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Westwood Park duo looks to new drama series

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Danielle Dieffenthaller, one of the most well known and acclaimed television producers in the English-speaking Caribbean, is working on a new series that she boasts will be unlike anything viewers have seen before. She just needs actors, a platform to show it, and money.

Dieffenthaller, and her long-time writing partner Mervyn de Goeas discussed in a recent interview the immense challenges of putting together a series—even for people with their stellar creative track record. They wrote, produced and directed Westwood Park, a soap opera popular across the Caribbean that originally ran from 1997 to 2004 and still airs on cable TV in North America.

The two last worked together on the drama series The Reef, which aired for one season on CNMG in 2008. There was no second season. An attempt to get one off the ground illustrated a big problem with getting funding for film/ TV production in T&T.

“We had the second season of The Reef written,” Diefenthaller said. “And when I started to go looking for money, one of my regular sponsors said, ‘Well, Danielle, you know we give to charity already for this year.’ I got so incensed. I was offended, livid, vex.

“All this time people feel they were giving to charity,” she said.

“After we work 18-hour days non-stop to put out a product that is giving you a vehicle for your product.”

The new series—a drama called Plain Sight—will show the different sides of the crime problem in T&T: looking at the experience of law enforcement officers, criminals, victims, residents of high-crime areas, and residents of upper-class areas whose hands aren’t as clean as people might think. Plain Sight is intended to destroy misconceptions people on different sides of the issue have of each other.

With the series, Dieffenthaller said she wants to “burst bubbles”.

“Let’s get an understanding of who we are as a people,” she said. “We all live in little microcosms and little bubbles and we don’t really know each. Westmoorings doesn’t know Laventille, and Laventille doesn’t know Westmoorings, and there’s this suspicion of each other.

“Let’s give a human face to everyone, on every side of the divide,” Dieffenthaller said.

“When you hear somebody’s been shot, automatically there are many assumptions that are thrown, and we don’t know the real story,” she continued. “We decided let’s put a human face to that killer, that mother who said her son was the greatest thing on Earth and he was a good boy.”

No side would demonised or glorified. “We are all villains, and we are all angels. It’s to show the good and bad in everyone,” said Dieffenthaller. The idea for the series “has been on my mind for a while,” she said—six years to be exact.

Dieffenthaller said she doesn’t think the show “can be compared to anything.” The one series that comes close is drug-trafficking saga Narcos on Netflix, she said. “It’s an amalgamation of many people,” she said of Plain Sight. The new show and Westwood Park are “like chalk and cheese,” she said.

The only similarity, said de Goeas, on the phone call with Dieffenthaller, is that the storylines will come from the experiences of real people. In their research for the series Dieffenthaller and de Goeas are interviewing police officers, former prison inmates, mothers of criminals, social workers and others.

But whereas the storylines on Westwood Park were tweaked almost to the point of parody, Plain Sight will attempt to reflect reality. Asked if the series, then, is not intended to stir up patriotic feelings, Dieffenthaller said that despite the tough subjects she believes Plain Sight will make Trinidadians and Tobagonians feel good about their country.

“You will be proud,” she said. “Our country is beautiful no matter what you do. (In Plain Sight) there will be good people and bad people and beautiful vistas. You’ll be, like, ‘Wow, that is Trinidad, boy!’”

But, she said, the soundtrack will not include nationalistic anthems like Sweet T&T. Instead, jazz musician Etienne Charles will score the series and the soundtrack will include old soca songs and calypsoes.

Dieffenthaller and de Goeas have the script for eight hour-long episodes. They even have a Canadian distributor willing to raise US$1.4 million for them and help get the show on an online or television platform. Michael Mosca, head of Equinoxe Films, is “willing to work with us” and “do whatever it takes to make it an international production,” said Dieffenthaller.

“He’s very excited about the project. He loves the script. He doesn’t want us to compromise the integrity of the story, which is basically Trinidadian,” she said.

The problem is that’s only half the money they need to raise if they want to produce something of the quality that will interest distribution platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. They are hoping to raise enough money to at least do a pilot that will impress people enough to attract more funding.

They’re currently casting roles. Experienced actors earmarked include Michael Cherrie, Errol Sitahal and Winston Duke, according to a document provided by Dieffenthaller. In December the producers put out a casting call for 29 parts. The show is set to begin production by the end of March and the first episode will premiere in September, the document said.

Getting the actors ready will be another challenge. T&T has a lot of raw talent and a lot of theatre talent, said Dieffenthaller, but they’ll have to be trained for the particular approach needed for television.

“It’s a very different beast,” said Dieffenthaller.

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