RBC Focus Reflections with John BarryTuesday, December 18th, 2012 Categories: Film, RBC: Reflections, Updates
RBC Focus: Filmmakers’ Immersion at the ttff/12, which took place from September 19 to October 2nd. In 2011, RBC Focus was introduced to the festival as part of the bank’s commitment to developing emerging artists in the region. This talent lab returns in 2012 and will engage promising Caribbean filmmakers in an intensive 4-day development programme. They will be exposed to group discussions and exercises on a range of documentary filmmaking techniques geared to enhancing their creative voice.
ARC Magazine is partnering with RBC to present a series of weekly interviews with past and current candidates from the Focus Immersion Filmmakers’ programme. It is our hope that their stories, trajectories and elucidation opens up a way for emerging filmmakers to understand the infrastructure being created to support the film industry across the Caribbean. This week we continue with documentary filmmaker John Barry.
Leanne Haynes: How did you hear about the RBC Focus project?
John Barry: My film Classical Steel was one of the official selections of the 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. It was as a result of my involvement with the screenings and attending the panel discussions that I heard some mention of the RBC Focus project. I can’t say that I paid any kind of attention to it until this year’s festival.
LH: What prompted you to apply for the RBC Focus Filmmakers Immersion project?
JB: I was invited to the Trinidad and Tobago leg of the Travelling Caribbean Film Showcase which featured my film. At the end of the screening I was approached by members of the TTFF; they asked me if I sent in my application. I didn’t at that time and didn’t intend to because of my very demanding schedule at my 9 to 5. Annabelle Alcazar was not accepting that excuse, and said she would talk to my boss to give me the time off; Bruce Paddington was of the same opinion. I was really moved by that; they had that kind of confidence in me based strictly on the quality of the work I had done in the production of Classical Steel. So it was because of Annabell and Bruce’s insistence that I take part that I reconsidered and sent in my application. I am very happy I did.
LH: What did you expect to learn from the workshops and were your expectations exceeded?
JB: I will admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was excited by the fact that these two experts in the field were going to be our facilitators. I thought we were going to fully explore the finer points of documentary filmmaking because this edition of the RBC was tailored for the documentary format. On the first day we learned that it was about pitching your doc and how to successfully do so. We touched on other things like how to develop your production idea, how best to apply the tools of our trade, trailers and putting together a sizzler, The experience was priceless; I have never had to pitch an idea like we were instructed to by Alrick and Fernanda. My expectations were exceeded by leaps and bounds.
LH: What was the atmosphere like? What was it like working with other filmmakers from the region?
JB: There was immediate camaraderie, I don’t think there was ever a moment where we felt like a disparate group. I think we felt like one body of filmmakers, each member of that body with a story to be told. There was support all around. I remember being sent an email by one of the other participants. She had contact information on someone she thought would be important to my film although she knew nothing about the particular topic. I know there were countless other situations like that with the others. We were like a little family including the two facilitators. It was good to get other perspectives on the business of filmmaking; realise that the problems we encounter are the same regardless of what part of the world you live.
JB: We were guided toward making a successful pitch for funding so the entire exercise had that focus. At the end of the sessions we would be pitching before a live panel, the best pitch to receive a $20,000 prize. Apart from that we were instructed on the finer points of successfully applying for funding; from synopsis to trailer. We worked on our production ideas, fleshed them out and even in my case add other dimensions which gave my film a wider appeal. My favourite part of the workshop was the exchange of ideas and explaining why our film was important and why it had to be made now. This was a question Alrick put to us and we each had to justify why our film had to be made. That question answered for us our own question about how committed we are about our particular production idea. The responses were all intriguing. The most helpful part for me was learning how to structure the pitch; this was my first experience doing so and I believe I am better armed, having gone through the process. Days after making my pitch, at the award ceremony I was told by two members of the three-person jury that they enjoyed my pitch which engaged them in the longest discussion among the others. That goes very far for me.
LH: How did you find it working with the creative directors?
JB: This was very inspirational for me. I always like to rub shoulders and exchange ideas with other creative people. I sometimes think I’m not up to the level of others so being in that environment gave me a lot of confidence to carry on. Everyone was supportive of the others; it was totally positive and progressive over the four days of the workshop.
LH: What project did you submit?
JB: I submitted an idea for a sports doc where comparisons are to be made between cricket and baseball. After the workshop I was able to write a tight logline and add a further dimension to the idea. The following is what resulted:
Bats And Balls
Cricket and baseball share a number of underlying similarities yet the players and fans insist on their differences. Bats and Balls delves into the Gentleman’s Game and America’s Favourite Pastime, going way beyond the field of play to prove that they are not distant relatives, but very close cousins.
This is a feature-length sports documentary making comparisons between baseball and cricket. The piece investigates the similarities between these two sports by first looking at the field of play in each case; the rules and regulations, general objective of each game, and how each game is played. But more important than the final score there is a socio-political context within which each game is couched, fostering a sense of national pride. We will see, for instance in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy in the USA, where, at every game played God Bless America was sung during the seventh inning stretch instead of the traditional Take Me Out To The Ball Game, showing resistance to the terrorists and solidarity as a nation. And in the case of cricket, this sport has united an area known as the West Indies more than any politician can or ever will. We would interview past and present players, commentators, managers and coaches, and sound bites from these interviews would be used as the narration for the film. We will shoot some live action games, but would also make use of archival footage. Being a fan of both cricket and baseball, I believe this film will engender a greater appreciation for the role both sports play in our daily lives.
LH: What’s your background with regards to film?
JB: My background is in television production and I have a passion for documentaries. I have produced quite a number of small features for television, but always flirted with the idea of going bigger. I did so in 1996 with Dance De Calypso, a documentary film which looks at the various ways different people dance to calypso music. The success of that doc spurred me on and I kept on writing and developing ideas for production. I kept knocking on doors until the opportunity presented itself again in 2007 when the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company green lighted my idea for their Production And Script Development programme which meant that they would partially fund my project with their guidance. That resulted in Classical Steel going on to receiving the Special Mention jury award at the 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. Since then my film has been screened for audiences in more than five countries. Having experienced the RBC Immersion workshop I am now poised to kick off production on Bats And Balls.
LH: Are there any particular (Caribbean) filmmakers that have influenced your path?
JB: There is no single filmmaker who has influenced my path because I have always had this passion for filmmaking and for doing documentaries and that has carried me. Notwithstanding that, however, I am inspired by the work of Yao Ramesar and the body of work Horace Ove has contributed to our pool. I have not adopted anything from their filmmaking style; it’s their professional approach to the business which has attracted me.
LH: Are there enough opportunities for emerging filmmakers in the Caribbean? Are things improving on the scene in terms of funding and opportunities?
JB: I believe things are improving as far as funding is concerned and the number of filmmakers is growing. The number of important Film Festivals in the region is also growing. On those fronts the opportunities for emerging filmmakers are growing, but serious work has to be done to develop the infrastructure for a successful film industry. We have a growing number of filmmakers and an administration of sorts but the “guts” of any serious film industry is sadly lacking. Until we put those things in place we will continue to churn our volumes and volumes of good films which will end up on a shelf somewhere.
LH: What three pieces of advice would you give to emerging filmmakers in the Caribbean?
JB: Do not be deterred by anyone who doesn’t share your vision and your passion; follow your dream. Don’t limit your experience to what is happening at home; join international organizations and interact aggressively with members of those organizations. If you’re in this business for the glamour of it, you’re in the wrong business; get out now.
LH: What’s next on the horizon for you? Please share!
JB: Next on the horizon is freeing up time to concentrate on Bats And Balls. This doc is still at the treatment stage; I’m now to take all that I have learned at the RBC workshop and go in search of funding. Once that is secured I will commence production. I have number of other treatments sitting on my computer so hopefully I can move from one to the other providing that funding comes my way.
Operating out of Trinidad and Tobago, John Barry holds a BA in Mass Media Studies from the University of the District of Columbia and an MA in Communication Arts from the New York Institute of Technology. Among his credits is his first documentary film, Dance de Calypso, which chronicles the evolution of dance in calypso music. Mr. Barry’s latest work is his second documentary film titled Classical Steel which explores the world of the steelpan in a classical music setting, making general comparisons between the steel orchestra and the traditional symphony orchestra.