Like everywhere else, Trinidad & Tobago has its issues.
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Same name, different Dole
A local movie with the name Dole in the title may suggest that it’s about the reputed drug lord from Piparo.
But Ellis Briggs, producer of the film, says it is not about the man named Chadee who was convicted and hung for the January 10, 1994 murders of Deo, Rookmin, Hamilton and Monica Baboolal.
Other characters in the film include the King brothers (artistes Squeezy Rankin’ and Marlon Asher), Joey (Keron Cardinez) and Nyah (played by seasoned actor Reynold Siewdass).
Anyone following the crime headlines in the 80s and 90s would associate the last two with the names Ramiah and Naim respectively—one a Chadee associate, the other who held El Socorro in his grips.
“It’s not based on the 1990s Dole Chadee. It’s a contemporary story which happens to be involved in a familiar story,” Briggs said. “It is pulled from actual events but it is a fictional story.”
From the trailer that appeared on Facebook, Adesh Samaroo, acting as the lead character Dole, demonstrated how tortuous he could be if someone turned against him.
But Briggs softened the image of the hardened man when he explained that he is not that cruel.
“It’s not a gritty gangster flick. It is a romantic action thriller. It is about a drug lord who falls in love with a lady attached to a drug lord,” Briggs said.
“This part of the story is his rise.”
But he has already received strange phone calls, asking why he is doing a story on Dole Chadee.
Why do it then?
“Why not?” he replied.
Consider Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy based on the bestseller by Mario Puzo. Puzo’s book on the Corleone family is based on stories he heard about the mafia while he was a magazine writer.
Then there’s Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas based on the non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The film narrates the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associate Henry Hill and his friends over a period from 1955 to 1980.
Also, Brian de Palma’s Scarface that was written by Oliver Stone. The film tells the story of Cuban refugee Tony Montana who arrives in 1980s Miami with nothing and rises to become a powerful drug kingpin.
And there’s Carlito’s Way, also directed by De Palma. It is based on the novel written by Judge Edwin Torres.
The film follows the life of Carlito Brigante after he is released from prison and vows to go straight and retire. But he is dragged into the same criminal activities that got him imprisoned in the first place.
What these four films have in common are the strong characters, the violence associated with the dark side and a femme fatale who pulls at the heartstrings of the tough lead character. They were also blockbusters.
As far as Briggs is concerned, Dole has these elements. Written by Timothy Teemal, the screenplay was originally created for a US/UK team who wanted to develop a movie in keeping with the mafia/crime drama genre. However, the project fell apart and Teemal approached Ellis in 2012 to do the movie.
“Looking at the whole industry, the film has to commercially viable. It has to be about what people want to see—not about two doubles and a solo, not about a soca star,” Briggs said. “The film festival model is not feasible. It has not worked. We bring filmmakers to pat each other’s backs and nothing happens. “
Although, two local films coming out of this year’s T&T film festival were shown at Digicel Imax.
“If you have an element to grip the audience, the film will work. We should get a cinema board to create a standard for local film, looking at production quality. The onus is on us (the film producers, directors and screenwriters) to make feasible stories,” he added. “If Welcome to Warlock (the 2013 movie by Jeffrey Alleyne) had good production quality, that would have been a box office hit. It’s time this country put out a real film out there.”
With Dole, Briggs intends to go all out. Considering a budget of $12 million, it would include shooting at locations that reflect the international perception that a Caribbean drug lord has a sprawling seaside property. Bacolet, Tobago may be the locale for Dole’s home. Car chases are also planned. The film will take one month for production and two weeks in post-production.
When this is finished, more projects are lined up. Next is The Flying Squad which sounds like a biopic of the crimebuster Randolph Burroughs. And again Briggs says there may be similarities but it is not about him. Following that is a romance titled Last Flight Out.
“I want to be known as a good film maker. It is not about the audio visual experience but an emotional experience,” he said.
Churning out as many good movies as possible is also part of formula. He considers the local film industry should work on a model different from the Hollywood prescription. The Bollywood (India) and Nollywood (Nigeria) models, he said, are more T&T’s speed.
“You have to create that environment of good movies. Short movies are a waste of time. It’s either a film or a TV series. That is the only way. The Film Company should sit down with TV stations to find a platform for this to work,” Briggs said.
Pound the alarm
In 2012, Briggs’ name surfaced as the man accused of stiff-ending hip-hop maven Nikki Minaj. He was accused of receiving money for services he did not render when Minaj came to Trinidad to produce the music video for her hit Pound the Alarm.
Three years later, he maintains he did nothing wrong.
Briggs said the terms and conditions were agreed to but the production manager (name called) said his prices were too high.
“In the United States the hourly rates are US$400-US$450. I charged US$300. I tried to get a standard and they agreed to it. But the production manager tied to cut costs and she tried to bully me.
“They said money was sent but nothing was sent. There should have been a paper trail.
“Even the TT Film Company manager (name called) got involved and told me that I was overcharging. I was not going to be bullied because of an interaction between these two people.
“If we had an agreement, I was willing to make adjustments but not bullied and gangstered. Nikki did not know what was going on.
“It created a problem. It prevented me from getting work. People like the nice guy but I am trying to build a business. It’s hard because you cannot please everybody—what do I accept and what do I not accept?”
About Ellis Briggs
Briggs’ career in film making was inspired in 1980s by watching Horace James who worked at the State media company TTT (Trinidad and Tobago Television) and produced the Play of the Month Series.
Before that, he met Penelope Spencer who ran a theatre workshop at Barataria Junior Secondary and it was there he fell in love with the theatre and the arts. At Malick Senior Comprehensive, he met Tim Cupid, a social studies teacher who produced Towards Broader Horizons, a recreation of Caribbean history. “I decided to get more serious in the early 90s,” Briggs said.
He completed a course New York Film Academy. Thereafter, he worked with Unicef, he was also head of the Tempo network in Trinidad. He worked with the New Zealand government that supported a production funded by the European Education Development fund. That production featured writers around the world. He also produced music videos for French artistes.