Welcome to hardluck

BitDepth#948 for August 05

Jeffrey Alleyne in the Valleywood editing room in Petit Valley. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
Jeffrey Alleyne in the Valleywood editing room in Petit Valley. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Jeffrey Alleyne is a contentious man. I suspect even his best friends will tell him that.

He’s aired very public beefs with a lot of people as video rants on Facebook, most of them in the formal film industry in T&T, and that’s how he first popped up on my radar.

I’d been drawn to one of his many videos of vociferous dissent with the status quo and his spirited defence of the Government’s Creative Industries initiative, which he’d described as a dismantling of the crony system he believes exists in the T&T Film Company (TTFC).

Alleyne doesn’t write commentary well, but he is persuasive in his videos. In person, he’s riveting, a constant and chaotic flow of commentary, explanations, perceptions salted with wry acknowledgement of his constrained circumstances.

At one point I actually had to hold up both hands to get him to stop for a moment so I could backtrack to a previous point he’d bounced off on the way to something else that he really needed to say.

He’s a self-confessed bad boy.

“At 13 I left school to learn a trade,” he said, “I went to learn tailoring at Samaroos and by 14, I was working. But I was also a hustler in town, hanging out with the boys I met in Boys Industrial in the plannings on Nelson and George Street.”

He spent only a short time at the correctional institution, but he became part of a baker’s dozen of boys who would hit the streets together.

“From small I used to give trouble,” Alleyne admits, “but my mother stick with me through thick and thin.”

That love remains strong between them. Marie Alleyne still lives with her son in Petit Valley, and she still defends him fiercely, giving me the flinty eye when I suggest that our scheduled midday meeting might be worth waking him up for.

Most of his young friends did not fare as well. Of the five who are still alive, two are serving multi-decade prison sentences.

Jeffrey Alleyne served eight and a half years in the Remand Yard for robbery and shooting cases, before being released in 1996.

After knocking around from one unsatisfying job to another, he decided to try to work on a rig and began putting money together to do the safety training.

Then his daughter, Sunshyne Da Silva began to do poetry monologues and he wanted to capture her performances.

He took the money for the safety course and did a videography course with Jason Riley instead.

As for crime?

“I saw my brethren getting kill out in the wars,” he explained. “I duck out of it easy and smooth. I was always a likeable fella.”

As he began recording his daughter’s work, he found video to be a comfortable fit and realised that he had a talent for directing people.

Several smaller films and shorts would follow, along with his deeply unsatisfying encounters with the TTFC and he kept studying, viewing and reviewing the Hollywood Cameraworks Masterclass video tutorials.

In October 2013 he began working on the project that’s put him on the hot list of every DVD pirate in T&T, Welcome to Warlock with a small core cast of seven.

By late December, split between working on Warlock and a pilot for a television series on Dole Chadee, he decided to post a trailer edited from the early footage on Old Year’s Night to Facebook.

According to Alleyne, hundreds of people wanted to participate in the project and he chose 74 of them of a first come, first served basis. The film, a “run and gun” project, was shot with a crew of one, D’General, Jeffrey Alleyne, using a Sony NEX VG900 digital camera.

He’d begun with a gambling scene that ends with the principals of the film falling out first badly, then murderously.

“We looked at it and liked it and decided how we would shoot around it,” he explained.

His first step was to create a backstory for Machine (Raphael Joseph) the charming roughneck anti-hero of the film. Alleyne put the film together on the strength of his grasp of story structure, which he describes as “more important than story.”

“I don’t try to reinvent the wheel, I created a circle, the hero’s journey, from imperfection to perfection.”

Perfection might be stretching it, but in the deeply flawed, emotionally brittle and quick-on-the-trigger world of Warlock, any level of forgiveness and redemption is a cool and unexpected balm.

After creating the backstory and working his way to the gambling scene, he shot most of the rest of the film in sequence.

“Sometimes the situation would change, but the plot points largely remained the same,” Alleyne said. “You could love your story, and you could love your script, but you must not be in love with the script.”

And if one of his amateur actors wasn’t working out, they would be shot dead in the film and the show would move on.

In some ways, the director’s ruthlessness with his cast plays directly to the strengths of Warlock which is characterised by its rapid, relentless pace. If people aren’t playing with guns or shooting at other people with them, they are having sex, trying really hard to have sex, bullying other people or dancing lewdly.

They also talk like Trinis, though with a thick street slang that’s decodeable with a bit of work. It soon becomes clear what a “fire” is, though I can’t figure out whether the rather loose young women are ballers or bawlers.

“People keep telling me that you have to talk like people outside for them to understand, but we talk like people talk and that’s how it should be.”

At times, Alleyne’s film feels more like a particularly sordid documentary than a street gangster drama, so immersed and comfortable is his cast in their roles.

One scene showing a young victim being collected by a forensics team wouldn’t raise an eyebrow on an evening news broadcast.

It doesn’t seem possible for amateur actors making their debut on camera to tap into such a deep and disturbing range of characterisations without living and seeing that life up close and regularly.

After the remorselessness of the film there’s a particularly startling moment after the credits as the actors, on what must have been wrap day hug each other while still clad in clothing wet with fake blood. The two protagonists, mortal enemies in far too short a time, embrace with broad smiles and somewhere in the background someone yells, “is toy guns, is toy guns.”

Between November and December, shooting came to a halt for six weeks, normally a huge problem for continuity in a fast production like this, but one of Alleyne’s secrets is to record long lead-ins and extensions on his scenes, which give him a lot of flexibility in cutting his footage together.

Another forced break came after shooting in mid-February when Alleyne’s computer went down for two months. His cousin builds his computers, and he wouldn’t complete editing until early May.

The film was formally released on the 26th of May after a first screening at the Diamond Vale Community Centre.

“All in all,” Alleyne said, “I can make a movie in six weeks time. Warlock is a hybrid between Hollywood and Nollywood. People can identify with the characters and the style.”

That they did and illegal DVD duplicators were quick to notice.

The stories came back to Alleyne quickly. One man put down three boxes of DVDs in the market and sold them out in hours. Another man told him he was making $22,000 a day selling the film.

Angry, Alleyne sent a press release out to the media calling on the authorities to do something about the flagrant piracy of his film.

Nothing happened, though Alleyne would find a new target for his ire in the media handling of his protest.

Even now, despite his more sanguine response to an act of piracy he believes cost him $10m in lost sales; he describes it as “the greatest assault on a movie I ever see.”

“I was hurt,” he said. But even more blows would come.

DVD pirates are now packaging both his older films and other films entirely as a sequel. He’s had YouTube take down postings of the film four times, but even so the film has racked up more than 40,000 views during the brief windows of time it was available.

It’s likely that if everyone who’s seen the film on a pirated disc sent him five dollars; he’d be in a very different financial situation. If your copy doesn’t have engraved art on it (Alleyne uses Lightscribe), it’s been stolen from him.

Some fans have done something similar. Facing the people who made the film, they have bought legitimate copies from the director on the spot.

Alleyne doesn’t claim any special social media savvy, but it was clear he was winning attention and he’s begun to reach out to communities in a nationwide tour, and the actors are being received warmly.

Already, the Warlock t-shirts are outselling the official DVDs and a new series is being planned with catchphrases from the film.

“I created something for the people on the street,” Alleyne said with a wry smile, “and even though it cost we, it’s there for them.”

About the film

Welcome to Warlock chronicles an argument between two young men and a gambling loss that runs quickly and wildly out of control. After an angry slap, surly contemplation draws guns out and soon people are dying.

Director and cinematographer Jeffrey Alleyne makes his resource limitations a strength. Most of the film is shot in Cameron Circle where he lives and his familiarity with the neighbourhood makes the geography of the space as much a character in the film as his actors.

There are flaws, as you might imagine, with this approach. Characters run past the same buildings and walls several times and it’s hard to understand whether it’s meant to be the same spot or another that looks like it.

Alleyne’s fast cutting style falters only once in a scene of dancing and daggering and the film hits molasses, lingering on the young people jooking waist far too long and to little point.

But as a work of action-driven fiction meant to immerse a viewer in the world of readily spent lives and easily pulled triggers, even Warlock’s fast moving videography seems barely able to keep up with people who vanish like vapor off the screen.

Tools

Jeffrey Alleyne edited Warlock with Sony Vegas Movie Studio. He also uses Adobe After Effects, Sony SoundFX, Designer SoundFX for foley and Action Essentials for the many gunshots.

  • Corbeaux

    It’s clear from your review that we can get a pirated version in the market next Saturday but did you mention how one goes about getting a legal version?

    • The words “the official DVDs” offer a link (as does everything in bold in story text) to the online store for the hard copy version of the film or an official digital download.

      • Okay, I’ve made a change to the CSS on post pages so everyone should see links in the text more clearly now.

  • baidawi

    while the effort and resources he puts into making his films real commendable, I would like to see him do some different content. We get enough stories about murder and gang warfare from the news.

  • Marc Aberdeen

    I was very surprised at how immersing this film was. The actors were very convincing. And the fast paced layout out the story made it seem authentic. Good write up of the director Mark I knew nothing of him before.

    • Glad you liked it Marc. I’ve found him to be a thoroughly interesting person.