator of the BA film programme at UWI, and founder and festival director of the T&T Film Festival (TTFF), said the TTFC is fulfilling its mandate in helping to develop a local film industry.
He said the film festival was getting bigger and better, bringing in a large audience including journalists and writers from a variety of international magazines, as well as Hollywood reporters who are telling of the work done here.
“We want to bring excellent writers, filmmakers, producers to T&T and put together workshops that will benefit filmmakers and expand their horizons and opportunities. And that is what Carla (Foderingham) has been constantly working on,” Paddington said.